Fabric Sourcing: Key Task for Apparel Merchandiser

Fabric Sourcing: Key Task for Apparel Merchandiser
Engr. Dilruba Yeasmin
B.Sc. in Textile Engineering (BUTEX)
Regular writer at the textile learning-based blog site, Texpedia*



Introduction
Sourcing or collecting or arranging the right fabrics is one of the key functions of an apparel merchandiser. Because about 65-70% of the total cost of garments comes from the fabric. Moreover, more than 50% ofthe tasks in a garment order is related to the fabric. So it is undoubtedly essential to ensure the fabric of the right quality at the right price and of course within the right time frame.


Apparel Merchandiser
Merchandiser usually refers to an individual who deals with the merchandise. In the case of textile & apparel, merchandisers are of three main types as a fashion merchandiser, apparel merchandiser and retail merchandiser. The role & responsibilities of each type are quite different. Apparel merchandiser is the person who is responsible for executing an order by coordinating all the processes from the order receipt to the shipment.


Role and Responsibilities of Apparel Merchandiser
Though an apparel merchandiser has a wide variety of role and responsibilities, the key functions have been outlined as below-

Roles and responsibilities of apparel merchandiser
Figure: Roles and responsibilities of apparel merchandiser
Sourcing
Sourcing is simply looking for suppliers or in more detail sourcing refers to finding, evaluating and engaging the suppliers aimed at purchasing the desired items at a reasonable price. A general sourcing process involves the following stages-

  • Looking for suppliers,
  • Sample development,
  • Supplier scoring and assessment,
  • Supplier selection,
  • Price negotiation,
  • Purchase decision,
  • Sourcing planning,
  • Material In-house.
Sourcing can be performed directly or indirectly. Buying merchandiser/buyer can contact directly with the suppliers of the respective items and do all the sourcing processes mentioned above. But more often apparel merchandisers do the fabric and trims-accessories sourcing in the textile & apparel industry.

Fabric Sourcing
As already mentioned that sourcing of correct fabric is very important and this is usually done in two ways as-

    A. Local sourcing,
    B. Sourcing from abroad.

A. Local Sourcing
Merchandising department receives the tech pack along with the spec sheet from the buying team. Soon after that, they do an analysis of the fabrics and all other required trims & accessories with the help of fabric tech sometimes. Merchandiser check fabric construction, composition,weight and colours especially. Sourcing fabrics necessarily involves spinning, fabric manufacturing and dyeing unit simultaneously. Merchandiser has to deal with all these unit at a time; not one after another.


Yarn Supplier
As per the fabric construction, merchandisers then calculate the yarn count & quantity and source for different yarn suppliers. Suppliers carefully look at the fabric to check whether they can produce the same or not. Then they give their consent or surrender accordingly. Suppliers develop the yarn with all the required parameters and send to merchandiser for approval. If the count and other qualities are okay, merchandiser then issues yarn booking along with a certain lead time. Spinning unit is advised to deliver the yarn to the fabric unit though merchandiser has to follow-up from time to time.


Fabric Supplier
Merchandiser discusses detail about the yarn and fabric at the same meeting where both yarn and fabric suppliers are present. Suppliers develop the fabrics with all the required parameters and send to merchandiser for approval. Sometimes the developed fabric hanger sent by the suppliers may not be approved. That is why merchandiser initially contacts with more than several suppliers and want developments from them. From all these developments, merchandiser chooses the best possible base hanger by checking hand-feel, weight, construction etc. and then submit to the ultimate buyer for approval. Merchandiser sometimes sends the fabric hanger in several options. The buyer then checking everything as they require, give the approval, rejection or resubmission notification. If the submission is rejected or advised to revise then the buyer must give some comments behind the decision. Merchandiser then follows the comments for prompt approval. After getting the fabric hanger approved from a certain supplier, merchandiser next goes for price negotiation.

Here, one thing must be noted that approval notification many a time is not shared with the supplier before price negotiation. Otherwise, suppliers will raise their product price. So merchandiser uses these tricks. Ensuring the best quality with the least price is the ultimate motto of an apparel merchandiser. Merchandiser issues the bulk quantity fabric booking to the fabric unit and they receive the required quantity of yarns from the spinning unit. After making the fabric, they are advised to deliver the fabric to the next process i.e. dyeing unit.


