At the same time I often hear from readers and friends who are making plans to open new online fabric shops. And indeed, there are so many, many shops to choose from already. Perhaps the market is overcrowded? Maybe it's cost-competing itself out of sustainability? Or it could be that this much change is a normal, healthy status?
I don't know. What I do know, from personal experience, is that retail is a hard, hard beast to tackle. In any retail market there are lots of competitors, particularly when you're selling something that's not "your own" product, so anyone can carry it. In lots of ways, the internet has made retail harder. And, in the fabric world, I think we exasperate the challenge by implying it's better to shop a local fabric shop over one online.
There are definitely good reasons to shop locally. I'm not saying there's not. But I also think that online fabric shops bring important benefits.
no. 1 Selection Because the overhead costs for an online shop are significantly lower than a physical one, these shops are able to stock larger ranges of fabric. For example, not many physical shops can stock all the Kona colors. Online shops are giving us access to the huge breath of art being printed on quilting cotton these days. I'm thankful.
no. 2 Style To survive, a physical shop must cater to the tastes of its local market. If you have a very modern style, but live in a conservative area, your local shops probably offer little that excites or inspires you. That's my situation. If it weren't for online shops, I don't even think I'd be sewing. Literally. Online proprietors are much more free to buy fabrics that reflect their personal style, without equivocation. There are shops online that match your style, my style... any style. Online shops provide an environment that feels like home. I'm inspired.
no. 3 Convenience There is definitely a convenience to visiting a physical shop, selecting fabric in person and going home with it. Again, I'm not pretending that local shops aren't great in their own way. But, there's a different type of convenience with online shops. How else can I search out the right fabric during the in-between moments of my day, while baby is napping or I'm up at 3 am? How else can I indulge in chocolate, pajamas and fabric all at the same time, at the end of a hard day? I quite like not dragging the kids into a store, waiting on someone to cut my fabric and waiting again at the cash register. I'd rather wait on a package in the mail while I go about living my life. That's just me.
no. 4 Collaboration Have you benefited greatly from tutorials, inspiration and camaraderie that social media has brought to your crafty life? Again, I might not be sewing and certainly wouldn't be quilting if it wasn't for this bloggy world. Online fabric shops have been supporting our fun all along the way. How many free online giveaways or fun mosaic challenges or friendly sewing competitions are sponsored by online stores? Or, how many of your favorite bloggers are supported by those stores? Yes, they are involved to drive traffic, but they're also involved to promote sewing. Period. They give again and again creating possibilities, and in so doing they collaborate with your creativity. I believe we're all on the same team.
no. 5 Values Many of us in the handmade movement value small business. We love to support women hoping to make a creative living doing something they love. We'd rather shop with a person than a scaled out corporation. Folks, that's online stores. They are almost always smaller than you think. Most of my sponsors are one-woman shows. Lots of them cut and ship fabric from their homes. Even big stores like Pink Chalk or Sew Mama Sew (when it had fabric) have just 5-7 employees. When you shop online, you're often supporting a woman, a mother, someone who originally was "just" sewing and decided to try to make her passion her job. Shopping online is definitely not selling out.
If we value this set of benefits, we oughtn't feel shy about shopping online, and we oughtn't pressure others to shop local, if shopping local doesn't fit their lifestyle or their actual options. Let's be loyal supporters of all independent quilt shops, whether brick-and-mortar physical shops or home-basement online stores. Let's all be on the same quilty team.
|the fabric warehouse at Pink Chalk Fabrics, photo by Kathy Mack from A New Direction blog post|
Thanks, online shops, for all you bring to our community!
p.s. To hear more about the challenge of running an online fabric store, listen to this interview of Kathy Mack and Kristin Link at While She Naps. That interview inspired me to share these ideas. Enjoy!