Trip Report: Denver craft show

JC Sprowls is a custom suit maker who attended the recent show at the Denver Merchandise Mart. By all accounts, this show is a home sewing show. Normally I wouldn’t include a trip report like this on Fashion-Incubator but I know that a lot of DEs starting out will attend this sort of show because it is less intimidating. However, even if you’re really new, I’d encourage you to pass on these sorts of shows because you’re just not going to get what you need. Still, you don’t have to take my word on it, this is what JC has to say -and by the way, you can always get an updated month by month listing of all shows at Infomat.

I’m afraid there isn’t much to report on the front of this “trade show” I was invited to. The jobber I spoke to gave me a comp pass to enter the event; and, of course that meant I spent a reasonable amount of time at his booth discussing his wares and buying a few cuts to show my gratitude. This particular jobber’s goods are primo! And, I bought about $700 of sample goods for some upcoming projects. Their inventory is primarily mill ends, meaning limited supply and undetermined stock for an industrial application. Other than their trims and linings, which are consistent and available in larger quantities, I will likely place the majority of my custom-make (i.e. cut length) and retail business with them.

The show, itself, was a craft fair. The Wool House (retail division of Ruby International Textiles) was the only industry jobber in attendance. There were several hand-painted and hand-dyed fabric & yarn booths there; but, when I asked about lot size and quantities, their numbers were too low (and, prices too high) to be of interest to DEs or manufacturers, in general. I apologize that I didn’t gather any of their contact information; but, I couldn’t think of anyone in the FI community who could have benefited from their offerings.

There were *a lot* of household machine dealers hawking their wares. It seems the hottest thing on the household market right now is a 6-needle embroidery machine. The price tag, however, is cost-prohibitive, and, in my opinion, opportunistic. These household grade 6-needle machines by such makers as: Brother, BabyLock, and Janome retail in excess of $15K, plus the cost of software ($5-7K). I’m saddened by this price on several levels because I feel these makers are taking advantage of misinformation in the marketplace.

As an aside, I can easily rep several 9- and 12-needle industrial-grade embroidery machines (i.e. Ricoma and Taijima) and the requisite operating software for significantly less (complete setup between $12-20K). It would be very easy for me to set up a booth at one of these events and outshine, outproduce, and outprice the competition. The only hurdle is coaxing the household sewist to not be intimidated by industrial equipment.

Gadgets were prolific! I saw a lot of “electric scissors”, completely overpriced and easily breakable. In other words: worthless. I thought to myself: “why this crap when Reliable, Consew and Gemsy make excellent motorized rotary cutters for significantly less?” If I see one more “Purple Thang” I’m gonna use it to gouge someone’s eyes out! Why should I spend $7 for a plastic gadget that a long tapestry needle or sharpened chopstick (read: FREE) can do for me? I can’t stand clutter around my sewing machine; and, I *hate* uni-tasker tools. Compulsion is apparently the most effective marketing tactic in the home sewing segment of the market. Incidentally: there wasn’t a single Fairgate rule, hip curve, or tailor’s square anywhere to be seen.

A curiosity of note: there were at least a dozen custom clothiers hawking their products, namely “how-to-draft-the-perfect-pants-pattern” type of systems. I briefly perused each of these and couldn’t help but giggle inside. I plied some of the presenters, gently, and off-to-the-side, about how they conceived of their idea and how they codified their system. Some were open and gracious, others were defensive. What I was able to ascertain is that none of these folks have ever drafted a flat pattern – which, is a shame. I think it’s a shame because if one can’t use a system to develop a pattern, how can one analyze what needs to change or be modified and codify a system after-the-fact? I’m not trying to be a snob, here, I simply don’t understand where they’re coming from.

There were a couple small pattern manufacturers, there, too. I’ve already forgotten their names (it’s a short drive from the Mdse Mart to my apt), which should say something. One pattern company had some patterns out of the envelope on display. To me, this is an invitation to fidget and analyze, which I did. I opened up a pattern for a child’s hoodie and walked the pattern – the seam lengths did not match on the sides, the neck, or the sleeves. The vendor was an older gentleman, who tells me that his wife wanted to be a designer, having made clothes for her kids and grandchildren all these years. They (presumably the couple of them) recently bought a CAD system with a plotter and she now publishes her “designs” for sale. My initial perception was that she’s cranking out patterns from the CAD library and isn’t making them up to prove/test and
grade. I say this because they had about 100 different styles for sale (i.e. plastic bag, cover sheet, instructions); but, no sewn samples.

