Here's something to contemplate - I heard last night that two fabric companies are closing their doors. They were owned by Coats - the companies are Westminster and Freespirit. That's huge news as these companies had a lot of famous designers in their midst including Kaffe Fassett, Tula Pink, Anna Marie Horner and a whole lot more. Here is the link to the article. Here's the list of designers that are affected. (pulled from Freespirit website)
- Amy Butler
- Amy Reber
- Anna Maria Horner
- April Cornell
- Brandon Mably
- Corinne Haig
- David Walker
- Dena Designs
- Denyse Schmidt
- Designer Essentials
- Erin McMorris
- Heather Bailey
- Jane Sassaman
- Jennifer Paganelli
- Joel Dewberry
- Juliana Horner
- Kaffe Fassett
- Kathy Doughty
- Keiko Goke
- Laura Heine
- Margot Elena
- Morris & Co
- Miss Mustard Seed
- Natalie Malan
- Nel Whatmore
- Odile Bailloeul
- Parson Gray
- Philip Jacobs
- Shannon Newlin
- Shell Rummel
Now I think you can rest assured that many of these designers will be picked up by other fabric companies. Especially the big names, although there are a lot of big names on that list. Here's the thing - two companies closed last year - Kona Bay and Red Rooster. Now Westminster and FreeSpirit. And I've heard rumors of another one about to close its doors, but can't find any information to back that up. So what's happening? Is quilting on the way out?
How many of you think that there are too many choices on the market? How many think the fabric market is totally saturated? How many think the fabric companies are not listening to us?
Let's take a quick look at some numbers. I'm not sure how many fabric companies there are, but there are a LOT - for the sake of argument, let's say there are 50. All of these companies usually have FOUR fabric releases per year. It used to be two. Let's say in each release that each company produces 20 collections. Within each collection, there is an average of 20 SKUs (different fabrics). Now let's do the math -
20 collections x 20 fabrics in each collection X 50 companies x 4 times a year. What number do you get? YES --that's about 80,000 NEW prints EACH YEAR!!!!! How many quilters are needed to sustain that amount of NEW fabrics? While we like to think that quilting is huge (and it is), I keep hearing over and over from quilters - "I'm not buying much new - only if I need a border or a focus fabric" or "I'm only going to use fabrics from my stash (our HUGE stashes accumulated over the past x number of years". Someone might spring for a new print for a backing, but I think many quilters buy a lesser priced fabric or something on sale. You see where this is going?
How many new prints do I buy each year? Not nearly as much as I did before. Significantly less and I'm not alone. The competition is HUGE and each fabric collection has to go through two buying processes - one - the shop has to buy and the second phase is that the consumer has to then choose what to buy from the shop. So whatever the fabric companies produce had better be very good or the collection will fail.
Some designers have a following and I strongly suspect that many of the designers above have a great following. But here's the thing - the fabric companies get smug and think that whatever they print will be gobbled up by the quilters. Well - I don't know about you, but I can't afford to buy each fabric from designer A's new collection, especially if they produce a new collection several times a year. I think that's what has happened - the companies thought they had a license to print money with these designers and they have stretched the consumer's dollar so thin that no one can keep up. One other thing to note - these designers have followings on social media - are the followers actively buying or just living vicariously through the connection with the designer?
Let's take this a bit further. Let's say that for each of those 80,000 fabrics, that 4,000 yards gets printed of each. That means that 320,000,000 NEW yards of goods are produced EACH YEAR. Seriously??? That's huge.
Now let's say that each yard sells for $12 (US price). That equals $3,840,000,000. Almost FOUR billion in sales. But according to the stats from 2014, the quilt industry is worth $3.7 billion. And that number includes all things quilting, not just fabric. So there are way more fabric goods in the market than is actually being sold at regular price.
Isn't that shocking? And there is more and more fabric coming out all the time.
Here's a link to some stats that were compiled in 2014 by The Quilting Company.
I'm not in the fabric business, but if I was - well - here's my advice to the fabric companies.
