Episode 2 of the Chairish Podcast has landed. Today, host Michael Boodro questions the conventional idea that fabric lines make designers rich: “Is it possible to have success by the yard?” Four fabric professionals with a range of perspectives — including Stephen Elrod and Brian Dicker from Kravet and Holland and Sherry respectively, and designers Lori Weitzner and James Huniford — gather to talk about how they made it in the fabric industry, and how they continue to look forward to the future of fabric.
This episode we dive into:
- How brands select designers for collaborations
- The method and process of collaborating on a fabric line
- What makes licensing and collaborations successful
- How to become successful through a fabric line
- The future and technology of textiles
- Buyer trends and the value of the experience
Get to know our fabulous guests:
Stephen Elrod is the executive vice president and creative director for Lee Jofa and Brunschwig & Fils. With close to three decades of experience, Stephen has led partnerships with various designers including another podcast guest, James Huniford, and most recently, Kelly Wearstler.
President of Holland and Sherry, Brian Dicker drove the tailor-focused fabric company’s expansion into interior design. Holland and Sherry is now a prominent player in the interior design realm and has partnered with designers like Elizabeth Eakins, Muriel Brandolini, and Christopher Maya.
Lori Weitzner is an independent fabric designer and the founder of Weitzner. Lori built her own textile company from the ground-up and later, successfully merged with Pollack. After 12 years as a business owner, Lory grown as a fabric designer and expanded into other areas of design.
James (Ford) Huniford, is a renowned interior designer and founder of Huniford Design Studio. He has a fabric line with Kravet / Lee Jofa and has been featured in magazines such as Architectural Digest, W Magazine, and Vogue.
Check out these further resources:
- Get to know the history of Kravet
- The story behind Holland and Sherry:
- Lori Weitzner’s new collection for Artistic Tile:
- Video: Tour Lori Weitzner’s studio
- Learn more about Huniford Design Studio
- Discover some of James Huniford’s top design tips.
Connect with Chairish and our guests on Instagram:
Michael Boodro: @michaelboodro
Kravet: @kravetinc, @leejofa, and @brunschwigfils
Holland & Sherry: @hollandandsherryinteriors
Lori Weitzner: @loriweitzner
James Huniford: @fordhuniford
Lead image courtesy of Kravet
READ AND LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE EPISODE:
Michael Boodro 0:00
Welcome to the Chairish Podcast. Today we’re talking about a big topic that any designer is involved with in any creative project, which is fabric. Fabric is a huge part of our business. And I think there’s an idea out there that anyone can create their own fabric line and if you can create a successful fabric line, it will make you rich. So the question is, is it possible to have success by the yard? I’ve assembled four amazing talents here today who are going to talk about the industry and the creativity that go into the industry. I’m pleased to have here Stephen Elrod, who is the Executive Vice President and creative director of Lee Jofa and Brunschwig. We have Brian Dicker, who’s the president of Holland and Sherry. I have Lori Weitzner, who is a fabric designer with her own firm an independent fabric designer Weitzner and James Huniford, universally known as Ford, and I will be calling him Ford since I’ve known him for years, who’s a wonderful interior designer who has his own line of fabrics with Lee Jofa Kravet. I want to welcome them all and we’re going to have a lot to talk about today.
Okay, so, I wanted to start with the two industry insiders, Stephen and Brian because I think it’s very interesting that Kravet Lee Jofa is one of the largest fabric houses in our industry. They have many designer lines including Michael Berman, Barclay Butera, Jonathan Adler, Bunny Williams, Kelly Wearstler, Nate Berkus, Suzanne Weinstein, Suzanne Kasler, and David Phoenix. These are just some of the designers who have done lines for Kravet, Lee Jofa, Brunschwig, and their various divisions. I wanted to ask Stephen how they go about deciding which designers to approach or which designers approach them, and then I will get into Ford’s stories. How do they decide which designers they feel are going to create successful lines for them?
Stephen Elrod 2:21
It really comes from a variety of different standpoints. The majority of ours have come through just my own personal friendships or interactions with designers and admiring their work and feeling that they could add something to what we do as a brand.
Michael Boodro 2:42
So in other words, if somebody sits next to you at dinner, they should be very nice to you, Steve.
Stephen Elrod 2:45
They should be really nice! But no, it’s really been a lot of it approaching designers that we feel share our values or aesthetic, design wise, but could offer something else in addition to what we do day to day. A lot of licensed programs come through licensing representatives, licensing agents. We have done that on a couple of occasions, but the most of them have come through just personal interactions with leaders in the industry.
Michael Boodro 3:14
Do you follow certain designers that you’re interested in, thinking, oh, I like this work?
