Today, I’m going to be giving you a little bit of advice on how to buy your own fabric if you’re going to have a suit made by your own tailor.
“Antonio, I’m a law student from Malaysia. Off-the-rack suits here are pathetic. The best and most expensive ones I’ve seen at $800 are 25% wool and 75% polyester. The rest are made from rayon and other things. What are those materials? I’m on a budget, but I have a tailor friend, so the only thing I need is wool fabric and we’re going to make my own suit. However, I have a bit of hesitation. I see this fabric online.” He sent me to a link to some fabric on eBay, “Super 180 Black Grey Stripe, but it sounds too good to be true. What’s your opinion? What should I be looking for whenever I’m buying fabrics online?”
This is a good question and one I get often as a custom clothier. I’ll have people approach me in my business and they’ll say, “Hey, I’ve got my own fabrics. Can I just send this to you, and you and your tailors make it and you just charge me for the build?”
I used to say “yes” to this but now, I’m saying “no”. This isn’t my business model and it’s a bit of a headache because there are extra risks I take on for doing this and I’m going to go into a bit of detail about why.
He’s buying this on eBay so he needs to look at:
#1 – The seller. Does he trust the seller? Because he asked the first question, “Is this too good of a deal?” It sounds like it’s a great fabric and a Super 180 isa pretty high-end fabric. And for the price he’s shown me, it did look like a low price.
So he needs to go look at the person that’s selling the fabric and look at their rating, how many times have they sold, what are people saying about them, because there is a chance that it’s a deadbolt and what I mean by a deadbolt is the mills that produces a certain amount of fabric again and again.
Mills make a fabric type with a certain type of pattern or just a little bit of an off color that they’re going to wait a few years before they do this, so they make a certain amount of this fabric and then they sell it out.
They call these the bolts because the fabric rolled up. If you can imagine a paper towel roll, that’s how the fabric comes.
They get to the end of that and believe it or not, even though they come off the same machine and everything should be the same, the fabrics can sometimes have a little bit of coloration difference.
If it’s the end of the bolt as well, they’re going to try to sell that. If it’s been sitting in someone’s warehouse for a while, they just want to get rid of it. It’s inventory. It’s costing them money. It’s taking up space. Oftentimes, you can find these at great deals.
It doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with the fabric. It’s just simply the person that has it doesn’t really need it because he can’t make 20 suits out of it. He can only make one or two suits out of it.
There are great deals to be had, but you need to trust the seller, so look at the sellers rating, understand, “Is this somebody I could trust?” That’s the number one thing because if you can’t trust the seller, all these other factors I’m talking about are going to be mute because if they’re saying it’s 100% wool, it’s very hard for you to test that.
Occasionally, with fabrics that I’m suspicious of, I’ll send off to Texas Textile Testing Center. They do a chemical test and the samples I send do not come back because they basically dissolve them and they’re able to exactly figure out what percentage is wool, what percentage is what other fibers.
Most people try to do the burn test which isn’t that accurate. It gives you an idea, but you really need to know what you’re looking for and unless you’ve done that hundreds of times, you really don’t know what you’re looking for.
It’s like a mechanic can tell you what to look for. When you’re driving, you’re listening to your car, but it’s best to take it to a mechanic, and that’s the same with fabrics. And there are very few people in the world I know of who can actually tell us something by the burn test.
You want to trust the seller because there are a lot of counterfeit fabrics. I have had people sell me fabrics and they have lied to my face and told me that this is 100% wool. I go get it tested and it’s 50% to 40% wool or even less.
Usually, I could feel the less but I can tell you that if something is 70% wool, it’s very hard to feel that 30% polyester if it’s a really good knockoff. There are some great counterfeit fabrics coming out of China that they say they’re 100% wool made in Italy
So deal with only the people you trust.
#2 – Make sure that you buy enough fabric. I don’t know your size. I don’t know the pattern in the fabric, so this is going to vary, but usually you want at least 3.5 meters for the average size man.
If you’re wider, if you’re taller, you’re going to need more material than that. And I also recommend that you get enough fabric for an extra pair of trousers.
Anytime a man has a suit made, I always recommend he gets an extra pair of trousers because your trousers wear out before that. So you’re looking to get, I would assume at least 5 to 5.5 meters, maybe even a bit more.
What is it going to cost? If you’re getting a suit made that has any type of pattern on it, then the tailors needs to be able to match the patterns up. And if he’s going to be doing that, he’s going to have to use more fabric.
I don’t think I have a picture of any but basically when you lay it out there, if it’s a solid fabric, you can put the pattern pieces very close to each other. If it’s a pattern, you have to arrange them in a different way and you’re going to waste a bit more fabric. Therefore, you need more fabric.
There’s also the issue, and it’s something that I hate, fabric that we’ve received from people which reacted very strangely under heat. We’ve had fabrics shrink noticeably and unexpectedly whilst shaping the suit.
This usually happens when we aren’t used to dealing with fabric from this mill and we’ve had to go back to the client and ask for more fabric. Oftentimes, we’ve have to ask for quite a bit more because we had to make sure it’s a long enough length for a pair of trousers.
Those are some of the headaches you go with. Hence, I would advise you, overdo it and you get more fabric than what you think you’re going to need because mistakes happen.
Fabrics react a bit differently so you need to make sure you’re testing this. You’re going to want to apply a little bit of heat to it and see how the fabric reacts. The tailor you’re going to be working with most likely has never worked with this fabric.
So taking all that into account, that’s what you should look at whenever you’re purchasing the fabrics.
Again, you could find some great deals out there but you need to know what you’re looking for and a tailor who’s willing to experiment and have fun dealing with a new fabric.
If you’ve got something to add, I’ll see you in the comments. Oh, and don’t forget about our Men’s Style Q&A where we are now taking a lot more questions.