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Interview: Cynthia Mann from Birch Fabrics

This guest post was written by Andrea for Birch Fabrics.

Hello FaveCrafts Readers!

My name is Andrea, and I am the associate of an extraordinary woman whom I am in awe of and inspires me everyday. That woman is Cynthia Mann, the owner and powerhouse behind Birch Fabrics. We were thrilled when FaveCrafts contacted us to share our contributions to the Eco Crafting world. I thought it would be fun to share a glimpse into our world and hopefully inspire some of you the same way Cynthia has inspired me. Even more importantly, sharing how eco-crafting and sewing is the best option for our fragile earth and future.

Hello Cynthia! I am very excited to share a glimpse into Birch Fabrics with the readers of FaveCrafts Blog! As your associate, I’ve always been in awe of what you have accomplished in a very short 3 years.

When did you first realize you wanted to try your hand at manufacturing fabric?

I first realized that I wanted to manufacture fabrics when I was looking to buy organic fabrics for my retail fabric company Fabricworm and to sew bedding for my baby son and I just couldn’t find any that had great designs for kids. I realized that if I’m looking for organic fabrics for my kids, then other moms like me probably are too.

What affected the decision to produce 100% organic fabric?

My husband has strong allergies, and as a child had terrible asthma and we were concerned that our little ones might have similar issues, so to limit the possibility we had begun making strides to live a healthier greener life, cooking with organic foods, using chemical free detergents and household cleaning products, etc. Since we had heard about pesticides and chemicals in dye and the fact that they could be dangerous especially for children with allergies, we were hopeful that we could have their bedding and pajamas made from organic cottons. We researched how traditional cotton is produced, it not only became about the health of our own family, but also the health of our climate and the laborers that work in the fields as well.

As one of the pioneering organic cotton manufacturers in the modern quilting market, did you have any reservations about going “green”?

We didn’t have any reservations about going “green”. We were concerned that customers would have a hard time understanding the price. This was luckily not the case. It seemed that our concerns for our children and planet translated very aptly into the quilting communities concerns as well.

How does the manufacturing of organic cotton actually contribute to a greener earth?

Our contribution to a greener earth is in the reduction in pollutants on our planet. Our organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful pesticides or fertilizers and the fabric is printed with low impact dye stuff. The pesticides used on traditional cotton make up approximately 25% of all pesticides used on agriculture, thus releasing harmful toxins in to the atmosphere, which is also extremely harmful for the crop handlers. Traditional dyes often contain formaldehydes and heavy metals that many consumers are allergic to, and unknowingly harm their own skin and health by wearing fabrics that contain these harmful substances.

Organic fabric is a bit more expensive than its non-organic counterparts on the market. Were you always confident that customers would want to spend the extra dollars on organic fabric?

We assumed that the pricing of our organic fabrics would be an issue initially because traditional fabrics were quite a bit less expensive at the time. However with rising cotton prices we’ve managed to bridge the gap and now the price does not seem to be an issue. In addition to being organic the quality of our fabrics is of a premium construction that also drives the price a little higher.

The aesthetic of Birch fabrics is very sweet and very modern, all mom, child, and hipster friendly. What inspired this direction?

We are influenced in part by our love for modern design. My husband, Jason (the other half of Jay-Cyn Designs) and I both have a thing for Mid Century furniture, homes and accessories. Jason is part Japanese, and he’s influenced in many ways by Japanese design and culture. Our two young sons Anderson and Keaton are the inspiration behind our child friendly look!

You’ve worked with designers Monaluna, Dan Stiles and now Rebeka Ginda. How would you describe the collaboration process?

Super Fun! We love working with talented designers. We’ve been so fortunate to find designers who have such a similar aesthetic to our own. When I saw Jennifer Moore of Monaluna’s work for the first time, I knew immediately that she was a perfect fit. The collaboration process begins with a concept typically. We generally have an idea for a collection and then we either seek a designer with which we’ve seen similar concepts from that will marry well with our own expectations, or in some cases we see a designer’s illustration that strikes a cord, and from that one illustration a collection develops around it.

