The Do’s & Don’ts At A Fabric Fair
You have an idea for your apparel designs and now it’s time to materialize them. You have decided to go to one or several fabric fairs. You want the materials, the inspiration, the networking, the relationships, and the education, you want to see some cool cities while traveling. Great! There’s one little detail left: How do you go about at a fair? You’ve never been to one before. Let us guide you through the dos and don’ts.
At fairs, you have a big amount of suppliers in the same place. The chances of finding what you’re looking for are bigger than cold-calling the suppliers. You meet the suppliers, they get to hear about your brand, and you start building a relationship.
The sourcing days are long. You walk, walk and walk some more. The basic needs are important to be taken care of: Wear comfortable shoes, drink loads of water, and bring snacks to keep your blood sugar leveled. Have a comfortable big bag with you. There will be swatches and leaflets etc that need to be stored somewhere. Some multivitamin tablets and hand sanitizing liquid can be handy. You will meet a lot of people and shake a lot of hands…
Represent Your Brand
A good idea is also to bring your best self forward in terms of style. You want to represent your values and your brand and the suppliers there are pros. They will look you up and judge if you match your brand. The first impression is as always, very important.
If you’ve never been to a sourcing fair before, it could be a good idea to go together with someone you know. The impression will be that you are a team, when entering the booths, and also you will have someone supporting you in decisions and helping you keep your focus. When flipping through all the headers, your “business colleague” can help you take notes, take pictures and write down important information. Having someone with you can be very helpful and less stressful. By the way, a header is the terminology for the piece of fabric, or swatch shown. This has usually the article number, composition, weight information, etc attached to it.
When entering the booth, look for a sales rep, make eye contact, and approach them with confidence. Have a firm handshake, tell them your name and pull out your business card. In a couple of sentences tell them where you are from, what materials you are looking for, and for what type of garment you intend to use these fabrics. It can be a good idea to say ”we” when talking about you and your business. You give the impression of being a bigger sportswear brand, and therefore more credible. Bring out a notebook and keep track of minimum quantities, prices, and important information about the supplier and lead times. At the end of your visit to the booth, you want to exit with the business cards of all the reps you have met. A tip is to bring a little stapler with you and attach every business card in your notebook with detailed information next to it. This will make it easier for you to remember everything after the show. Smile, and have some friendly chats, in the end, it’s all about the connections you make and the relationships you build.
You will meet a lot of suppliers and they might not always be super friendly and chatty. They meet hundreds of people every day so don’t take it personally. Be professional and friendly but don’t monopolize anyone’s time. Smile – happiness spreads. The reps might not remember your name but they will for sure remember how you made them feel.
It is advisable that you don’t ask for a minimum quantity or price in the first meeting. This can be portrayed as rude. You can get that information later when you find the fabrics you like.
You will hopefully visit many suppliers and see an overload of material swatches. This is of course very hard to keep track of, even though the suppliers will hand you a copy of the swatch list you have ordered. After approximately 2 weeks you will receive your swatches. To be able to keep track of everything and to see what swatches you are missing from the packages sent, it’s a good idea to take pictures of the ones you like, at the fair. This will also help you summarize the fair when you get back home.
Remember to attend the seminars
At most of the fairs, there are seminars. It could be a good thing to give yourself an extra day just to attend the free seminars at the show. Here you will meet interesting people and you have a forum to discuss and learn things.
Stay focused, ask a lot of questions, take more notes than you think you need, be inspired and if possible: ask for small cuttings of the fabrics you like the most. Enjoy the fairs!