Can a Do-It-Yourself Fabric Company Craft a Larger Following?
If you don't like the selection at the fabric store, create your own textiles. That's the idea behind Spoonflower, a Mebane, North Carolina–based company that lets users upload their designs and have them printed on a selection of cotton fabrics. Co-founders Stephen Fraser and Gart Davis, formerly executives at Lulu.com, an online self-publishing service, were inspired to start the company after Fraser's wife, an avid seamstress, had trouble finding fabric she liked for curtains. Spoonflower's custom cloth sells for $18 to $32 per yard. Since its launch in October 2008, Fraser says, Spoonflower's site has amassed 40,000 users, and the company is on track to take in $1 million in sales this year. Recently, Spoonflower began letting customers buy the designs of other users. It offers a 10 percent commission to the designers. Fraser believes this will help the site attract crafters who may not be proficient enough in Photoshop to design for themselves. How should the company market itself? We asked four entrepreneurs to weigh in.
PITCH NO. 1: Partner with stores
Jake Nickell, co-founder of Threadless, a Chicago-based company that sells user-generated T-shirt designs
I think partnerships with fabric stores are a great way to go. A lot of people might not be comfortable buying fabric online -- they want to see and feel it in person. Spoonflower needs to start on a local level to be really successful. It could be worthwhile to send out samples to the stores. Eventually, the company could partner with a large fabric store, like Jo-Ann Stores. Each store could have a Spoonflower section, a store within a store.
PITCH NO. 2: Become a resource
Lexy Funk, co-founder of Brooklyn Industries, an apparel retailer and design firm in Brooklyn, New York
Spoonflower needs to do more than just sell custom fabric, which could become a commoditized product. The site could offer to produce garments, tablecloths, napkins, and curtains from the fabric at a reduced price. Spoonflower could also offer tutorials on creating fabric designs on your computer or offer access to dress patterns. That way, it wouldn't just be a product site; it would become a knowledge source for fabric design.
PITCH NO. 3: Hold a contest
Joy Gendusa, founder of PostcardMania, a direct-mail marketing company in Clearwater, Florida
Everybody knows somebody who wants to be a designer. I would invite up-and-coming designers to submit fabric designs and get the word out through design schools. The winner could receive a small cash prize, plus some design education and publicity. The contest could easily generate good PR. I would try to get a partnership with a network like Bravo or coverage on Good Morning America.
PITCH NO. 4: Target design schools
Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes, a Weymouth, Massachusetts–based maker of limited-edition apparel
I think Spoonflower would be very useful for students at fashion schools. They need to use different fabrics for their projects, and they're constantly trying to come up with innovative things. Spoonflower's founders should contact different schools and send them samples. It could offer students discounts. Once the company has formed relationships with the schools, word of mouth will spread quickly.
Feedback on the Feedback:
Fraser likes most of these suggestions, and Spoonflower has already been experimenting with a couple of the concepts: The company holds weekly design contests and has established an affiliation with North Carolina State University's school of textile design. But Fraser is against the idea of producing finished goods. "I'm very attached to the market of people who express themselves creatively by making things themselves," he says. He does like the suggestion of creating tutorials for users, however. "I am in favor of anything we can do to facilitate the sharing of knowledge around crafts," he says.