Top Sustainability Textile Trade Shows All Designers Should Visit
Our Masterclass How To Source Ethical Fabrics is all about those practical tools designers require to actually get out there and find fabrics that suit their aesthetic, their sustainability values, and their price point.
In this article we address why trade shows are important for sourcing textiles, even if ethics and sustainability still remains only a fragment of exhibitor collections. And we recommend the trade shows you should put in your calendar. We also give you some quick tips on navigating them in order to save time and energy, gleaned from years upon years of trawling catalogues and rails - they're not exactly that enjoyable, despite the joy that comes from rooms of fabrics, and we don't want you to go through that.
Where can I source ethical fabrics?
- Trade shows - generally a few rooms or halls, each dedicated to a different fabric type
- Online catalogues - from individual suppliers or producers [see our Big Eco Supplier List for our recommendations]
- Supplier marketplace platforms - essentially an online trade show that compile various suppliers in one digital space
- Peer recommendations - ask brands where their materials came from (you can only try!)
- Fabric shops - more beneficial for small production runs, due to low minimum order quantities (MOQs)
- Showrooms - visiting a supplier or producer directly, whether in a studio or in a rural handweaving village
Why are textile trade shows important?
It can be a lengthy process trawling through each supplier's website, and often, they do not have the full or updated catalogue on there. Quite frankly, a lot of producers and suppliers don't even put the energy into their website - instead using it as a holding page - because they have so much more traffic and traction from shows or individual showroom visits. So visiting them in person will allow you to see everything in one place, ask your questions there and then, and choose which samples you want to see without having wasted time and cost.
Some suppliers or producers may not have a visible online presence, as silly as that sounds. Again, they may prefer in-person visits and so you may well discover someone you otherwise wouldn't.
There are always trend sections, which gives you the chance to understand the wider industry. Often you can be in a bubble as a designer, but it is still important to be attuned to trends, even as a sustainable designer. These 'mood' areas could inspire you in new ways too. [Lesson: How to be a sustainable fashion designer and listen to trends]
Nowadays, the speaker stage is also a highlight, as it brings together trending themes from across the design industry, and case studies with brands. Here you may discover a mill or innovator that you otherwise may not have heard of, and it will direct you to where you can find them - it'll also give you a talking point on their stand.
What information do I need to have for my visit?
- A checklist of fibres you are happy with
- A checklist of certifications or standards that are important
- A mood board or range plan, if you have already designed your collection
- An idea of what quantities you require
- An idea of your budget per garment, so you can work out the materials cost
- A checklist of other considerations, for instance, do you require sea freight only to minimise carbon emissions
- Plenty of business cards, with: your name, your title/role, email address, phone number, website, logo
What trade shows do you recommend?
Sustainable innovations and "Resources" areas that focus on eco fabrics. Denim specific hall "Bluezone". Trims area "Additionals". Futuristic solutions and tech. CMT and processing.
February and September
Yarns, Fabrics, Designs, Accessories & Manufacturing. Includes the Smart Creation hall for eco producers. Large sustainability-specific areas.
Creative knitwear. Do consider sustainability. Part of the Pitti Imagine curation of shows. You can register to use their digital catalogue. Some sustainability-specific areas.
Luxury fashion fabrics, including silks, lace, trims and fancies. Some eco specific exhibitors. Foccused on small MOQs. Minimal, but some, sustainability focus.
Mostly European exhibitors. Focussed on high-street retailers/brands. No specific eco fabric section. No real sustainability focus.
Leather, components and machinery for footwear and leather goods. Includes products like glues and machinery. No sustainability specific area.
Denim-focussed, international mills. All exhibiting denim mills are required to meet or exceed standards in the areas of corporate social responsibility (CSR), environment and chemical usage.
All performance "functional" fabrics and manufacturers. Full supply chain overview. Sustainability and certifications.
International mills focussed on swim, intimates and performance. No specific sustainability section mentioned but included throughout. Includes garment manufacturers. Some sustainability-specific areas.
Hosted by The Sustainable Angle. Sustainability. Innovative materials. Small scale producers. Always a superb host of speakers and panel discussions, and exhibit on innovations.
How should I approach exhibitors?
- The stands will be busy, so have a plan in mind for who is on your priority list. Visit each of these stands and make appointments if you are unable to speak with them immediately. Exhibitors will make appointment times for you so that you can look through all materials and discuss pricing and MOQs.
- Be well-versed on the terms if you are looking for specific certifications, fabric types or sustainability credentials.
- Know what you want. If you are simply visiting an exhibitor because you're intrigued, then tell them so. Make notes, take photos and return with questions later (don't waste time unnecessarily).
- Be confident. The above three points will help you ooze that confidence, as you'll be clear in your strategy and requirements.
- Be professional. This is a business proposition, not a chat, however, that's not to say you should hold back on your personality. While you are looking for a producer, the exhibitor is also looking for longstanding clients to work with - it's a reciprocal relationship.