For textile artist Brooke Heuts, it’s been more than a decade-long journey to starting her own textile design studio – a process that is turning the artist into the entrepreneur.
Heuts, who grew up in Bunn watching her grandmother quilt, launched Grey Goods Studio last year from a studio in the backyard of her bungalow off of University Drive in Durham.
She calls the venture a hand-designed textile company focused on making unique, patterned fabrics from “grey goods,” which are fabrics taken straight off the loom before being processed in any sort of way.
“It is taking the raw fabric and doing all of these different things to it: dying, screenprinting, using alternative screen printing processes and hand stitching,” she said.
She has worked with the materials (cotton, silk and canvas, among others) for more than 20 years, as a student and as a professional artist, working and exhibiting in several galleries.
The company is in what she calls its phase one, a time when she is focusing most heavily on surface design fabrics and pillows, before expanding into different areas.
“Pillows are a great entry point,” she said. “But that is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Inspired by her grandmother’s work in quilting, Heuts went to N.C. State University’s College of Design, graduating in 2004. Since then, she has crisscrossed the country, earning a Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University and working in Washington, D.C.
She and her partner of nearly 13 years, Braedyn Mallard, moved to Durham in 2014, after deciding they needed a larger space and a cheaper place to live. Heuts describes Mallard, who is a manager at the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market, as not only her life partner but her business partner.
Heuts, who quit her full-time job to work on Grey Goods, said without the advent of the internet economy, the couple couldn’t have taken the risk of starting the company.
“The ability to find small companies that do [fabric printing] that’s print-to-order” via the internet allowed the couple to start Grey Goods, Mallard said. “We don’t have to order 75 yards at a time, we can order the amount we need for one chair. It’s more efficient.”
For the fabrics, the couple has so far partnered with a non-synthetic fabric supplier near Quebec City, Canada, for all of their custom orders.
Mallard, who has worked in marketing for Whole Foods, is in charge of the company’s online presence, while Heuts works with the fabric.
Mallard said Instagram is the most influential platform for them. It allows them to determine which designs generate the most interest and to connect the brand with people across the country. In fact, the first item they sold was to a designer in Berkeley, Calif.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t focusing on the Triangle. “To have the national reach from the comfort of your home is beautiful,” Heuts said. “But it also allows us to focus on our real heart place, which is to be a business that makes an impact in our community.”
She added that collaborations with other local makers will be a focus as will working with designers and stores in the area.
The first public collaboration will be Saturday, as Grey Goods holds its first pop-up retail event in partnership with the hand-crafted jeweler Smart & Becker at Light Art + Design in Chapel Hill.
It will be the first public showing for the first collection of Grey Goods, something she has been tinkering with for many months.
“I am a perfectionist, so I am like, ‘I am not showing it to anybody till it’s perfect.’ But then I would be 80 before I probably thought it was good enough.”