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Helping Buying Teams Choose the Right Fabric

by Deborah Shulton

by Deborah Shulton

MOTIF Blog Guest Contributor
Managing Director, DS Textiles Solutions

Why do buying teams need to know about fabrics?

Think about a considered purchase that you have made recently. It could be an electrical item; a television; a computer or even a car.  When making your buying decision you would undoubtedly have taken into account key features of the models you were looking at –and compare the features versus the price before making your final decision. And yet often when decisions are made by buyers to buy thousands of pounds worth of fabric (either direct from a mill or already made up into a garment) – key features of that fabric aren’t discussed – and the decision is made mainly on aesthetics, price, availability and source. This can subsequently lead to issues that could quite easily have been avoided if some key questions were asked at the time of purchase.

How can Fabric Appreciation training help your buying teams be more effective?

During the 10 or so years that I have been running Fabric Appreciation Workshops, I have come across a number of common issues faced by buying teams. In many cases, these issues could potentially have been avoided, or resolved fairly quickly and easily if someone had some broad background knowledge of fabric. However, as is often the case now, many retailers no longer have employees within their organisation that have specialist fabric knowledge. Quite often they rely on product technologist that have gained some basic understanding of fabrics along the way, or they expect the buyers / designers to be able to converse knowledgeably with suppliers about fabrics. 

To follow are a few typical examples of situations that I have come across – where a lack of fabric knowledge has led to issues resulting in delayed decision making, dissatisfaction with production; increased costs due to miscommunication or misunderstanding of what is actually required. These issues, together with many others, are the topics that I cover during my Fabric Appreciation Courses – relating fabric knowledge to real life situations – and showing some of the effects that a lack of knowledge can result in.


Typical situations relating to a lack in fabric knowledge

1. ‘Why are these 2 wool fabrics so different in price and handle – and yet they look the same?’

When buying a wool fabric of any sort (woven, jersey or knitwear) – the choice of raw material is fundamental to the price and final handle of the fabric. By the choice of raw material, I am talking about the micron (or fineness) of the wool fibres themselves. Since this is at the very initial stage of manufacturing the fabric – once that decision has been taken – the price and handle of a fabric will be determined to a greater degree. If 2 fabrics are being considered either to run alongside each other or one is being considered as a better priced version of an existing quality, then the wool micron is a fundamental feature that should be known to ensure that you are comparing like with like. 

Understanding the affect the choice of raw material has on a finished fabric is one of the key aspects of the Fabric Appreciation training courses. We look at the choices available across natural and man-made fibres and investigate how those choices can affect the price, handle and performance of the finished fabric.


2. ‘Why does one viscose elastane single jersey pill more than the other when they are both the same weight and composition?’

Pilling properties of a fabric can be influenced to a better or worse degree by the type of spinning method used to create the yarns. So even if 2 fabrics look identical in terms of composition, weight and construction the pilling performance can be dramatically different. 

Understanding what types of spinning methods are available for what types of fibres and the affect each method can have on the performance (price and handle) of a fabric is another of the aspects of the Fabric Appreciation Training Course.

3. ‘What’s the difference between a cambric and a poplin?’

Many industries have terms that are widely used to describe common fabric constructions. These terms can sometimes be mis-used or misunderstood – resulting in miscommunication with suppliers. Being able to understand what some of these terms actually mean – will often help with communicating with suppliers to ensure that everyone is talking about the same thing ensuring that sample requests are accurate and avoiding disappointment when a sample fabric turns up that is not what was expected. 

The Fabric Appreciation Course breaks down and illustrates commonly used terms into simple to understand definitions so that people can be clear about what it is they actually want.  

4. ‘These 2 qualities from 2 different suppliers are supposed to be the same but the specifications are different. How come?’

Understanding and comparing different yarn count systems; describing constructions and comparing weights per running meter and per square meter are some of the biggest causes for confusion. Also being able to unscramble a fabric spec from the list of numbers that seem to be randomly printed on a fabric header is something that is often requested. 

The Fabric Appreciation Course explains common count systems, explores how they are derived and also how to interpret common ways of quoting fabric specifications. It also looks at how to compare different expressions of weight.

5. ‘This fabric won’t pass our standards and the supplier is saying it’s the best they can achieve – why can’t they get the performance any better?’

Many retailers will have their own internal performance standards to assess the suitability of a fabric for a particular end use. But what happens when a sample fabric doesn’t meet these standards? In some instances, there will be remedial action that can be put in place to ensure that the bulk meets the relevant standards. However, knowing when there are limitations to a fabric’s performance based on the choice of raw material, yarns, construction or finishing method is something that many people struggle with. Without a technologist on site they are often not confident to have the discussion with the supplier to ask what it is that can be done to improve a fabric performance – and so may either dismiss a fabric out of hand – or be persuaded into using a quality that may never be able to achieve the required performance. 

Attending a fabric appreciation workshop will help to identify some of the limitations of certain types of fabrics as well as illustrate some key topics to discuss with the fabric mill before making any decisions. 


There will always be occasions when time constraints may mean that there isn’t an opportunity to go into any detail for a particular fabric – this is the reality of working in the fashion industry – and in these situations decisions will still be made based on aesthetics, price and availability. 

On core bulk lines however, a company needs to know that they are getting the best fabric that money can buy and that will meet both theirs and the customers’ expectations. In these cases, attending a Fabric Appreciation Training Course can help to improve your team’s knowledge and understanding of raw materials, yarns, fabric constructions and finishing to help ensure that these expectations are met.


Learn more about Deborah and the on-demand Fabric Appreciation Workshops she leads in the UK and Europe HERE.

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