Stephen Elrod 3:17
Yeah, we do. They are younger designers perhaps that we see making an impact on the industry by having a unique look. Maybe they’ve done other licensing programs prior. So that sort of piques our interest as well, that they’ve been down this road and maybe have a more realistic expectation of what it takes and what the results are. It comes from very many different places.
Michael Boodro 3:41
And when you’re working on a designer line, do they come into work in your studio? Do they come to you with ideas? Just quickly give me a sense of the process.
Stephen Elrod 3:51
They work in our studios, which are here in the Flatiron District of New York City. They generally always come with ideas, whether it’s the initial meetings that we have, or subsequent meetings, but yes, we certainly want to see what their vision is. It can take many different forms – actual textiles, drawings, tear sheets, all sorts of things, but some sort of relevant material that we can then formulate an idea of what a collection might manifest itself as it goes forward.
Michael Boodro 4:21
Right. Now, Brian, Holland and Sherry, I mean, this distinguished English firm started out doing basically men’s suiting woolens right, and it was only in 1997-98. I believe that the interiors division started and you have been with the firm since that point. Is that not correct?
Brian Dicker 4:37
Absolutely. It was October 1997. It was a quick decision to go into the interiors business due to the fact that my boss at the time didn’t want me to sell the tailors. So the only other opportunity of selling was to study other clients that bought our product and pursue those clients and that was the interior designer.
So we initially took the suiting fabrics and the small little swatches and started cold calling interior designers around the New York area because that’s where I was based. We started showing cashmere flannel and started the business that way.
Michael Boodro 5:17
And now at this point you have done lines and projects with design training from Alexandra Champalimaud and Christopher Maya. I know you recently bought Elizabeth Aikens company I believe. You’ve worked with Katie Lee and Muriel Brandolini. How does that happen? Now to go from the classic menswear and fabrics and cashmere to all these designer things. What has that been like for you? How does that happen?
Brian Dicker 5:38
Well, initially, it all started with cold calling. I remember cold calling Muriel Brandolini. I met her for the first time in one of her clients’ apartments. And the meeting was on the floor, showing fabrics, but it really started with cold calling. We started connecting and building relationships with interior designers through custom. Holland and Sherry, from the very beginning, always grew our business by selling things not necessarily what we had, but what we could have. That was custom or sourcing. We sometimes call it sourcing, but custom. When you’re working with custom with an interior designer, there’s no better way to build a relationship, to connect with them by doing something designing something with someone that no one else has. So that relationship building through custom, you’re designing a product. It’s like designing a collection, and you work that way. And then if it’s fun, if it’s efficient, if it makes sense, then there could be a talk about creating a collection together. So many of them are one off pieces for a specific project. But then you say to them, these are fabrics that we could maybe adapt for the larger public, or it’s actually not about the product that we designed custom, it’s about testing each other’s relationship and are just each other. That’s how we filter and flush out who we want to work with. Initially speaking, we did start connecting with these designers in the typical licensing way but we felt that there could be a possible other better method. That method, we call it home sharing collaboration, which in a few sentences is basically that we enable the interior designer to own their own business, a product business without having to invest in a product company. Yes, we work with them to let them use the assets of our company, to help them build their product company.
Michael Boodro 7:43
I would imagine without Holland and Sherry’s backing, there are designers who have their own independent lines. I mean, I can think of a few off hand, Suzanne Tucker or Katie Lee. I would imagine that’s quite intensively expensive in terms of having creative come up with inventory and all that kind of stuff. And sampling.
Brian Dicker 8:14
Yes, good point. Well, it really all comes back from where we came from at Holland and Sherry Interiors. We came from Holland Sherry apparel, right, and there was no way we would have been able to grow Holland Sherry Interiors as quickly as we did, if we didn’t have the assets of Holland Sherry apparel. When I joined Holland Sherry, we didn’t have interiors, but we had the apparel. We’re selling in 40 different countries, and you had the mills, we had the sampling, we had all of the purchasing, we had the customer service. For me to utilize all of that to grow the interiors helped jumpstart the business. And I thought to myself, once I did have that for interiors, why don’t we enable designers to have the same opportunity I had when I started Holland and Sherry and enable them to have the same thing. And then we did that.
Michael Boodro 9:08
Now, Lori, you’re a designer, a fabric designer, mostly textile designer. I mean, you started out doing fine arts, you did package design. I know you’ve worked with your design director, Jack Lenor Larsen for a number of years, I believe. I could see that connection, because of your work. I think it relates highly to Jack and his very natural and beautiful work. But now you did take on that big expensive proposition of having your own samples. How did that happen?
