Vogue Fabrics History
Part 1: Introduction
Family-owned businesses continue to form the backbone of the American economy. Consider the following statistics reported by the University of Southern Maine's Institute for Family-Owned Business: Some 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled. Family businesses account for 50% of U.S. gross domestic product. They generate 60% of the country's employment and 78% of all new job creation. (Businessweek, Perman) However, only 40% of family owned businesses survive to the second generation, 12% to the third, and 3% to the fourth according to the Boston Globe (May 4, 2003).
As many of you know, we recently closed our retail location in Lansing, Il. While the stores closing may have come to a shock to many. The Sussman family and management of Vogue are individually aware of our history of change. It may feel, after being a part of the Lansing community for three decades that our history started in Lansing.
In fact, our original stores have long been forgotten. In fact, one location now serves as a parking lot for the city which is across the street from the Evanston location. As upsetting as the Lansing closing was for our family, employees and our customers this was only one of dozens of progressive evolutions of Vogue Fabrics over the past 60+ years. Vogue Fabrics has a rich family history as a third generation family run business amongst the dozens of family run businesses thriving throughout the seven decades in the Chicagoland community. Since 1945, we have continued to remain as relevant a destination as ever.
Part 2: Our Beginning
We proudly sell fabric to well known customers ranging from the White House, the New York Rockettes, shows in Las Vegas, Disney and Elton John. Vogue Fabrics Warehouse is providing wholesale fabrics to fabrics stores in Trinidad, Africa, Peru, Canada, Australia and small towns scattered within the USA. We load up our semi truck and travel the country visiting over a dozen different cities setting up 800 to 1000 sq. ft. fabric stores within consumer fabric and craft shows. And on a daily basis we work with small designers, churches, schools, independent pattern companies, and nationally known sewing educators to obtain the right fabrics for their projects, clothing lines, and sample garments. We have continued to evolve and change as the sewing industry changes in the ever present homage to “Keep America Sewing”.
In essence, Vogue’s history actually starts in the trunk of a car. What started as a small one man operation selling fashion fabrics to dressmakers and home sewer has grown into a click-and-mortar fashion fabrics store with a global presence. We now have developed into a chain of fabric stores, two ecommerce websites, mail-order catalog, traveling road show booth selling fabric to home sewist and dressmakers globally. As a result he became a personal shopper/delivery boy, but more importantly he was building up a customer base who liked him, his honesty, and his choice in fabrics.
Separating Sussman family history from Vogue’s can be tough but in essence Vogue Fabrics’ story began when Sy Sussman, our grandfather, was discharged from the army. He was a pattern maker for the wings of a plane being assembled at a Studebaker plant on the south side of Chicago. Our family history is full of stories of dressmakers and tailors from Russia. During the war most fabric was requisitioned for the war effort, especially silk, which they used for parachutes. Demand for fabric was very high. Our Great Great Grandmother Clara was a very respectable dressmaker and her father Louie was a luggage salesman. Upon his return from the Army, Sy saw the need among Chicago dressmakers for fabric, and came up with a clever and efficient way to solve their dilemma. Many of the dressmakers on Chicago’s Northwest side were women who worked from home. They did not drive or their husbands had the family car so traveling to the garment district in Chicago was challenging. Sy would to supply dressmakers with fabric. Sy looked in the telephone book and got the phone numbers of many dressmakers and asked them what types of fabrics and notions they needed. He would go to the different fabric stores within Chicago, like Fishman's, Tenner’s, and others, and buy what he had orders for and deliver them in his car.
Sy also made custom buttons out of the dressmaker's material. To do this he aquired a butcher's chopping block and various sized metal dyes. The chopping block was out on the back porch of the apartment Sy and the family lived in for a couple of years until the store in Evanston was open. At night, Sy would chop out the fabric with dies that had different circumferences and make the buttons to fill his orders. This is a service we still offer today and use all the same equipment and even chopping block which is now located up stairs at Vogue Fabrics. Many of our family members have learned this unique skill; Sy, Louie, Max Brook, and now Aaron.