- Pick good designers. Don't over release the collections. Allow the quilters to fondle the fabric and actually make something before the next collection by the same designer comes out. Many of the collections are so similar that I question why I would want to buy the same thing, but with a new twist. I like fabric, but not that much.
- Rein in your expenses. Like all companies, I would bet that there is a ton of waste. Develop plans, goals, teach the employees to treat expenses like it was coming out of their own pocket - things like shipping. Those things add up very quickly. While trade shows are fun - they are very expensive and how many does one need to attend in a year?
- Get good management. Management needs to ensure that employees are treated with respect and fairness and that appropriate number of employees are hired. Are people doing their jobs? Are managers managing or are they fighting fires or doing the work that the staff should be doing. What is the vision of the company? What is the five-year goal/plan? Is it well communicated to all involved?
- Hire industry knowledgeable people. Do they have people on board who understand the market? Users of the product? If they don't, are they in regular touch with those kinds of people? Do they listen to the feedback? Do they know the buying habits of the end user of their products - the consumers?
- Hire good salespeople. This industry's sales rely on door-to-door salesmen. Sales reps are a major link to the success of the individual companies. Many of them represent multiple companies and which company do they pull out of their suitcase first? Companies need to listen to the feedback from their sales rep.
- Fabric companies do NOT sell to the consumers. The quilt shops are the middleman. If the fabric companies do NOT understand the consumers and their buying habits, they are in trouble. It's one thing for the quilt shop (who is also a quilt consumer) but if the consumer doesn't buy the product, who cares how many shops buy it. They won't get repeat business if the product isn't good.
- Be open and honest. Yes - in this market of rising costs, companies are looking to cut costs. Did you know that the base goods used to be 45" wide? Through the manufacturing process, the goods we bought was around 44". The other day, I was using some panels and I could BARELY CUT 42 1/2" from the width of the fabric. Like all products, they are keeping the cost the same but shrinking the goods.
All the above is good common business sense, but like everywhere and in every industry, it doesn't happen. Egos and power are huge deterrents to really understanding the market and allowing them to be truly successful, responsive and sensitive to their consumers' needs.
I get it that consumers always want something new, but we've been trained by the fabric companies to expect and want something new. But now we have HUGE stashes and we are getting older. We don't want more and we're being much more selective. This "new market" has almost taken the fun out of quilting. Products are produced that are already done for us - in other words, the items are printed as we would piece them. While that is good for some, it's not what everyone wants. Let's not forget the new quilters or the young quilters - they don't have the money or the space for huge stashes like my generation.
Anyway, that's my advice to fabric companies. Keep in mind, I am NOT affiliated with any fabric company. This is based on my own experience and a bit of information gleaned from the internet. A lot of assumptions were used and are outlined above.
Seriously, there are going to be further shakeups in the market. The rising cost of living will reduce the amount of money that can be spent on luxury goods like quilting fabric. The industry needs a good shake up or it will collapse. Think wisely fabric companies in all that you produce. It better be exceptional fabric or we're not going to be buying it and you'll be in trouble like Westminster and Free Spirit.
Have a super day!!!!
I agree with a lot of your comments, Elaine, particularly about the saturation of the fabric market. Do I really need a new selection of fabric every time I go to the fabric shop? Would I really like to see some fabrics be available longer than 4 - 6 months? Do I need to see Designer X’s new line, which looks remarkably like their last line, and the previous one, and the previous one?ReplyDelete
I’ve really wondered about this, a lot. From what I’ve read (and I may be misunderstanding here), fabric designers make more money on patterns and trinkets, and don’t really make that much from their fabrics. To me, that means, stop pushing 3 or 4 new fabric lines a year. (Of course, I realize that someone is making money from those new lines. Fabric companies?)
Margaret -- I would agree with you on the designers making more money on the patterns and trinkets. I'm not sure. But we really need to get a market correction happening here or more companies will close and then we're really going to be stuck for selection. And yes -Delete
I'd like to see some fabrics stick around a bit longer as well. Thanks for your comments.