Lori Weitzner 9:15
I don’t recommend it to anyone listening out there. And I’m listening to you and I’m saying, oh, I wish I had known that then. There was a void in the market for innovative wall coverings so I was doing all the other stuff and licensing, but I had this feeling I wanted to do it. So I went to the bank and I borrowed $100,000 and I started the company on that and you know what? We did great products and in the beginning we had great distribution but all of a sudden I was running a business and not being creative and I’m not a good business runner. I’m a good creative. So after five years and exhaustion and my kids saying why are you so tired all the time, I actually marched with Pollock, who had taken it over who are experts in operations and management and warehousing, customer service, sampling and I could go back to what I do best.
Michael Boodro 10:03
Now you have expanded beyond that. You have your own jewelry line. You’ve worked with different companies. You worked with Hunter Douglas, you actually do it. You were saying one of your favorite things is the line of cards that you do for Papyrus, which I think is very charming. You worked with artistic tile recently.
Lori Weitzner 10:19
Yes, I just did a licensed line with them. So I am licensing a textile, the tight rugs for perennials. Samson’s is probably my favorite license. And I hope nobody’s offended when I say that. I’m so much happier licensing but I will say that it’s equally the chemistry, as it is what you can bring to the table. When both work, it’s a fabulous relationship and my goal with my licensing business is not to just do a one off, but to grow. I mean, Samson’s has been 12 years old now and I think that is how you can actually build not only a good for your brand, but also some money to be honest.
Michael Boodro 11:05
I want to talk to Ford about that, in particular, because Ford is an incredible interior designer. He has a very unique sensibility. I call it refined rusticity and this love of the past and industrial elements, and even in an urban environment, he infuses some of that. He’s just incredibly chic, doesn’t all do country houses, or beach houses, which are fantastic when he does. He does urban things, but he has a line with Kravet Lee Jofa which is very interesting and I want to find out how that came about because it’s all solid. When you know, so much of fabrics are dazzling when it’s like prints and paisley’s and stripes. Ford’s line is incredibly quiet but it has incredible textures and an incredible range of colors. I want to find out how that came about. Ford. Was that something that you saw an absence of in the market? I mean, obviously, I know your work is understated but it’s not like you’ve never used a print or a stripe in your work before. So how did you edit it down? Did you approach Stephen or did it even come to you? How did that come about?
James (Ford) Huniford 12:03
I think I was sitting next to Stephen at one of those dinners. It was actually very organic. I didn’t get that phone call from Holland and Sherry.
Stephen Elrod 12:13
Ford and I’s collaboration was actually very organic and just talking about his desire to do a licensed collection. At the same time, we were seeing in the marketplace, a move towards a very textural solid story, which wasn’t a category of product that we really focused on. It just happened that Ford in his interests meshed with that really nicely and so we were able to work together.
Michael Boodro 12:41
In a way I think I’m a frustrated fabric designer. I would love to know what the process was, especially the two of you, since you’re both here to talk a little about that.
James (Ford) Huniford 12:51
You know, I think what was interesting about my collaboration with Stephen and Lee Jofa and Kravet was that I’m not trained as a traditional designer, and that I am more interested in kind of more organic things or things that inspire some artists. It was always reflected in my work of a certain palette that was – gray or blue or green. You know, when I met Stephen and we talked about it, the opportunity was that he really was supportive of my sensibility and not having me have to translate the full line. It’s totally outside of my zone. I mean, I think that’s where it all started and evolved. A lot of it was hinged off my house that I designed to Bridgehampton that had very much of that sensibility. That’s where we actually did the first photo shoot for the launch of it. You know, I think the key to the success of a designer’s partnership is about being true to who they are in their passion and in their work from a creative standpoint. As these guys know, better than me, but from a commercial standpoint, and I think that’s what, especially Stephen and Jacqueline and Larson and you know, your heritage, or where you got started. And, you know, Holland and Sherry and the wool chalets, and the men’s tailoring and things that are kind of even, you know – a lot of clients today, whether it’s a male or female, they want tailored interiors. So I think it’s less about big, bold things and I think that’s where all of that the collaboration of everyone at this table is so in sync with your vision of how to put us together and talk about this idea. It’s really about what is happening in 2020 of the whole fabric world and the impact it has on texture and materials.
Michael Boodro 14:55
And I think it’s very smart in your line, and the same with Laurie as well, because you are a color expert. You wrote a book about color, but I think a lot of what you do is neutrals and very soft colors and as anybody knows, any working designer knows, too, those neutrals are the backbone of any project and a backbone of the industry. So how do you bring excitement to that? Stephen, I’d love to know, how do you think about that in terms of, if you do bright, bold things, they’re going to get more editorial coverage or pop up on Instagram, but how do you bring excitement to that with a more low key color?
