Well it’s just turning out to be an Austin-themed day. I live ridiculously close to the Fat Quarter Shop‘s world HQ and have always been an fan of their well-designed online shop, though I’ve never met owner Kimberly Jolly face-to-face. And I probably won’t get to for a while, either, since she just gave birth to twin boys a couple weeks ago — congratulations Jolly family!
When I think of the Fat Quarter Shop I immediately think of Moda. They consistently have just about every new collection and pre-cut pack Moda produces, but it doesn’t stop there — they carry contemporary, traditional, and reproduction yardage and pre-cut packs from all the major fabric manufacturers, as well as a huge range of patterns for quilts and other projects, quilt kits, magazines, and notions. Their fat quarter clubs and block of the month programs are quite tempting, too.
From keeping up with the Fat Quarter shop through the Jolly Jabber blog, their twice-weekly newsletter, and corresponding with Kimberly, Jocelyn Lai and Sarah Price (the FQS marketing department), it’s clear the Fat Quarter Shop staff is a close-knit, hard-working bunch who love what they do. Below, Kimberly (pre-twin-arrival) answered my questions about the business she and her husband built.
Where do you live? What is the textile/crafty scene like there?
I have lived in Austin my entire life, which is known for being a smorgasbord of culture.
How and when did you start selling fabric?
I started Fat Quarter Shop in May of 2003. I had really taken to quilting after a few classes and developed a love of fabric. At the same time, I had another full-time job that was winding down, and being me, I need to keep busy all the time. So I decided to start this fabric business to keep me busy. Seemed like a pretty good marriage of skills and passion!
What surprised you most about the business?
I think it would be the passion that people have for fabric. I love fabric of course, but getting to know some of my customers (and their stashes) over the years has opened my eyes to what true unadulterated fabric addiction is. Not just that (and not to be mushy), but I’ve formed such good, dear friendships with some of these people, sprung from love of fabric.
Is this your full time job? If not, what do you moonlight as?
Fat Quarter Shop started out as my moonlighting gig, but now it is my fulltime job, and I’m so glad it is. Fat Quarter Shop is 24/7, it never closes, and that works with my personality. We constantly have new collections coming in, new clubs starting up. There are bad days, but never boring.
How would you characterize your shop?
Fun, fast-paced, and original. We try to always have the newest fabrics, patterns and kits. We love coming up with exclusive kits, block-of-the-months and products, like Jolly Packs® that you can’t find anywhere else. Honestly, some of our best programs have gone from an idea to reality in a week.
What are your hot sellers right now?
New Moda lines, like Sandy Gervais’ Gobble Gobble, plus all the Moda precut items (fat quarter bundles, jelly rolls, layer cakes, etc.) always make our Top Seller list. Oh, and we just got a whole bunch of hot ones in! The newest Michael Miller lines are doing great too (no surprise there), like Laura Gunn’s Lantern Bloom, Patty Young’s Mezzanine, and Paula Prass’ Summer SoirÃ©e. On the non-fabric side, though they aren’t new, Tanya Whelan’s Grand Revival patterns are really hot this summer, especially her Practical Bag pattern.
Are you online only, or do you have a brick & mortar shop? If you don’t have one, are you planning to open one?
No, we are an online shop only. An online storefront is more than enough to keep us busy, and we wouldn’t be able to operate the same way with a brick & mortar shop.
Do you run the shop alone or do you have help?
I definitely have very good help. My husband is my partner, and a few expert ladies help me with customers and other shop functions, like trendspotting and buying patterns & fabrics. Couldn’t do it without them! [ed. note: get to know the Fat Quarter Shop staff here.]
How do you deal with the challenges of the current economy, and increasing competition on the online fabric retail market?
We continue to do what we do, which is to be creative and innovative through the changes. In the short term we have had to put some great ideas on the back burner, and like everyone else we’ve scaled down a little bit of everything. But the challenges also present new opportunities to explore, so we certainly aren’t sitting around twiddling our thumbs.
It’s great so many people are pursuing the same dream. We know same fabrics are available at tons of different places. But every shop has its own distinct identity, geared toward different tastes and needs. We’ve established ourselves as a dependable, fun shop that really cares about the details, and that’s what sets us apart. We get emails every day about the way we ship, our packaging, our friendly service -– and we aren’t going to change what we do. Of course, it does motivate us to keep up with the times, like using Twitter to keep in touch with our techno-savvy customers.
What are the (other!) biggest challenges – and biggest rewards – of being a fabric merchant?
It’s difficult to keep up with everything in the business. Like building any business, there are a lot of headaches and growing pains while learning what works for us, and having an online store is an around-the-clock job with no vacation or holiday time. That’s tough, especially now that our family is expanding. On the flip side, I love getting to see all the new fabrics and patterns first and coming up with new kits and projects. It’s what got me into the business.
What’s your personal stash like?
There’s not too much time anymore to make anything outside of store samples, so surprisingly my stash is made up of older fabrics from before Fat Quarter Shop. I stick to what I really like; there are a lot of 3 Sisters and Robyn Pandolph fabrics in my stash. I am in love with elegant, more traditional florals. And of course lots of cute children’s fabrics!
Who are your favorite designers, from the past and/or from the present?
3 Sisters for sure. They’ll always be my favorite.
Thank you so much, Kimberly!
The Fat Quarter Shop is offering one lucky True Up reader a $75 gift certificate. Just comment on this post and we’ll pick a winner next Wednesday, August 26, around 9am central U.S. time. Good luck!