Armageddon in a Sewing Basket


I have been musing on some of these concepts for a while now trying to work out how I felt about them and if anyone else has thought the same.

What has bought this blog post (rant) on is the 'New and Exclusive' Liberty of London range being brought into Spotlight Stores in Australia. A few of us have been discussing it today and its brought up a few thoughts.

For those of you who don't know what Spotlight is, its a large chain store that is craft and homewares. Perhaps a bit like crossing JoAnn and Bed Bath and Beyond together with a smidge of Home Depot thrown in.

Spotlight has a bit of far reaching grasp in things and likes to try and dominate in all areas they trade in. Craft, fabrics, home goods etc. And they do it via price or constant rolling sales. They have buying power based on their size and can bring in their own products where they have the ability to undercut. On price and quality etc. They have their own home brands that they can do this with and compete against smaller businesses. Its the same adage of the big store squeezing out the competition.

But buyer beware, the quality of many of the fabrics and products they sell cannot be compared to the quality you can get from an independent supplier. It is not same is different. Be it on thread count or fabric width. So yes it is cheaper but it is not the same. So please don't compare one 'homespun' to another 'homespun' they are not the same weight. This is threads per inch. And another selling method is narrower widths. This is seen in current range of knits in stock, they are 112 cm wide instead of the 150cm wide you can get from other suppliers.

So that brings me to this curious Incident of the Liberty in the Spotlight... Its going around in social media land that low and behold you can now get Liberty fabrics in Spotlight. Now, its not Liberty Tana Lawn. So its not the same quality. So again, no apples with apples here. It is also narrower. Tana Lawn is a generous 135cm wide and retails for $60 per mt or so. Now, this one is 112cm wide, not as fine a quality and retails for $50. So for a start, it you do the square math on that, you are getting less on 2 fronts. Quality is everything in this game and you only get what you pay for. So pay your hard earned fabric stash dollar to the shops who sell the real good stuff.

So this comes to market share. And how our small market is set up here in Australia. Yes we have a smaller population to the USA and Europe. We have a handful of fabric shops in our capital cities and a few in regional areas. They are shrinking all the time. Be it to competition or changing market influences. We loose some and we gain some, but we tend to not have growth in this area.  Along side our independent fabric stores, and they are a mix of ones that cater to dress making or ones that cater to the quilt and craft market we have 2 in the 'major' sector. Spotlight and Lincraft. Spotlight being the much larger of the two. Add to this online sellers and we have a reasonably good mix and good choice.

The problem with the marketing strategy of the majors is its prone to crushing the competition. We have seen this over and over again with chains coming in and then we loose the smaller grocery stores, hardware stores and now office supply stores with the mega store concept. Do we want to see this happen to our independent fabric stores and businesses? I don't. (I'm biased here, I am a small independent fabric business).

Liberty was one of those fabrics that was only ever available at the independent stores. It was a hard to obtain fabric that used to be carefully placed into shops to keep its exclusivity and to have a good mix of sellers. In the last 18 months that has changed with a new wholesaler who is allowing more on sellers of Liberty. So now most independent fabric shops are selling Liberty. Its a big thing for a small independent shop to put Liberty in. It's very expensive and you have to outlay quite a lot of dosh to get your orders in. Trust me. I used to be a Liberty stockist. But when it became available to the whole market, I had to stop stocking it as I couldn't place the bigger orders the more established shops could. I couldn't offer the range to my customers in the same way the others could. So this is a very small illustration of how this works. Now, think of this happening on a much bigger scale. Spotlight v's all the independent shops. The ones who have paid up front COD for their orders of Liberty. And you also have to wait a few months to get your orders as well due to the packing and shipping from the UK. To give you a quick illustration, A bolt of Liberty (10 to 12 mts) will set back a retailer between $250 to $300 per print. If they are stocking a range of approximately 50 bolts to give you choice thats between 12 to 15 K worth of risk sitting on their shelves.  Its a lot of cash for an independent business to outlay. I imagine the major stores have 30, 60 or 90 day payment or sale or return. Thats what major retailers I have worked with in the past in the fashion industry have, its a very un-level playing field.

So if you then go and decide to buy from a large major store who doesn't have the same ordering or payment conditions and also doesn't carry the same level of risk, or even the same comparable product, the wheels start to get a bit shaky....shaky in terms of it hurting the smaller retailers, but it also gets shaky on the other front of this once lauded quality and divine fabric is getting dumbed down and schlepped out....sigh.

So the rant continues. Is this yet another sign of the fast fashion model meeting the quilt and sewing world?

Now I'm not someone who goes to fabric shops that often as I have one in my own house. I got plenty and then some. But hey, its vintage. But there is a few things that are making me shake my head and ask a few questions.

The rate that new ranges are released. I don't know about you, but can you keep up? That's a lot of fabric being milled and printed and shipped around the world. Its also a massive load of cotton being grown, water being used and energy being consumed to grow, weave, print and distribute all this fabric.

A light is being shined on the detrimental effects of the fast fashion industry but I am seeing many parallels to the quilt and craft industry. Its producing at a very rapid rate. The number of ranges is growing. The marketing is getting more aggressive. We are seeing more fabric, more patterns, more suggestions to consume. I know I can't keep up and i'm not even in the main stream of the industry.

I worked in the clothing industry as a graphic and textile designer for 15 years and when the fast fashion business model took hold it was a whole other ball game. So many corners were cut to get it to low price and quick delivery. It was more about supply that product. I am starting to wonder if a bit of this is happening in the quilt and craft market.