Stephen Elrod 15:31
Working with Ford and focusing on this sort of category of product – very quiet, serene, soft, specific kind of palette. Having him and his talents bringing forward on the marketing promotional level really added dimension to that offering, and made it unique and special in the marketplace, and certainly special within what we generally offer our clients. With Ford, as well as all of our other licensing partners, we really do encourage them to bring a vision and we try to execute that vision as closely as we possibly can given limitations that we may just have inherently. Working with mills throughout the world, depending on what kind of qualities or construction’s result is, but we very much rely and take heed to what their vision is, and try to execute that as faithfully as possible.
James (Ford) Huniford 16:24
Right. I think also a big part of it is that there was never a requirement for how many skews I had to produce to meet a quota and have to fit into the bar. I think that was what these guys do. And everyone here does it. I think back in the day fabric used to be such a singular part of a room, whereas now it’s an element in the room. So it’s about texture, or putting a wall chalet on a copper chair or, you know, something that’s hand woven and right. And one of the rules and any design magazine will tell you on a design is talking about how to bring texture into the room.
Michael Boodro 16:58
And of course, you know, that’s easy to say that, but what does it mean? One of the things that really impresses me about both of your work, Lori, and Ford is the range of textures that you have, in they are very subtle differences but I think they have a big impact in a room. And is this something larger that you think about in terms of when you’re doing the line? How much weight should this have?
Lori Weitzner 17:19
Oh, yeah, we take into account everything. When I’m designing the fabrics, I always make sure there’s the balance between the things that are more saleable and the things that are going to get into the magazine that may not sell as much, but will get the attention. We try to balance that out. We also really take into account, not just texture, but what kind of yarns and what can we twist together? And how can we make shiny and matte work together? And what can we do on top of it? Maybe we print on top of it or maybe we embroider so we’re really thinking dimensionally in terms of textile designers and why interior designers can do textile design collections well, is because they think three dimensionally t because that’s what they’re trained at. I think if you can take that 3d approach that interior designers do beautifully and put it into the way you create a textile, then that textile can be that much more unique and special.
Michael Boodro 18:14
And Ford, how did you think about doing the textures in your line? Because I was kind of amazed? We’re I mean, we’re talking like a half an inch quarter inch thickness here. The range is kind of amazing.
James (Ford) Huniford 18:26
Yeah. I think it was just all done very subtly.
Michael Boodro 18:30
Did you think about if it would be great in a living room or would it be better in a den or kid’s room? Or did you know it was really all about flexibility?
Stephen Elrod 18:38
Yeah, I’d agree it was really about the textile itself, and how we could put together a varied enough range of these very subtle textures that would play off of each other. And as Lori said, you know, mixing different yarns and coming up with a specific palette that was unique to the collection all really tried to bring the idea that Ford had to fruition. I think the other interesting thing is that everybody at this table is all about refinement. I think that is what people are looking for today, selectivity and not something that’s just mass produced. Or even if you take, you know, one of Lori’s fabrics and use it in a different way that it’s not going to look like three other designers have the same idea because they have a different perspective. I think that’s what texture and uniqueness is all about and what people want in interior design today.
Lori Weitzner 19:37
Just to quote Jack Larson for a second because I always loved him. He is alive and in great spirits. But, he was an architect and he became a textile designer. What he says and I love this, is that textile design is the perfect combination between architecture, painting and poetry.
Michael Boodro 19:49
Yeah. And certainly his work is and so is yours, darling.
Lori Weitzner 19:55
You know, and I think everybody’s work is in a way.
Michael Boodro 19:58
Listen, no one loves men’s fabric more than me, Brian. And I have Holland and Sherry fabrics in my apartment. But it’s like the design business is predicated on newness, unfortunately. And I, you know, as a magazine editor, I was guilty of promoting what was new, what was new, what was new? So how do you brand, especially Holland and Sherry, which has such an understated, classic image? How do you bring freshness to that while being true to who you are?
Brian Dicker 20:24
I think that’s a great question, because we’re talking about partnerships, working with designers, and creating collections. A lot of the way Holland and Sherry went away from our point of view, which was traditionally tailoring fabrics, is working with our design partners. They came to us with a different point of view, a more design point of view, and we worked closely with them to create something that was out of our comfort zone. We were comfortable with them, personality wise, their design, even though it was definitely the same quality, same coloring, same subtlety. There was definitely more of a design aspect to it. I started Holland and Sherry and I didn’t go to school for fabric design. I went to school for chemistry. I connected with these designers, and let them do what they do best, which is design. So they really took our textures, our subtle designs and our solids, which is how we really started our business. Then they went to the next level. And so we owe a lot to our partner designers that we created these collections with, because they took us to the next level.
Michael Boodro 21:39
And are you still looking for other designers to be working with? Are you open to that possibility?
