When I started sewing in 2001-2, there wasn’t a whole lot of interesting fabric to be found commercially. I was so excited when I found Contemporary Cloth. They were one of the first online fabric shops selling “my kind” of fabric — contemporary, retro/reproduction, and vintage — the trifecta! So it is very cool to have them aboard as sponsors. CC continues to stand out to me for their selection of supplies for surface design and unique fabrics by surface designers in addition to commercial fabrics and patterns.
Owner Sondra Borrie and I have many of the same tastes and interests — it’s almost not surprising that we share a “double life” as pediatric therapists (well, she’s not doing it any more, but I am!) Now, on to the interview …
Where do you live? What is the textile/crafty scene like there?
We reside on Lake Erie, east of Cleveland, Ohio. We have the Textile Art Alliance, which is a part of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Many art quilters live in Ohio, including the internationally known Nancy Crow and Susan Shie. There is a long list of art quilters and surface designers that live in Ohio. Nancy Crow has an incredible Barn which was specially built for surface design and quilting workshops. A variety of workshops are held in the fall and spring related to quilting, fabric dyeing, painting, silk screening, collage, etc. We also have QSDS (Quilt Surface Design Symposium) which for two weeks holds a variety of workshops on quilting and surface design. The artists and attendees are from all over the world. I would recommend either places, having attended both several times. So, to summarize, there is a lot happening in Ohio!
How and when did you start selling fabric?
Initially, I was a social worker for several years, then went into pediatric occupational therapy, and most recently, started my third profession/career –- online fabric sales. I opened Contemporary Cloth in 2001 while I was still working as a school-based therapist. It started in our home. As the company grew, I decided to leave my work as an OT and devote myself to the business full time … and haven’t looked back! I never thought that I would leave social work or OT, but I am interested in many different professions and working with fabric is one of them. When I decided to open CC, I was having a difficult time finding contemporary fabrics for myself and decided that there was a need for a company that focused on those unique of fabrics.
What surprised you most about the business?
What was amazing to me when I started is the great interest that others had in finding contemporary, modern designs. We have many domestic and international customers that still don’t have access to bold prints and thanks to the internet, now they do. Another welcome surprise is the great support that our customers have given us since we started. We have met many wonderful customers and vendors through CC.
How would you characterize your shop?
We focus on fabrics that are contemporary, modern, retro-reproduction, and vintage fabrics. We carry art DVDs, CDs, and books, and these resources are great learning tools. I want to support artists and have several on the website: Jane Dunnewold, the creator of artcloth, Els van Baarle, an abstract batik artist, and Janet Lasher. Their websites and blogs are full of beautiful art and resourses.
In addition to Contemporary Cloth, we recently opened Modern Marks, which we are still developing. This website is for creative works on paper and fabric. We also now have Etsy stores for both companies.
What are your hot sellers right now?
That is a hard one to answer because quite a few items are great sellers … Els van Baarle’s packets of batiked and painted fabrics and papers, Jane Dunnewold’s art books, DVDs, CDs, the Henry Road sample packs, our Surprise Packages, Anna Maria Horner, our Home Dec Collections, just to name a few. We have many designers that are popular.
Are you online only, or do you have a brick & mortar shop? If you don’t have one, are you planning to open one?
We are online only and will most likely continue to be. We have had many requests to open a B&M shop but my goal is to find more time to develop Modern Marks and create my own work.
Do you run the shop alone or do you have help?
I have two wonderful staff -– Jane, who not only cuts and organizes the fabrics, but also is our blogger. Jane, who has a background in Engineering, is a stay-at-home mom and an avid knitter and sewer. She is wonderful to work with, very knowledgable and full of creative ideas. She has an etsy shop and blog called Maiden Jane. We are fortunate to have her. Monica, also a stay-at-home mom of 3, works for us a few hours every other week and has been an incredible neighbor for many years. She is an absolute pleasure to have working for us. Gregg, my soulmate of 38 years, is my business advisor, helps with mailing fabric, etc. when he can, he has his own business. To summarize, I have amazing help and learn from everyone!
How do you deal with the challenges of the current economy, and increasing competition on the online fabric retail market?
This is a tough one to answer. We continue to carry quality fabrics and are always looking for unique creations. We try to offer sales as often as we realistically can to support our customers.
What are the (other!) biggest challenges — and biggest rewards — of being a fabric merchant?
The biggest challenge now is the economy. The biggest reward has always been meeting domestic and international customers, artists and marketing people online. I have met some great people and always appreciate their support and the knowledge that they have provided.
What’s your personal stash like?
As far as commercial fabrics, I have always loved Marimekko fabrics, so I have remnants of those. I love atomic 50s vintage fabrics and can’t bear to sell them. The shapes and layers are very exciting to me.
From fiber artists, I love my batiks from Els van Baarle, Jane Dunnewold’s artcloth, Sonja Tugend’s triple-dyed fabrics and hand silkscreened textiles.
Creating my own fabrics and designs is personally rewarding for me. Some of the processes that I enjoy are: deconstructed silkscreening and silkscreening, painting with dyes and paints; using notans and then making them into thermofaxes, gelatin plate printing and digital manipulation on paper.
Who are your favorite designers, from the past and/or from the present?
I have many favorites, here are a few:
Clothing Designer: Issey Miyake
Many from the 50s –- Lucienne Day is my very favorite. I love the modern pottery from the 50s.
Thank you so much, Sondra!