June 14, 2023

How to source fabrics as a freelance designer

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
A decade's worth of fashion experience across; product design, development, sourcing & logistics

Sourcing is one of the biggest pain points a designers face, so knowing how to source fabrics as a freelance designer is a crucial part of creating any collection.

In the past designers would head down to the garment district (if you’re in New York) but even then it’s a bit of a roll of the dice what’s in stock.

Freelance textile designers from our community always mention this part of the process as the most painful and tiresome.

  • Low MOQs
  • Expensive shipping
  • Lack of continuity textiles

Covid-19 has lead to a growth of indie brands and the ability for freelancers to source fabrics with low MOQ.

So today we’ll help shed a light on the best practices from our time building Make the Dot, and our previous life in textile sourcing.

Hopefully helping the community know how to source fabrics as a freelance designer.

In summary

  • Avoid fabric retailers if possible, as they usually don’t offer wholesale prices
  • Focus on your niche as a freelance designer and a fabric suppliers matching it
  • Be flexible and willing to comprise on certain aspects
  • Source fabrics locally from as close to where you work as you can
  • Referrals and relationships ensure everyone in the ecosystem succeeds

Read on for a more detailed breakdown 👇

Checkout our some sample fabrics that are hot for SS23
Checkout our some sample fabrics that are hot for SS23

🛒 Types of suppliers that freelancers can source fabrics from

If you’re sourcing fabrics as a freelance designer, chances are you’re sourcing from a middle man in your home country, rather than directly from the mill in Asia.

Theres suppliers come in a few forms for freelance designer fabric sourcing.



  • Converters buy greige fabrics%20before%20dyeing%20and%20printing.) directly from the mills and add colors and finishing to them
  • Therefore, freelancers can source fabrics more specific to their requirements
  • Converters also have consistent inventory, crucial for repeat style creation for freelancers
  • However, there’s not a lot of converters in the market, and their stock is normally quite limited


  • Importers solve the fabric sourcing problem for freelancers through a dedicated inventory and category
  • Meaning their fabric stock is constant and of a predictable quality
  • However, each fabric importer tends to work only within a specific niche, and the MOQs tend to be higher

🎬 How to start sourcing fabrics as a freelance designer

Next up, let’s look into how to get started sourcing fabrics as a freelance designer.

Where to begin, where to look, what to look out for.

Start small with a freelancer focused fabric supplier

  • Smaller, niche suppliers are the easiest place to start sourcing fabrics as a freelance designer
  • Middle men like Novetex or smaller fabric suppliers like Carr textiles are a good place to start
  • Do your homework and look within your category niche

Source from freelancer fabric trade shows

  • There are now quite a few trade shows freelancers can source fabric from
  • Indie textile designer trade shows like LA textiles are a start
  • Many of these won’t be online, so reach out to the community to get the best insights

Watch out for freight and shipping

Some color and leather vibes
Some color and leather vibes

📖 The freelancer fabric sourcing process

Ok, now let’s get into the nitty gritty on a step-by-step process on how to source fabric as a freelance designer.

1. Start with color cards

  • Getting accurate color cards in the suppliers hands as quickly and early as possible is key
  • Sourcing fabric will take time, and colors are tricky, so start with this
  • Always plan to have back-up colors and hues in case first choices don’t come through

2. Try to go large on MOQ

  • Unfortunately for freelancers sourcing fabrics, freight also has MOQs and benefits from economies of scale
  • Meaning sourcing as much fabric as you can will always work out cheaper
  • Having a reliable and trusted supplier is key here

3. Factor in lead-times

  • Reducing freight cost in the fabric sourcing process for freelancers can also be helped by sourcing locally
  • Or factoring in lead-times into your final client delivery
  • First figure out the suppliers inventory position, factor in the lead-time, which will then give you a final delivery time

4. Fabric prices can be volatile

  • Especially with smaller MOQs and limited run fabrics prices can be volatile
  • Therefore, keeping other costs low and predictable is crucial
  • Sourcing fabrics as freelance designers has many huddles so trusting a partner and paying a little more initially, may work out cheaper in the long term

How to source fabric relies on contacts, trust and knowing what you want
How to source fabric relies on contacts, trust and knowing what you want

🤓 A few other tips to help source fabrics as a freelance designer

  1. Sustainable or sustainably sourced fabrics make-up a huge percentage of the market these days. Amazing for smaller sustainability focused micro brands and freelance designers
  2. Look out for Ocutex 100 certification, to make sure the factory or mill in question is sustainably certified
  3. Sourcing locally in the US or Europe generally helps mitigate the risks of sourcing from a mill with a question sustainability record
  4. Be hyper focused on your category, fabric, brand voice and style. Sourcing fabric successfully as a freelance designer means working within your niche
  5. Other freelancers aren’t your enemy. There’s more than enough room in the ecosystem for everyone to help each other out, while making the cake bigger for all

And that’s it.

Our guide to how to source fabrics as a freelance designer.

Anything I missed?

Anything I should add?

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