How to build a Quilting Empire, Riley Blake Style
As they celebrate a decade of sharing their playful prints with enthusiastic quilters everywhere (including us on the LP&Q team!), we chat to the team behind the family-owned fabric brand Riley Blake Designs.
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So how DO you grow a family business into a global quilt brand? We find out how it's done and get some tips for all you budding fabric designers out there.
Main image: Cindy Cloward. All photos are copyright Riley Blake Designs
So where did it all begin?
Riley Blake Designs has deep family roots. Bret Cloward grew up in the fabric world and learned the business from his father. His parents, Blake and Kathy, owned fabric stores along the Wasatch Front in Utah for more than 30 years. They also owned Christensen Wholesale with Bret and his wife Cindy: an established fabric business that had served the community for 80 years. One of Bret and Cindy’s first dates was spent doing inventory at a family-owned fabric shop!
After college, Bret worked in telecom and other industries for more than 15 years. Bret continued to build his business acumen and learned what it takes to make a business successful while living in Washington, Nevada and New York.
After the death of Bret’s father, he and Cindy moved back to Utah and took over the family business. Other family members joined the company, and they started manufacturing their own flannels in 2005 under the Alpine Fabrics brand.
A labor and delivery nurse for more than a decade, Cindy’s lifelong love for sewing and fabric grew when she joined Bret’s family. Gradually she felt capable of being more involved in the business. Cindy was convinced the current market was lacking in colorful and fresh fabrics and patterns that would have a broader appeal. To make her idea a reality, she surrounded herself with local designers whose work exactly matched her vision – fabrics whose prints would express cheerfulness, freshness, playfulness, and charm.
What parts of the Riley Blake story do you remember most fondly?
Just Dreamy, our first fabric collection was launched in 2009 and was an instant success. The design set us apart from what was currently being produced in the market.
Another great millstone happened in 2016 when Quilt Market was in our home state of Utah and we were able to showcase what we do best. Plus, we also won the best booth award for the first time.
We have great memories of the chevron years – we brought chevron to the quilting industry in a big way. Its popularity and longevity took us by surprise, but we were thrilled!
Looking forward, this year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary. As part of that celebration, we have partnered with Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah to host an outdoor exhibition of well over a thousand quilts (12th-14th September). The Garden of Quilts event will be set within the award-winning, 55-acre Ashton Gardens, and feature a collection of quilts from quilters everywhere, as well as rare access to view some stunning private collections – all on display for three days only.
In addition to the exquisite quilt exhibition will be a weekend full of additional opportunities for classes, vendors, shopping, trunk shows, charity service projects, special events—like afternoon tea, and off-site tours. You don’t want to miss this event!
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What makes Riley Blake work? Why do quilters love it so much?
Quilters, sewists and makers love RBD fabric because of the designs, the high-quality materials and the extra care we take in the manufacturing process.
Do you all personally quilt and sew?
Many RBD team members quilt, sew and otherwise create. A lot of the beautiful items you see on the blog and in our Quilt Market booth have been quilted or sewn by a team member. And all of the things from our YouTube channel have been sewn or quilted by Cindy or another team member.
How do you decide which new collections to launch?
Our scrapbook paper partners as well as our independent artists give us so many great designs to choose from. We enjoy the collaborative process of fine-tuning designs to get collections just right for our industry. When we work on in-house designs, we look at the latest trends and listen to what our customers and end users want.
How do you go from initial idea to finished product?
It depends on what we are working on. If we are working with a licensed brand, we review their style guide for inspiration, brainstorm concepts and make an initial plan for the design. Our graphic artists get to work and tailor the design to what we think will appeal to the end consumer. When we our confident with our design, we submit the art for approval from our licensed brand.
If we are working with a designer, they present their concept and a color palette to our design director. As a committee, we discuss the design then we either approve the design to move forward or ask for revisions. We work closely with our designers on colorways and scale, then tweak the design until it is just right for fabric.
If we are working on an in-house design, we research, watch trends and look for inspiration all around us for fabric design. We take our ideas to our team of graphic artists and discuss design concepts and color palettes. Usually the team presents a "rough draft" design where we further discuss designs and colors. Sometimes we let things sit for a while, and we again evaluate the end design through a committee.
Regardless of what we are working on, the production process is basically the same. Once we have approval, we create a storyboard of the collection for our reps to take to our accounts. This is done approximately six months prior to fabric arriving. During this time, we send files to our factory in Korea and they make the proper screens and send us back strike-offs (of fabric) for us to review. We evaluate the sample fabric for color and the proper engraving. Once the strike-offs are approved, the fabric goes into production about two months before it is set to arrive in stores. It is made into precuts and put on bolts and then shipped to the US and our global distributors.
Next time you pick up a piece of fabric, take a moment to appreciate all the time and effort that goes in to this well-designed, high-quality piece of cloth.
Where do you meet the designers who you collaborate with?
We have many artists that reach out to us and submit artwork. We look for something unique from what we are already producing with our existing artists.
What tips would you share with budding designers or brands who would like to grow their idea into a business?
Find your niche and remember your designs need to resonate to be successful. Show your artwork to many people and receive feedback with an open mind.
What other designers or brands inspire you?
Liberty Fabrics inspire me! Liberty is such an iconic brand that has been around for 140 years. They have offered fine fabrics from “the East” since they opened their store in 1875. Their designs are recognizable, timeless and are sought after from fabric enthusiasts all over the world. It was a dream come true for me to visit the Liberty store in London a few years back and see all the beautiful fabrics on display. The RBD team loves working closely with Liberty to bring their quilting cotton fabrics to the US market as their exclusive distributor.
What launches have you got coming up?
We are excited to release our 10th Anniversary Quilt in a keepsake pink box this summer. The quilt is called Celebrate Sewing – it’s bright and fun with many familiar sewing icons. Just for fun, we also included an optional RBD bird to appliqué. Our Anniversary Quilt will be a highlighted at Quilt Market.
Next, we are very excited about a series of National Park collections. We are working with a design group that has created beautiful art depicting each of our National Parks. The art captures the essence of each park with a retro vintage vibe inspiring people to travel, to create and to make memories for years to come.
Finally, we are delighted to work with Liberty Fabrics as their exclusive distributor in the US. Liberty Fabrics has been designing and printing fabrics for more than 140 years. We are long-time fans of the brand and their beautiful designs and can’t wait to share their upcoming collections!
Zoe is the launch Editor of Gathered.how. She has over a decade of craft publishing experience under her belt. She's a quilter and sewist who works with the UK’s best-selling craft magazines including Today’s Quilter, Love Patchwork & Quilting, Simply Sewing and The World of Cross Stitching. Zoe loves being immersed in Gathered’s quilting content, tweaking our tutorials and publishing new patterns. Zoe has previously written for radiotimes.com, Simply Knitting and The World of Cross Stitching and was previously Deputy Editor of Papercraft inspirations magazine. She has guest-lectured at Bath Spa University. She’s a keen quilter with 5 projects in progress at any one time and another 12 or so planned.
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