Designer Textile Reclamation: The Story of Modern Fabrics and Their Founders
I don’t recall how I first came across Modern Fabrics, but I was an instant fan of their designer fabric reclamation concept, which offered high quality goods at amazing prices while using material that may otherwise go to a landfill. I reached out to founders Ewa and James Powell and asked them to tell us here on RenovatingNYC a bit more about themselves and their online offerings.
What is Modern Fabrics?
We collect new fabrics from the finest luxury furniture companies in the USA and offer them to the public at 50-75% off list price. We reduce demand for virgin materials and minimize waste while staying on top of the latest textile design trends.
We sell our fabrics online at www.modern-fabrics.com, and in our Charlotte, NC retail store. Last year alone, we saved almost 1 million yards of fabric from going to the landfill! When we opened our company in 2007, we specialized exclusively in commercial grade textiles from companies like Maharam, Knoll, and Designtex. Last year we began offering residential fabrics from China Seas, Cowtan and Tout, Kravet, and others.
Which social media channels do you use?
Besides our online store and weekly newsletter, we like to communicate with our customers via Facebook.
Can you tell us how you got started?
Modern Fabrics was founded in 2007 by a husband and wife team. James Powell holds a degree in Art and Architecture from Florida State University, Gainesville, and is a talented furniture maker. While growing up, James traveled the world with his father who was a PanAm pilot.
Ewa had an amazing childhood growing up in communist Poland. At the age of 13 she immigrated to Chicago with her family and later graduated from the University of Illinois in Chicago with a degree in Graphic Design, Electronic Media and Photography. She worked at several high profile advertising and design firms before starting her own design studio prior to launching Modern Fabrics.
We both love the outdoors and after we met, we hiked the Appalachian Trail together. While on the trail, we fell in love with North Carolina and with each other. It was then we decided to start our life together in the south.
What influence, experience, or moment guided you to have the business you have?
After moving to North Carolina in early 2000’s James worked as a furniture maker at several factories in the area. It quickly became clear to him how much unused material the factories were generating.
James started collecting excess fabric and leather from the factories and it quickly began filling up our small living room and we realized we had a business on our hands. Ewa built our first online store in 2007 with the hope of finding a home for some of the fabrics we were collecting. We got our first break in 2008 when the magazine “ReadyMade” ran an article about our company, and sales started coming in.
Today, our online store is larger than ever with a 5,000 square-foot warehouse and shipping facility. We also run a 5,000 square-foot retail store in Charlotte, NC and we employ 10 people.
Modern Fabrics emerged from our home and now provides interior designers and hobbyists alike with quality textiles that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
Do you have a mentor, muse, influence, or inspiration for the work you do?
We both love modern and mid-century modern design and architecture. Our favorite time together is looking at architecture and objects from that era.
We respect and admire anyone who runs their own small business, especially owners who are couples! It is great to do what you love, but it is also very challenging and it is so refreshing to catch up with other business owners and share stories.
Ewa especially looks up to her old boss, graphic designer Rick Valicenti, the founder of Thirst, who taught her to be a kind employer and to always follow your heart.
Besides Ready Made, where else has Modern Fabrics been featured?
USA Today, Interior Design, The Charlotte Observe, The Dallas Morning News, Charlotte Magazine, Charlotte Business Journal, The Macklenburg Times, Country Living, Design Spotter, Apartment Therapy, True Up, and others.
What specific part of your business are you most passionate about?
We are simply amazed that we are able to make a living doing what we do. To be able to save thousands of pounds of fabrics from the waste stream each year and give them a new home is simply unbelievable. We live in a society of waste, and it feels great to run a company that helps reduce the waste.
We also love seeing all the textile designs we find. The fabrics we find are so beautiful, colorful, tactile, and yummy. There are so many of them we want to keep for ourselves, but now we know better. So many fabrics, so little time!
As we look forward, our goal is to keep growing our online store, we have so much more fabric then we have time to put online, we are hoping to streamline our system and be able to offer even more fabrics to our national clientele.
A few quick questions…
Anything that makes us lick our fingers
Yearly pass to the White Water Center (Love it!)
Being a parent, who knew we could do it!
Taste testing chicken wings with our friend Harry.
Unfortunately, right now we have no time for watching TV or reading.
Root and Vine, Morganton, NC
Transformative travel experience?
Hiking the Appalachian Trail together
South End, Charlotte
What publications do you subscribe to?
Dwell, Metropolis, Interior Design, Azure, Highlights (for kids)
Are you involved with any charities or support any philanthropic causes?
We donate lots and lots of fabric to:
Sackcloth & Ashes are an amazing organization that helps people in need by creating jobs. We donate all the fabric that goes on the inside of the bags they create out of the coffee bags.
We also donate hundreds of yards of fabric yearly to The Discovery Place, an exhibit that allows kids to make their own shoes.
What tech gadget can’t you live without?
Where to find:
1504 Camden Rd. Suite 300
Charlotte, NC 28203
About the Editor:
RJ Diaz is a renovation and remodeling construction management executive in New York City. RJ is passionate about high quality, well-crafted construction and requires the same from every member and subcontractor on his team. RJ started RenovatingNYC in 2010 to share the best resources in the New York City renovation industry. For advice about your own renovation or remodeling plans, preliminary cost estimates and project opportunities, please contact RJ using the form below.