One thing (among many) that really stands out about Birch Fabrics is the fresh color palette. What is your relationship with color? Do you have the final say on all color adjustments?

When I consider the design process and what I personally bring to the table it’s definitely color. I wouldn’t call myself an artist, especially not by trade. But when it comes to color, it’s really been the one thing that consistently has played a role in my journey to this point. When I was young I had all of the crayons colors memorized. I’ve just been into color as long as I can remember. My mom was a great help because she knew the names of every color for every shade, and I must have gotten that from her. I remember asking her “what color is this?”, “what color is that?” I definitely tend towards colors that I connect to from my childhood, I guess you could call them retro. And yes, I do have the final say on all colors.

You’ve taken on quite a bit of design work yourself, along with husband Jason Rector. Did you always dream of one day designing your own prints?

I had dreamed of designing fabrics since the day we started manufacturing, but what I didn’t realize is that it was a real possibility. Jason has been a graphic and multimedia designer for over two decades, but I didn’t realize that he could use the same programs to design fabric. We started playing around with some ideas and before we knew it we had a whole collection. It’s one of the most exciting moments in my whole career.

How is it, working as a husband and wife team? And what duties do each of you take on in the design process?

Working as a team with my husband is one of the best perks of the job! He’s my best friend and we have a very similar work ethic. We both like to get things done! We hardly rest, especially when we are excited about a new concept. As far as duties there is quite a bit of crossover. With most of our collections we are both drawing and then sort of picking and choosing between each others’ assets to complete a collection. Jason does all of the digital design work, and I choose all the colors. Jason handles all of the print advertising, website updating, file formatting, etc. I handle all the wholesale ordering, fulfillment, marketing and trade show planning.

You’ve just released Mod Basics, a basics collection with flair, designed by you and your husband Jason under the name Jay-Cyn Designs. Some would say that releasing a basics collection is a true testament of intended longevity in this industry. Is this a collection that you plan to keep around?

When working on Mod Basics our intentions were really pretty simple. Our brand needed basics. With so many of our collections already in the marketplace that had a very specific print driven concept, we knew that many quilters would be looking for coordinates to complete quilts, especially if they were going for a completely organic quilt. They would be hard pressed to find a single organic polka dot or stripe that would match the prints that they were working with. Having a collection of basics was important to rounding out our brand.

You’ve got a lot under your belt. Husband, kids, school activities, and two successful businesses. How do you handle it all? In other words, what’s a day in the life of Cynthia Mann look like?

Although it does sound like a lot, I have a lot of help too! We have an incredible staff of hard working, talented individuals, that help operate our website Fabricworm.com and our brick and mortar store, Birch Fabrics. If it weren’t for them, Birch Organic Fabrics would not be possible. While no two days in my life are ever the same, they tend to go something like this:

Wake up at 7am, drop the kids off at school by 8am, check calendar, catch up on email for a few hours, check in with the store, ship orders, work on Birch Designs, really accomplish as much as I possibly can, then off to pick up the kiddos around 4:30pm.

We are almost always working toward a deadline for something, which can get chaotic at times. But we still try to enjoy life too!

What can we expect from Birch Fabrics in the future?

Birch Fabrics is always looking toward growing and sharing great organic fabrics with our customers. We are hoping to release a new line of substrates in the near future including Home Dec weight canvas and possibly a line of flannel. We have several great collections of quilting cottons coming this fall, so be sure to check in on our website www.birchfabrics.com for our latest releases.

Thanks so much Cynthia, for taking the time to share a bit about Birch Fabrics with us! For even more information about Birch Organic Fabrics, check out our website www.birchfabrics.com. All Birch Organic Fabrics are available for sale at Cynthia’s retail shop Fabricworm

Thanks for reading along with us!