Brian Dicker 21:43
We’re always looking for relationships.
Michael Boodro 21:51
Alright, now a major designer told me a few years back, and he has his own line of fabrics. That is really the way and this is a very successful designer. The way he makes the money is from the fabrics, his fabrics, hotels by 1000s of yards. He uses his own fabrics, which one would think that every designer who has a fabric line would use their fabric in their own projects. I see a look of skepticism here on Stephen’s face. We’ll get into that in a second. I think there is this myth out there that if you have a successful fabric line, it’s going to make you rich. So I need to ask Lori, did you arrive here today in a Rolls Royce? Ford, is the chauffeur waiting downstairs? What’s the reality behind this fabric?
Lori Weitzner 23:25
I don’t think anybody’s gonna get really rich from doing a licensed fabric line but it does depend also on who the company is you’re pairing with. Is it a contract company? Is it a residential company? There’s a lot of difference in volume. Is it a hospitality company where it’s gonna go into hotels and big volumes, but the prices are very low? So the margin is very low, so there’s all of that to take into account. And these guys can change that and tell me differently but I do not think you’re gonna get rich but I think it does other things for you and for your brand, number one. Number two, if you do it over time, if it’s something that really works and grows, and once a year, you launch a collection and you get more established as a textile designer, you have to work at it. You have to work hard, really hard. That’s my two cents.
Michael Boodro 24:23
Ford, you’ve become rich, right? You are getting million dollar checks every year now right?
James (Ford) Huniford 24:29
You know, I don’t think it’s about that. I think it’s about passion. First of all, it is all about a point of view that you’re able to have an opportunity to work with someone that can extend your vision or bring your sensibility to a different level. It’s going to bring you some comfort, maybe, but it’s not anything other than that.
Michael Boodro 24:53
Stephen, what do you say?
Stephen Elrod 24:55
Well, we go out of our way to make sure during the conversations that we have, to manage expectations when it comes to royalties. It’s really important that everybody knows exactly what they’re getting into. Licensing agreements can vary, but for the most part ours asked for, for example, worldwide exclusivity on certain categories of products that they do exactly just for us that at least for the terms of the agreement. That’s not always the case everywhere but that’s one of the caveats that comes into it. We also were very honest about the income potential. Now, having said that, you know, we have had some and have one particular licensing partner that we’ve worked with for over 10 years. That’s developed into a very, very big business.
Michael Boodro 25:59
Was that a surprise to you? I was going to ask you, if there ever was a breakout one that really surprised you?
Stephen Elrod 26:05
Yeah, I think it exceeded our expectations. It was stylistically both pattern wise and color very different from what we had been doing, which is, to Brian’s point, one of the reasons we do it, because it allows us to do something that’s maybe a little bit outside of the box, as far as the brand is concerned.
Michael Boodro 26:23
And was it a well known designer? Was it a known person that there was excitement about in general?
Stephen Elrod 26:43
Yeah, you know, this was a smart business decision in that sense. But obviously, if it’s been going on for 10 years, it has gone beyond that. This is even a unique situation, and that they had done a license for another company in the industry prior. Generally, we don’t work with people that may have had prior relationships, just to bring newness and freshness to it but this person had done prior collections. When they came to us looking for a new partner, we certainly were interested in what they had to say and it turned out to be a really wonderful collaboration.
Michael Boodro 27:09
Right. And Brian, have you guys at Holland Sherry, has there ever been a designer collection, or even one particular fabric that has been a surprise breakout success for you guys?
Brian Dicker 27:19
I’m surprised every day.
Michael Boodro 27:22
You are surprised you can turn the lights on, right?
Brian Dicker 27:24
When we start these relationships, we start with the numbers. It’s really important to start with the numbers and structure the business in a way that it’s transparent. The more of these relationships we have, the better we are to predict the future. Predicting the future is something that I’ve never been good at. When it comes to budgeting. I’m all over the place, up, down and sideways. But the key though, is to check in and to communicate regularly with regards to the numbers. The design part, actually, in my opinion, is easy. The people that we work with have an incredible amount of passion for design. But there’s a big difference between being an interior designer, which is a service business, to designing fabric, which is a product business. The key element between the two is design. But there’s, like Lori mentioned, so many other things when it comes to creating this product company that people aren’t good at. And so it’s really about appreciating each other. And the key is appreciating what each side has to offer to create this partnership and yes, I’m surprised, a lot. But one aspect of it is the building of long term relationships. Stephen said that 10 years, that is a long time for any relationship and business and fabric. But that is something we would expect. Anything we do now is going to be 10-15 years, because there’s no design we’re going to do that’s going to be out of style in 10 years. Really, we don’t. If something is going to last only four years, we don’t want to do it. We work with the designers, we work with the collections we come out with, we expect the cost of the sampling, the cost of everything. You need to advertise that cost for a long period of time to make it worthwhile. So it’s all about meeting these people, creating a structure, a financial number structure to see if it’s worth it, and it has to be a long term gig. And the only way in our business, Lori mentioned, that the only way to actually make money is if it’s not a short term thing. And one quick other thing is that designers running a product business and a service business with the same passion at the same time is very difficult.
