Fashion Designer 101: How to Negotiate with Fashion Suppliers

MakersValley Blog: Fashion Designer 101: How to Negotiate with Fashion Suppliers
Anna Palagano

Anna Palagano

Part of being a strong business owner is making the best decisions to grow your fashion line. You need to decide on the best routes to finance your business, the most fitting fabrics and trims, and the best manufacturers partners. Then, once you find a suitable factory, the next big step may involve negotiating the terms and prices for the trims and fabrics that your manufacturer will use to bring your designs to life. Confronting established fabric, trim, and packaging fashion suppliers can be intimidating, especially to new designers. It may involve conflict, making compromises, and even finding a new fashion supplier if you are unable to agree. However, negotiations are a normal part of cultivating that relationship. and can result in good deals and hence, large profit margins. Poor practices could mean lost deals or even burned bridges, so you should approach this part prepared. Read on to learn how. 

Before the Negotiations

Understand Your Priorities as the Fashion Brand Owner

Your negotiations will not only involve price but also fashion supplier performance. This means accounting for a variety of different priorities, including:

  • Price
  • Minimum Order Quantity
  • Deliver Time
  • Payment Terms
  • Quality 
  • Customer Support

Maybe you’re looking to grow immediately, so faster delivery is more important, and you’re willing to pay a premium. Or maybe your supplier remains firm on a certain price for low quantity orders, but offers you a discount through fabric bulk buying. 

Online Fashion Supplier Research

A woman at her desk on her computer

Once you’re ready to begin your vendor research, firstly check out your potential fashion supplier’s website (if they have one). You may be able to find MOQ, specializations, or frequently asked questions. Basic knowledge about the vendors you will contact can help you skip asking an overly asked question. This shows professionalism, interest, and will save time for more meaningful inquiries. Secondly, understanding your supplier better before getting on the phone with them will help you understand the extent of your leverage. How many other customers do they serve? Do they have a monopoly? Are they new?

Ask Detailed Questions to Reveal Common Goals

After initial negotiations you should research and educate yourself about why your supplier’s terms and prices are the way they are. For example, some fashion professionals have experienced a scenario in which a vendor has a set high MOQ for custom dyed fabrics, but will allow their customer to pay for the fabric dye fee by yard in exchange for a lower MOQ. This may result in a higher purchase price, but less overwhelming inventory. It’s important to think more about overall costs of managing your fashion brand and inventory, rather than just production prices alone. Seek out mutual goals that allow you and your fabric or trim vendor to collaborate in positive ways. 

Take a Close Look at the Fashion Supplier Market

Flat lay of sewing supplies

 Lowballing is a major turn off during negotiations. It can be insulting and indicates a lack of awareness. Research market prices and search for quotes from various vendors before beginning fashion supplier negotiations. This will also prepare you for a backup plan if your first contacted vendor does not work out, and can even help you find bargains by price comparing. By extension, you should also make yourself aware of various levels of quality as vendors often justify prices for quality.

Learn Fashion Industry Jargon

A crucial way to build credibility with how experienced fashion professionals communicate is to familiarize yourself with the terminology within the fashion industry. Learning phrases, abbreviations, and the correct language for various parts of the manufacturing and logistics process will allow you to have clearer communication with fabric and trim suppliers.

When the bottom lines of people’s businesses are at stake, tension can easily arise. Building trust and credibility is essential. Illustrate your own credibility by showing proper business acumen.

During the Negotiations

Build Your Credibility and Authenticity with Fashion Suppliers 

Business partners shaking hands after making a deal

Perhaps you have previous business experience, high pre-orders, or a successful crowdfunding campaign that can indicate future success to the suppliers you contact. Even if you are a less established fashion designer, you can solidify trust between you and your vendors by highlighting those factors, making your payments on time, and keeping clear and open communication going throughout the relationship. It’s also important to be amicable in tone and phrasing. 

By contrast, you never want to be deceitful, aggressive, or manipulative or use empty threats or posturing. Those types of interactions will hinder the long term relationships that are essential to smooth supply chain management and better deals down the line. Keep to your values and represent your business proudly. Even though you may enter some conflicts, your supplier is your partner and not your competitor. Your success is often their success and vice versa.

Play Things Close the Vest

While you want to prove loyalty and commitment, you also don’t want to come off as too eager or desperate to potential suppliers. This means, for example, not taking the first offer you receive from a vendor. Be prepared to counter with your own offer one or two times. Consider suggesting cuts to any services and features of an agreement that you will not use as a way to reduce price. 

However, stay away from revealing pressing needs like aggressively early deadlines which could serve as leverage against you. Be clear, realistic, and firm on your fabric, trim, packaging, and other needs for your clothing line. Stay confident about your terms and don’t forget that walking away is an option before any contract is signed.

What if we can’t come to an agreement?

As just mentioned, keep in mind that it’s okay to walk away from a vendor.

Sometimes it may not be the best fit in quality, price, MOQ, etc. You don’t want to risk ruining a relationship, which will make it hard to find materials for your line and potentially damage your reputation amongst the vendor community. Besides – the end of one opportunity could mean the beginning of another, and you can use the other options you found in the research phase of this process to try again. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck the second time along now that you have some practice already under your belt! 


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