If you run a small fashion brand or are considering starting a fashion brand, you are missing out if you’ve never been to a The Fabric Shows (formerly DG Expo). I attended the Chicago Fabric Show for the first time in 2019 and I will definitely be going again. The Fabric Shows are wholesale sourcing trade shows catering to small brands with vendors that offer low-minimums and in-stock programs. They organize shows in multiple cities throughout each year including Dallas, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. The show offers so much and here’s why I think every small fashion brand should attend.
The obvious first reason is to source fabrics and trims for your designs. It’s a sourcing show after all. There were fabric mills and converters, button suppliers, trim reps, label and packaging companies, and companies that sold wholesale notions and findings. Vendors had many swatch and sample cards at the show that you could see and feel. If you found a fabric you liked, you could place an order at the show, sign up to have your own swatches shipped to you, or write down the item info and price to reference later. Several vendors offered complimentary swatches with free shipping up to a certain quantity. I ordered swatches from a few vendors and they arrived within a week of the show.
There are lots of sourcing shows across the US every year – some of them huge – so why are The Fabric Shows important for small brands? The Fabric Shows are curated to meet your needs as a small brand. The vendors there offer low-minimums of between 5-25yds (as opposed to many mills which require minimum orders of 1,000+ yards). Knowing that every exhibitor works with small minimums makes shopping the show as a small brand so easy.
I’ve been to big sourcing shows before (like sourcing at MAGIC in Vegas) and shows that size can be overwhelming. Some are loud, massive convention centers crowded with endless booths, and you can’t possibly talk to each vendor during the several-day show. In contrast, The Fabric Show was not overwhelming or loud and had a relaxed atmosphere located in the conference center of a downtown Chicago hotel. The show ran two days which, for the size of the show, allowed time to sit down with each exhibitor and have a nice conversation.
Balancing product quality with product cost is hard to get right for your market and requires alot of planning. Attending The Fabric Shows will help you set realistic expectations for your cost of goods so that you can profitably plan out your design. At the show, you are able to compare different fabrics you like and see how they might differ in price or quality. The vendors I talked to were very upfront about pricing as well as very knowledgeable about the benefits and qualities of the different fabrics and trims they offered.
In addition to just learning and comparing costs, you can also make projections about how your costs might change as your business grows. While all the vendors offered very low minimums, many of them also shared that there were price breaks once you reached certain order quantities. One vendor even passed out a price list for their whole line with pricing for 5-9yd cuts, 10+ yards, and full roll quantities. This kind of pricing information can show you what your costs will look like as your brand grows and at what point you will see your cost per unit of your product go down.
There weren’t only fabric and trim vendors exhibiting at The Fabric Shows. There were also a handful of small-batch factories as well as service providers like patternmakers, fabric printers, and product developers who specialize in specific product types. There were even a few creative educators, branding and sales agencies, and professional organizations at the show as well. You not only can source materials at the show, but you can find the vendors and support you need for each area of your business.
While The Fabric Shows are primarily to connect fashion brands with suppliers and vendors, attending the show is also a great opportunity to meet other designers who know what it is like to be in your shoes and run a small fashion brand! Who knows, you may find your new business best friend or collaboration partner while there. I made some new friends while I was there.
A final reason why The Fabric Shows are a must-attend show for small fashion brands is the variety of business-focused seminars they offer throughout both days. There were seminars around marketing, sourcing, working with factories, growing a social following for your brand and more. Some seminars were free, while others cost $15 to attend.
The Fabric Shows curate a wonderful low-minimum sourcing show that is perfect for small fashion brands wanting to grow their business (and the show is free to attend although registration is required). Whether you are just starting out or run an established but small brand, The Fabric Shows will be worth your time to attend.