Alison is in possession of a store’s worth of New Old Stock upholstery — fabrics and vinyls — but wants our help. What designs of vintage upholstery are in demand among Retro Renovators today? Read on — then help me give her advice that may save this vintage treasure.
A few years ago, my family bought out an old upholstery supply shop that started in 1946. The company had a ton of old upholstery fabric and vinyl from the 1960s and 1970s. Some is actually even older, but the records have been lost.
It wasn’t moving from the shelf at all, and the corporate company decision was to junk it. My crafty and creative self couldn’t let this gorgeous supply of fabrics go, especially if craftsmen and creators could use it to enhance their projects. To prevent all this fabric from ending up in a landfill, I have been trying to catalog and post a few samples on Etsy. Unfortunately it is labor intensive and time consuming to sort, measure, and catalog hundreds of bolts of fabric, and I am beginning to wonder if the corporate decision might have made more sense and if there is even enough demand for vintage upholstery fabric to justify the effort.
I would love to get your feedback on the products listed. If you know of any highly sought after styles or patterns from this time period I’d love to know, so I can pick them out before all this fabric gets sent to the landfill.
What’s marketable — and how should Alison proceed to sell her New Old Stock successfully and efficiently?
Super exciting, Alison — there’s almost nothing we get more excited about than New Old Stock from old stores and warehouses. To help get started, here are a few of my ideas:
- Offer samples — People doing reupholstery projects really need to be sure the fabric works. As part of each listing, or as a separate listing, I think you need to offer sample-sized pieces. I’d say at least 9″ x 9″.
- Focus on bolts with lots of yardage — Folks doing reupholstery generally need a lot of yardage. A sofa requires like 20+ yards! So, I’d focus on cataloguing and listing the fabrics with the most yardage first.
- List total yardage in the listing — Relatedly, list the total yardage available in the main listing or even in the heading. This will help people narrow down to the fabrics that might work for them. You might also categorize the listings similarly. Right now, you have Upholstery, Vinyl, and Fabric categories. I’d add Less than five yards, 5-10 yards, More than 10 yards, More than 20 yards. You could also consider other categories such as: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s … and Florals, Plush, Screen-printed.
- What’s marketable — So now to the $64,000 question. There is more than one to retro, so golly, there are niches of folks looking for everything.
- One of the first things that I did when I got my vintage dining room set was to reupholster the seats. This did not take much yardage. I used a plush, hearty velvet-like, tone-on-tone fabric.
- Florals, meh: In upholstery or fabric, our readers likely aren’t going to go for these, unless the flowers are 1960s flower power. I do see you sold some that were flocked or satin-ized — those are a different era of retro, find more!
- All your vinyls should do well, I think — folks are always wanting to reupholster bar stools and banquettes and the like, and you have some winning designs.
- 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, but not 1980s or 90s — If you’re prioritizing, go for the early years. 1950s and 1960s fabrics new old stock are hard to find; very desirable.
- Got any barkcloth? SUPER desirable!
- How about tiki/Hawaiian/Polynesian? Should sell!
- Frieze — added per Georgia Peachez comment. Here’s what frieze looks like, for those who are not familiar with the term.
- Chinoiserie — per Shann.
- Anything Knoll-like, per ineffablespace, and I’d add: Maharam.
- Also see ineffablespace’s comments re pricing and sampling.
- 1970s design is rising in popularity — I love corduroys, for example — and please, don’t fear the wacky — like the Bicentennial fabric. Wacky is good.
- Novelty patterns of any era might find buyers.
- But 1980s and 1990s — I’d shove those bolts to the back and wait a few more years.
- Last but not least: Watch what sells and go dig through your stash to find more like it to list.
- Oh and one more thing: I’m sure you were saying it would ‘go to a landfill’ kind of casually. If bolts don’t sell, I am sure that places like Goodwill could always use them. And, a ReStore Habitat for Humanity might take the vinyl, considering they often also sell furniture and appeal to Do-It-Yourselfers.
- Readers, don’t forget we already have one other source for NOS vinyls — see this story.
Thank you for writing, Alison, this is all quite exciting! Good luck!
Readers, take a good look at Alison’s etsy show here.
Then, we’d love to hear your thoughts on her questions too!