Tips for Attending Your First Fabric Show
Choosing perfect fabrics for your clothing or accessories line is one of most essential tasks for any fashion designer. The best way to see a lot of different fabric and trim options quickly is to attend a fabric trade show.
Visiting a fabric show can be overwhelming, especially for clothing designers just starting out.
As a startup clothing designer, I had so many questions:
- How will I find fabrics in small quantities that I can actually afford?
- How can I get the most out of my visit to my first fabric show?
- Which fabric trade show should I attend when there are so many different options?
I’m going to give you some solid insider tips to make the most of your visit to a fabric show.
You can listen as a podcast or keep reading below.
Knowing what different types of fabric trade shows are out there will help you choose the one that works for you and your current stage of your business. Here’s an overview.
- Large fabric shows: these are volume-driven events, mostly for bigger brands, and the fabric and trim vendors often have large minimum order quantities. Examples include Sourcing at Magic (Las Vegas), Texworld New York, Première Vision (PV) in Paris, etc.
- Medium fabric shows: in this category I would include the Los Angeles Textile show (I personally LOVE this show) and Première Vision (PV) in New York.
- Smaller and specialty shows: these are geared toward small to midsize brands, and most vendors offer either low minimums or options for specific categories. Examples include The Fabric Shows (formerly DG Expo, in NY, SF, Miami), and Printsource (NY) for surface and textile design.
The best way to find a show is to ask around and see what other designers say. Like many businesses, building a network in your industry is very important. The students in my Launch a Line startup course have each other to share resources with and they’re a lovely community of like-minded designers.
Pro Tip: A show’s website is NOT always an indication of the actual show. You’re better off asking your network for the inside scoop.
BEFORE THE FABRIC SHOW
Look up the exhibitors ahead of time and mark the ones you definitely want to visit. Check out available seminars and speakers. Get together any swatches or samples of ideal fabrics you want to source to bring to the show. Prepare your business cards in a reasonable amount.
Pre-register for the event & pre-register for the Seminars. If the location is far away, make your travel arrangements.
Right now – even before you go – I suggest you block time in your calendar for the morning after the show when you’re back at your desk. Don’t skip this step! I see too many people who make the effort to attend a wholesale fabric shows, get all excited, but then don’t actually following through to get the most out of it. I suggest blocking out 4 hours.
Know the difference between a knit and a woven.
Jay Arbetman, a terrific fabric rep who owns The Sourcing District, gave this advice to all the startup fashion designers in my program – “know the difference between a knit and a woven”. It’s a great idea to educate yourself a bit on textiles and sourcing in general. Things like… buttons are sold by the gross, fabrics come in different weights. Do you want a 10 oz or a 20 oz denim? What is GSM? GSM stands for grams per square meter, and is a standard measurement for fabric weight.|
If you educate yourself, you will have a MUCH easier time communicating with the fabric and trim vendors at a show. And trust me, they’ll take you more seriously.
Get started sourcing from home. Grab our Free Guide to Finding Wholesale Fabrics.
DURING THE FABRIC SHOW
The first thing you do is walk the show quickly.
Don’t just rush in and start fondling fabrics (that’s what some of our fashion startup course students call it 😂😂) & looking at all the beautiful things. Get the Show Book. Walk the show quickly and make notes on the booths you want to visit. Go quickly, don’t be tempted to stop. Not yet.
Next, make a plan.
Grab a coffee, have a seat. Make a list of the 6 – 8 most important booths for your brand. Go over the listings and categories, locate the exhibitors you like, and be sure to start with them.
When you visit a booth, here are some suggestions:
- First, ask questions to make sure it’s right for you.
- Ask about minimums before you get too excited. Ask about continuity, stock available, lead times for sample yardage as well as production.
- DO NOT let them intimidate you! You have every right to be there, even if you’re new. Even if you don;t have a lot of purchasing power – yet.
- Take business cards as well as catalogs, swatches, and headers if available – write clear notes to remind yourself.
- Snap pictures to help you remember.
- Visit the trend sections and other presentations, seminars.
- If the booth is busy, take a card and say a quick hello — put a name with the face. Give them your card and arrange an appointment with them if it’s a priority for you.
- Have fun and meet people.
Look for hashtags for the fabric show you’re attending.
You can learn a lot and make connections by getting involved on social media before, during, and after the trade show. Take some pictures and videos for BTS content for your blog and social media accounts.
Remember that if you’re attending a big show, DO NOT attempt to visit all of the vendors at the fabric show. Also, a big mistake I used to make all the time… sourcing for “some day” when I might want or need something random. Stay focused on what you need NOW, this season. Not “this would be cool for the future if I ever need it.”
AFTER THE FABRIC SHOW
Hopefully, you met a ton of interesting people, attended some Seminars & learned some new things, made your fabric choices, and built your network. It’s time to summarize your findings.
Here is the list of things to do after the show:
Use that time you blocked on your calendar for follow-up! Go through your notes, review everything – swatches, catalogs, headers etc.
*** IMPORTANT!! Start a sourcing archive and keep all the business cards and info for the future, make sure to write the show name and dates. I used to use a 3 ring binder and cover stock to keep myself organized. Nothing fancy, but definitely effective.
Be sure to date everything in your fabric sourcing archive. Trust me, you won’t remember where you sourced something without the date.
Next, contact vendors to follow up and get more info (headers, swatches, sample yardage etc.)
If you met other designers or Seminar speakers, contact them and stay in touch. Build your network. Be sure to follow anyone you liked – or companies you liked – on social media.
Another great piece of advice that I found on the Apparel Textile Sourcing website is that it is important to engage in any social activities outside of the trade show – parties, afterparties, cocktails, dinners, and anything else that can connect you with people in the fashion business.
Speaking of fabric shows…
I’ll be at The Miami Fabric Show on June 28th and 29th. Stop by and say hi! I’d love to see you!
Here’s my picture so you know who I am.
Shall we work together?
- If you sell a physical product online and want more traffic and sales, join me for The Content Club.
- If you’re just starting out and want to launch a clothing or accessories line – any sewn product – my brand new Launch a Line course is for you!
Let me know if you’re coming to the Miami Fabric Show in the comments below — or just let me know what you think of this post! I’d love to hear from you.