There were a couple local designers selling art-for-wear, which I think is great! Their designs cannot be replicated on an industrial level; but, I’m happy they are making a living doing what they love to do. In all honesty, I thank this group because, without them, the Wool House wouldn’t have been there – nor would I have been.

There were 2 bookstores in attendance selling some college-level textbooks, some of which I already have (e.g. Crawford, Rasband, etc). Their subject range consisted of sewing method and fitting. When I inquired about pattern drafting, pattern grading, and style libraries, they told me flatly: “We don’t have much call [market] for that kind of thing”.

My overall impression was that this trade show was not for me. With the exception of the Wool House, there was no real reason for me to be there, as a manufacturer. My goal was to survey jobbers and fabrics on the market; but, I can see I need to go to Fabric World for that.

Though, there was an interesting piece of technology I couldn’t keep my eyes off. The Wool House uses a service called Creditel ( They offer a device called Power Swipe which couples with your Nextel cellular phone to process credit card authorizations using cellular technology. Any of us who are tired of chasing NSF checks or declined credit card charges after a trade show should seriously consider this type of solution. It mitigates risk to a real-time response as long as you’re near a cellular tower!

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  1. Alisa Benay says:

    Thanks for the review J, good to know I didn’t miss anything. Are there any shows worth going to in Denver marketed to trade?

    I’ve been amazed since moving out here at the number of really talented textile artists in the area. I guess there’s something inspiring about looking out your window and seeing the front range everyday ( for those of you without the privilege)

    I worked a show at the Merchandise Mart in December for someone who had a device like the Creditel you mentioned (can’t remember the name), but we couldn’t pick up the wireless signal inside the building. It was a pretty frustrating experience.

  2. Kai Jones says:

    I’ve been a customer of businesses using the cell phone credit card swipe, at science fiction conventions. Beware that it is (obviously) dependent on good cell service; at least once the retailer ran out of the room with my credit card (!!!) to find a spot where he had service.

  3. J C Sprowls says:


    Keep an eye on the Denver Mdse Mart webpage. They say there are 5 showings a year for the trade. I don’t know what that means, I’ll have to go see for myself. I’m hoping that it’s at least manufacturers selling their lines.

    Way back when, when I used to be in the restaurant industry, I frequently attended industry trade shows all over the country. I’ve even presented on several occassions. I don’t think an apparel trade show will be anything new to me; but, I want to observe a few time before I make decisions.

    If you’d like to meet up at any of the local shows, drop me a line – you have my email address.

    RE: the credit swipe mechanism. I highly recommend doing a dry run when setting up a booth. You need to know if you will have power, water, restroom access, lease line coverage, internet access or cellular access if you require it on the day of the event.

    Anyone who depends on these types of shows for a living needs to have several risk-mitigation plans in place. The vendor I bought from required cash, credit or COD for purchases. If he couldn’t get cell reception, he would have gone to cash or COD. That might have potentially reduced his revenue for the day; but, he wouldn’t have lost merchandise, which is more valuable for his business.

    I’ve seen some mentions on this blog and the forum about buyers at trade shows refusing orders or ‘bouncing’ inventory back at the last minute. If you collect your required deposits when writing the order, this will mitigate a portion of that risk. When you bill the balance w/in 30 days of delivery (as I presume would be your terms), you will have established provenance with their card and are more likely to win a dispute with the credit card company in the event of dirty tactics.

  4. Carol in Denver says:

    I attended the Denver show too — being just a home sewer with a gleam in my eye for a future concept. The Wool House was like an elegant swan surrounded by mallard ducklings — the quality of the merchandise just screamed out. Unfortunately, their price point was way over my head ($175/yard for gorgeous cashmere-wool blends), and I didn’t see them have any paying customers on Saturday or Sunday. But JC’s comments are very educational to me — so that’s a jobber, and one really can still get quality fabrics! (Only one fabric store is still barely hanging on in this metropolitan area for us end-users with fabric somewhat better than JoAnne’s.)

  5. J C Sprowls says:

    You came down on Saturday? I wish I had known… I was in at 10 and out by 1. I would’ve been happy to take you to lunch. Did you staff the PACC booth? I saw they were set up next to Peggy Sagar. I did hover near her booth a while because I wanted to look over her products and chat with her. Unfortunately, I never saw her.

    I bought some of that cashmere in camel to make a driving jacket or ulster for myself. They also had this sexy waled 99% egyptian cotton/1% cashmere blend that I had a really hard time putting down. The budget did compel me to be responsible, though. That surely would’ve made some swank pants. Much better than corduroy!

