Buying Apparel Fabric – The 8 Important Points to Remember

This article is for the buyers who want to get good deals and quality fabric for apparel production. It takes some understanding of the textile industrial culture because this is the probably the only large scale industry where almost every order is tailor made. In this article 'vendor' means a textile fabric manufacturer and not a wholesaler, semi-wholesaler or retail distributors. Here we go.

1. Communicate clearly about your requirement to the vendor in advance.

If you want your fabric vendors to develop new qualities that they have not manufactured earlier, it is prudent to give them complete detail of your requirement and sufficient time. Indian people normally do not want to offend customers since they may agree to a very close deadline despite the execution might be delayed. In such cases where the requirements are urgent, it would be wise to develop the same quality with 2 or 3 vendors.

2. Assess the capacity of the vendor for manufacturing the desired product.

Many manufacturers would go out of the way to commit developments although they may not be able to deliver. At the eleventh hour this failure may cause disaster for you. There are two ways to work around the issue.

a) Review the product range already manufactured by the vendor. If your product is very close to any of the products already made by the vendor, then only place the order with them.

c) Have a look at the sample presentation. Samples without proper, printed labels giving relevant detail is indication of non-professionalism.

b) Check out if the vendor has a fabric development infrastructure like fabric analysis and designing department, desk looms, lab processing facility etc. in place. If those are absent, you would be working with an amateur.

3. The Supplier Must Have a Well defined Supply Chain Management (SCM) / Production Planning and Control (PPC) department.

In order to ensure timely deliveries, the manufacturer should have a properly functioning and reporting SCM / PPC department. It is becoming common for the buyers to communicate with the designated PPC representative to receive update of the progress made in various orders on a regular basis. There are manufacturers who manage the process flow on ad-hoc basis without having a well managed PPC system in place. Those vendors possibly can handle smaller orders if followed up closely. It would be comfortable to depute a representative for follow up at those vendor sites in such cases. For larger orders, say to the tune of 20,000 mtr or so per delivery size, a properly functioning PPC department is a must.

4. Check the Working of the Manufacturers' QC (Quality Control) Lab and a QA (Quality Assurance) System.

I have experience of coming across some manufacturers and their technicians who do not understand the importance of matching colors in properly calibrated light boxes. In most cases the technicians have insufficient qualification for the job. Such manufacturers should be preferably dropped from the vendor list. Vendors having labs accredited by well known brands are the best as a general rule of thumb. This does not mean that the labs which have not yet been accredited are bad. In most cases a good lab is a good lab whether accredited or not. A look at their documentation method can give a fair idea about the competency of the company in delivering consistent quality.

5. Stock of Non-Moving Goods on the Shop Floor.

A point to observe but missed by many buyers while auditing a vendor's plant. A long queue of goods in process is an indicator of poor manufacturing process management. In many vendors' place you would find volume of in-process goods inside inside department shop floors are so huge that you would not be able to walk freely across. This is an indicator of poor planning and operations management. From my experience, honoring delivery schedules in such working condition may not be possible in such a situation.

6. Efficiency of Operation.

Number of active machines seen in the running (production) condition is an indicator of the efficiency of that department. Companies having efficient manufacturing departments only can keep their commitments. Say for example, in a weaving plant, if you find from the indicators about 10% machines are stopped, you may grossly assess that the department works with about 90% efficiency at that time.

7. Quality and Efficacy of communication.

Many buyers insure that the vendor design a single person as a point of contact for all follow ups related to their orders. I find efficiency of this arrangement not very doubtful because,

a) That particular contact person may not be available all the time.

b) Unlike apparel merchandisers, the fabric marketing people move around inside the plants and outside a lot and they normally check e-mails only twice or thrice a day. Therefore, it is wise to consolidate all questions / questions in a batch and send / expect reply only once or twice from a vendor per day. Also, questions related to order status should be with the PPC department instead of with the marketing person while a copy of such communication should be marked to the marketing person of the vendor. This is a tested method to get correct and timely replies.

You should also check out that Vendors have competent communicators to answer questions on a day to day basis.

8. Suggest for Buying smaller quantity of fabric.

It is always a good idea to procure smaller quantity of fabrics from a wholesaler or through a good buying agent than buying directly from a manufacturer. The cost may be slightly higher but the wholesalers and agents of textile manufacturers have typically very close contact with the mills and they can ensure on-time delivery better for smaller quantities.

Last but not the least, the merchandisers involved in the sourcing job sometimes does not recognize the issues characteristic of the textile industry. In such cases they should be given some orientation in the fabric manufacturing process to understand and plan the fabric procurement operation better.