(debunking the myth)
Your answer most likely depends on your perspective. If you’re an aspiring professional looking to fortify your education, and having trouble finding an accredited program, then you may be of the mind that things aren’t looking so rosy for upholstery’s future, and you would be totally justified in your belief. At least for the present…
From my perspective, I see upholstery as an industry that is undeniably in the midst of a paradigm shift, and it’s not easy to see the entire forest when you’re busy winding your way through the trees at ground level.
Upholstery is in flux, though SURELY not dying.
In previous posts, we’ve talked about evolution and we’ve begun to acknowledge & recognize where we now find ourselves within the trade. Still, I can’t help feeling a bit surprised when a passing mention of the state of the upholstery industry elicits a muttered “too bad it’s a dying trade”. Truly?!?
To my mind, I see the upholstery trade as a beacon within a throw-away culture that so desperately needs this saving grace – a way to minimize waste in an industry that throws millions of tons(!) of furniture into landfills each year.
Maybe it’s because I’m finding myself a part of a community that is reaching for those branches that lead to a better view. As collaborators, we’re pulling one another other up with each new foothold to share the slightly better view as it is revealed, bit by bit.
Who we are (a snapshot of the amazing people who make up this industry)
- Professionals (ranging from large workrooms to sole proprietors – serving residential & commercial customers)
- DIY Makers (serious artisans, perhaps in transition between hobbyist & professional)
- Hobbyists (finding creative inspiration in upholstery, supporting their immediate family & friends)
- Educators (sharing knowledge from unique experience and training)
- Foundation Industries (suppliers of tools, textiles, and materials that make it all possible)
- Sister Industries (related industries with overlapping interests) such as Interior Design, Drapery & Soft Furnishings, Custom Furniture Manufacture
- Industry Leaders (collaborative groups growing the trade through sharing – creating resources that support all facets of the trade)
What we’re building
- A way to connect with role models & mentors who are who are not only exploring new ways of working together, but also offering support to those who demonstrate an earnest desire to learn and help each other.
- Innovation centers & maker spaces that encourage an atmosphere of collaborative spirit AND pushing the limits of what’s possible.
- New business models adapted to rapid change, such as service & design cooperatives with pooled resources, pop-up events, and new educational prototypes.
- A connected web of online resource(s) that serves the varied faces of the industry (yes, this step is still in the ‘idea’ stage, albeit with a LOT of support from the community at large!)
It’s all a work in progress.
As such, we’re always on the look-out for ideas and input, not just from the industry, but from ALL quarters. Because innovation success grows out of contributions from a broad spectrum of life experience.
The way forward
- Open source: As an industry, I believe we are willing now more than ever to share our resources, as we continue to witness how the benefits of shared knowledge far outweigh the ‘lone wolf’ approach of protecting proprietary knowledge.
- People working together: As humans, we seek to create a deeper connection to place – where we live, our surroundings, nature. There is imperative now more than ever to move in this direction.
- What if we created a world where the first thing that comes to mind is “How can I help you?”
This is my wish, expressed from a position of appreciation for all that has come before, and all that is shifting within the current movement: Let’s build a community that will embody these precepts.
Got an idea? I would love to hear your thoughts – please share in the comments below.
Since this post came out, the upholstery community has joined together in forming the National Upholstery Association.
Thank you for your expressing support value for reupholstered furniture. I own a window and soft furnishings workroom and try to sell custom upholstery rather than replace and $ often decides instead of quality and aesthetics. Still on the mission! Are you familiar with Kim Chagnon’s Kim’s Upholstered? Please look her up. She is doing all that you described. Wonderful videos, classes, workshops, and instructor. There is Funky Little Chair too which is incredible. Spear the word. Us hand rafters are active and growing!
SO great to hear from a member of the trade, and a true artisan (beautiful website)! – stay on the mission and keep up the good work! I believe there are rapid changes afoot, particularly in upholstery. Yes! I am quite familiar with Kim’s Upholstery and The Funky Little Chair’s work. Both are big players in this movement. The gathering momentum is really quite exciting!!!
Cynthia Bleskachek/The Funky Little Chair just came out with a post on this subject. She takes it beyond the ‘what’ into the ‘why’. It’s a great read!
Hi Carla ,
I love what your doing for the upholstery trade. I’m getting old and tired but I still preach don’t throw out the old good quality pieces for the new Junk furniture. I’ve been in this trade for over 40 years and there are less and less upholsterer’s. I’m thinking of taking on an apprentice hopefully somebody younger to help take over my business. We talked about my bone yard And I’m still working on that ,To give people that don’t have quality furniture an opportunity to get a great piece. Let’s try and keep this trade going! Working hard in Michigan . Carol Greenwood , Lily’s Designs
Thanks for chiming in. I admire & support your ‘boneyard’ intentions – not only to give people options, but also keep the good stuff out of landfills & cycling it back into the economy. I hope you find your apprentice – someone who will be fortunate to learn the business as well as the skills of the craft! We’re exploring ways to make it easier to match those who want to learn with those willing to teach, so it’s super helpful to hear from you as well as from those on the learning end of the spectrum. Thanks!
I like your veiw & perspective of whats happening with the upholstering industry & what we must do to keep it alive. Since the upholstery trade is like a labor of love, a work of art & as long as we can help more people see & appreciate its value as such, I believe we can sqwelch the propaganda that it’s a dying trade. But to do so, we must maintain excellent quality, slways giving our best, so that our clients feel convinced they are getting their money’s worth.
Thanks for contributing your insight to this conversation. Yes, upholstery is indeed a labor of love, and an art. Personally (and as a textile artist myself), I see great potential for textile & multi-media artists to explore the craft as a ‘new’ art medium. For this to be successful, we need more educational opportunities (a big challenge right now). I agree that recognized ‘quality standards’ will lend greater credibility to the industry as a whole. There are some exciting developments afoot that I believe will help to bring professional upholsterers together. Our Upholstery Trade Collaborative is organizing an upholstery symposium in conjunction with the Custom Workroom Conference (CWC) this September (2019). The conference & symposium will be a great opportunity for upholsterers to connect and learn. I’ll be writing a post about this in more detail soon. Thanks for your input!