Clothing Brand, Industry Tips

Easy Money Saving Tips For Sourcing Decorated Apparel

Sourcing Goods

Apparel decorators are blessed with reliable vendors and well-stocked shelves (Inventory is improving after the pandemic). Our distribution chain is a basic dichotomy of manufacturers and distributors. For the gamut of basic and mid-range T-shirts, fleece wear, and golf shirts, the prime manufacturers include well-known national and international firms such as Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, Gildan, and Jerzees, among several other large, reputable firms. Due to their minimum order and capital requirements, Sourcing directly from these larger firms is essentially limited to buyers with massive warehouses and multimillion-dollar financial resources.

Branded Garments

Obtaining these branded garments is accomplished through a network of wholesale distributors, major national players such as Bodek & Rhodes and San Mar, and larger regional firms such as Imprints Wholesale in the West and New England Sportswear in the Northeast brands, among others. In addition to carrying the better-known consumer brands, these firms also offer their own branded apparel lines and wide outerwear selections. Most distributors also stock limited selections of caps, bags, and aprons, among other specialty textile product categories.

Young Man in wearing a black t-shirt
Direct-to-Garment Printing is excellent for clothing lines that don’t want to invest a bunch of money.


Standard pricing for most apparel categories among and between the wholesalers is relatively similar, though there’s considerable latitude regarding their proprietary offerings. From time to time, all distributors conduct special sales to trim unsold inventory on selected items or categories for periods ranging from a few days to a few weeks, especially toward year-end and late summer. For creditworthy buyers, all provide reasonable credit terms. However, if you’re new in the decorated apparel business, you’ll likely be required to pre-pay via check or credit card or pay C.O.D. with cash or a certified check.

Most wholesalers offer free-shipping deals from the warehouse to your door when you buy a certain annual volume or meet thresholds of a specified dollar amount (usually a few hundred dollars) on a single order.

Who can buy from wholesalers?

Who can buy from wholesalers? Most suppliers will only sell to firms with track records in the trade (as documented by an internal industry-specific organization that monitors the activities and credit of trade buyers) and/or proof of holding licenses to collect sales tax. As a basic rule, the general public cannot buy from our wholesalers, who are careful not to make their wholesale-to-the-trade pricing available to end-users online or otherwise. Obtaining access to this information requires a buyer to have a password. Published pricing for use in your selling to end-user accounts is displayed at twice the standard trade price, meaning trade buyers receive a 50% discount on the prices shown to end-user buyers.

Some apparel decorators merit built-in discounts below the standard trade price, usually in the form of “case pricing,” or having the ability to buy units at the case price but without being required to buy full cases. Additional discounts and concessions accrue to more loyal, bigger buyers — those who satisfy stated purchase-volume or per-shipment-volume thresholds. The lowest pricing tiers include perks such as an added 2% discount below case pricing, free freight on all orders, advertising allowances or rebates, and for the very largest volume buyers in the trade, additional support in the form of yet further discounts, extended credit terms, and promotional and display allowances.

Free Shipping

Most wholesalers offer free-shipping deals from the warehouse to your door when you buy a certain annual volume or meet thresholds of a specified dollar amount (usually a few hundred dollars) on a single order.

Almost all wholesalers offer limited quantities of free catalogs and price lists to their customers for use with their accounts. More worthy buyers are awarded larger quantities of promotional catalogs with their customized cover imprints.

Build a Relationship with One Vendor

Whom you buy from is, of course, up to you. But knowledgeable buyers learn in time that it pays to place as many overall general purchases — T-shirts, fleece wear, golf shirts, etc. — with ONE wholesaler and develop an alternative, smaller-volume relationship with a second vendor. That’s because gaining advantageous pricing or other special leverage with anyone wholesaler means demonstrating a consistent pattern of loyalty and predictable purchasing volume.

A common mistake of newcomers and veterans who get into a perpetual bad habit is to shop the wholesalers every week, every day, or, for some, on every order to save a few pennies on every garment. It’s quite doable to achieve those per-unit savings, but making this procedure the rule in your buying practices rather than the exception means spreading your purchasing among too many vendors and not becoming a regular, valued — and noticeable! — buyer to any of them. Measured over time, this practice usually doesn’t save money. It costs money — and affects the unintended consequence of truly being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Buying in the industry is done for the most part over the telephone, a declining preference, or online, as more and more companies do for most of their buying. More than 99% of all wholesalers’ orders are shipped to the decorator or contractor. Certain key customers, however, in major metropolitan areas avail themselves of direct deliveries offered once or twice a week by some wholesalers. At the same time, some folks pick up their goods in person at the warehouses.

A Word to the Wise

A word to the wise: Endeavor to deal with wholesalers whose distribution center is within one day’s UPS delivery if possible. It saves time, but more importantly, it saves on shipping.

Newcomers can be assured they’ll have ample opportunity to locate sources for their garment and accessory needs. And once a business has registered on various websites and had its e-mail address captured on search engines, it’s only a day or so before industry vendors begin to solicit the new enterprise’s patronage. While veterans have good reason to limit vendors’ e-mail access to those they care about, newbies are advised to communicate with all trade solicitors during their umbilical period.

Establish Direct-to-Garment Printing Partners

Once you have established a blank supplier, you must locate reliable decorators. As of November 2022, many embroiders, and direct-to-garment printers have left the industry due to finances and lack of business. We recommend working with well-established decorators such as Northwest Custom Apparel which has been stitching since 1977. They are located south of Seattle and have a 1-day ship from Sanmar in Preston. They specialize in embroidery, direct-to-garment, and heat transfers. Please fill out a contact form, and a sales rep will contact you.



About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!