Dyed Fabric Supplier
After the base hanger or greige fabrics being approved, then merchandiser needs to drive for shade approval. For shade to be followed, buyers send the colour standards to the concerned merchandiser. Buying team can send the colour standards in two ways as-

  1. Physical colour Swatch
  2. Shade Pantone number.
Merchandiser then places a lab-dip or yarn dip booking to the dyeing unit providing the colour standards and required fabrics. In fact, fabric and shade approval is done simultaneously.The merchandiser can issue dyeing booking so earlier so that they can plan their capacity accordingly. It is to note that lab-dip is processed for any solid colour order while yarn-dip is used for yarn-dyed orders like stripe t-shirt, polo shirt for example. Merchandiser checks the shade under the lightbox before submitting to the buyer for approval. Likewise, the fabric hanger submission, merchandiser submit every colour with several shade options (usually three options as option-A, B & C) to the buyer. After getting the shade approval from the buyer, the dyeing unit can proceed for bulk dyeing if the required greige is in-housed. Before going for bulk dyeing production, bulk hanger approval is required from bulk fabric production.Also, lot to lot bulk hanger approval is required. There may be shade variations at different batches of the fabric. So, batch-wise shade tolerance approval is also required to reduce inspection hassle.

Furthermore, different testing like pilling, colourfastness, wash fastness, GSM, azo-content, dimensional stability, spirality etc. should be passed by any accredited or buyer nominated laboratory. Fabric at different stages needs these testing as per buyer requirements. By this aforementioned way, the fabric is ready to cut in a garment manufacturing unit. Garment manufacturing unit receives the fabric with a 4-point inspection.

 
B. Sourcing from Abroad

In some cases, special fabrics are used in the garment order and that is not common or may not be available in the country. In that case, the fabric must be outsourced from abroad. Usually, it is done by email contact sending all the required parameters and images as the email attachment or sometimes sending physical fabric swatches if suppliers require. Suppliers are sometimes phone called to describe detail about the fabric. Then they develop the fabric and send for quality check. If everything is okay then both of the parties go for price negotiation and merchandiser places the booking when they can agree on price, quality, quantity and lead time issues. One thing you must know, outsourcing is done actually from a reliable and well-reputed supplier. So in this case, not only product quality and price are focused rather check their reputation as well.


Conclusion
In the textile and apparel industry, all types of sourcing actually are done by references. Almost no suppliers are quite unknown to the merchandisers. Good suppliers are well-known in this business. Knowing the supplier is very important because it is not related to the product only rather it is to check their strength, capabilities, name & fame, previous history etc. As the garment orders are of specific lead time, delivering the items on-time is must to ensure the on-time shipment.


References

  1. B. Petreca, D. Atkinson, N. Bianchi-Berthouze, D. Furniss, and S. Baurley, “The future of textiles sourcing: exploring the potential for digital tools,” 2014.
  2. T.-M. Choi and Y.-J. Cai, “Impacts of lead time reduction on fabric sourcing in apparel production with yield and environmental considerations,” Ann. Oper. Res., vol. 290, no. 1, pp. 521–542, 2020.
  3. A. Vijayan and A. Jadhav, “Fabric sourcing and selection,” in Garment Manufacturing Technology, Elsevier, 2015, pp. 109–128.
  4. D. Birnbaum, “Sourcing: A must for clothing suppliers,” in International Trade Forum, 2005, no. 3, p. 5.
  5. Apparel Merchandising by R. Rathinamoorthy and R. Surjit
  6. J. A. Rosenau and D. L. Wilson, Apparel merchandising: The line starts here. A&C Black, 2014.
  7. L. Hong-yan, “Apparel Merchandising and Design & Development [J],” J. Anhui Vocat. Coll. Electron. Inf. Technol., vol. 1, 2010.
*Note: Texpedia is a rising textile blog operated by Engr. Dilruba Yeasmin

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Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant, entrepreneur, blogger and researcher on online business promotion. He is working as a consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.


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