African American Fabric Designer Started Her Own Line to Celebrate Confidence, Culture, and Curves
Lack of Fabric Designs for African American Holidays
Four years ago, I was looking for Juneteenth fabric to make outfits to wear at a local celebration but came up empty. As a black woman who understands the importance of the holiday, I was disappointed in the lack of fabric designs but not surprised. Instead of accepting that selections were nonexistent, I hired a graphic artist to create an envisioned design. For the next six months, I conducted research on how to get the design printed. I was blessed to find a printing company that didn’t require a minimum order quantity, so I ordered a few yards to test making outfits for myself and others. There were positive reviews as soon as photos were posted on social media. People started asking for custom fabric designs that represented them.
Before then, I had no aspirations of being an entrepreneur. But there was a void in the sewing and fabric community. That same void restricted me from fully expressing myself through sewing creativity. Now my goal is to fill that void as much as possible.
Learned Sewing, Left It Alone, and Returned Back
I learned sewing basics like pillows and napkins during school days. Still, at the time, there wasn’t anything about it that intrigued me to continue, so I left it alone. Almost two decades later, I returned to sewing. Tiffany’s (TipStitched) blog at the time was about a dress that she made. She mentioned adjusting the pattern and using certain fabrics to fit her body type.
The blog resonated with me because, at the time, I had just given birth to my third child, and I wasn’t able to fit any of my clothes. It was a low point in my life. I hated my body, and my self-esteem was almost nonexistent. Because of her blog, I realized that I was too busy trying to fit into clothes instead of making clothes to fit my body. After sharing this with my husband, he bought me a Brother sewing machine.
Sew in Love With Sewing
Recently, faux jumpsuits have become a favorite thing to sew. A faux jumpsuit is when you sew a top and bottom garment in one fabric that gives the illusion of a jumpsuit when worn together. Sewing the faux jumpsuit gives me the ability to try out various patterns. More importantly, it satisfies my love for jumpsuits while giving me easy bathroom access.
Bras have become another favorite. It’s a newbie to my sewing journey, but I was surprisingly hooked after making my first one. Once I made and fitted the Black Beauty by Emerald Erin to fit me right, there was no stopping me. In particular, I made eight more bras from it with that pattern. I tried another pattern and made four of those from that. I love the versatility you can achieve with bra making using various laces and fabrics. Having a comfortable bra that can be worn for hours is always a plus.
“ Having a comfortable bra that can be worn for hours is always a plus.”Q. Irvin
The Fabric Industry and Opportunities for Minorities
Traditionally the fabric industry was dominated by Jewish immigrants. For African Americans, the most significant change has been our representation. Black and Brown people were never represented on textile even when there were opportunities to do so. For instance, if you look at a significant retailer site, you’ll see several different fabric choices for princess and superhero character-designed fabrics. However, when there was a black princess and superhero movie, retailers carried one design as representation, which was the same exact fabric design.
The drive to do for ourselves has been another change I’ve seen happen. Instead of sitting back and waiting for others to see our value and worth, we decided to push forward. This has led to many black-owned fabric businesses (custom and non-custom) supporting one another.
There are many opportunities for black women in the fabric industry. Everything from being on payroll with large retailers as designers to consultants and purchasers to have their own sewing/crafting business. Also, I believe the sewing community will grow similarly to the arts and crafts community. Black art or black representation in retail/craft stores was hard to find a few years ago. You have black artists contracted and paid for their work in major retail stores such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods. Ms. Creative CEO Karen Baxter is now hosting webinars and craft classes collaborating with Michaels.
Mistakes Will Be Made As An Entrepreneur
My journey as an entrepreneur has been a learning experience. No matter how much you read or talk to others, there are some things you don’t know until you’re in situations. I didn’t know much about the fabric design industry, website design, SEO, FTC laws and regulations, coding, importing regulations and fees, and design specifications. In the beginning, I didn’t know that when submitting a file to a printer, you need to have a background color and proper steps to make a design seamless. When the first fabric rounds were ordered, the fabric designs were in squares with untreated colors. In other words, it was far from appealing. Other lessons included pricing products appropriately, keeping FAQ and product pages updated frequently, knowing fabric measurements, and shipping. The mistakes made were a reminder that I’m human. As an entrepreneur, I feel it’s essential to be transparent with customers.
I would like to move operations to a physical space in the future. Currently, the business is based on pre-order sales, mainly due to a lack of space at home. Also, I plan to expand the product line. Being in the fabric business has given me insight into other areas.
Queenora Renee Irvin is a custom fabric business owner, seamstress, accountant, podcast co-host, and HBCU graduate. She’s also a foodie who enjoys spending time with her husband and their three daughters, digital planning, traveling, and making waist beads.
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