becoming a Fabric Shop
Have you ever imagined working in a modern fabric shop? What could be more fun than buying, bundling and folding fabric for a living? Getting to see those gorgeous new prints in person?
I've often heard it tossed about, the dream of opening a fabric shop. Let's hear today from someone who took the plunge years ago. I've invited Heather of Lark Cottons, my longtime sponsor since 2012, to share how she became a fabric boutique proprietress.
When did your fabric story begin?
I learned to sew fairly young, elementary school-age, I'd say, with questionable success. My first project (that I know of) was a pincushion made for my mom out of pink gingham and ric-rac. It wasn't much as far as pincushions go, but she used it for decades and it now has a spot on my sewing table. It really highlights how meaningful the smallest of things can be when they're hand-made.
I initially purchased fabrics at that big box store we won't name here! When I started sewing and quilting in earnest a little over 10 years ago, I quickly discovered that sewing with high quality fabrics can make all the difference.
At what point did you consider opening a fabric store? Original motivations?
The fabric store was a bit of an accident - which I do NOT recommend! I had tried my hand at making stitched goods to sell and purchased a few bolts with the idea to use what I needed and sell any remaining yardage. Over a few years time, the focus shifted from finished goods to fabric. I found I enjoyed sewing more when it wasn't as a job and really liked being surrounded by beautiful fabrics!
What did you have to overcome to get started? Was it difficult to choose what to buy?
Since I eased into it gradually, there weren't necessarily major hurdles at the onset and I was able to grow from an etsy shop to the big cartel platform to an independent website on my own timeline. That's not to say it's been pain-free, but I think the typical issues with starting a business were distributed over time rather thrown at me all at once.
I started with a few well-known manufacturers, purchasing according to my own tastes. The challenge now is to not buy too much and be judicious in my choices. I often have to remind myself that I absolutely do not need more polka dots! But seriously, there are so many talented designers and wonderful collections available today, as well as pressure to have the "latest and greatest" that it can be difficult to be disciplined and stay on budget.
Lark Cottons is an online store. Why? Pros and cons?
Being online-only is a pragmatic choice really. With Lark being a smaller shop and evolving over time, I've kept my "day job" to help make ends meet. I'd love to open a "brick-n-mortar" store someday, but I'm just not there yet.
With an online store, there can be reduced overhead and a larger market reach, not to mention flexibility, but there is also fierce competition and you miss out on much of the personal interaction with customers.
How long have you been in business now? What has been most challenging?
I'm going on my 7th year now, which seems crazy! It's gone by very fast. Time and marketing are certainly the biggest challenges for me and they go hand in hand. I've never been very good at self-promotion and the whole world of social media is way out of my comfort zone. I am still very much learning how to navigate.
Closer to home, there are little things around the studio that I am constantly refining to be more efficient - like how I organize fat quarters (rolled up with the corresponding bolt vs. folded in a bin) or store shipping supplies. I'm finding the little things can make a big difference.
What do you like most about being the proprietress of Lark Cottons?
It's all about the fabric and the people. The sewing community is really a fantastic group. I especially like seeing what customers order, the fabric combinations they put together; being inspired. I also like that this is all me, I'm in control and making the decisions. It's both liberating and terrifying.
behind the scenes at Lark
Are any misconceptions about keeping a fabric shop?
It's not as easy (or profitable) as it may look! There are plenty of tedious tasks like keeping the books to making a post-office run to sweeping up fabric trimmings to go along with the fun. It can be very discouraging at times, especially during a slump in sales, but also extremely rewarding when you have just the right fabric someone needs to complete a special project or can help a customer by curating a custom bundle.
What do you see as the future for the fabric retailing industry?
Industry-wise, we're seeing a shift towards more garment sewing and therefore different substrates such as knits, lawns, linens, flannels, etc. are being offered in greater abundance. It's exciting, but can be overwhelming at the same time.
Personally, I often wonder (and worry) if the craft-minded momentum and modern quilt movement which has fueled so much of the fabric market this past decade will carry through to the next generation. That leaves the future of online shops that specialize in quilting cottons somewhat nebulous. At the moment, I'm remaining cautiously optimistic and staying the course. I hope there were always be a place for the thoughtfulness and satisfaction that hand-made provides.
Thank you, Heather, for taking the time to candidly share your journey. As my background is in online apparel retailing, I have such sympathy for all the quiet work that goes on behind the scenes and the competitive pressure on online shops. It's definitely no picnic! I hope Lark Cottons will continue to be a work you enjoy for years to come.
Lark Cottons has prepared a 12-piece bundle of Art Gallery's recently released Charleston collection for one lucky reader! To win these fat quarters, just add your comment to this post now through midnight, this Saturday the 20th.
Giveaway open internationally, though if winner lives outside the United States, he or she will receive a $30 gift certificate in lieu of the bundle.
p.s. If the comments field is not displaying for you, please try refreshing the screen. If it still doesn't, please email your comment to me using the little envelope icon at the very bottom of my website. I'd be happy to enter you into the contest!
Congratulations to Wilhelmina, our lucky winner! Since the giveaway is now closed, comments have been disabled.