I worry. For much of my life I have been something of a professional worrier; I’d like to think that is one of the things that made me a good academic. I sweat the small stuff and try to put it all together into a coherent bigger picture. I’m not always sure how good I am at doing this, but it is what I do nonetheless.
Today I noticed that Patty Young has also joined the list of Joann’s fabrics Premium Designers (after noticing not so long ago that Cloud 9 has a Joann’s line as well), and honestly I couldn’t be happier for her. The mod market is rough, with most shops allocating little if any space to mod designers, and much of that space going to luminaries such as Anna Maria and Amy, Tula and Denyse. There are a handful more names that jump onto the list of mods that have even crossed over to the typical shop, though the percentage of shops open even to those designers is not particularly sky high.
Despite all the marketing that is trying to capitalize on the mod scene, it is still a movement that is working at the margins. It may feel incredibly mainstream, but in terms of economics (certainly for the designers) it is nowhere near there. And that is what worries me.
Based on the new audience that is coming to quilting, the future of quilting is moving more and more towards the mods. At the moment they are not the quilters and sewists with the highest percentage of disposable income, but they are the growing ranks of the quilting world; they are the next mainstream. And the thing is they are less and less frequently going to their LQS; most indy shops are not serving them very well.
The new quilters are buying fabric online because they are not happy with the one shelf of mod designs. They don’t want to pay for classes that they can find online for free, or really cheap at any of the for-pay online classes. And they don’t want to pay a premium for the same notions they can get of Joann’s for half the price.
And that is the brilliance of what Joann’s is doing: in bringing in the mod designers that are not able to get their fabric into enough shops via the indy fabric world, they add another draw for the current wave of new sewists that aren’t being served by the current LQS model. And the designers who sign with Joann’s they get to access a far larger audience than they ever would in the LQS world. Yes, I think it is likely a great monetary move (if every Joann’s carried a single bolt of a collection that would be over 750 bolts of each SKU. That is a lot of fabric; I was lucky if Andover ever did 100).
But I don’t think is actually all about money for either side, the designers or Joann’s. I know the designers who are doing collections with them, and I truly believe a big part of it is about getting good design out there, about seeing people make things that they love with the fabric these designers created. And I think Joann’s is seeing the future in a way the indy quilt world isn’t. When I go to Market it feels like mod is being exploited as a trend, something to pounce on before it dies off, and as I have written many times I think that is fundamentally missing the core of the recent quilting revival. I think Joann’s is banking on the future and a future audience. Certainly they think the audience is there now, one that can be attracted to Joann’s because they aren’t being served well by their LQS, but they also see a chance to bring customers to their store for years to come because they are responding to what is happening now and what is likely to happen next. No longer content to be the source for inexpensive fabric, it looks like Joann’s is intent on becoming the fabric supplier to the next generation of quilters.
Soon all the manufacturers may have to start looking at the way they do business, the exclusivity relationships they have with the indy fabric shops. Joann’s may be dropping some pebbles into the pond that could cause some pretty serious ripples. And I for one hope they do, not just as a fabric designer, but as a quilter who has rarely felt welcomed in an indy quilt shop.
So, is Joann’s going to steal mod from the indy quilt shops? Perhaps not any time soon, but it is certainly looks like it may peel off some more customers, making it even harder for the indy shops to have that small shelf of mod design at all. If I were the indy fabric world I’d be thinking really hard, because the future can sneak up really quickly; it’s tricky like that. Next thing you know Joann’s and John Lewis (here in the UK) could just end up the epicenters of the mod scene. Who would have thought it three years ago? But then the future belongs to the agile, and Joann’s is looking pretty nimble right about now…