Mmmm, who wants a little urea-formaldehyde on their quilting cotton? No? Then consider going organic. Cloud9 Fabrics is a two-woman organic fabric company, the brainchild of Michelle Engel Bencsko and Gina Pantastico.
They teamed up last year to create a contemporary, eco-sensible alternative to traditional quilt and craft fabrics. Their wholesale+ fabric line bridges the gap between expensive organics and traditional, chemically-produced mass market fabrics, with fresh, modern prints. Their basecloth, sourced in India, meets Global Organic Textile Standards, and they use only organic and low-impact dye-stuff. They’ve created the best of both worlds, basically.
Michelle and Gina work every facet of the production, from sourcing mills for printing to designing the fabrics in-house. They put a heavy emphasis on responsible conduct, an Earth-friendly product, and being home in time for dinner.
Cloud9′s collection Beyond the Sea
You may recognize Michelle from her personal project, Cicada Studio, or her previous Henry Glass collections Shade Garden and Dogwood. She cheerfully took a few minutes to chat with us about Cloud9 Fabrics, the joys of business, and their latest, heretofore unveiled collection. [True Up scoop!]
True Up: What are the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of being a fabric manufacturer?
Michelle Engel Bencsko: Cloud9 Fabrics is literally 2 people: Michelle and Gina. And we do it ALL. And there’s a lot to do! Finding time in the day to do it all. Putting aside life and mommy-hood, I only have a 5 hour work day and the rest of the work gets done in pocket of free time, which are scarce.
The biggest reward is being home, not commuting to the city, not working for someone else and being in control of my (our) vision. Owning a business is really a dream come true. As much work as it is, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How would you characterize your fabric business?
Cloud9 Fabrics is manufacturer of 100% certified organic cotton fabric. We print and dye using low-impact dyes. We’re a budding company, established in 2009 and we are currently shipping our 2nd collection, Beyond the Sea, with a 3rd due in September.
How do you deal with the challenges of the current economy, and increasing competition in the fabric market?
We haven’t met such challenges as yet because we started this venture in the thick of the current economy. All things considered, it appears that our product’s price point doesn’t deter too many of our wholesalers as their customers are responding favorably.
As far as competition, we prefer to think of them more as our comrades. Anyone doing organic cotton fabrics right now is determined to make a difference. The more of us that make this product, the more it validates it … and the more it is validated, the more desirable it will be and the more consumers will learn of the benefits of organically grown cotton and eco-friendly finishing techniques. With that, there will be an increase in demand and a broadening of selection and — hopefully! — a decrease in price.
We all bring our unique perspectives and designs and strategies to the mix. With fabric, for the consumer, it’s mainly about taste and esthetics. We hope that everyone who’s interested in organic cotton fabrics will find their something to like going forward. More selection will only strengthen the movement.
All ready to ship Beyond The Sea
How and when did you get started designing and producing fabric?
I’ve been a textile designer for nearly 18 years and my partner, Gina Pantastico, has worked for as long in production, so neither of us is unfamiliar with the process. Early last year we hooked up after leaving our respective jobs to stay at home, be with the kids and make a career of our own … when we realized that if we pooled our know-how, we could create our dream job. It was very serendipitous because we were both on the same page — looking to work in organic cotton and to create something rather unique.
What surprised you most about the business?
I think the (diverse) community aspects are wonderful. Neither Gina nor myself was used to such a broad, open and friendly marketplace. We are also thrilled by the enthusiasm for our product and the receptiveness of buyers for new products and new companies.
What’s your best seller right now?
We just started shipping Beyond the Sea. We haven’t had any feedback on which pattern(s) are most popular, but there is an overwhelming adoration for our Sandpiper print. He’s just too darn cute!
Who helps you to run the business?
I have a business partner, Gina Pantastico, without whom I could not possibly do this. She is the business yin to my creative yang. Basically, that’s it! We have help from some family members mainly to watch kids while we scramble to do what needs doing.
Where do you live? What is the textile scene like there?
We’re from New Jersey, in suburbs outside of New York. I (personally) live in a major train hub town (technically a city) and there’s a budding arts district. As far as textiles and crafts, I don’t know that there is one. There’s a JoAnn’s Fabrics, but that’s about it. I feel like there is a real void in my vicinity for a trendy fabric store and on more than one occasion, I’ve daydreamed — and even began plotting — about opening a shop in my downtown area.
You mentioned that you’re now shipping Beyond The Sea — do you have another collection in the works yet?
Yes, we have a new collection we’re hoping to start shipping on August 15, 2010. The name of the group is Forest Friends Flannel and will comprise 6 prints and 3 solids.
Forest Friends Flannel will debut at the International Quilt Market this week — first looks go to the trade, but look for our preview soon!