Lori Weitzner 29:48
Very difficult. How did you manage that?
Brian Dicker 29:51
My only licensee is with Lee Jofa. I’m not a licensee person and I think I knew my limits or restrictions and it wasn’t something I was really that interested in. I think a lot of designers pursue that as a main part of their careers. I don’t. I’ve never been to High Point and I don’t really see myself at this point in my career in that arena. I think there’s other people who do it really well and I think that’s not my thing. Until I signed with Holland and Sherry!
Michael Boodro 30:35
But I wanted to ask, you know, I’m, as I said, I’m a little bit of a fabric geek. So I wanted to ask about how technology has changed what you do. I remember once I was lucky enough to have a tour of the Kravet offices in the design studio and what you can do now with the computer. I mean, I’m such a nerd that, you know, I shouldn’t even say this, but that you could do a pattern and then instantly change the colors must make designing fabrics seem so easy, which is why I think so many designers think they could do it. And I know, Lori, you are laser cut things and you use very high tech fabrics. I mean, all of your stuff has a wonderful natural look but some of it’s not natural, and especially now with the growth of outdoor fabrics. That has really changed everything as well. So what do you guys see as the future of fabrics? And what’s going to happen? How is fabric design going to change in the next four or five years?
Lori Weitzner 31:24
I’ll take a stab at that first. Things have become in some ways much easier, and in other ways, more complex. And added to that this whole sustainability conversation is making our world even more complex and in some ways not so good. The green question is not black and white. It’s gray, is what I like to say. In terms of the technology and the new techniques that are available, what you can do with a textile, and how many different processes you can do with it is incredible. It’s a feast for the eyes. It’s like a buffet that you’ve never seen in Boca West. So that’s in a way good, but in another way, it’s almost too much and then you end up with something that is amazing from a technical standpoint, but it’s not beautiful anymore. So you still have to be aesthetic, and you still have to be refined, and distill and filter, and edit. I see a lot of exciting things coming from yarn makers, and weavers but I’m on the edge of high tech stuff and smart textile things are coming and they’re going to be in our industry soon. I mean, when I say smart, I mean like the blanket for the infant that changes color because the infant has a fever. Those kinds of things are going to start to come into our industry. I don’t know in what way our interior designers use them but that’s going to start to come and I see that for sure. I don’t know if you guys do. And that’s really exciting. And then in terms of sustainability, the one thing I pray for is that it doesn’t become so immense that we stop using the beautiful materials that we’ve used for centuries, because they’re not necessarily recycled or upcycled. So there’s a lot of questions there. I think you guys can agree or disagree.
Stephen Elrod 33:16
Totally agree and at this point, as far as sustainability there are not a lot of options of fibers or manufacturers that execute really lovely high grade luxury textiles that fit within that category of product. It’s very challenging right now.
James (Ford) Huniford 33:31
One of our new partners, Elizabeth Aiken, talks about the sustainability of wool. Right now, it’s natural and renewable. So when it comes to technology for us, we love what other people do but we’re gonna concentrate on wool and we turn our wool yarn and spin our own yarn in our own facility. So recently, we just came out with a Walsh, anil yarn and a wool bouquet yarn. We bought these fancy twisting machines for our mills. We’re playing around and we’re having fun, but using natural wool that’s sustainable.
Michael Boodro 34:11
But outdoor fabrics are a huge product line, and essentially, they’re plastic. Are they not? Am I wrong on that? You know, I know Holland Sherry doesn’t make it but?
Stephen Elrod 34:20
Yeah, we don’t make it but we do sell it and you know, it has a purpose. It’s become a very good category for us. It is one that we continue to expand the technology, the type of product that’s now within that category, whether it’s solution, dyed acrylic, or polyesters. The quality and the finishing has just come so far in a relatively short period of time. We know that most of the goods don’t get sold or specked by an interior designer for outside use, but actually indoor use just because it’s so serviceable and it’s such a lovely hand.
Michael Boodro 34:56
I remember when there used to be scratchy canvas, so that was all you could get. They’re just really horrible.
