Talking Out Loud is where I talk to young entrepreneurs and artisans about their careers, the path of how they got there and what lies on the horizon for them. It’s their thoughts, their words and their journey…….
This time around, I was lucky enough to talk with Keli Faw, owner of the Seattle-based fabric and craft store, Drygoods Designs. I was introduced to Keli and her store through mutual friend and fellow interior design, Beth Dotolo. Nestled in the historic Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Drygoods Design is unlike any fabric store I have entered. Sparkling wine is chilling in ice buckets for harried patrons to sip and while their children play in a designated kid’s area. Fabrics are displayed along side jars of old-fashioned candy; a riotous explosion of print and pattern that is actual eye candy for the textile soul. And in the center of it all is Keli……
Why opening up a fabric store? There are so many different types of retail stores to open, so what was it about the Seattle landscape that promoted you to open a retail fabric shop?
The retail storefront turned out to be a byproduct of my online shop. I started an online fabric site in the spring of 2011 because I wanted to grow my small line of handmade goods which were carried at some local shops. By the beginning of 2012 I was growing out of my small office space and had several local customers that wanted to come and see the fabric, pick up and have a more personal experience but my tiny office wasn’t working. I no longer had time to make my line of goods but was now helping others find fabrics they couldn’t find easily in other parts of the globe, the US and even Seattle. While some of the local fabric retailers carry some assortment of modern motifs, there’s never been one that felt edited. My customers seemed to like the online experience and so my goal was to make that happen in the brick and mortar version as well. Now that we opened the sewing studio, the focus shifts to not just what people want to make but how to make it too.
Did you have a previous career before opening up Drygoods Design? If so, what was it and has it helped you with the current business?
I come from a background in business, PR and communications. You’d think that I would be really proficient at promoting my business, however, almost all of our retail business has been by walk-in and word of mouth. I didn’t want to promote it until I felt we were really ready as it’s not a traditional type of place. I think what’s helped me most is trying each day to think about our customers. I try to approach my business by thinking about what I most enjoy in a shopping experience and service versus what’s the most profitable or cost-effective. It’s important it makes business sense, but I’d rather have gradual growth born out of customer care versus rapid and impersonal.
What is it about fabric that interesting to you? What intrinsic or aesthetic qualities about the material/medium drew you to it?
About six years ago I inherited an old sewing machine and taught myself how to sew and in doing so discovered that there were some affordable and modern fabrics out there. I became addicted to not only making things but the search for beautiful fabrics. I am a stickler when it comes to the hand of fabric – how it washes, drapes and feels. We are touched by cotton everyday and that is what I love most about it. You don’t have to like to sew or craft to appreciate textiles or be drawn to them.
Where do you get your fabrics from for the store? What criteria do you use to select fabrics to present to your customers?
While the majority of the fabrics we carry are deemed mid-weight or quilter’s (for its ability to shrink equally on the warp and the weft) cotton, we also stock home decor, apparel and outdoor fabrics. For almost all I work with the manufacturers or their reps, but some I have to find brokers or “jobbers.” I typically buy by color versus collection as I want to have different prints work across all the companies I carry versus people be locked into buying from one collection. Almost all the fabrics we carry have to be either a customer request or something that I truly love before it comes into the store. You hardly ever like all the songs on an album and to me fabric is very similar, so I try to edit down each of my buys into the best of the best. It’s really hard since there’s so many amazing options and I can’t carry everything. For example, I would love to carry Marimekko but at $40+ a yard and Crate & Barrel carrying it, it doesn’t make much sense. I try to tame my wish to carry more by also stocking complimentary products like packaging, gifts and cards that work well with the fabric.
In your opinion, what makes a “good” fabric? Has there been any fabrics that has made you stop in your tracks recently and say “wow?
While it depends on its use, I think ‘good’ fabric is a textile that invokes an emotional, almost visceral (in a good way) response. Sometimes it’s merely the weave or the texture that can have you smitten but most often it’s the motif or print that draws us to one print over another. Color is a huge factor as well. Novelty fabrics certainly have their place but just like anything, I love fabrics that don’t hit you over the head with their intended use or theme and let you draw that out or shift it by your eye deciding how you want to live with it. The second part is the quality of the base cloth. It has to feel right and drape in a manner that lets you see the possibility of what it is on the bolt. My current loves are illustrated geometrics and a return to the combinations of yesteryear with tight florals and geometrics playing off each other. We stock Liberty of London Tana Lawns and seriously, it’s like they were woven by angels. I have some Japanese fabrics headed in that I ordered at least five months ago and they will definitely have the wow factor.
How would you say living in Seattle has informed your selections for the store?
While I have lived in Seattle almost 10 years, I still don’t consider myself a local. A great deal of my influence is probably from living outside of the Northwest. I believe though that being in Ballard, the old Scandinavian fishing village/neighborhood of Seattle, definitely impacts my responses when I see vintage Scandinavian, viking motifs and subtle nautical prints. And we probably don’t focus too much on resort style prints given that it’s nice about three months out of the year here.
So you own a fabric store, so it begs to be asked…do you sew? If so, what is your favorite thing to sew?
Thanks to the opening of our sewing studio, I am sewing more now than I have since I opened up the shop, which is a great deal of fun. While I am starting to really enjoy sewing apparel – my favorite sewing is for those I know and care about. Being able to envision the person(s) using what I make, it’s truly what it’s all about for me. Those projects range from baby goods to accessories that they can use and enjoy.
If money was no object, is there fabric that you would go out and buy for yourself?
More Liberty of London Tana Lawns to keep, original supina ikat, more vintage fabrics.
You opened up what many would say is a non-traditional retail store and have succeeded quite well with it. What piece of advice would you give to a budding retailer who is looking to open up his or her own store?
Thanks for the kind words! It’s all about knowing that no matter how hard people might tell you it is and how much work it will be, you have to know your own limits because until you’re in your own experience you won’t realize it’s even harder than one could imagine. I don’t regret my choice but it is not for everyone. You have to love, I mean really love, interacting with all kinds of people and working around the clock. I am still in the thick of it as it appears I like to add a new layer every six to eight months:). My husband and two kids definitely sacrifice for this to build up and I can’t wait to repay all of their support.
Fabric is often used as a metaphor to describe the interwoven qualities of life. As a fabric retailer, your products find themselves in the most intimate aspects of your customer’s lives – from their children to their homes. What would be the highest compliment you think you could receive from a client who used on of your products?
That’s a great question (and so hard to answer). I feel really lucky to have the online and in-store customers that we have. Until we opened the studio, it was the feedback around customers feeling taken care of and cared about when they shopped, both online and in-store that really made each day. Now with the studio, it’s really amazing to see people learn and grow confident in their own ability to make things. That injection of creativity and community is truly incredible and I pinch myself that I get to be a part of it. It is a derivative of a ton of work but worth it all.
Thank you Keli for sharing your insights with us! I now need to learn to sew so I can put all the beautiful fabrics from Drygoods Design to use……