Interview: Harmony Art

{ Fields of Honey organic sateen by Harmony Art }

Today we welcome independent fabric designer/producer Harmony Susalla to talk about her company, Harmony Art. I was thrilled to get to meet Harmony earlier this year when she visited Austin. I’ve featured Harmony and her fabrics before, as part of the Organic Fabric series and the Fabric Forecast 2009. I can’t say enough good things about her fabrics. The designs are beautiful, the quality is amazing, and the printing is crisp and saturated. I haven’t seen the knits in person, but the sateens are incredibly soft and luxurious, and the twill is strong and sturdy but still drapey and soft. And, of course, you can feel great about buying and using them because they’re GOTS-certified organic. The close-up images in this post represent just a portion of Harmony Art’s currently available fabrics.

Part of the timing of this post is due to Jen Madsen of Stitch Simple‘s recent collaboration with Harmony Art to start a reseller program, which you’ll learn more about below. Stitch Simple is a True Up sponsor, so this is partially a meet-the-sponsors post, but I’ve also wanted to have an interview with Harmony for a long time, so huge thanks to Jen for jump-starting the process!

{ Eyes of the World organic cotton sateen by Harmony Art }

What makes Harmony Art fabrics different?

Well, a couple of things make our fabrics different from the norm. First and foremost, I would say that the fact that we print exclusively on Organic Cotton fabrics to the Global Organic Textile Standards sets us apart from 99.9% of the fabrics available for purchase by the yard. (Did you know conventionally grown cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world?! Many people are eating organic food and still sleeping, dressing and sewing with chemically grown and processed fibers. The chemicals sprayed on cotton are some of THE MOST TOXIC in the world. Yikes!) The other really great thing about our newest fabrics is that all of them were made with Fair Trade certified organic cotton fiber. In addition to the production facility addressing workers’ health, safety, and treatment, the farms where the cotton is grown is also fair trade certified! We source fair trade fiber whenever we are able. It is a dream of mine to have ALL of our fabrics fair trade and organic, and we are definitely working in that direction.

Another thing that sets us apart is our wide width. Most Harmony Art fabrics are 110″ or 90″ wide! It’s sometimes hard for people to realize that with just one yard of Harmony Art 110″ sateen, you are getting almost 2.5 times the yardage you do with a standard 45″ fabric! People sometimes get the wrong impression that our fabrics are expensive — typically, this is because they haven’t done the math to figure out the quantity of fabric they are actually getting. Here’s a photo showing our 110″ fabric with a standard 45″ fabric, in black, laid on top …

Oh, and one more thing – we have been offering a variety of organic cotton base clothes (knits, twills, and flannels) in both solids and prints for several years now.

{ Whispering Grass organic cotton sateen by Harmony Art }

What’s your connection with Stitch Simple?

Stitch Simple is one of our amazing distributors! Working with Jen has been great. She immediately understood our wide-width advantage and has added new options for people looking for organic fabrics. She offers prewashed, precut quilting pieces for quilters that want to get straight to stitching and avoid the tedium of washing, cutting, and ironing. For people who like to sew without all that prep time, this service is a life-enhancer! She also offers the Harmony Art organic fabrics rebolted onto the cute little cardboard cores that most stores are used to. She has really small minimum orders, so if you are a business or retail store, you can order one or all of our regular collection fabrics in just five-yard quantities. A couple of years ago, when I was at Quilt Market, I asked fabric store owners if they could change one thing about how they purchase fabrics what would that change be, and the resounding answer was SMALLER quantities. We listened, and Jen now makes that possible. It also is a fabulous deal for new businesses that want to sample the fabric before taking the leap to a full 50-yard roll. I find that this rebolted program fills a niche that was missing before Jen joined our team.

{ 40 Ginkos organic cotton sateen by Harmony Art }

Independently produced fabric lines seem to be gaining in popularity and you were one of the first (THE first?) to forge that path. What made you decide to go that route? What are the benefits of managing the entire production process yourself? What are the drawbacks?

I launched Harmony Art organic design back in 2005. I decided to produce my own line for one reason— there was no one designing printed organic cotton fabrics by the yard for home sewers/crafters and small businesses. I felt like there was a big need and a hole I could help fill. And, because I was tired of having no control over how my designs were made and under what circumstances, launching Harmony Art gave me the venue for aligning my professional life with my personal ethics and environmental consciousness. I sleep easier knowing my life’s work is part of cleaning up the planet we share rather than polluting it with some of the most toxic chemicals available.

The drawbacks … well … where do I start? Truth be told, the biggest drawback is that my workday that used to be spent designing 100% of the time now consists of 1% design, 99% administration. I miss designing. I do continue to add to my library (password protected) of unprinted designs just so I have an outlet for the designs that are constantly floating in my head. The library is also where I look when the time comes for a new design to emerge, either as an exclusive print for a business or to add to my existing line of stock fabrics.

{ Vein organic cotton sateen by Harmony Art }

The Harmony Art regular collection is managed differently than most fabric collections. Unlike other designers, you release new designs on a regular basis but never in a big pack all at once right around the time of Quilt Market. And while your designs complement one another marvelously, there aren’t generally a huge set of official coordinates. What influenced you to take that approach?

