Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fabric and the Small Business Handcrafter

This is the lonely blog right here! I have been neglectful, but it is summer and my kids are home, so bloggy is last on the list right now. I also just don't have pics ready to post and I think that in order to post, I must have pics! Well, I'll give you a few and then I want to write about something that has me thinking.

Please forgive the state of the pictures. These were taken not in sunlight and are a bit dark.

These are my favorite fabrics from a layer cake I bought called Botany. All of the fabrics are great, but I was drawn to the blues. Of course! I am not sure if all quilters love fabrics and get excited about new lines, but I'm pretty sure they do. Over the years I have amassed quite a stash. Mostly, I control myself now, but every once in a while I get the fabric buying bug. I started my small etsy business to more or less be able to buy fabrics without dipping into the family budget. Some months are better than others in that regard!

When I began sewing with the intention of making a little money, I realized that I would never be able to recoup my costs if I bought fabric at retail and charged what is reasonable for the buckets, pouches, and quilts that I sell. For those of you who sew, this doesn't surprise you at all. But for those of you that don't sew, you will be surprised by how much quality fabric costs. Just as in true with clothing, often you get what you pay for and this has especially bee true for quilting cottons that I use. What is different about a high quality cotton from my perspective? First, the colors and patterns in a quality cotton are beautiful. Secondly, a quality cotton fabric's hand (the way it feels) is like Baby Bear's bed-ahhh, just right! Third, it washes well, keeping the vibrant color. Fourth, these fabrics sew well. They don't get stuck under my needle or bunch up in odd places or slip and slide all over the machine throat.

Retail, these fabrics run from $8.99 to $14.99 a yard in a local quilt shop or in an online retail shop. One little bucket that I make uses about a half yard of fabric. A twin quilt easily uses a total of 8 yards of fabric (front and backing). My prices also need to reflect the other notions I use (batting, interfacing, thread) and my time. In addition, my prices have to be reasonable for the item. I believe in each crafts person charging a reasonable price for their goods that reflects the materials and labor put into the item. I also expect not to charge as little as the "made in china" goods that are multiplying before our eyes.

It is easy to see how much money would be put into a quilt if the fabric is bought at retail prices. In order to actually price my items fairly, I joined a few online fabric co-ops. These co-ops are made up of lots of small business people (and some home sewers) who depend on buying fabrics at wholesale prices to be able to sell their goods.

In order to be a manufacturer's wholesale customer, a minimum number of bolts of fabric must be bought, depending on the manufacturer. Each bolt, again depending on the manufacturer, has between 15-20 yards on a bolt. A yard at wholesale generally costs about $6.50 not including shipping. In a fabric co-op, sewers commit to buy yards of fabric until the bolt is full, pay the co-op mama for their fabrics and wait for that fabric to be manufactured and shipped. The co-op mama's job is hard, and often volunteer. They decide which fabric lines to run,collect payment, place orders, keep in touch w/ fabric reps about time lines, receive fabric, cut fabric, and ship it out to all of the co-op sewers. This is all done because one single person could likely not afford to maintain the sheer volume necessary to have a wholesale account with a fabric company. So we band together! A pre-sale buying group! Great!

It has been great. Until lately. For a reason beyond my understanding, some of the fabric companies (Kauffman and Michael Miller) have started shutting down co-op access to wholesale accounts. This has happened to at least 3 co-ops that I know of and likely many many more. These companies have no policy against co-ops, but they are now refusing orders because we are not a brick and mortar store. Wow. What that means is I won't be able to use some of these very popular fabrics for items that I plan on selling in my etsy store. Big business once again rears its head and tries to squeeze small business out of the loop. Now, I'm sure these companies have their reasons, but doesn't this activity-choosing prices for certain customers-fall under the Clayton Antitrust Act? Why is it okay for a fabric store to make money off of the fabric, but not a small business person? Things that make me go hmmmmm. That is all for today's rant. Hope you are enjoying summer. I know I am.


diane said...

I know exactly what you are talking about as far as the cost of things. Wherever you use the work "fabric" insert the word "cake" or "flour". It is amazing how much quality ingredients cost (black cocoa, quality sheet parchment, tips, pastes etc. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for us to charge what it is really worth. Good thing our hobbies make people happy and produce things that are truly beautiful. We could just collect Precious Moments or teddy bears dressed in Victorian style clothing. THAT would truly be a travesty of finances. Sew on my friend.

Rachel Ellington said...

Thanks Diane! i actually thought about you when i was writing this-I knew you would understand about quality goods. Thank goodness we aren't out shopping bargains for Precious Moments. Keep on baking!

Rambling Rachel said...

See if Camelot cottons will allow co-ops. My sister's Tattoo line of fabrics was just released by them and should be fun to create with. They have some other lines that are stylish and unique. They're real committed to artists and art fabric.

Glad to have found your blog wandering around on the Internet (started out searching for free purse patterns and ended up in totally neat places).

What fabric co-ops do you prefer?

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