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(August 2013) posted on Wed Jul 31, 2013

Spoonflower weaves its niche in print-on-demand wallcoverings.

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By Mike Antoniak

Setting up shop
Fraser and crew rented space in a former sock mill in Mebane, North Carolina, month-to-month, as home to their startup. For production, they purchased one of the same Mutoh MC3 large-format inkjets modified for textile printing by Yuhan-Kimberly, a joint venture between Korean manufacturer Yuhan and American supplier Kimberly Clark. In the fall, they continued to offer fabric printing services by invitation as they mastered the equipment, and demand continued to build.

By the time they purchased their second Mutoh that November, they had 10,000 people on a waiting list to have their designs printed. In January 2009, when the New York Times featured Spoonflower’s novel new option of custom printing on fabric, they were already having trouble keeping up with demand. Customers were limited to just four yards of printing on cotton, and Spoonflower was soon processing 100 orders a day.

While Fraser focused on logistical issues, Davis applied his coding expertise to build the online marketplace that now serves as Spoonflower's portal, community, and storefront. The ambitious undertaking called for seamless integration of several components into a website where visitors could submit, preview, and place their orders; market their designs; shop an expanding catalog; and share enthusiasm for custom designs, printing, and projects.

“It took a while for Gart to write that code, and when he finished that was the big fork in the road for us,” says Fraser. “When we finally launched the marketplace – so people could sell their designs to other people for printing through Spoonflower – we became the largest fabric store on the planet.”

“Toward the end of spring 2009, we got a loan for four more printers, and then the business finally stabilized,” says Fraser. “But we continued to have the same problems: Demand was always ahead of our capacity and we had to scramble to find more money to buy more printers.”

In August 2010 they relocated the business and its growing staff to Durham – a real office with more space and air conditioning,” notes Fraser. “By then, we had 10 printers and our customer base continued to grow.”

Fast forward to 2012, when growth forced the company to relocate again – this time to a more spacious 20,000-square-foot headquarters in Durham.