For many designers, protecting the identities of sources for unique commodities, such as vintage or one-of-a-kind fabrics, is a key strategy to support product development and differentiation from their competitors. There are a few simple steps you can take to limit the chances that your secret source will be disclosed, and to put yourself in a position to take immediate and effective action if there is a leak.

First, limit the people within your organization who have access to the identity of key sources. While your purchasing agent and someone in accounting undoubtedly will need to know the identity of a particular source, it often is unnecessary for the entirety of your staff, or others in the supply chain, to know.  

Second, take steps to secure the information in your systems and processes, and actively limit access to that information to those who truly “need to know.” For instance, creating unique profiles for database access can ensure that only those who really need access to your supplier’s information are able to obtain it.  

Finally, require confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements at all stages of the supply chain, including with your employees, and your service providers. A well-crafted agreement, which specifies that the identities of suppliers (among other things) are confidential, constitute trade secrets, and cannot be disclosed without express written permission, makes clear that you consider this information highly valuable and confidential. It also provides a basis to seek judicial enforcement in the event someone improperly discloses your source.