*This post was originally published on February 27, 2017, and has been updated.*
Last week I got an email from a blog reader named Heather who asked:
For many years I have wanted to start my own craft business (specifically sewn goods), however as I have been thinking through what goes into producing each item I’ve come to the conclusion that purchasing fabric wholesale would be the only way to make a decent profit.
Are there any podcast episodes or blog posts that you can think of that discus this topic? Getting started buying fabric wholesale seems like it is a large investment but maybe a necessary evil?
Heather is sewing products that she’d like to sell and is looking to source materials more affordably in order to increase her profit margin. That’s one reason many people look to buy fabrics wholesale. Another is to open a retail fabric shop either online or in a brick-and-mortar storefront. And sometimes these two scenarios become intertwined. Lindsay Prezzano of Hawthorne Supply Co is a great example of this last scenario. She began buying fabrics wholesale to sew patchwork picture frames on Etsy in 2007. She opened a second Etsy shop to sell the leftover yardage and that second shop took off, eventually becoming one of the most successful online fabric retailers today.
But how do you get started? That’s what Heather is wondering.
Quilting cotton is sold wholesale by the bolt. Each bolt holds 15 yards of 44-45” wide fabric and is typically priced between $82.50-87.
Whether you’re looking to manufacture items or sell fabric retail you’ll need two things to set up a wholesale account with a fabric company: a business and some money. Proving you have a business is not very onerous; the information needed is very basic. Most fabric companies have an online form to download and fill out in order to open a wholesale account. The form will ask you to fill in the name of your business, your name, your address (this can be your home address), and your tax ID. (Don’t have a tax ID? Here’s how to get one. It’s free and you can apply online. You’ll need your social security number. Once you complete your application you’ll have your EIN within a few hours.)
Some fabric companies will ask for your website URL (this can be an Etsy shop which is free to set up and takes just a few minutes) and others may ask how many years you’ve been in business. (These credentials are essentially the same as the credentials required to attend Quilt Market, the industry trade show, where you can make appointments to see the newest fabrics and place orders in person.)
The second requirement is some money to pay for your first order. If you plan to sell fabric retail you’ll need to meet the manufacturer’s minimum for your first order (the minimum drops considerably, or disappears entirely, for subsequent orders). The first order requirement for retailers ranges from $0-$5,000 depending on the company, but there are plenty of options in the $500-$1,500 range. Some companies require that you order a certain minimum amount each year, others don’t. Note that you can order a variety of different bolts to meet your minimum (they don’t have to be the same bolt or from the same collection).
If you’re planning to manufacture sewn items there’s typically a very low, or no, minimum order but you’ll likely have to choose from a catalog of existing designs rather than the latest lines hitting stores now. The fabric you receive as a manufacturer will likely be on a roll rather than doubled and bolted like it is for retailers and sometimes that means shipping charges are higher.
It’s important to realize that although each of the major fabric companies has it’s own process and pricing, all of this information is publicly available on the companies’ websites or by making a quick phone call. Fabric companies want to sell fabric and they need retailers and manufacturers to buy it. Nothing here is secret.
I did some searching to see if there was one central spot to find all of the information from all of the companies, but came up empty-handed so I created the handy chart below (or open it as a Google doc). This information is up to date (as far as I know) as of today. I’ll work to keep it current, but if you have information to correct or add please let me know.
Would you like me to email you this spreadsheet? Click the button below and I’ll send it to you!
If you’d rather not order a lot of fabric from a single manufacturer, consider opening an account with one of the wholesale distributors like Checker, EE Schenck, or Midwest Textiles and Supplies. This will allow you to order a few bolts from many different manufacturers, although not every manufacturer sells through distributors so the selection may be a bit more limited.
A few caveats about use of this list. The first is that fabric companies are aware that there are group buying clubs that set up wholesale accounts to buy fabric to divvy up among friends. This is a sketchy space. Some companies have an explicit policy against selling to coops, and others don’t. (The group buying company, Massdrop, also falls into this grey area.)
Second, if you begin buying fabric as a manufacturer and then start selling yardage as a retailer, like Lindsay did, reach out and let the manufacturers know your change of status. You’ll get access to the latest lines (and a sales rep may reach out to visit in order to show you what’s available) and your fabric will ship on a bolt so it’s easier to cut and sell.
And third, I’m aware that right now is a hard time to be in the retail fabric business, especially brick-and-mortar, but online as well. Competition is fierce and Amazon is even fiercer. Making a living selling fabric is hard and many shop owners feel resentful that fabric companies have what seems to be a low bar when it comes to determining who can open a wholesale account.
In a podcast interview a few years ago I asked Mickey Krueger, the president of Windham fabrics, about why Windham sells to Etsy shops and Fabric.com along with local quilt shops (listen to that interview here). “The barrier is low. I’ve got fabric on the shelf and if you want it I’m going to ship it to you,” he said. “We have a low minimum so as long as you meet the low minimum we’re cool. We do want to know you’re a legitimate business so if you’ve got a tax ID number we’re cool. And if you’ve met those two thresholds we’ll ship you fabric.”
Gathering this information in one place and offering access to it isn’t going to change the reality of today’s retail environment and becoming a successful manufacturer or retail store requires a lot more than digging up the basic information needed to buy fabric wholesale. As Mickey said, “The world is changing…The internet is here today and it’s not going away. If we refuse to sell to an Etsy store with the thought of saving the brick-and-mortar store well, we’re not going to be able to make that happen. It’s not a reality for anyone.”
That being said, some companies are now cracking down. I recently spoke with Ken Gamache, president of QT Fabrics, who told me that over the last 18 months they’d deactivated or closed over 400 wholesale accounts. “Internal research revealed most were consumers, crafters, or guild members who gained wholesale accounts years ago and were not retailers,” Gamache said. “Most established accounts when we had a $300 opening order minimum. We felt continuing to sell directly to these people did not help legitimate online and physical retailers.”
In any case, I hope this list is helpful to Heather and to you in whatever endeavor you’re undertaking that might be made better if you could buy quilting fabric wholesale.