The other concept is sustainability. Sustainability can be more than just resources. It can be ideas as well. One of the things I studied in university (I am a degree qualified graphic designer) was the concept of the originality of ideas. Or the provenance of the idea. Enmeshed in this was the rule of plagiarism. Def: 'the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own'. As a student and then as a practicing professional designer, you know that plagiarism or its buddy 'appropriation' are a no no. Its a big fat no go zone. As a student if you got caught you were thrown out of your institution and never allowed to return. If as a designer you were caught you would be blacklisted and have a lot of difficulty getting work. As you would be seen as a future risk of legal action or a copyright breech. We also learned how to credit our research, how to cite our references and to give credit where credit was due.

Note - Plagiarism is different to copyright. Thats another discussion. Copyright is legally wrong, Plagiarism is morally wrong. However, acts of plagiarism or appropriation can constitute a legal breach of copyright, and vice versa.

There seems to be a bit of a thing where 'designers' in the quilt and craft industry are using past or vintage designs and having them copied under their own names but with no cited credit to the original design or textile, or not being cited as reproductions. Their names are on the ranges as the designer. Now to me a 'designer' is someone who actually designs the print or pattern. Actually creates it. Their own original idea or work. This can also be work that is researched, credited or referenced to a period or style or influenced by. Not someone who selects a range of existing designs from the past and has them reprinted and takes credit for them. I know that many of the fabric prints in the market place today are reproductions but they are marketed as such. You as the consumer are being told that they are reproduced. You are not being marketed that they are new and innovative works by a clever designer. I have to say I feel cheated when I am marketed something that is meant to be original and I find that its a copy or a fake or a rip off. Should we be expecting more, that if its a designer range that it is actually designed by them and not a series of fabrics from the past copied and re-marketed?

I keep a reference library of original fabrics from the 1890s to the 1960s and time and again I see these fabrics being copied and reproduced. Legally it is ok if the design is out of copyright. Morally? But It is still cited as a copy. That it is a referenced work. What I struggle with is the ones that are copied and claimed to be that persons own work. That is where its a bit of a grey area. Should we be applauding these people and giving them credit where its not their work, or they are not acknowledging the source?

In terms of the sustainability of ideas, we must keep moving forward and have the impetus to create and grow. Copying and not moving forward is not growing or learning. We can reference and re-interpret ideas and concepts. We can learn from them and create from them, but in each generation we should be moving forward both creatively and intellectually. If we don't as a society we do not grow. We stop questioning and the desire to learn is dulled. Can this be paired with a cheaper version of Liberty in a chain store?

I would love to know what you think about this too. There have been quite a few murmurings about the place about quilts and or quilt designers not referencing or citing the origins of the works. Or works being slightly modified and not having the original source being acknowledged. It also filters into the use of antique or vintage methods or designs being claimed to be newly designed. It is a bit of a grey area but I do feel that if we cite references, give credit to the past and current practitioners of our craftform and be respectful and professional in the practice of our craftform and all those participating in it we can have a constructive discussion about it all.


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  • Beth on

    Hi Jen, I saw the spotlight Liberty in store yesterday :( I had to have a google to see if anyone else was confused!! I can’t see who would buy it… tessuti and the strawberry theif both sell the original liberty fabric of the same price as the lower quality spotlight one! And a far bigger range too! And I agree with you in the copying issue also…

  • Natalie on

    On the big chain vs independent store point – I work in a small independent fabric store. They are doing it tough since Spotlight moved in a few years ago. People now go to Spotlight thinking they are getting a good deal when our prices are actually cheaper! We can’t compete with the advertising reach, but fortunately have a small loyal core of customers. It’s hard for my bosses to buy in new stock, not knowing how well it will sell; as a result we don’t stock many of the more popular and well known fabric brands like Tula Pink and Cotton & Steel. Spotlight’s monopoly is also detrimental to our habby suppliers too, throttling their invoice payments. One company nearly sunk when Spotlight decided to hold back payment.

    I’m trying to get my work to explore social media more, to work at a grassroots level to develop a local sewing community but it’s so hard to help older businesses bridge the technological gap. I want my work to survive and to flourish, I love working there, and I think competition is absolutely necessary in order to keep our Australian textile and habby industry floating… as much as it can.

  • Makesmyheartsing on

    Great, I mean really great, article Jen. This is such an important subject. Thank you for your time and energy putting this article together and for making us all think a little deeper about design integrity and the sustainability of this wonderful industry. Can you repost this elsewhere? It is such a good topic to raise on a wider platform.

  • Alison von Bibra on

    Music to my ears Jen.
    I run a sewing studio. I live in a town with two well known fabric designers. We have had these same discussions. The threadmill of fast design is outstripping the ability for stores, consumers or designers to keep up.
    Well said on all fronts.

  • Justine on

    Thanks for writing this. Sustainability and being a ‘good’ consumer are my favourite ‘soapbox’ topics, and will happily discuss at length to anyone who will listen.
    I was shocked when I opened the latest Spotlight catalogue and saw their ‘exclusive’ range – my first thought was why on earth would Liberty want to cheapen their brand by creating an exclusive line for a chain store?
    I try hard to ‘shop small’ – not just with fabric (actually, I should confess to not being an overly sustainable fabric shopper – I do buy from O/S, which opens up a whole other topic of sustainability), but with my everyday shopping (fruit/meat/milk/bread etc) too. I’m lucky to live somewhere where we have this choice – but these choices are becoming less as more small businesses close…..

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