LS: Art of Quilting Column January 11, 2009
Like a meteorologist predicts tomorrow’s weather, Luana Rubin forecasts trends in fabric with her built-in radar to determine what’s hot and what’s not.
This Boulder businesswoman is a trend spotter for the quilting industry. As founder and president of an online retail company, eQuilter.com, Rubin pays close attention to the popular colors emerging in the parallel markets of fashion and home decor.
Then she translates them into fabric that will sell to quilters.
“I look at 30,000 to 40,000 products per season and pick out about 10 percent based on my trend direction,” she says.
For instance, for fall and winter 2008-09, her Web-based business brought in purple, plum and mauve colors, “plus the new gray and charcoal neutrals.”
Rubin employs 35 people and keeps 20,000 products in stock and ready to ship to customers from a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Boulder. She also maintains her own quilt studio on the second floor of the building.
In fact, Rubin entered a wearable art design of her own creation in the 2008 Bernina Fashion Show in Houston. Her ensemble was titled “Yves and Me — by the Cosmic Creative Campfire.”
But Rubin’s coup de grace in Houston was winning the prestigious Michael Kile Award of Achievement minutes before her clothing ensemble debuted on the runway.
The honor is given annually to an individual who exhibits enthusiasm and commitment to the art of quilting and whose work has significantly affected the industry.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Manufacturing in Los Angeles, Rubin and her husband, Paul, started eQuilter.com in 1999. She also is a fabric designer and illustrator.
Attributing their success to months of research and a solid business plan, Rubin says, “I approached it as a businesswoman, not as a hobbyist.”
They also rely on a well-trained and efficient staff to ship orders quickly.
Today’s best-selling products are batiks and Asian fabrics and novelty prints.
“We sell a lot of licensed designer collections, as well,” Rubin says.
For customer inspiration, one of her recent blog entries features a suggested quilt design by Rubin made with “I Love Lucy” fabrics.
Her response to the economic downturn is “creative marketing.”
The craft and sewing industries can withstand a recession because people make their own gifts when they can’t afford ready-made items, thus the news stories of a “Creative Christmas” just past, Rubin says.
But retailers must offer the right products to take advantage of such trends.
“Plenty of suppliers and retailers are doing very well now,” she says.
Rubin cites simple business practices such as communicating with suppliers and taking advantage of their free marketing tools, paying invoices on time and keeping good credit.
“I am shocked when I hear how late many shops pay their bills and what percentage of market orders are canceled due to bad credit issues.
“If your credit line dries up and you have no new product flowing into your shop, you are basically done,” Rubin says.
Hiring an excellent accountant to look over the books and give you hard facts about the bottom line is not only an investment in the business, she says, “it’s an absolute necessity.”
Rubin’s expertise in multiple areas qualifies her to participate in an elite group of Bernina national teachers/artisans. Members are quilting and sewing teachers, authors and TV personalities.
They gather yearly at Bernina headquarters in Chicago, and in February, the group will brainstorm and network about where the quilting industry is going in 2009.
Before she leaves for Chicago, Rubin will be the guest speaker at a Jan. 24 meeting of the Colorado Quilting Council at Monarch High School in Louisville. Her topic is “Color and Design — A Way of Life.”
What a fascinating career path Rubin has taken. I appreciate her willingness to share her behind-the-scenes experience and to reveal some of the many layers that make up this cloth adventure so many of us enjoy.