Are you cut out to be a fabric seller? | Starting Out | Small Business Connect

As a fabric retailer you need to be interested in fashion trends and styles.

While the textiles industry has in recent years been in the news for all the wrong reasons – cheap imports, factory closures and job losses – there is nonetheless a good market out there for a small business selling fabrics.

Specifically so if the owners are, so to speak, cut out to be fabric sellers.

Fabric retailers usually operate from a shop with a showroom and an office, offering customers a wide range of fabrics, lining materials, needles, cotton and trimming materials.

The business of fabric retail is divided into two main areas: soft furnishing fabrics and dressmaking materials.

Soft furnishing fabrics are used in curtains, sheets, cushions and furniture upholstery, for instance.

A fabric retailer serving this segment could sell to furniture makers, but could also offer a make-up service for curtains and soft furnishing items such as cushions, to co-ordinate the colours and styles. Soft furnishing retailers could also offer a design service to help customers choose fabrics that fit in with their home decor.

On the other hand, dressmaking materials are fabrics for dresses and clothing, so if you are in this segment, your business could also have a link with a dressmaker or alteration service. Your clients could select a fabric and pattern, and then have the item made to measure.


Fabric sales depend on trends and fashions; so, as a fabric retailer, you need to be interested in these trends and styles so that you know what customers are looking for.

This interest in interior design and fashion will also help you advise your customers on mixing and matching fabrics and accessories.

You also need to have some technical knowledge about how to use different fabrics and what they are most suitable for. In addition, you need to be skilled in using patterns and in sewing.

Care and attention to detail are also necessary in this business, to ensure that any fabric you sell is suitable for its eventual use.

You need skill and creativity in choosing fabrics and items to sell. At the same time, you may need to be polite and diplomatic when it comes to advising customers to select a fabric that will fit in with its surroundings and its use.

This will be useful if, for instance, a customer wants to cover a settee with the wrong fabric, or make a garment out of fabric that will not suit the design.

Starting a fabrics business requires stocking your shop with fabrics you think will sell.

Besides having the funds available to invest in your stock, you will also have to make important decisions on which stock to carry – not an easy task, considering that you may not have much experience in doing so and that you will not have any sales history to guide you in your decision-making.


The demand for soft furnishing fabrics has grown as part of growing consumer interest in home improvements. This could be good for your business. As South Africa’s middle class grows, more people can afford to spend money on such products.

The import of cheap Chinese fabrics and clothes into South Africa have made these products more affordable to the local market, and should make it easier for retailers to make a profit on their fabric sales. However, it has also meant that jobs in local clothing manufacturers have been lost.Many people make and repair their own garments, and cover their own furniture, either out of necessity or as a creative hobby, creating a steady demand for fabrics.

Your customers could include:

Individual consumers wanting to buy fabric for home furnishings or making dresses.

Interior designers, who may require fabric samples or may place a regular order for curtaining, curtain lining and other soft furnishing materials.

Fashion designers and fashion design students looking for material and ideas for their designs.

Check out the latest news for the clothing sector by visiting the website of the National Clothing Retail Federation of South Africa, which aims to promote interaction among retailers, to conduct research for the industry, and to strengthen relationships with government, consumer bodies and labour organisations.


Formal training is not strictly necessary for anyone running a fabric shop but, as with many business ventures, it will be useful to have a relevant qualification or workplace experience.

Diploma courses in textile technology and design are available at some universities of technology.

Check online to find out which agencies offer training in your area. There are also retail-related courses available.