In 1949, after a couple of years of running his home delivery service, a customer in Evanston told him there was a store for rent on Chicago Ave. and that there was no place to buy fabric on the North Shore. Subsequently, Sy decided to open a small manufacturing business in Evanston but he didn't have the capital. He went to relatives to borrow money. At the time the entire family, all three generations, were all living in a two bedroom apartment. His father-in-law, Louie told Sy to see his brother Sol Farber who was working in the post office as a clerk and a part time bookie. Sy and Sol got along, so with Sol's life savings of $300 and Sy's know how they opened the store. It's success was immediate, but not as a manufacturing company as orginal planned. They couldn't afford all the machinery they needed and they got too busy selling fabric that they had stockpiled in the store to use for manufacturing to women passing by the store front. It would soon grow beyond a simple two man operation.
Until then Sol, who knew nothing about fabric ran the store; and Sy continued delivering fabric and notions to his clientele. What eventually happened was Sol started taking orders for fabric from the women who would come thru the door and Sy had to start to re-supply the store with fabric.
As the story is told; one of the early successes of the store came from the hem lines. The hem lines on dresses were very short during the war. It was a way to save on fabric. But after the war women wanted to have longer dresses and with fabric shortages there was not much on the market. Sy made a bias hem facing with the solid fabrics he had in the store and showed women how they could lower their hems by sewing it on and not have to buy a new dress. This put Vogue on the map. Word of mouth led many new customers and even attracted non-sewists into the store. Eventually Wright Trimmings Co. copied the concept and mass produced his idea.
As the store started to really take off, Sy soon realized he had to be at the Evanston location full time and asked, his father-in-law, Louie if we would take over the delivery service. Louie loved the idea and became the new delivery boy, thus giving Sy and Sol the opportunity to work together at Vogue and concentrate on making it very successful. Once Sol knew enough about fabric he started to go down town like Sy had done, pick up what they needed for the store and for Louie. He really enjoyed seeing if he could make some great deals for new fabric.
In 1949, they were able to buy the store front location at 733 Main St.. This location had less foot traffic than the Chicago Ave. location, and they decided they needed to offer something different to bring the customers to them. They concentrated on designer and fashion fabrics at incredibly low prices. It quickly worked and the dressmakers and home sewists skipped the department stores (at that time they all carried garments and fabric) to come shop at Vogue Fabrics.
Sy and Sol also added their own personality into the shopping experience. Stories passed on of such promotions as free home-made pickles and a special buy that allowed any shopper to carry out as many hats they could hold for only $5.00 were the talk of the Northshore. There's even a story retold during the days before credit cards, where store credit was given. Hyjinx involved a pill of aspirin accompanying every whopping house charge bill over $25.00. This brought either frustration or a smile to the husbands who paid their wife’s monthly Vogue Fabrics bill.
In 1953, 732 Main St., the property on the corner of Main and Sherman, opened and Vogue’s started its expansion on Main St.. Vogue now had two locations across the street from each other, an apparel fabrics store and a drapery store.
In 1954, our 1st store not in Evanston was in Elmwood Park, Il. This location was open for about 15 years and run by a family friend Ray Miller. Our expansion into Indiana occurred in 1956 as another location opened in Elkhart, In. But this store only lasted a few years due to “management issues”.
Regrettably tragedy struck the store the night of December 6, 1959. Vogue Fabrics Drapery caught fire and burned to the ground. The fire was started at the furniture shop next door. This property was never rebuilt and is now the parking lot across the street from our current location on Main St.
In 1960 saw a location opening in Jacksonville, IL., it was open for about 5 years before being sold to the manager. This store is still open and operates today as Joy's Vogue Fabrics. It wasn’t until 1961 when Vogue started its expansion came back to Main St. in Evanston and we were able to acquire the two locations next door to the 732 Main St. location.
In 1966 the properties began to spread out thru renovations by adding the bridal department and office spaces to the existing buildings. In 1968, the local A&P grocery store closed allowing Vogue to finish its expansion by being able to add onto the store. This is now the Main Room and Remnant department. By breaking thru the walls of these pre existing buildings, Vogue slowly built a Department Store for Fashion Fabrics. This is why the store has different departments, instead of the traditional box store you see today in most modern retail locations.
