An introduction to fabric selection for your fashion brand
Different types of fabrics and where to start
The world of fabric selection can seem like a daunting one for aspiring fashion brand owners - after all, the fabric your items are made from will make, or break your product.
Fabric can generally be broken down into two main categories - composition and weight.
Fabric composition is the percentage of each fibre that makes up a fabric. All fabrics form compositions of one, or more fibres, so even if you’re dealing with one (i.e. 100% cotton) you will still need to specify the composition to suppliers.
Fabric weight is generally measured in GSM, which stands for grams per square metre. The higher the gsm, the thicker and more durable a fabric generally is. The price of fabric will also be quite dependent on the weight of the given material.
Let’s break down the different types of fabric you will generally come across when starting a fashion brand.
Cotton | Properties, Uses & Types
Cotton is the most widely produced natural fibre and as a fabric, it's relatively well known for its comfort and durability and therefore widely used by many different fashion brands across all styles.
It's a staple fibre used on hoodies, t-shirts, joggers, sweatshirts and other styles; although, it is not uncommon to use a blended cotton fabric for some of these styles.
All fabrics that comprise cotton are soft and breathable, but one thing to note (in an activewear scene anyway) is that cotton is usually utilised as a blended fabric for sportswear.
A great example is the ever so popular 95% cotton/ 5% elastane blend that makes up most of the muscle fit gym wear tees on the market now-a-days.
Types of Cotton Fabric
There are a lot of different types of cotton that can be used, depending on the style of product you’re working with. Below is a summary of the main styles you might have already come across.
A long-lasting fabric which generally comprises of a high gsm (heavy in weight) - it’s generally used to create fashion accessories like rucksacks, bags and caps / hats
A ridged pattern which can often be seen on trousers, jackets and more recently caps! The corduroy pattern will generally run in one direction across the whole garment, albeit depending on the workmanship of the clothing manufacturer you work with.
Denim is most known for jeans, but can be used for other styles like jackets and accessories like caps now-a-days. Denim is generally weaved and then dyed (externally) which explains why the inside on a blue pair of jeans is white and if you look closely, you can actually see the weave patterns!
A soft, fuzzy type of fabric which is used on things like pyjamas, shirts and most commonly with the recent trends, overshirts. However, like most types of cotton fabric, the same styles of material can be replicated using other fabrics such as wool, or synthetic fibres like polyester.
Guaze is a light, open-weave fabric that is often used on items like dresses (more specifically, surgical dresses) - fun fact: the name actually comes from the Palastinian City of Gaza; where the fabric is thought to originate from.
A light, smooth, finely woven fabric. It is generally quite silky and soft to touch and most commonly used for summer-style dresses.
A light, loose-woven, affordable cloth. This type of cotton is generally a more affordable piece of cloth used when it comes to practising dressmaking. Before the more expensive, hard to source fabric gets taken out!
A light, lustrous, and soft fabric. It is often used for making high quality shirts, gowns and sometimes, dresses. It is actually a blended fabric which is usually made up on cotton, elastane and polyester,
A strong fabric that can stand up to heavy-use. It is wrinkle free and therefore popular on home decor items like tablecloths and quilting.
Very similar to satin, but created from cotton instead - this isn’t really used much in the garment industry, but it can be a substitute for satin in toiling stages.
The famous fabric that is used to make towels, robes and bath matts. Nowadays, we can see this used quite regularly in towel robes and within internal fleecing of dry robes (you know, those funky robes people who surf use)
A soft pile, which is very similar to velvet but similarly to the sateen version above, is created using cotton. It in itself can also be used as a more cost-effective fabric option during toiling or even as lining on some more lower end products (i.e. costs and jackets looking at lower RRPs)
Provided you've sourced high quality cotton then it tends to be very durable- although not as long-lasting as polyester, or polyester/cotton fabric blends.
The one downfall of cotton- particularly high composition cotton fabrics is their sensitivity to heat when being washed, which will inevitably lead to shrinkage for most products.
This can be avoided by adding a pre-wash treatment to the fabric prior to cut and sew, which will generally add anywhere from a 0-5% pre shrink to the fabric.
Polyester | Properties, Uses & Types
Polyester is actually a man-made fibre that is synthesised from petroleum-based products.
Polyester cloth has actually only been around since 1941 which means it is one of the newest forms of fabric you can source for your brand.
Although it's fairly new compared to cotton, it's becoming increasingly popular within the sportswear market due to its durability and its ability to withstand harsher conditions for a prolonged period of time; resulting in much more longevity in garments that contain polyester fibre.
Polyester is also lighter and has a silkier feel than cotton, meaning it actually tends to trap sweat against the skin; hence why it feels cooler in warm conditions and warmer in cold conditions and is the main reason it's used in Under Armour fabrics and base layers!
Types of Polyester Fabric
Ethylene polyester is the most common type of polyester on the market. It also stands for PET, which can be seen as synonymous with the generic term of “polyester”
According to Culthread, polyester as a synthetic fabric accounts for 60% of the world production of PET (polyethene terephthalate)
Plant-based polyester is a sustainable application of the synthetic polyester alternative. It is a biodegradable application which is great for brands looking to create sustainably conscious collections.
