TC Makers: A Return To The Textile Economy At Durham’s Spoonflower

Making custom fabric has long been the domain of the big guys. Trying anything new, whether it was having a swatch of cool fabric made or printing a custom logo on some slip covers, has required minimum investments of a few thousand dollars and lots of waiting. Spoonflower solved that.

Founded by entrepreneurs Gart Davis and Stephen Fraser, this Durham, NC company began shipping fabric out of an old sock factory in 2008. They essentially use inkjet printer technology to produce jobs as small as a $5 foot square of fabric or as big as dozens of yards. Material costs $15.75 per yard.

Fraser got the idea for the company when his wife, Kim, was looking for custom curtains. Not content with run-of-the-mill choices, he realized that custom printing was possible but was prohibitively expensive. They began by buying one printer and running it in a dusty old warehouse where it clogged up and seized. They recently moved to a new space with well-ventilated print rooms and plenty of cutting space.
We spoke with Fraser about his factory where they run printers day and night to fill the hundreds of orders they get a day. They see about 30% international orders with the most orders coming from Australia. They’re also working on wallpaper, decals, and giftwrap for users.

Each of the printers has its own connection to the main management system and can tell operators what jobs are printing and which machines are low on ink. The company recently installed Nexus 7 Android tablets on all of their machines as well for more detailed tracking. The company can print on multiple fabric types and certain printers work best with certain fabrics, something operators can note before they run certain jobs.

Spoonflower is profitable and expanding without investment. It’s a great success story that came out of the heart of a former textile capital of the world and just goes to show you that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

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