    I picked a swank length of wool for the suit I promised to make for you, Carol. It’s a dobby weave wool/silk blend in a large-scale glen plaid (gold, tan, and black) pattern. It’s your call whether we use it. But, I liked it so much I had to grab it to see if you would like it, too.

  6. Carol Kimball says:

    J, that’s another Carol (hello? let us know who you are so we can add to our loop!) I’ve been down in Denver on Monday-Tuesday the past couple weeks so missed the weekend stuff.

    The wool sounds lovely; I’m anxious to see it.

    Even the local PACC group doesn’t consider this a trade show (sounds like the Wool House vendor got schnookered). There’s another “Creative Festival” about six months out that’s even worse, from a professional sewing perspective. It’s aimed at the folks who want to take a couple hours and go home with a birdhouse hot-glued together out of popsicle sticks embellished with “jewels” that’s actually a clever toilet paper cover. You guys think I’m kidding.

    I would be among the front-range crowd (not to exclude anyone further afield who wants to make the trip) interested in upcoming, “real” trade shows at the Merchandise Mart. We can all go to lunch!

  7. Carol in Denver says:

    This is “Carol in Denver” the present-day amateur — I would be thrilled to meet up with any of you pro’s from the Front Range area. Maybe it would be fun to have coffee sometime and get acquainted personally? (And maybe F-I readers in other areas would like to do something similar?) I can’t contribute much to the discussion from a fashion industry perspective, but my day job is all about relational databases and about using spreadsheets wisely and well — I could talk about that if anybody needed some pointers.

  8. Diane says:

    About 5 years ago there was a group of wholesale fabric reps that put on their own little show in a hotel off of I-25. Cottons from Hoffman, wools from Black and Sons and rayons from Island Batiks to name a few. I’m not sure if the reps are still doing this but if anyone in the Denver area is interested let me know and I’ll try to dig up the contact info.
    I’d also like to meet up with others in the area. Fashion Group International used to have career days at the Mart with speakers from Nordstrom as well as DEs sharing their industry experiences. Good stuff!

  9. Wyncia Clute says:

    I am not a professional pro, but I sell crafted bags at fairs. I would go to a Denver area fabric rep show. The Denver show worked for me, because I wanted to meet some the pattern makers and Elinor Peace. I found Peggy Sagar “at home.”

  10. debora chan says:

    I went to the Denver show as well, and as a retailer of couture fabrics, found the Wool House prices to be entirely unrealistic, and the quality of the animal fibers somewhat mediocre compared to what I see when I actually visit the jobbers/importers/mill reps. The swiss cottons were nicer by comparison, but way over-priced. For all of their goods,I was shocked they wanted more at wholesale pricing than we ask at retail. At our store, TEXTILE-O-PHILE in Colorado Springs, we retail the finest Italian milled 100% cashmere for $120-$175, and super 120 and super 140 wool/cashmere italian suiting for $37-45. For us, even Missoni wool retails for only about $100-$120. As the buyer, I am certain I am being neither too picky about the quality, nor too critical of the pricing.It was smart to keep an eye on the pocketbook, because a jobber has no business asking $175 for a cashmere BLEND of all things! Even a retailer has no business asking that much for a blend. A fairer price would be well under $100.
    If any supplier or retailer is giving discounts of 40%, 50% or more, it just means they’re charging too much to start with. As far as I’m concerned, beautiful high quality fabric needs to be in the hands of people who can really appreciate, enjoy, and do it some justice so why try to gouge people? It’s probably a better business plan to sell higher quality at a reasonable price anyway.

  11. Big Irv says:

    I know the Wool House. Yes they are jobbers, and they also represent some Italian mills. They have been serving our industry for many years.

    Some people in our industry use cars as an analogy when needing a comparison for fabrics.

    One of my clients states ” The Wool House buys last years versions of Lamborghini, Bentley, and Ferrari ” . They don’t sell run of the mill stuff.
    Missoni is good, but it ain’t a Ferrari.

    If you are comparing their entirely unrealistic pricing against Buick or Ford fabrics, you need to take a much closer look and feel. Then you may have a fair fight.

  12. J C Sprowls says:


    I would love to stop by your shop next time I’m in the Springs.

    The prices you received at the Wool House’s booth are no where near the prices I received. But, then, I spoke to them before coming to the show, established myself as a tailor shop, and I gave them a copy of my resale license.

    To provide some context, I typically work with Holland & Sherry, Dormeuil, Scabal, and Zegna suitings and Thomas Mason or Acorn for shirtings. Not only can the Wool House help me get the names I’m familiar with (at a much better price); but, they have a variety of other interesting things, too.

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