Thanks to Mood Fabrics’ five-season stint on “Project Runway,” millions of Americans know just where to go for silk, cotton and you-name-it by the yard in New York’s Garment District. And the 40,000-square-foot textile mecca, run by Jack Sauma and his sons, Eric and Philip, isn’t just for show. It’s been serving designers on-camera and off for 18 years. Here, the trio talks to WWD about textiles, TV and becoming an unlikely tourist trap.
This story first appeared in the August 26, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How has “Project Runway” affected your business?
Eric Sauma: It’s had a great impact on us. It picked up our retail. A lot of smaller clients come in now. A lot of tourists come in. We have busloads. Fifty at a time, 70 at a time almost daily. There’s one guy whose company is called Mike’s Project Runway Tour.
WWD: Do they ever buy anything?
E.S.: A lot of people just want to buy little trinkets of fabric just to say they’ve been here. We designed a tote bag for the store, which was featured on the show, and we’ve sold out — 20,000 sold in two months. We’re waiting for the second batch of 40,000 to come in. We already have about 5,000 presold. It’s incredible.
WWD: Did you ever think that anything like this would happen?
E.S.: No. Who would think selling fabric would be a cool thing?
WWD: Have you ever sold a designer a fabric that you knew wasn’t going to “work,” as Tim Gunn says?
E.S.: All the time. But once they have their look and their thing, it’s hard, because we never know what they’re making.
WWD: Who else shops at Mood?
E.S.: Our typical customer is the smaller designer who’s doing sample yardage or production yardage for under 100 yards. We also cater to larger designers like Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. They come here. They have their interns come and get inspired, pick out fabrics.
Jack Sauma: Tommy Hilfiger comes in with his two bodyguards.
WWD: Any predictions of textile trends for the spring runways?
E.S.: I’ve seen larger silk floral prints. Large-scale. A lot of tie-dye selling. There are a lot of bohemian styles coming out. Gypsy. Even sea prints, like yachts. A lot of bug prints.
WWD: Has the economy changed things for you?
E.S.: It’s harder and harder for us to buy from Italy and Europe because the euro’s been beating us up a lot. We’re trying not to raise our prices, so our margins have gone down. We’re buying a lot of local stuff. A lot of Korean. But we still have a lot of great sources of Italian.
Philip Sauma: China’s prices — silk is up 40 percent in the last three years. Cotton’s up 25 to 30 percent. Printing charges have gone up. We’ve definitely felt it.
E.S.: Polyester — forget about it, because it’s based on oil.
J.S.: All the big designers buy from Italy, France, Germany, Japan. When they have leftovers, they come to us and unload. We buy them on closeout.
WWD: You opened a store in Los Angeles last year. Did “Project Runway” pave the way for that?
E.S.: It built up Mood’s name in the retail aspect. People see our logo and know that it’s Mood from “Project Runway,” and they come right in.
WWD: Are there differences between the New York and L.A. stores?
E.S.: Huge difference. Over here we sell more couture, more higher-end designer silks. In L.A., it’s more basic cottons, crazy knits and a lot of [material for] T-shirts, jeans, knit dresses.
P.S.: Here, we have theater. There, they have Hollywood. That’s the main difference in customer base.
WWD: Does Mood’s L.A. store mean it will be on “Project Runway” next season when they move to L.A.?
E.S.: It’s a work in progress right now, but hopefully. We’ll find out in the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot of ink to sign.