Spoonflower’s On-Demand Textiles, and Its Worldwide Community of Creators and Makers, Offer a New Model for E-Commerce Businesses
At Britton Marketing & Design Group, we specialize in marketing to what we call the New American Middle, that giant group of consumers who are motivated by values deeper and more complex than status or a price tag. We’ve identified four values in particular that are core to the New American Middle consumer: Family, Community, Sustainability, and Spirituality.
We are constantly on the lookout for brands that inspire us with their commitment to these core values. We’ve found few brands that inspire us more than Spoonflower, which every day lives and breathes the core values of Community and Sustainability.
The Story of Spoonflower
Spoonflower was founded in 2008 by Stephen Fraser and Gart Davis. The company started as a website where customers could order custom fabrics, printed on-demand, by the yard. Over the years, Spoonflower transformed its expertise in fabric and patterns into a business that included home decor, wallpaper, linens, and bedding, all based on designs from world’s largest collection of independent creators and makers. As of 2020, 4.5 million independent creatives have used Spoonflower to sell their designs, which are then printed, sewed, and shipped by Spoonflower’s in-house team in Durham, North Carolina.
But as much as the company has grown and expanded, the core of the Spoonflower brand has remained the same: nurturing a creative community with eco-friendly and sustainable manufacturing processes.
The Power of Community
In a recent interview, Allison Polish, President of Spoonflower, says, “At its core, Spoonflower, for me, is about enabling creativity and supporting entrepreneurship and this is a mission I am very happy and proud to get up every morning to serve. When I hear the stories from our amazing community about how we helped launch their Etsy business making highchair covers or helped a mother at home on leave discover a new talent in fabric designing that is now her family’s primary income, I am gratified.”
Spoonflower’s virtual community of creative entrepreneurs is a perfect example of the expanded definition of Community that is so vital to the New American Middle consumer. At BMDG, we like to think of Community as a group of people organized around a passion or cause. Sometimes, that passion or cause is a physical place, such as a town or neighborhood, but more often it is something less tangible and more abstract, such as a passion for designing textiles and patterns. But what’s really important about the core value of Community, no matter how you define it, is that’s unifying.
That sense of unity, of bringing people together, is also at the core of Spoonflower’s network of independent designers. On one hand, Spoonflower’s e-commerce platform could be seen as simply a virtual workshop or workplace, where makers create and then sell their designs. Instead, these millions of designers choose to congregate on Spoonflower because not only does the brand protect the rights to their creative work, it also encourages both consumers and fellow designers and makers to get to know one another and form lasting bonds.
For example, Spoonflower’s blog includes regular features on individual designers and makers from around the world. These posts include personal artistic statements, sources of inspiration, and technical tips and recommendations. The blog recently highlighted designer Alyson Toone, who shared what she listens to while she works (podcasts), her creative inspirations (West African fabrics and Bauhaus), as well as the her mother’s influence on her love of art.
By giving designers and makers a platform to share more than just their latest patterns, Spoonflower has built something more than a business—they have built a meaningful community.
A New Model of Sustainability
For the New American Middle consumer, the core value of Sustainability is less about “environmentalism” and more about making sure they preserve a beautiful and safe natural environment for their children. However, like any other consumer, the New American Middle consumer also values ease of use and convenience, and those secondary values can sometimes work against eco-friendly brands that place extra burdens on consumers (“green” mouthwash just doesn’t work as well; organic meat is very expensive). On the other hand, the New American Middle will reward brands that make shopping and living a more sustainable lifestyle easier.
From the beginning, Spoonflower has offered a more sustainable alternative to textiles production. Historically, the textiles industry has been one of the world’s worst polluters because of its use of toxic inks, as well as its unsustainable and inefficient manufacturing process, especially when it comes to water use. But perhaps the biggest of issue of all is the sheer amount of waste that is produced—according to one report, the textiles industry generates around 15 millions tons of textile waste each year.
Spoonflower uses only water-based dyes and pigments on all their textiles. And thanks to their digital printing technology, they have the ability of produce textiles on-demand, which results in far less waste than the fast-fashion model of doing business. Plus, Spoonflower ethically sources all their raw materials from a small group of vendors.
This model of sustainable manufacturing would be laudable on its own, but Spoonflower takes it to the next level by marrying it with a modern e-commerce platform. With Spoonflower, the New American Middle consumer doesn’t have to sacrifice convenience in order to decorate their home with beautiful, and sustainable, textiles and decor.
More Reasons We Love Spoonflower
In addition to specializing in marketing to the New American Middle, BMDG also has a long and rich history working with home goods brands, especially those purchased primarily by women. Because of that expertise, we love to shine a bright light on companies such as Spoonflower that are created primarily by women, for women, and are also led on the corporate level by women. For Spoonflower, its majority female leadership team isn’t just window-dressing for good PR—it reflects the diversity of the brand’s consumers, and it creates the kind of positive internal culture that promotes from within.
We feel so much kinship with how Spoonflower does business. BMDG is also led primarily by women, and we work as hard as we can to guide the career paths of our employees, and to nurture their creative talents so they can reach their full potential.
So if you’re looking for an example of what we mean when we talk about New American Middle brands, look no further than Spoonflower. They offer a business model we can all strive to emulate, and a relationship with their community of consumers and designers that mirrors the values we care about most.