Ignorance. Truly. I did not come from the quilt world. I was a designer working on product designs for many, many LARGE companies, but I had never even heard of Quilt Market when I launched Harmony Art! That admitted, I think that it’s for this reason that I have a different philosophy than most fabric companies. I don’t time releases for Quilt Market because, frankly, being tied to a particular launch date would probably give me an ulcer. I have found delivery delays as part of the process, and the fact that we don’t have these firm dates allows me some breathing room and I’m better able to time things appropriately so I have the money to underwrite them. Also, because of my background and my mission to help like-minded small businesses grow, when I heard owners say “we find a fabric we love, and then next thing you know, it’s not available any more,” I listened—I told those first companies who purchased Harmony Art fabrics that as long as a fabric was selling, I would continue to stock and reprint it. This has led to a smaller number of new fabrics being released each year, but I feel like my customers appreciate knowing I am doing what I can to support their businesses. Also, just philosophically, I have an aversion to the whole new-release treadmill. I would prefer to have fewer timeless designs than a sea of new designs each year.

{ Evelyn organic sateen by Harmony Art }

Please tell us about your most recent “Planted Seeds” (aka prints in development) individually — what inspired them? How did they develop? What role do they play in the overall collection?

Thirty-nine was inspired by the philodendron that is growing in our kitchen. The trunk has this great pattern to it. Here is a picture of the plant and the design that evolved from it. I make it a point to do a birthday design each year and this particular design was created on my 39th birthday.

10 Flowers was a design I created for a wonderful Dutch customer of mine, Martje. She requested a pattern that had ten different flowers. It started as an exclusive design for Martje’s line. When I was playing around with ideas for new releases I thought, “Why not print 10 Flowers, and this time make it available for everyone?” Of course I checked with Martje to make sure she was ok with it and she said yes! So I am happy to bring this design to the United States for the first time.

Morning Dew was inspired by dew drops clinging to a spider web. Instead of going “trend shopping” to see what is “hot,” I go “trend hiking.” I find the natural world has a limitless supply of design inspiration. Oh, and it also keeps me in shape at the same time. ;)

These three new designs just felt right. When I first started, I would try to release fabrics that people seemed to be requesting. However, over the years, I have found that the best sellers are the fabrics that resonate with me personally, on a different level. These three designs all have that inexplicable quality. I don’t look for a role for my fabrics to play but rather see them all as seeds that are planted, sometimes years ago, that eventually are brought to life by some type of inspiration. These designs coordinate in color more than most but also relate to the past releases we have done. I make a conscious effort to spec the same colors whenever they emerge in a new design. I don’t limit myself to colors I have used, but if I use an orange or blue or red, I will try to use the same color I have used before whenever possible. With printing, the color is likely to shift slightly, but that’s simply become part of the process.

…..

Thanks a million to Harmony and Jen!

14 Comments

  1. Love it when I can learn what inspired the fabric creations. Morning Dew is fabulous!

  2. Monica Lee says:

    Thank you for showing these AND showing where the inspiration comes from! Nice to see!

  3. laura says:

    wonderful interview, and definitely inspiring and educational. I love that Harmony sort of listens to the beat of her own drummer!

  4. Fractured Fairy! says:

    I love the concept of “trend hiking”!!!

    Rock on, LF!!

  5. Leann says:

    These fabrics are beautiful and soft. I know first hand. My sister uses them for her line of hospital maternity gowns. Hot Mama Gowns. http://www.hotmamagowns.com

  6. So nice to see Harmony’s interview here, esp as it ties into Jen’s Stitch Simple business. I think if you look up “pioneer” in the dictionary, you might find each of them pictured there for their individual efforts! Way to go!! Harmony is gracious with her knowledge and passionate about her path; all of us who are self-producing our own organic printed fabrics owe her a debt of gratitude for ‘planting seeds’ that brought initial awareness of organics to the forefront. Her designs are gorgeous, and it’s no wonder she’s enjoyed 5 years of success already! Thank you, Harmony!

  7. Susan Adame says:

    Great interview. Harmony, you are such an inspiritation, aligning you work and life while creating wonderful designs. I love your fabric dsigns inspired by nature and you walks. Thanks for your contributions to creating a better world!

  8. Cathy A says:

    This was really interesting!

  9. Lovely interview with an inspiring creator. I love that Harmony’s commitment to organic fabrics extends to a commitment to her own organic process, rather than a pre-determined marketing schedule like Quilt Market: if you milled it, they will…(Ok. That was cheeseball. I promise it won’t happen again!)

  10. mb says:

    yay harmony! i just love harmony’s fabric. the knits are just as amazingly sumptuous as the sateens and twills, by the way. ;) i have never seen fabric of such high quality! harmony, i love that you go trend hiking!!! that is so cool- my favorite thing about your designs is that they are all nature-inspired.

  11. Harmony says:

    Awwwww shucks… you guys are makin’ me blush! I feel so fortunate. Thanks for the encouragement and positive feedback. :)

  12. Deidrea says:

    Ahhhh, how I love Harmony & everything she stands for (and designs), let me count the ways!! You are truly a blessing to those who have the opportunuty to work with you…I have SO much excitement about working on custom designs with you. I can honestly say I ALWAYS see Harmony Art as a part of my business..and that..makes me happy!! ;) . Thank YOU for what you do, how you do it, and all the positive change you’ve created!

  13. Teresa says:

    I love Harmony, she is fabulous and amazing! And, incredibly generous. If only there were more people like Harmony in the world. . .

  14. Stardove says:

    Love Harmony and her gorgeous fabrics!I use them all the time and they are the best!ALOHA KA KOU!