Part 3: The Sons
The late 1970’s were a time of transition as Sy and Sol retired and Sy’s sons Barry and Marshall and Mel, Sol’s cousin, took over the store. Barry and Marshall paid close attention to the style of business that had made Vogue so successful; high quality fabrics, low prices, and have fun.
It didn’t take them long to decide to expand Vogue into Chicago. In 1984, they opened a boutique store in Water Tower Mall filled full of high-end apparel fabrics straight from the best design houses. This location served as an emissary linking sewing enthusiast from all over the world to the wonderful world of Vogue Fabrics. If you were coming to Chi-town, you stopped at Water Tower, and our store was full of the best fabrics which really WOWed people who had nothing like it in their town or country. Our main customer to this downtown location was either out of town visitors or window dressers from the surrounding stores. When the tourists left the Water Tower Mall to shop at 900 North the store was closed in 2000.
But during that time, excited by the incredible selection of designer fabrics not available at their local fabrics stores, these visitors to Chicago began writing in requests for swatches of the latest fabrics seen in their favorite magazines. This swatch service became overwhelming and lead to the first Vogue Fabrics Video, which came out in the Fall of 1991. It started as a $40 per year subscription for the video with a fabric swatch supplement booklet. We started to offer an option of the catalog without the video for $20, and subscriptions for the catalog without the video quickly outnumbered the subscriptions with the video, so the video was stopped. The video was fabrics stapled to the page with the part numbers for reference. Barry and Nancy Ericson were on camera talking about the fabrics and showing the fabrics. Some years later, around the time the Seinfeld TV show came out with the episodes featuring J. Peterman and his catalog. Barry loved the vivid and unique descriptions of the clothes and felt he could mimic its style. He decided to dump the video and expand the swatches to include a J. Peterman style text for the fabrics.
Eventually it was changed slightly to give each catalog a theme, so there would be an opening paragraph on each page of a related topic, giving it a pseudo magazine aspect with articles to read along side the fabrics, pictures and descriptions. This altered version of the Vogue Fabrics Video continues today as Vogue Fabrics by Mail Swatch Catalog and is mailed out to subscribers around the world every two months. The mid 1980's brought explosive growth for the Vogue Fabrics organization.
Expanding from a one location "mom and pop" fabric store, into a small Chicagoland based fabric store chain. In 1985, the location on Roosevelt Road location opened. The same location we are still currently at. In 1986, the Lansing location and the Warehouse in Evanston opened. We also opened a small boutique type store in the Water Tower Mall. At the time it opened the store was a tourist destination. It was filled with unique, exclusive, one of a kind fabric. Silks, wools, rayon’s, and cottons imported from Italy, France, and the Far East. If you were coming to Chi-town, you stopped at WT, and our store was full of the best fabrics which really WOWed people who had nothing like it in their town or country.
Part 4: The Grandkids
The 1990's introduced our third generation of family into the store. Both Barry and Marshall off spring joined them as office managers, buyers, and store managers. Their are now 5 Sussman's running Vogue Fabrics. They oversee all aspects of the business, each focusing on their strengths to continue making Vogue a sucess.
In 1995, at a consumer fabric show being held at the Rosemont Expo Center Barry's son Aaron experimented by taking 2 booths (10' X 20'). Seventeen years later, our wonderful staff now travels to 14 cities around the United States from sea to shining sea. They bring with them a 53’ semi truck filled with fabrics, a custom made 24' notions wall, and trims. We estimate that we bring enough fabric and merchandise to fill a 3000 sq. ft. fabric store depending on the show.
In 2004 we started our online web store, http://www.voguefabricsstore.com and in 2010 we launched our wholesale only web store, http://www.wholesalefabricsstore.com. We ship out packages of our fabrics around the world thru our online stores.
We maintain a feeling of being truly alive, innovative, and unrestrained. We continue to be reminiscent of our past and hopeful for the future. Who knows what great things we have in store for not only our current customers but for the next generation of sewists as well.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the many generations of support, devotion and love that our customers and employees bestow on us each and every day.
Thank you so much for reading our history and being a part of it.
Grandson of Sy Sussman/ 1 of 5 Third Generation Owners of Vogue Fabrics