Lori Weitzner 35:04
Yeah but you know, to your point, Michael, you have to take into account, which I don’t think we do in general as a culture is really breaking it down. Okay, maybe it’s made from a fiber that’s not sustainable, but it’s going to last a lot longer and you can clean it with soap and water and you don’t have to replace it. You know, it’s that old theory that it is better to have cloth diapers or disposable diapers because of the energy to wash them? So I think we have to be careful in the textile industry and new laws just passed in California. Usually when it starts in California, it trickles to the rest of the country. I forget what it’s called but that burns for the fabric, for upholstery, and it would eliminate most natural fibered upholstery fabrics, which would be horrific. Not wool though!
Stephen Elrod 36:01
Sustainable to me and being green, I always say, is to buy better quality, buy fewer, and take care of it. That’s something I want to live by.
Michael Boodro 36:14
I also want to ask you about, you know, the Internet has changed everything. It’s certainly changed the media business, and it’s changed the design business. How is it going to change the fabric business and the fact that people now go online to shop? I mean, now I know how Holland and Sherry sell to the trade only as Kravat Lee Jofa. So how do you see that changing? Lori, do you sell much stuff online?
Lori Weitzner 36:36
Not yet. No. And we sell to the trade only, I believe. I would love to know if you as an interior designer would still buy from me if I was also selling to the end user.
Stephen Elrod 36:50
I think it’s all about your eye and selectivity and how you use that tool. I think, also, a fair pricing structure. The biggest archaic thing in the interior design world is that it’s only open Monday through Friday. For all these design buildings, people don’t work on Saturdays and a lot of people don’t work on Saturdays, and they think they’re missing out on a huge opportunity of selling things and generating more revenue,
Michael Boodro 37:13
Because a lot of the design industry thinks they’re in Paris. That’s why. It’s so they only have to work five days a week.
Stephen Elrod 37:21
I asked somebody the other day, in my office, when was the last time you were out in the market shopping? And they were like, I don’t know when.
Lori Weitzner 37:29
So how do you pick a fabric without touching and feeling it?
Stephen Elrod 37:33
A lot of it is done. A lot of people just call a showroom or email a showroom and ask for samples in a certain range. And you know, that’s what they get. That’s expensive for the fabric house, hence the show. And actually, then it’s had an effect on even traffic within our physical showrooms. Traffic has gone down because we see so much more use of our internet site.
Michael Boodro 38:08
Well, I guess the party line that I’ve heard from directors of showrooms is that the traffic is down but the sales are consistent which means people are shopping online. So Brian, how are you going to address that because you seem very skeptical about all of this.
Brian Dicker 38:24
One thing I’ve learned from our founder of our parent company, Spencer Hayes. Tom James started his business by direct selling, picking up the phone calling, visiting, and going to their location. And that’s how I started Holland and Sherry Interiors. And that’s what we’re going to continue doing. We’re going to be focusing on the interior designer. We’re going to be picking up the phone, visiting them, showing them our product, being excited about the product, and giving them samples. It’s really basic. This hasn’t changed in 50 years. That’s how we’re going to continue to do it. We’re in the luxury business. There’s a lot of luxury companies out there and I don’t know how successful they are on the Internet. I know mid-priced companies are doing really well on the Internet but when a wealthy person wants to buy something of luxury, they want to enjoy the process. And it’s about the people you deal with. It’s about the surroundings you are in and it’s about having fun. And so we want to create that fun at home.
Michael Boodro 39:24
You’re not going to buy a Birkin bag online.
Stephen Elrod 39:28
At the end of the day, if an end user or a customer buys something on the Internet, they still don’t necessarily have the access to the work rooms to make the draperies out of it or the right upholstery so that’s where I always think the designers value will always be paramount in the industry.
Michael Boodro 39:47
I think designers are not going anywhere. I think they’re more important than ever. I wanted to ask you – I am going to put you all on the spot a little bit here. How do you deal with it when, say, a designer that you’ve commissioned or working with or somebody has come to you and said, I want you to design this collection, this licensing or whatever. And it’s bad. How do you handle that? What do you do to work with them to improve it? Do you realize this as a loss leader? What happens?
Brian Dicker 40:22
Yeah, at the end of the day, it’s a collaboration. And so I think they respect our opinion, obviously. We give them feedback as far as the design, the possibility of even executing it, and then finally, the commercial reality of it. So it’s, again, very collaborative. And, you know, I say this is. I’m very diplomatic.
Lori Weitzner 40:46
I have this four phase process. We’ve met and we’re decided to do this. And phase one is concept. And we sit together, and we really talk that through so we make sure we’re on the same page. Phase two is designs and we talk that through and then we tweak, and then we come back. And then we finalize, and then we color. And the last is launch, which is a very integral part of the whole process. So that way, you’re staying close, but not too close. So there’s not a chance to go too far.
Michael Boodro 41:22
Yeah, you can nip it in the bud.
