Spoonflower weaves its niche in print-on-demand wallcoverings.
“From our experience, we understood POD as a business model, and using the Internet as a front end to serve the needs of a population that’s creating content,” he recalls. “At Lulu, we didn’t do any printing ourselves. It was all about using technology to provide that Internet-based front end.”
In 2007, the pair were mulling where else that model might work, when Fraser’s wife Kim went shopping online for material to make curtains for their home. She couldn’t find the exact pattern she wanted, so decided to design it herself. To her surprise, though, she couldn’t find anyone to print her design on cloth.
“She wondered, ‘Why can’t I do this? It shouldn’t be so hard,’” Fraser recalls.
Understanding the print technology behind POD, and aware that digital-print operations were producing large-format color graphics, her husband wondered this as well.
“We decided to look into digital textile printing – basically a Lulu for fabric printing. We understood how to use the Internet to build a community for creative people, but we didn’t know a thing about digital textile printers, what was available, and what those printers could do,” he says.
Fortunately, Fraser was in the right place. A short drive from his Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home, the non-profit organization (TC)2 (www.tc2.com) in Cary, North Carolina, had everything in place to educate them about digital textile printing. The research facility had installed and operated a large-format Mutoh printer, modified for printing on fabric. “We could see the technology would work, for what we wanted to do,” he recalls.
They had no way of knowing, however, whether there was sufficient interest to support a business. To test demand, they launched Spoonflower, named for an area wildflower, as a rudimentary website about printing on fabric. They used social media to promote it and gather a mailing list of people who expressed some interest in having their designs printed on fabric.
Then, as a beta test, they invited some on that list to try out the service. For $18, users could have their design reproduced on a single yard of cotton fabric. Printing was done during off hours at the TC2 facility.
“We did that for a few months, but by July 2008 we decided we’d seen enough validation of the concept to get a loan and buy our own printer,” Fraser reports.