Fabrics are more than simply functional textiles. Fabric can be used to conserve memories or to tell stories, as in quilts. Fabric can be used to shape our identity, as in the clothes we wear. Fabric can make a house more livable just as it can make furniture more comfortable. In other words, fabric is part of the fabric of our lives.
Over the past few years some substantial changes have overcome the fabric industry that have jeopardized its stability. For instance, some longtime manufacturers have closed, such as Chris Stone and Shamash & Sons. Waverly was bought out by P. Kaufman. Wal-Mart dropped fabric from most of its stores. Hancock Fabrics filed for chapter 11. Despite these changes, what most preoccupies fabric enthusiasts is the rising cost of purchasing their favorite fabrics. Why has the cost of fabric gone up?
The pinch is felt by both fabric retailers and their customers. 100% cotton novelty fabrics that were once no more than $6.00 per yard have now increased to more than $10.00. As owners of a fabric store for over 40 years, we have quite a bit of perspective on the realities of the fabric industry. Occasional price increases are expected as part of a manufacturers’ response to inflation, fabric advances, etc. Over the last year and a half, however, we have been hit with at least four price increases from our standard mills. Companies such as Robert Kaufman, Michael Miller, Timeless Treasures, Fabric Traditions, Andover, RJR, Moda and VIP Cranston Village among others form the foundation of the novelty fabric industry. These mills are the backbone of J&O Fabrics as well as of many other retailers. What explanation have the mills given for the increased cost of their goods?
One response we have received is that the “gray goods”, or base cotton used for printing novelty fabrics, have been increasing in price. China is the main provider of “gray goods”. These price increases are in turn passed onto the mills. The mills increase the cost of purchasing for retailers. And many retailers feel they have no choice but to raise their prices to compensate.
Could it be that the absence of Wal-Mart’s buying power has allowed “gray goods” providers to increase what they charge mills? In comparison, we haven’t seen equivalent price increases in finished fabric goods such as garments. Without the leverage Wal-Mart exerted over “gray goods” providers, it is probable that they have responded by increasing their prices to make up for the lost volume. Furthermore, a number of mills sold virtually exclusively to Wal-Mart. Formerly, their fabrics would sell for $1.00-3.00 less than those of most novelty fabric mills. Without Wal-Mart, the prices of their fabrics have in some cases increased to more than those of the premium novelty fabric companies.
Sadly, many mills see no other way to combat their costs except by raising prices, despite knowing that doing so will inevitably hurt the fabric buyers’ market. For those who love to sew or quilt, the increased prices could make them think about simply purchasing a finished item instead of starting their own project.
At J&O we make every effort to keep in tune with our customers’ needs and observations. Unfortunately, we too have had to slightly increase our prices for some of our novelty fabrics. At the same time, in order to combat what we perceive as over-the-top prices, there are certain mills whose fabric we simply refuse to carry.
What are your thoughts and concerns regarding the price increases in novelty fabric? What would you like to tell the mills? What ways have you found to continue your fabric passion in the face of rising prices? We’d love to hear from you.
At J&O Fabrics we have more than forty years of experience working with customers and mills. We have found a way to meet our customers’ needs for four decades and look forward to doing so for many decades more.
Post by J&O Fabric Store