By Emily Williams
Over half of a decade, two things have remained constant in the world of King Cotton Fabrics: family and fabrics.
When Bill Haas had the opportunity to buy an established fabric store in Tuscaloosa, he knew nothing about the fabric industry. But he knew whom to turn to for advice: his wife, Janet.
“I remember, right after he bought the business, he came home and said, ‘Tell me everything you know about fabrics,’” Janet Haas said.
At that point in time, it was commonplace for women to know how to sew, and Janet had been sewing all of her life.
“People did a lot of sewing back then, for back-to-school clothes and such,” she said.
Because she spent time making most of the clothes for her family, she knew the industry from the consumer’s point of view, and the two formed a partnership. Bill had more of a hand in the company because Janet had her hands full with two young children, Kym, who was about three years old, and Nina, who was still an infant then.
“I would help him buy fabrics and I did the bookkeeping until the accountant fired me,” she laughed.
What began as a single store with hundreds of fabric options has grown to include multiple locations – in Birmingham, Montgomery and online – with thousands of options.
Changing With the Times
The King Cotton Fabrics of yesteryear was equipped with mostly bolts of fabrics for making clothes – imported laces, hand-beaded designs, polyester double-knits and Swiss batiste cotton.
A cultural shift began in the 60s and early 70s. As women entered the workforce, the market for fabrics for clothing declined.
About the same time, Janet said, there was a growing opportunity to buy more imported fabrics. The Haas’ took advantage of the availability and stocked a wider selection of home decorating fabrics, evolving with the market shift.
Once her children were at a more independent age, Janet was ready to work, and Bill left much of the business in her control.
Throughout the years, the whole family has remained invested in King Cotton. Her two daughters grew up working at the store and still help out today. One does the buying for the store and the other helps manage the website.
Janet said she never envisioned the store would become such an integral part of her life and her family’s life.
“It’s mostly that I just didn’t think about it,” she said. “I just love what I do.”
Janet said Bill always had a vision that the company would see a 50th anniversary, so she has focused on enjoying the day-to-day.
“To me, it’s not like work,” she said.
What she loves most about the business is the people, customers and staff alike. She enjoys the sense of community that comes with owning a small business. A number of those who enter the store are people she has known for years, if not since her school days.
In addition to a warehouse staff, Janet takes great pride in the team of women who provide design assistance to customers. They know practically every fabric available and help with projects as small as making new throw pillows to re-decorating entire houses.
There is one downside to the fabric business, Janet notes, and that is the constant desire to change the decor in her own home.
“It’s terrible because I always want to change something,” she said. “I’ll see the new fabrics come in each season and want to completely redo my whole house.”
One of the ways she combats the redecorating bug is by doing some- thing small, like changing out the pillows on her sofa.
A big trend she is seeing in home decor is the shift from neutral fab- rics to bolder options.
“We’re seeing a lot of bright and bold prints,” she said. “People are getting tired of neutrals. They may still have a neutral couch, but they’ll use pops of color to accessorize.”
She added that interesting textures are becoming more common.
“Velvet is very in right now,” she said. “I also see silks becoming more popular. They were big about 10, 15 years ago. Everything old is new again.”
Even after 50 years, Janet doesn’t foresee retiring any time soon. But that doesn’t keep her from planning for it.
“We hope one of our grandchildren will take over,” she said. “We have six, so there is a chance that at least one of them will carry it on.”
Though one grandchild already has graduated college and moved on to another profession, the Haas’ have three grandkids still in college and two in high school. Janet has plenty of time to help one of them find a passion for the family business.
“This store has been a bright spot in the community and it has certainly been a bright spot in our lives, so it would mean the world to us to see it continue,” she said.
While keeping an eye on the future, the Haas’ have planned to host a celebration of the past 50 years at King Cotton Fabrics’ Green Springs location in the coming weeks.
For more information, visit kingcottonfabrics.com. ❖