Follow-Up File: Birch Fabrics has woven a success story

Name: Cynthia Mann

Job: Owner

Business: Birch Fabrics

What she said then:

In July 2009, Birch Fabrics opened a store on 12th Street in Paso Robles.

The 750-square-foot space developed to support Cynthia Mann’s online business. Through and later as, she sold cloth and discovered she needed more room.

“My inventory grew very quickly to where I had outgrown my home,” she said, “so it just made sense to have space where I could also sell my fabric to the public.”

Mann also offered gift items such as handbags, dresses and gift cards and was preparing to launch a line of organic cottons made in India.

What she says now:

Though she has never seen the mill that makes Birch Fabrics cloth, Mann reports the overseas partnership has “gone pretty well.”

Her first line of organic fabrics was released in May. Second and third lines are scheduled to launch in January and April. The spring line was designed by Mann and her husband, Jason.

“A lot (of manufacturers) change mills mid-stream,” she said. “We’re pleased with the fabric itself. It’s one of the best qualities I’ve seen.”

As a seamstress and then a retailer, Mann wanted organic fabrics but couldn’t find manufacturers. When she did, their choices were expensive.

She researched mills using processes certified as organic, she said, and dyes with the lowest possible impact on the environment.

“It all sort of fell into place a lot easier than I expected,” she said. “They all speak English, so that’s really helpful. We talk on the phone and e-mail. I haven’t been able to go to India. I have two small children.”

At home, the store expanded earlier this year to a bigger location with better visibility. Now at the corner of 13th and Railroad streets, it occupies about 1,800 square feet that formerly housed Rendition Interior.

Selling in Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and nationwide, the Paso shop is more a supplement to Birch Fabrics online and manufacturing.

“We sell lots of fabric online around the world,” Mann said. “We pay rent anyway. Retail sales help with overhead and expenses.”

The new location sees a lot more foot traffic, especially from tourists, but sales haven’t jumped as much as Mann expected. To spur in-store purchases, she will carry more gift and decorative items.

“We get the sense that people come in and they want to spend money. If we had something for them, they’d buy it,” she said. “We would be offering something to people who aren’t necessarily interested in fabric.”

— Raven J. Railey