Talking Fabric Weight with Chinese Suppliers

When sourcing any product with a fabric component, you’ll need to discuss the specifications for the fabric with your supplier.

Two key measurements when discussing fabric are thread count and fabric weight. That sounds easy enough, right? Well, thread count is pretty straightforward, but unfortunately fabric weight is another matter when dealing with China.

There are basically two correct ways to measure fabric weight: you can measure it in grams per square meter (metric) or ounces per square yard (imperial). In my work with Chinese factories, I have found it difficult to get suppliers to commit to one system or another.

For example, let’s say I am sourcing a product that requires 16-ounce cotton canvas. A factory might tell me, “Sure, no problem. We can get 16-ounce canvas.” Now here’s the tricky part: I will then ask them if they mean the canvas is 16 ounces per square yard.

To that question, a standard reply might be: “Yes, we measure the fabric in meters” or “No, it is 16 ounces per square meter.” Here the “yes or no” will depend on whether the factory salesperson understands the difference between yards and meters. You should not assume they understand this difference.

Chinese are educated in the metric system and they will generally default to metric measurements unless you, the buyer, clarify this point. Because many customers are American, the fabric suppliers have learned to use “ounces” as a guideline for fabric weight, but often they are still buying and measuring the fabric in meters.

So let’s go over the math here. The supplier is saying the fabric weighs 16 ounces per square meter. Well, 1 meter is roughly equal to 1.094 yards so 1 square meter is roughly equal to 1.094 x 1.094 = 1.197 square yards. Let’s just round up to 1.2 square yards for simplicity.

(In fact, 1 square meter is equal to 1.1959906 square yards — but this level of precision is usually unnecessary when sourcing most soft goods like apparel and bags.)

OK, so if the supplier says the fabric is 16 ounces per square meter, we can make the following calculation: 16 ounces per square meter x (1 square meter / 1.2 square yard) = 13.3 ounces per square yard.

Well, there is a big difference between 13-ounce canvas and 16-ounce canvas. Imagine you order bags made from 13-ounce canvas when you were expecting 16-ounce canvas. That could literally destroy the commercial value of the product if such light canvas is not suitable for the product design.

One solution to this communication problem is to use grams per square meter when stipulating the specifications for an order. Since Chinese are educated with the metric system, they will understand exactly what you expect when you ask for fabric that weighs 543 grams per square meter (which is roughly 16 ounces per square yard).

Even if you communicate in grams per square meter, the problem might arise that your supplier is not comfortable committing to such an accurate measurement. Here specifying a tolerance, such as +/- 5%, is good practice. So, in the above example, you might order canvas that weighs between 515 and 570 grams per square meter.

I recommend that you attempt to get such a commitment from your supplier. In this way, buyer and supplier articulate and agree upon an acceptable range for the fabric weight. A reputable supplier should agree to a clear standard of measurement and tolerance range.

Now here’s one thing to watch out for: the factory representative may revert back to speaking in ounces later in the conversation. She may have learned that overseas buyers prefer to speak in ounces and so it becomes a habit for her. Alternatively she may prefer the brevity and simplicity of saying “16 ounces” rather than 543 grams per square meter, +/- 5% tolerance.

It’s important to keep in mind that, even if you decide it’s OK to use ounces informally in your discussion, you should absolutely get the specifications nailed down accurately with the correct unit of measurement before placing your order.

Otherwise you might be in for quite a surprise.

18 thoughts on “Talking Fabric Weight with Chinese Suppliers”

  1. Just wanted to say great initiative on your part to start this blog. I will be reading and dropping some comments in the future. I’m involved with importing fabrics and finished garments.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Glad you liked this post. I have been so busy these days that I haven’t been able to blog but hopefully I’ll get some free time soon. =)

  2. Me and my girlfriend are looking to create our own womens clothing, only selling womens tops to start with to see if there is a demand for it. What is the reason that you chose to work with chinese suppliers and not Mexican for instance?

    1. Well, it would be better to do a very small line with 6-12 different types of pieces that fit well together. Just selling tops might be hard to get sales reps interested in your line.

      As for choice of country, I would think more about finding the right supplier for your job. If they are located in Mexico, then the product is made in Mexico. If they are located in China, then it is made in China. It’s more about expertise and technical ability.

      Personally I manufacture some things in China because the supply chain in China is so highly developed for the types of products which I source. The range of options for materials and hardware suppliers is hard to beat.

      But that doesn’t mean China is necessarily the right place for you. I would always look to see if you can manufacture your products domestically before investigating manufacturing in another country.

  3. Thank you. I think thats some good suggestions.

    I read John’s book and now its time to register a company with our name and create a simple letterhead. I was looking at your other blog, Makkai & Spiers, and really liked the font you use for your logo. I recognize it as Caslon, the one used in the declaration of independence, but can’t find the exact one you’re using. I like how the M is widened somewhat compared to the other Caslon fonts. Could you tell me which exact font it is?

  4. Thank you Callum. Unfortunately I could not receive your email since I made mine up. Anyway, I found out which font it was.

    I read John’s post today about starting a blog and I think its a really good idea.

  5. Love the article!

    I am starting my own label for women’s clothing and I have been searching for fabric suppliers for ages now. I do not have enough experience to decide which supplier to go with. Can you recommend certain chinese fabric providers?

    1. Thanks for reading. Glad you liked the post. Choosing the right fabric supplier for your product is very complex and involves far too many variables for me to recommend a particular supplier.

      1. We are starting Digital Direct to Fabric printing in NJ. I have hard time to source raw fabric in rolls for printing. I need Cotton, Linen, Silk, Spandex etc. in different weight and finish. Can you please suggest local or outside vendors that you work with?
        You can reply me at uday@bergenscreen.com or 973-595-1222.
        Thanks
        Uday

        1. Sourcing textiles is extremely complicated. There are just too many factors to consider for me to suggest a particular vendor. Thanks for your understanding.

  6. I’m working with designer FJ in Pakistan. We buy white fabrics from market (60 gram chiffon,cotton silk,60&80 gram shamoos) come from china. I’m facing difficulty in gram that the fabric that we are buying is originally 60,&80. So tell me how can I check
    please reply me on my email. umairismail_14@yahoo.com thank you!

  7. Callum … thanks for taking the time to post this information. Your blog came up in response to a google query “how to measure the weight of fabric”, but is nevertheless informative and useful. I have bookmarked it for future reference. And thanks again.

  8. So happy to see your experience sharing blog.
    I’d like to ask a question:How to know 146gsm equal to how many oz/yard squared for one piece of 58″ 10.3yards canvas?What formulas should I use in this caculation?

    1. Shadow, if you already know the weight is 146 gsm then it is easy to calculate the weight in ounces per square yard. I won’t go through the formulas here … why not search for “gsm to oz per square yard conversion” and see what you get? There are some online calculators that will do it automatically.

  9. i am searching about channel fabrics weight 235grs all colors for sofa manufacture how can you help me i am waiting your reply send your message about my E-mail please thx and best Regards,
    Ziad

  10. Thanks for the knowledge.

    I am having some shirts made in China and out of concern that they may be made on the smaller end I wanted to send them a specific size chart dimension. Should I send the dimensions in centimeters or will it be okay to just use inches? for example, my concern is that I ordered some samples and the large was barely 30″ long which in my opinion is almost too short. I would prefer that the shirts be at least 31.4 for a large.

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