Stephen Elrod 41:23
And our process is very much the same. I mean, very much mirrors what Lori’s is.
Michael Boodro 41:28
Brian, would you say much the same? I mean, have you ever had a fiasco that you’ve had to pull the iron out of the fire?
Brian Dicker 41:34
It’s one of the things where if it doesn’t work, you don’t do it again.
Michael Boodro 41:39
Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay. And one last question, because I’m so appreciative of all your insights and wisdom here. What would you say? Because I know, despite what we’ve said about not making much money, how difficult it is to align on fabrics. I know there are people out there who are still dreaming of creating their own line of fabrics. So I’m gonna start with you, Ford, since you did it. What advice would you give to a designer who’s thinking about creating a fabric line?
James (Ford) Huniford 42:10
I would say the first thing is keep dreaming, and be passionate and reach for whatever you want. And the second thing is to be true to what your sensibility is, and your point of view. I think in today’s world, so many people have Pinterest boards, and come up with storylines of who they think they are, what they think their sensibility should be, or what they think their house should look like, or what the color forecasts are. I think that’s all just kind of bullshit. I think that people should just follow what they’re most passionate about. I think everyone at this table has been consistent with that and I think that’s why we’re all here for you, Michael, because I think you’ve seen that authenticity in our passion. That passion and creativity comes before doing commercial work.
Michael Boodro 43:09
Lori, what would you say?
Lori Weitzner 43:10
I would say that, if you feel passionate about textiles, and you want to do a collection, you identify the companies that you love, that you feel you could bring something to the table, but have still a synergy, something new, but be synergistic with. Give them a call and know that you can’t just give them some sketch and then have the collection launch know that you have to be willing to work hard, and really care about it, as you said, have passion for it, and put love into it. And if all of those parts work, it will be successful. It will be and maybe you won’t be flying private jets, but maybe business class!
Michael Boodro 43:53
No, because I think that is a very valid point. Brian, Stephen, you are an expert and know what’s worked for you in the past and know what the market is. So, Brian, you weigh in here.
Brian Dicker 44:04
First of all, I would say, know the numbers. Understand the business and try to understand the business. Ask the right questions. Ask a lot of questions. One question I always ask the designer is, what fabric do you buy a lot of or what product can’t you find? Obviously point of view is really important to the designer, so important. Your product has to separate itself in a showroom that’s filled with fabric. So it needs a point of view and needs to look separate from other lines. And I always say that the designer needs to sell it themselves. They need to love it so much. They want to share it with other people. So there’s no better salesperson for the product than the person who designed the product.
Michael Boodro 44:50
Stephen, do you want to add anything?
Stephen Elrod 44:51
I would just reiterate all the things that Lori and Brian have said. It’s really bringing a singular vision, something you’re very passionate about, something that you believe in, and then staying true to that. Then working with your partner because they’re the ones who really have the technical know-how, and the market knows how to bring it to market and make it a successful venture. I would add, we have designers come to us via licensing arrangements and I always have a little bit of a mixed emotions about that, because they’ve employed an agent to represent them. Sometimes I think they have unrealistic expectations because of that. They’ve oftentimes made sizable investments within the agent and their contract. Many times they’ve put together a portfolio of designs that they’ve hired an outside designer to execute for them. And I’m not sure that that’s really the best path. I think it sometimes can build unrealistic expectations, like, we’re gonna take that book of designs they’ve put together and execute them verbatim. And that just doesn’t work that way.
Lori Weitzner 46:21
But the only one thing about the agent is that a lot of designers like myself, aren’t very good at or enjoy the negotiating business.
Michael Boodro 46:29
No, I can relate enough.
Stephen Elrod 46:30
Michael Boodro 46:32
I get that, but I could see how if somebody comes to you, and they’re gonna do this fabric collection here, and they’re gonna do a furniture collection here and you’re thinking, that’s not enough time or attention to the fabrics, you know.
Stephen Elrod 46:40
They’re so married to what they put together that they feel it’s done, and it’s not at all just just barely to begin.
Michael Boodro 46:45
Exactly, exactly. Well, I have one bit of advice that I’m going to add to anybody who wants a creative fabric line and that is if you go to a design world dinner, switch around the place cards so that you’re seated next to either Stephen or Brian or Lori Not you, Ford.
James (Ford) Huniford 47:10
I don’t go to those dinners. I go for drinks and leave.
Michael Boodro 47:15
Well, I just really want to thank my incredible guests here. I’ve learned so much. You are incredible and the fabric business is endlessly fascinating. It’s full of incredible beauty, but it is a business and the insights that you guys have given have been so helpful to our audience, and I really appreciate you. It’s been fun.
Thanks for listening to the Chairish podcast.