While doing research for my post about how much fabric designers earn I spoke with a fabric designer who has licensed fabric collections to both a fabric company and to the largest chain of brick-and-mortar fabric stores in the United States, JoAnn Fabrics. The financial arrangement that resulted from working with JoAnns was so different from those of the other designers I spoke with, I felt it warranted its own post.
The designer has chosen to remain anonymous, but this post is in her own words. I realize that the list of designers in JoAnns “premier quilting cotton” line is a short one, but I’m asking that the comments and social shares of this post don’t devolve into a guessing game. For all of us, knowing who it is is not nearly as important as understanding why she does it and how it works.
This post is about the why and the how. Why would a designer work with a chain store? What does it do for her brand? How does she weight the risks and what are the rewards, exactly? Reading the details of this financial arrangement gives us insight into how the business of fabric operates.
Here’s the designer’s story:
The designs I do for JoAnn Fabrics are exclusive to them and completely different from any previous or current design I’ve done for the indie fabric industry. The collections I do for JoAnns are sold under their premium quilting cottons section, which means they are the exact same quality as the fabrics you will find at your local quilt shop. As a matter of fact, because they are using the same greige goods (fabric base), thread count and inks as the independent fabric lines, the hand and feel are exactly the same.
JoAnns has over 800 stores nationwide, plus their website, so the distribution is huge and the sales volume is much higher than anything I’ve ever experienced before. Is it more lucrative for the same time investment? That’s a resounding yes!
Is it frowned upon by other designers or fabric companies? I have heard mixed opinions, but most have been positive. When I first announced my collaboration with JoAnns, I received countless messages and emails from industry folks, mostly congratulating me on my news.
I even had a couple of large independent retailers ask if I would be willing to produce those same designs for them, or if they could buy them somewhere. Of course, the answer is no. My collections for JoAnns are exclusive to them, just like Joanns is not allowed to carry my existing designs that are sold exclusively at indie fabric stores. From the very beginning, I wanted to make that distinction clear, so that no one would feel like this was a threat to their business or a conflict of interest in any way.
Another advantage of working with JoAnns, is the amount of marketing and publicity they do at no cost to the designer. When my first fabric collection launched, they arranged for me to do a special appearance at my local store. They even flew in a PR representative from corporate and gave away gift baskets valued at the hundreds. In addition, they purchased a large quantity of my books for me to sell and sign at the store appearance. This was completely arranged and publicized by them. All I had to do was show up.
In addition to that, every time they release a new line of mine they send out hundreds of thousands of printed mailers promoting my line and they also do email blasts and ads. This is a far greater exposure than I had ever received while designing for the indie fabric companies, and I am pretty sure it’s what’s helped in my newly found notoriety in the industry.
In case any designers out there think that you have to choose a side, that is not true. I have recently signed a fabric licensing contract with another fabric company that serves independent shops. We are only doing knits and canvas, two substrates that don’t conflict with my JoAnns work, since I only do quilting cottons for them.
I will also have a new sewing book coming out in 2016, which will be sold at both indie shops and big box stores. My relationship with JoAnn Fabrics is what helped seal the deal with my publisher. They wanted a designer who had lines at JoAnns, so that they would be more inclined to sell the books at their stores and possibly even teach classes with it.
I know that Joann’s will be adding a few more designers from the indie world in the near future. It is an attractive alternative for all of us, because in addition to the larger royalty checks, there is little to no marketing effort on our parts. They handle all the promotion, but also, since they don’t exhibit at Quilt Market or at any other textile show, there is no expectation of the designers to shell out money and time creating these super expensive displays. Every penny earned in royalties from JoAnns goes right into my pocket, so that is very attractive to me.
Fabric design is my job, not my hobby. I support my family with the royalties I receive from my various licensing deals plus my sewing pattern sales. So, I always have to look out for the best interest of my business. Having my fabric at JoAnns has not only brought us extra income but also strengthened my brand. Since starting with JoAnns, I have signed several new licensing deals which I am convinced would not have come about if it weren’t for my new exposure.
When you go into a fabric shop, even a chain fabric shop, there are people behind every product you see. In this case, the nicest quality quilting cottons at the chain store begin with a designer who is creating multiple collections each year, for more than one company, as a way to build a sustainable art business.
The opportunity to work with a chain store like JoAnns is a scarce one, and is certainly not something that would appeal to everyone. For the designers who do it, though, it’s a licensing deal that forms a big piece of the puzzle of profitability.