by Nevena Rousseva
“Search, sample, and source”
I’ve always been interested in how and where designers source their fabric. Finding that gem of a mill that produces a fabulous weight silk with just the right sheen, or one that makes a flowy cotton fabric with the perfect drape can make all the difference. Sourcing is such an important component of designing and designers spend a considerable amount of time doing it. Without the right fabric a designer’s vision won’t be fully executed and the dynamic of the collection may fall flat. When I was a design student at FIT, finding the right fabric in the right color was the most important thing for my designs. I’d spend more hours sourcing in the Garment District, than I did designing.
And I’m just talking about sourcing conventional fabrics, not environmentally friendly ones. Those are even harder to find. Years ago I didn’t know where to look. I’d spend hours searching the internet only to find a relatively empty marketplace. But in recent years things have changed. There are many companies making high quality eco textiles. Still, you had to do some digging to find these new suppliers. That is until Source4Style came on the scene. The online tradeshow that brings you sustainable fabrics from 32 countries in one place has become the shining star and beacon of light for easily sourcing eco textiles.
Friends Benita Singh and Summer Rayne Oakes co-founded Source4Style in late 2010. Several months of discussions culminated in Benita quitting her job with a marketing agency in 2011 to build up Source4Style. I caught up with Benita, who is soft spoken, but with intelligent eyes, at her New York City co-working office in the Garment District.
Source4Style is in a growth period. Last summer the site had about 40 fabric suppliers. It is now up to 140. “We really wanted to rapidly increase the size of the market place in order to really create a comprehensive sourcing tool” explain Benita of the company’s focus on growth. They’ve added new features on the site, like searching suppliers based on the minimum amount of fabric needed “So designers can find suppliers that not only meet their design criteria but also meet their business criteria as well” notes Benita.
The most critical thing about Source4Style is that it now does the heavy lifting for designers in terms of sourcing, which allows designers to spend more time designing and developing the other parts of their business. The company finds suppliers through tradeshows, LinkedIn groups, general market research, and international trade commissions. Part of Source4Styles’s social mission as Benita explains, is to “expand market access for suppliers that can’t afford to go to tradeshows”. It also works the other way. Source4Stye brings new fabrics to the designers who can’t afford to go to tradeshows and access new suppliers. That’s a win-win.
The company vets all potential suppliers using a comprehensive questionnaire that has been expanded to include social compliance. Before the categories were organic, recycled, fair trade, and preservation of craft and culture. Now the vetting includes social compliance to account for suppliers who support local enterprises and add value to a community, but their textiles and practices may not fall into one of the mentioned categories. Benita gives an example. A family owed mill in Prato, Italy that is making fine cashmere that may not be certified organic or recycled, but still produces an excellent material that’s non-toxic or synthetic, and has a great story from a small family owned business. Benita puts it this way, “We don’t want to be the definers of what sustainability means. Our goal is to provide the platform that allows designers to make their own decision about what sustainability means to them and how they want to be supporting the industry and not be exclusive in the sense of – ‘no you did not meet this regulation so you can’t be on Source4Style’. That said we obviously have to have a high level of vetting in place to make sure we are living up to our mission of promoting socially responsible sourcing.”
The vetting process was expanded in order to really support small suppliers. However, Source4Style does not exclude major players from using their platform. For example Toray, a multi-billion dollar textile company out of Japan, who are pioneers in developing a vegan ultra suede, use Source4Style to reach customers.“Everyone is on Source4Style for a different reason, but they all come back to our core of providing much needed alternatives in the industry” says Benita
There are over 5,000 designers using Source4Style coming from 76 countries. Most of the designers are coming from the US, however a lot of traffic has been coming from Australia and New Zealand. One reason is because they are not located in the vicinity of the major textile trading shows that take place in New York, London, and Paris. Source4Style gives designers in more isolated areas increasing access to textiles without the hefty travel expenses. Many of the designers using the platform are small brands, however established companies like Calvin Klein and Tory Burch have also signed on to use Source4Style.
Benita and her team of 5 are currently working to bring new features to the site. For example they are talking to groups like Cradle to Cradle and GOTS about ways to educate suppliers in order to help them transition to more sustainable practices. They are also beefing up content on the site. One of the key pieces is the interactive trends reports. These reports are about linking market trends with the textiles found on the site. As Benita puts it “It’s not just here is a great material we found, but here is a great material and here is how it aligns with the trends that you are seeing.”
In the next year or so the company hopes to move to their own office where designers can come in and swatch directly. “We are a technology company” says Benita “but we understand that the offline-online experience is so important.” Source4Style also wants to continue to grow, and have enough suppliers to rival an offline tradeshow that typically has anywhere from 700 to 1000 suppliers. By the end of this year they are looking to have 350 suppliers showcasing on Source4Style.
So if you are a designer looking for environmentally conscious fabrics, then Source4Style is the place for you. Even if you are not currently looking for fabrics, make sure you check out this innovative new platform that is disrupting traditional ways of doing business in the fashion industry.
You can sign up to use the site here. When you do, make sure you download the Spring Summer 2014 trend report.
For more on Benita and her team click here.