What You Need to Know About Fabric Sourcing Retail vs Wholesale

spacer 1When you’re starting a fashion brand, it’s considered good practice to set yourself up as a business as soon as possible. For the most part, I agree with this advice if for no other reason than when you are a registered business you can attend tradeshows and set up wholesale accounts with online fabric suppliers to do your fabric sourcing rather than buying things retail.

What’s the difference? Buying retail is when you pay full price per yard for the fabric but you have no minimum quantity that you have to buy. With this option it is common to run the risk that if you go back for more of the same fabric, it could be sold out.

Buying wholesale means you get a reduced price per yard but you do have to buy a minimum amount of fabric in order to get that price. While it’s not completely certain, for the most part unless the fabric is discontinued, you can usually easily go back and re-order.

And while that explanation of retail vs wholesale does make it seem as though buying wholesale is the way to go, it’s important to understand that this isn’t always the route an aspiring brand owner can take or even should take early on.

Let’s dig into this a bit.

The assumption is that as a business you should always buy wholesale. But there could be very legitimate reasons that it would make more sense to purchase your materials retail.

And it’s important to know when those instances are so that you make the right choice for yourself and your business.

Here are times when it could be better to buy your fabrics retail.

  • Testing a New Style 
    • Whether you are just starting out or you have a few collections under your belt, if you have a new style that you want to test, committing to buying 5, 10, 20 yards of sample yardage (depending on the supplier’s minimum order quantity) of a fabric for a style you’re not even sure you’ll want to produce, makes little sense.
    • More and more, I see new brands launching their collections via pre-sale campaigns. One benefit of this is that you’re not paying to produce styles that people aren’t interested in buying. Having access to a reliable retail fabric supplier means you can show off those samples and collect orders with confidence.
    • Something else I see that I absolutely love is brands launching their collections and then testing a new style by releasing it as part of a two or three piece capsule in between the regular collections. Bonus: The added benefit of this is that you have something new to talk about and market in between collections, which is fun!
    • In all of these testing scenarios, having the ability to buy just a yard of fabric is game-changing, making it possible to get creative and try new things in your business!
  • Creating a Custom Piece
    • Some of you out there offer custom pieces to clients. If you have that skillset, it is such a great way to diversify your revenue streams. And rather than needing to buy multiple yards of a fabric to make just one or two pieces for your client, buying just a yard at retail can make it so much easier to build a thriving custom business.
  • Testing your Business
    • This doesn’t apply to everyone, but I know that a lot of you are just starting out on your journey to running a fashion business. You might be of the mindset that you’d like to test the waters, sew a few styles yourself, show them around, see how the brand as whole is received before jumping into registering your business and committing to details that you aren’t clear on yet, like your brand name or a website! This makes total sense. And if that is the case, you need the ability to play with designing your styles but you aren’t yet eligible to set up wholesale accounts with suppliers.

All of these reasons are great ones for purchasing your fabrics retail!  There’s just one thing that we need to address.

So often when buying retail, you run the risk of not being able to get more of the fabric that you purchased.

And I’m telling you, it is absolutely heartbreaking when you create a style, it goes over really well with your community and potential customers, and then you cannot reproduce it because the fabric is no longer available. The amount of money left on the table can be crushing.

So there’s one important thing you need to remember here: When purchasing your fabrics retail, use a supplier where you know you can reorder the fabrics at a wholesale price when and if the style is a hit and you want to make a lot more.

While that kind of supplier is not always easy to find, our partner SwatchOn, everyone’s favorite online fabric supplier, has just launched SwatchOn Lite!

Learn More About SwatchOn

In addition to their wholesale business, you can now explore SwatchOn Lite which is a great option for aspiring fashion brand owners, sewists, freelance fashion designers, and students.

Fabric Sourcing

The benefits of SwatchOn Lite include:

  • No minimums. You can shop as much or as little as you need.
  • Access to over 100,000 products. There is a vast selection from their wholesale catalog now available for retail purchase.
  • Tailored for individuals. Perfect for personal projects, small scale creations, and educational use.
  • Re-orderable. Buy your fabric at retail with the knowledge that it will be available to buy in bulk at the wholesale price once you switch over to a wholesale account.
  • Free swatches, free shipping. Get free swatches of fabrics that you like with free shipping.

As a reminder, SwatchOn Wholesale remains as strong and dedicated as ever, offering:

  • Low minimums for small businesses with competitive prices for bulk orders.
  • Access to over 150,000 products from 800+ suppliers, including 200+ eco-friendly choices.
  • Tailored for businesses of any size!


Whether you’re ready to source using SwatchOn Wholesale or want to start with SwatchOn Lite, the team at SwatchOn is offering StartUp FASHION readers a special promo!

SWATCHON WHOLESALE: $200 Fabric Credit
Code: SFW202403
Expiration dates:

  • Redeem credit by April 10, 2024
  • Credit valid for 60 days after redemption

How to redeem:

  • Set up a business account here
  • Go to My Profile –> Account –> Add Credit

SWATCHON LITE: $20 Fabric Credit

Code: SFR202403
Expiration dates:

  • Redeem credit by April 10, 2024
  • Credit valid for 60 days after redemption

How to redeem:

  • Sign up here
  • Go to My Profile –> Account –> Add Credit

Whatever stage of your fashion business that you’re in, having access to reliable suppliers who can meet your needs is a big part of figuring out your supply chain.

Sourcing with both SwatchOn Lite and SwatchOn Wholesale makes it possible to access a wide range of options that are available with no or low minimums.

Honestly, having a supplier who can work with you very early on and then be there as you grow is a major win.

If you’d like to source with SwatchOn Wholesale or SwatchOn Lite, don’t forget to cash in those fabric credits to get started!

This blog post is sponsored by our partner SwatchOn. The content is inspired by the fabric sourcing marketplace they have created for emerging fashion brands. While this is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own and I would never share anything with you that I don’t believe to be a truly helpful resource. Promise. 

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

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