In the past few years, Japanese fabrics have taken worldwide crafting scene by storm, but all the while — just more quietly — European fabrics have become more widely available too. Yvonne is the proprietress of Bunte Fabrics, which focuses on European fabrics, patterns, and notions (though she carries Japanese imports as well!). Bunte means “colorful” in German, and with even a quick look for her shop, you’ll realize how perfect the name is. With so many knits, corduroys, and velvets alongside the woven cottons, her inventory definitely leans towards garment sewing, so if you’re looking for high-quality, interesting garment fabrics, definitely keep Bunte in mind. The prints lean strongly toward young girls but there are plenty of options for boys and grownups too.
Leave a comment on this post to win a $30 gift certificate to Bunte Fabrics. Comments will close and a winner will be chosen this time next week (March 18, central U.S. time). And now, let’s go behind the scenes at Bunte Fabrics …
Where do you live? What is the textile/crafty scene like there?
We moved from San Francisco to Everett, WA about two years ago. The fabric scene here is not as diverse as it was in San Francisco, but the quilting scene is pretty big here. I have just been to the Sewing Expo in Puyallup, WA and there I saw too that quilting is huge. The range of different fabrics available was amazing to see.
How and when did you start selling fabric?
I started selling fabric in September of 2007. It was a whirlwind of an adventure … Just less than two years before I opened my shop I was still employed at a major animation studio and had no idea I was about to become a fabric lover/addict and a business owner.
My love for sewing started because I loved the handmade clothing seen on eBay. I always thought I would like to try sewing myself. I bought a really inexpensive machine and was so very excited when I found Farbenmix patterns for sale on the Farbenmix website, because their patterns really spoke to me in my taste for children’s clothing. On the Farbenmix website they have a gallery and I was just in love with the fabrics that everyone used. Sewing came really easy to me. It really helped too though, that I am German and was able to follow the picture tutorials. But I still wanted to have all those yummy fabrics as well that I could not seem to find here. At the same time my husband took us to live in Everett, WA, and I was in a position to think what I wanted to do besides being a stay-at-home mother. The idea for my business was born then to import and sell European fabrics, notions, and patterns.
What surprised you most about the business?
I really enjoy customer service! I hope that my customers can tell how excited I am about the products that I sell. I just love everything in my store and I have gotten such nice responses from far and wide. I think more and more people are starting to sew again, the way generations have done before us, when handmade clothing was the norm. And now that we have such a wide range of fabrics, patterns, and notions the possibility for creativity seems endless!
Is this your full time job? If not, what do you moonlight as?
Being a mother to my three children is my full time job, but Bunte Fabrics rides right beside it. Definitely my fourth child! I moonlight as an Illustrator still.
How would you characterize your shop?
Definitely colorful! Small but bursting to the seams with really great fabric.
What are your hot sellers right now?
Are you online only, or do you have a brick & mortar shop? If you don’t have one, are you planning to open one?
Yes, I am only online. I haven’t planned on opening a brick & mortar shop.
Do you run the shop alone or do you have help?
I run Bunte Fabrics alone, although I get plenty of business advice from my children, especially my nine-year-old son. My husband has taken lessons on how to cut fabric, package, and ship it, just in case of emergencies.
How do you deal with the challenges of the current economy, and increasing competition on the online fabric retail market?
It is going to be hard for everybody, especially us small online stores. All we can do is ride the waves. I am planning to keep having a great inventory, am planning giveaways and continue to enjoy what I am doing and hopefully that will carry me through the more difficult times of the business.
What are the (other!) biggest challenges — and biggest rewards — of being a fabric merchant?
My biggest challenge is bookkeeping! I have learned a lot on the go but I clearly had no idea when I started! And trying to figure out what my customers would like to have. When I look at 100s of fabrics it can be difficult to make a decision.
Biggest reward as a fabric merchant is to be able to have the fabric arrive and I get to see and feel all these beautiful fabrics first before anyone else does!
What’s your personal stash like?
It is not super huge, actually, but color happy. Every now and then I keep a yard of imported fabric, because almost all of the fabrics that I sell are only available for a short time. The designs change every year and if I fall in love with one particular fabric I keep that in mind and stash it. I have a big stash of unicolor knits and wovens to go with the patterned fabric.
Who are your favorite designers, from the past and/or from the present?
Naturally I am just in love with the designers that design fabric for Oilily, Hilco and Stenzo! My favorite American designer is Heather Ross and am sad to see her have to stop designing fabric. Another American fabric designer that I adore is Jay McCarroll, he is so out there. I love fabric designers that seem to tell a story with their designs. That’s the Illustrator in me!
Thank you so much, Yvonne! Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment on this post to be eligible for the gift certificate drawing.