That being said, plant-based polyester isn’t as durable or long-lasting as the PET and PCDT (more below) alternatives and although sustainable in the production process, often leads to a shorter product life-cycle.
PCDT polyester isn’t as popular as the PET alternative we discussed earlier, but with slightly more elasticity than regular polyester, and a high level of durability, it does have its applications; albeit more in upholstery opposed to fashion.
As previously mentioned, polyester is much more durable than the likes of cotton and it's also less likely to shrink, wrinkle or fade so general wash instructions usually include washing on a medium temperature and leaving to dry.
Silk | Properties, Uses & Types
Silk is a natural fibre known for its lust, shine, durability and versatility in the fashion industry. Although, you won’t find any old brands working with silk.
Silk is the epitome of luxury - it’s a high cost, hard to source fabric that is used in high-end fashion houses, luxury labels and market leading brands.
Types of silk fabric
Charmeuse actually derives from the French word, female charmer and is a lightweight fabric with a satin weave; this weave provides the material with a soft, silky finish.
The qualities of Charmeuse makes it the perfect silk for producing delicate dresses, scarves, lingerie and blouses within the fashion industry, so although it has applications, they are for more specific styles and collections.
A lightweight, plain woven type of silk fabric which has twisted crepe yarns - this provides a moderate level of puckering and therefore makes chiffon a more stretchy style of silk available on the market.
This type of silk fabric is used in the same applications as charmeuse, but offers more elasticity for certain styles.
Crêpe-de-chine is a plain-weave fabric with a distinctive crisp and crimped appearance. This style of fabric can also be created using wool, or synthetic fibre alternatives.
This fabric is used by some of the largest fashion houses and brands, including Gucci, NET-A-PORTER and farfetch to create high-end, unique pieces in the form of shirts, dresses and skirts.
A plain-weave, pure silk fabric. It is made up using thin warp thread which creates a tight weave.
The most commonly seen application of Dupion Silk is in Asian Bridal Wear and Kurtas.
Made with highly twisted yarns, Georgette is actually a variation of Crêpe-de-chine named after the 20th Century French dressmaker, Georgette de la Plante. The key difference between georgette and crepe is the distinctive surface created by S and Z twisted yarns in both warp and weft.
The most common applications for georgette silk are dresses, blouses and shirts.
Habotai is a light, airy silk fabric that carries a slight sheen, and is the classic silk used for lining, but can also be used for making scarves, blouses or lingerie.
Sheer, fine and lightweight, Organza is an open-weave fabric with a smooth sheen. Although now-a-days, there are synthetic variations of organza (more specifically made from polyester, or nylon) the original weave of organza is made from pure silk.
This fabric is most commonly used on sarees and tops.
Silk satin is probably the most common type of fabric you will see when you think of “silk” - although most silk satin products now-a-days derive from 100% polyester, nylon or rayon and therefore aren’t genuine silk.
That being said, satin made from silk is far superior, and a popular choice of material for evening gowns and bridal wear for luxury and a higher-end finish.
Also known as Tussah silk, shantung is characterised by having irregular ridges, known as slubs. The fabric is coarse and has a rough appearance.
These characteristics means the fabric doesn’t crease and is great for use in shirts, dresses and trousers.
A luxurious woven fabric where the threads are evenly distributed, giving a soft hand-feel.
Velvet can be used in an array of different styles, but most commonly is used in shirts, dresses and skirts.
Silk is a very delicate fabric, and although some types of silk are more durable than others, the general rule of thumb is that silk should be treated with care.
If you’re creating garments using silk, it’s best to ensure you inform customers that all products should be dry cleaned rather than machine washed and to consider the use of the garment.
Fabric blends are when two, or more types of materials are blended together to build a fabric type.
There are thousands of variations of fabric blends, all of which have their own purpose and applications but the most commonly seen blends would be below;
- Cotton / Polyester - often seen on hoodies, joggers, sweatshirts and similar styles
- Cotton / Elastane - seen most commonly on t-shirts marketed towards a lifestyle purpose with added stretch
- Polyester / Elastane - similarly to the above, these can be found quite commonly in the sportswear sector on performance garments
Fabric blends tend to be more durable than individual fabrics due to the fact that they include properties from different types of individual fabrics.
Every fabric blend has its individual pros/ cons and is more down to personal preference and is something we'd suggest based on each client's needs and requirements.
For example, elastane/ polyester fabric is best for leggings and base layers; due to the fact it's durable and sweat-wicking but also retains its original shape, regardless of how stretched out it is... which makes it perfect for say womens leggings.
That being said, the actual % breakdown very much depends on the specific clients requirements.
In summary, selecting the most appropriate fabric for your collections will very much depend on the style you’re looking to produce. It will most likely be the case that a collection will comprise of a variety of different materials across each style.
It is therefore important to do some research on the most commonly used materials for said styles and speak to your clothing manufacturer about receiving fabric swatch books to assess the options available.
Anthony Mellor is a fashion entrepreneur, writer and consultant. Anthony writes in-depth articles about topics related to fashion, business and supply chains.
Anthony successfully scaled and exited a D2C fashion brand at the young age of 20. Since then, he's gone onto start and successfully operate two multi-6-figure clothing manufacturing businesses and currently offers up one-to-one constancy to brand owners.