I agree with you 100%. And I also agree with the comment Margaret posted. What it's really about is a money grab from the fabric companies and not enough what the consumer wants. No wonder they are closing.ReplyDelete
Mary-Kay -- right on! There seems to be very little concern for what the consumer wants and that's just wrong! Thanks for the comments!Delete
I was also reading that online shopping like fabric dot com and amazon are underselling the price LQS have to pay wholesale, specially here in Canada. There was one question that came to my mind ad I read the article last night. Can a designer design for more than one company at a time - for example if Tula Pink was under contract with Free Spirit - can they also design for another company at the same time? I checked and couldn't find an answer -.ReplyDelete
Helen -- Hm - that's a question that I'm not sure about. It might depend on what kind of contract they have, but I'm not sure why they would want to design for more than one unless there were issues (like not pumping out enough from one). I listened to Tula Pink yesterday and she has one line coming out NOW, one that will ship in three months and several more planned. That's WAY TOO MUCH!!! And Freespirit just let it happen. I would love to know the yardages and sales! Thanks for the comment.Delete
I have not purchased large quantities of fabric in quite some time. And have not purchased any fabric since January 1st.ReplyDelete
I have a stash that takes up almost half of my basement. . . and I am looking at retirement. I need to downsize, not keep buying.
And, to be honest, the economy is not all rosy and bright. . . in spite of what the government spin masters try to say. For the "little people" times are harder and will probably get harder.
So, unfortunately, production will contract in response to slower sales (because businesses want income). . .and that, in turn, will continue to spiral downward as the employees that are let go will stop spending while they try to find other jobs. . . .and so on and so on.
I have been involved in consumer goods for over 30 years. . . but these last 5 years or so have been the worst that I have seen for small businesses. . .and I don't see it getting better right away.
Sherry -- you are so right!! Many of the "average quilter" is getting close to retirement age and sitting on a ton of fabric. We don't want MORE - we want to use up what we have. But the fabric companies don't see it that way - their head is in the sand!! And yes - the economy isn't helping either - there are two strikes against the fabric companies and they have to learn to work smarter in order to survive.Delete
Brilliant article! Nothing else I could add and if only people at the top would listen to your wise words things could have played out differently. Guess the Gordon Gecko "Greed is Good!" hasn't died...ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for your comment!Delete
I agree. I think the first one is paramount. Maybe too many people are simply trying to make a living from the industry. Time for some "back to reality" shrinkage.ReplyDelete
Becky -- I think you're right. Many designers (of patterns and fabric) think they can get in on the "cash cow" which isn't really a cash cow at all. Time to scale back for sure!Delete
as a side effect of doing FlyLady :) I quit buying fabric in October 2001. I've never felt I had a big stash, one double closet. I work on quilts every day. And only last year did I start running out of colors.ReplyDelete
That is just me.
I could go on for days :)
Sharyn -- WOW - I'm impressed. I haven't reached that stage yet, but I'm not buying willy nilly anymore. I'm only buying what I need.Delete
Thanks for your comment and wow - you're good!!
We, the consumer, are totally on board with all that you say. But there seems to be a disconnect at the top. I listened to Tula's FB broadcast and she continually said, I have two more designs in the pipeline, or Wait until you see what I'm designing now, or you're going to love what's coming. The one missing variable in your argument (which became apparent to me when listening to her) is that the designers only get paid when they release new collections...so they are interested in pushing them out. Isn't the real crux of the problem that we (fabric buyers) are a limited population? And so we can't support all these designers with all their collections? Because of this limitation, some fabrics will end up on sale racks, or in discount stores, just like all the other consumer products in our world. (PS I don't normally get back to blogs I comment on, so if you want me to see your comment, please use my email address.) Good column, good thoughts. Thanks for writing this.ReplyDelete
OPQuilt --- I also listened to TUla Pink that day and I was SHOCKED at how much SHE was pushing. Yes - we are a limited population with limited dollars. The market is saturated with designers/fabric companies and anyone else who thinks they can make a living at this business. At some point, someone will have to STOP. We can only push back by not buying and at some point, more of them will go - not because we don't like them, but because of greed on their part!!! Thanks for the comments!!Delete
A few comments both on the article and the previously posted comments. I do not believe that most quilters are at or nearing retirement. Perhaps many guild members are, but in my town the only guild meets during the day. I have to drive almost an hour to go to a guild meeting at night. Younger quilters are very active online and in the MQG.ReplyDelete
I have heard pushback that customers want some continuity between lines. Which is why some designers are adding a range of solids, dots, stripes etc to their lines to bridge from one collection to another. In the past a retail customer had to buy the line quickly if they wanted all the co-ordinates. That for me is value added. I know if I buy a few prints in a collection I will be able to add to them in the next collection.
