Project Runway fans know the TV version of how a textile pattern comes to be: Designers call on inspirations as literal as a clock or as abstract as a childhood memory. Then they draw, paint, or scan their interpretations into existence. It’s easy to imagine in-house design teams at brands like Target and BCBG mimicking this process, but the truth is they have a secret weapon. Since 2006 Printfresh, a textile studio based in Kensington, has been selling fresh prints — both original designs and vintage textiles — to inspire the clothing we buy at the mall (Kohl’s, Target) and spy on the runway (Badgley Mischka, Charlotte Ronson).
Printfresh founder and art director Amy Voloshin studied textile design at the Rhode Island School of Design, then did stints as a designer with Urban Outfitters and as an assistant art director for a New York textile studio. After less than a year of long-distance dating her then-boyfriend, the Allentown native returned to Philly. “I thought Philadelphia would benefit from another creative place to work,” she says. Amy and the boyfriend, Leo, got married. Together they built Printfresh into a mini-powerhouse that now employs 15 and brings in nearly $1.5 million in annual revenue. It is one of 10 to 12 studios in the country that provide this little-known service for major brands. Voloshin says most of its competition comes from London.
Right now at the studio’s loftlike space in a former paper box factory, Voloshin and her design team are creating patterns for summer 2013 collections. A large floral print on one designer’s computer screen unfurls from a nearby printer onto a piece of paper-backed silk charmeuse. Once finalized, the fabric will be cut and sewn into the pattern of a tank top to help clients visualize it as a garment. “Even if they have an in-house design team, it’s appealing for companies to have us show up with hundreds of options,” says Voloshin. A year later, the pattern may surface on anything from swim trunks to kids’ pajamas. A lemons-and-limes pattern drawn by Voloshin once became underwear for the Victoria’s Secret brand, Pink. “Optimistic, bright and cheerful,” she says, is the Printfresh signature look.
Meanwhile, the studio’s vintage wrangler scans the extensive archive of 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s textiles for a “dobby dot foulard” requested by a division of Polo Ralph Lauren. Printfresh’s high-end clients mostly buy vintage. The mass-market brands want the new stuff. Voloshin and her designers, who dress more Fishtown hipster than Jones New York, look to the fall and spring runway shows for “aspirational inspiration.” “It’s a fun design challenge to interpret that into an affordable and viable solution,” she says. “But mostly we’re inspired by shopping at the mall.”
Factory quarters: At the end of March, Printfresh moved its studio from a former bolt factory to a former paper box factory the Voloshins renovated and dubbed the Paper Box Studios. At 6,000 square feet, their bilevel studio is the largest in the building. They’re renting the other 25 units and a coworking space to artists and other creative businesses.
Making vintage fresh, too: Voloshin’s collection is mostly 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s garments, because those decades didn’t shy away from color. They’re meticulously categorized with cards that say things like “ditsies,” “roses,” “skins,” “paisleys,” “?’90s floral,” and “small painterly floral.” One simply says “Rack of Awesome.”
Advice for creative entrepreneurs: “Hire people that are the right fit for the company culture — that you really love and can be part of the community,” says Voloshin. “That makes for happy employees and they’re able to do what they do best.”
Forecast for summer 2013: According to Voloshin, we can expect to see “tie-dye prints, bright technique-based florals, conversational prints with a focus on butterflies and lush fruits. … Stripes are very significant, and one of our favorite trends is ‘atmospheric,’ which is very abstract and nature-inspired.”
By the numbers: Four times a week, the studio’s sales reps roll a giant suitcase full of samples into New York City sales calls. They show to at least 1,000 brands a year; around 300 end up buying patterns. Printfresh designers create around 80 new designs each week.
(This article was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 4.13.12.)