What has probably been the biggest learning experience for me since starting my own business is sourcing materials. When I first started, I just did zipper bracelets and would run to Michael's (which basically has the worst zipper selection ever). Michael's soon became Hobby Lobby and Joann's. But, paying retail for all these materials was costing an arm and a leg.
So many of my zippers come from all over the place – basically whenever I see something new and/or unusual, I will purchase it. I buy most of my zippers online. I've used zipper-specific stores, Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc...my buying habits are strange, I think, compared to other zipper buyers so I'm sure these sellers online are very confused by my orders. I still will buy the occasion zipper from Hobby Lobby and Joann's, especially a certain 2 types of metallic ones that can only be found there. I've looked all over, but, nope. They are literally no where else.
I've since made relationships directly with (the king manufacturer of zippers) but, honestly, it's easier to buy on Etsy and only slightly more expensive.
Maybe one day I'll get to Japan and go shopping for zippers right from the source but until that happens, well, I'll still shop wherever the most unique and unusual finds pop up.
The same can be said for leather. First of all, leather is freaking expensive. I mean, like many people, I've gawked at the price of a leather jacket and wondered why the hell it's so damn pricey. Well, now I understand. That shit ain't cheap. Also, there are so many different kinds and grades and thicknesses that it can be a trial and error process when figuring out your craft.
The worst part is trying something new on a piece of leather. The last thing on earth you want to do is mess up and waste (what once was) a $150 piece of leather. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about.
Anyways, I usually buy locally from Tandy. I wish I lived in LA or NY where I'm sure the leather/garment districts there make life so much easier whilst sourcing. I've order online from Missouri, Arkansas and more. I recently was in Seattle where I got to visit the Tandy Leather store there. Each Tandy gets a different selection of designer leather, so it was super interesting to see their selection. I picked up a few good pieces that I could fit in my suitcase.
I can't wait to discover new and interesting ways to source materials. I'm also very interested in receiving advice, so please bring it on!