I think the incredible demand for solids in a huge range of colours bears out the idea that people want to be able to rebuy product.
As well as being difficult for the designers who learned about this change at the same time as the general public (poor management planning there), it is going to be very difficult for fabric shops who focused on those designers. In my community the way so many LQS survive is by offering different product lines. There is a beautiful fabric shop in a small Sask town that carries a huge variety of Faffe Fabrics. Their customers know what to expect when they shop there. How will this change impact them?
Michelle - good comments. One thing to consider about solids - they are CHEAPER than prints and let's face it, a large number of the modern group are using solids. That tells us something! Many of those designers will be picked up by new fabrics - Kaffe and Tula are actively searching for a new home. They won't be out of a job. But they need to scale back on how many collections they produce and how many SKUS. Tula's new All Stars has 62 fabrics in it. And a new collection coming out in two months. Can you afford to buy all that to support her? How many Tula Pink quilts do you want? Thanks again for the comments.Delete
Very valid points Elaine, may I share this on my FB page?ReplyDelete
Yes Kathy -- you may share! The more we unite as consumers, the louder the message will be!Delete
I also have some thoughts. I am 61 now. I grew up with old-fashioned quilters, people who quilted like the pioneers and who avoided buying fabric if they could. When I picked up quilting magazines again starting on about 2000, it was drastically different. Wildly complex and beautiful quilts, people buying fabric to buy fabric, and awfully expensive machines and a plethora of things like rulers, and so on. I read about quilters who have multiple machines. I saw a pattern/quilt I liked, but it listed more than 10 prints! And this was not an exception.ReplyDelete
We should face the fact that we have been bred to be a nation of consumers, and we wanted it, in order to keep businesses growing. In addition to the wave of Baby Boomers changing demographics upward, it is cresting. And Industries change--yarn!--who does crewel now? I remember yarn companies folding.
Great article Elaine! I've been thinking about the issue of rampant consumerism in the quilting industry for a while now, even before the Free Spirit closure news. I thought the industry was in for a correction. It's in the industry's best interest to encourage us to shop and stash endlessly, but most of us realize at some point that we will never be able to use up what we have, or we run out of storage ... There is a limit. Now Free Spirit has found a purchaser, but I think a correction is still coming. The smart companies will take your advice and "right-size" but I think some fabric companies will close ...ReplyDelete
lej en ladcykel Thanks for an interesting blog. What else may I get that sort of info written in such a perfect approach? I have an undertaking that I am just now operating on, and I have been on the lookout for such info.ReplyDelete
cykeludlejning Excellent post. I was always checking this blog, and I’m impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part, I care for such information a lot. I was exploring this particular info for a long time. Thanks to this blog my exploration has ended.ReplyDelete
christania’s “Bicycle Rental Copenhagen” bikes are rolling across the city. The system, less than a year old, is funded by christania’s municipal government. It is currently only in one of christania’s 22 administrative districts. Although a 2nd generation system, there are 12 “Houses” in this district, each with around 40 bikes. The yearly subscription cost is the equivalent of $2 US, and allows the use of a bike for up to four hours at a time. In less than a year, there have been 6,000 subscriptions sold. There are larger 3rd generation systems in the world, which do not have a subscription to bike ratio as big as that.ReplyDelete