We all love a new range of beautiful prints and it's fun to see the latest collections from our favourite designers. As a retailer, deciding which fabrics and patterns to stock is often one of the best parts of the job. However, I want to make a plea for the importance of basics. These materials may not make your heart sing, but they should be the workhorse of your shop. If you stock mainly dressmaking fabrics, take a moment to consider that most people's everyday wardrobe consists of solids and small prints on a diverse range of different substrates. These are lines that you will sell day-in, day-out, through all the seasons, on their own or combined with prints. They're often undersold and, in some cases, under-represented in store inventories. Keep these basics in mind and in stock when you're purchasing eye-catching printed fabrics in order to maintain balance.
If you sell patchwork products the same principle applies. Market key prints to draw attention to the range but remember that blenders and solids give quilters reassurance when choosing suitable matching and complementary fabrics. Too many prints can sow the seeds of doubt about how a finished project will look, while essentials will bring the whole thing back down to earth.
Necessity dictates that you will probably have invested in a core selection of solids and blenders and selling these alongside prints turns the stock regularly. For patchwork in particular, it's worth having a good range of solids, as well as small tone-on-tone prints.
Where to start
What should you look for when purchasing essentials? Quality is, of course, critical. Basics need to be colourfast and wash well with minimal shrinkage. Consistency is the other key factor; you need fabrics in small bolt sizes that can easily be reordered when a product goes out of stock. Choose collections with a lot of shades so you can build up gradually, adding a few seasonal tones at a time. This ensures that you will always have something to mix and match with key prints that come in.
Look for products with swatch cards available to purchase – these can be kept in store to show customers items that you don't have in stock. The card will also allow you to match new ranges.
If you have favourite brands, focus on that label's basics, where you'll find both colours and substrates that are designed to work together. Always look for starter deals too.
Once you have built up your basics you can display them grouped together in your shop. Try pulling some of them out to work with the new prints that arrive, demonstrating combinations that work well together.
Jacqui Smith is director of Hantex.