How Do I Become a Textile Supplier?

V. Cassiopia

There are a couple of different paths to take to become a textile supplier, but starting your own business, working for an existing company, and acting as something of a freelance consultant are usually the most common points of entry. All typically require quite a lot of expertise when it comes to textile types and sales, as well as a certain degree of business skills and market savvy. Many people in these positions have specific textile training, often paired with design, fashion, or interior decorating credentials. It’s also important to realize that you may not be able to become a successful supplier right away. Stating slowly, often as an intermediary-level employee or buyer, can help you learn the ins and outs, which will give you the wherewithal to succeed on your own.

Silk is a type of textile.
Silk is a type of textile.

Choose a Focus

The textile industry is often very broad, and even focusing just on the supply side leaves quite a few options open. Nailing down what exactly you want to do in your work can make it easier to get started. People who work to supply the fashion industry usually have a different approach and business model than do those who work supplying corporations or industries, for instance.

Becoming a textile importer or exporter is one way to become a textile supplier.
Becoming a textile importer or exporter is one way to become a textile supplier.

Knowing the difference between popular fibers and how to get and use them can also be helpful. This is especially important now that environmental concerns have begun to influence the textile market, and cotton, linen or flax, wool, bamboo, jute and other natural fibers have a heightened consumer demand. You can acquire textile knowledge by formal education, by internship training, or by working within the industry in some way, such as in a fabric store.

Woven from plant fibers, jute is a traditional upholstery webbing that is in high demand.
Woven from plant fibers, jute is a traditional upholstery webbing that is in high demand.

Importance of Supply and Network

A textile supplier also has to have fabric to supply or be able to get it, and having a roster of clients who want to make purchases is essential as well. What this means from a more practical perspective is that you need to know both people who make fabrics and those who use them, and you must usually work to maintain good relationships with everyone. Choosing a niche is also usually important, since so many people use and need textiles. Clothing companies have an obvious demand for fabric, but so do automakers, aircraft designers, and furniture upholsterers. Even within these categories there are usually different specializations. A textile supplier usually has to decide fairly early on if he's going to supply all types of fabrics or limit his inventory to suit a particular industry.

Start a Small Business

The most direct way for a person to become a textile supplier is usually by starting a company whose main purpose is to supply textiles. The company can be focused on one or more areas of the textile supply chain, which begins in the manufacturing area and ends in the distribution, trading, or supplier area. In most instances, you can start a large or small textile supply business in any of these niches. For example, you can start manufacturing textiles as a small business startup, such as by doing screen printing. You can then become a vendor or supplier by distributing your own products directly to stores or other buyers.

Owning your own business will typically give you the most control, but it can also be the most challenging, at least from a logistical standpoint. When the company is yours, you are responsible for all aspects of the business — which often requires as much if not more knowledge of things like accounting and taxation as actual textile expertise. In most cases you’ll also need a substantial amount of money to get started. Businesses that combine manufacturing and supply on a larger scale, which requires large investments for capital expenditures, typically need to obtain funding from sources such as “angel” investors or venture capital firms. Even smaller operations usually need loans or other assistance, at least to get started.

Find Work in an Existing Company

Another way to break into the business is to find work as a supplier for a company that is already established. Larger manufacturing companies and fashion houses usually employ people whose sole job is to supply the fabrics needed for given projects. Getting these sorts of jobs can be harder to do depending on your locale, since there don’t tend to be a lot of openings and they’re often quite competitive. Getting to know executives and keeping an eye out for networking opportunities is usually a good place to start, and accepting lower positions in companies with an eye towards working your way up can sometimes also be effective.

Consider Freelance Work

Another tactic is to market yourself as something of an independent consultant. In this capacity you’ll be able to work on a freelance basis, usually handling one or two clients at a time and supplying only orders with which you have expertise. Many of these sorts of professionals start out in the import/export business, which gives them an edge on the market and usually an immediate access to goods, often before competitors.

A textile importer or exporter needs to have a thorough knowledge of tariffs and import/export laws. People with access to the import and export markets usually have a close eye on the products that manufactured overseas, and can frequently place direct orders for sale locally. It’s also usually possible to focus on supplying regional or national fabrics to customers at home and abroad.

Regardless of the path you choose in deciding to become a textile supplier, you will need to have or acquire a solid understanding of cost/expense ratios and be able to calculate your profit margins. This will allow you to establish competitive product pricing and help you in starting and developing a successful business no matter your niche.

A textile importer or exporter must have a thorough knowledge of tariffs and import/export laws.
A textile importer or exporter must have a thorough knowledge of tariffs and import/export laws.

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