Fabric entrepreneur brings hope to displaced workers

May. 12, 2014 @ 03:43 PM

Debbie Jones is a job creator.
That’s one of many things the founder of French Laundry Home — a High Point company that produces furniture, bedding, pillows and other goods — is proud of about her line of work.
Jones turned her love of textiles into a wholesale business that uses the talents of local artisans and craftsmen — many of whom were left jobless after the city’s major furniture plants closed.
The business recently expanded to accommodate its growth in sales, moving to an 11,000-square-foot manufacturing, warehouse, and office facility in south High Point.
The company has grown from two to 28 employees, with plans to add more in the next few years.
“I became acutely aware of all the talent here that is either underutilized or just sitting there not used at all,” Jones said. “We’d run an ad and we’d have over 100 people apply for a sewing job. There are just so many folks here that are unemployed. And there hasn’t been enough said about that. It was horrible here. These big furniture factories had hundreds of women sitting in there sewing. And when it all went offshore, there were three and four generations of a family that lost their source of income.”
Jones’ products are all made in the U.S.
She has shunned the trend in manufacturing in which companies send production overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs. In addition to her work force, Jones has a network of domestic suppliers and contract manufacturers.
“Our commitment to domestic production is hugely received in the marketplace,” she said. “People really appreciate that — the fact that we’re doing it onshore. I have personally found that the benefits of producing it here far outweigh what little savings might come offshore.”
She named the company for the fabric woven on hand looms that was used to make French feedsacks more than 100 years ago. The goal was come up with a fabric that gives its products a vintage look.
It’s the veteran seamstresses’ and pattern makers’ knowledge of fabrics that has been a boon to French Laundry Home, Jones said, which debuted as a line of fabric at the 2007 Showtime Fabric show in High Point.
“I’ve got women that are in their 80s that work for me. They’re not working there because they want to; they’re working because they have to,” she said. “They just have such an understanding of how fabric works. It’s not so simple as, you lay it down on a table, cut it and sew it together. You’ve got to have cutters that know the right way to cut. You have to have sewers that have good knowledge of how to sew the right way. It was an easy transition for them.”
Jones said her customers include high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus and One Kings Lane, as well as designers, boutiques and independent stores.
The company also has branched out into retail.
Its warehouse at 2501 Mendenhall Drive is open to the public on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“They can buy our full product line, from headboards, sofas and chairs, to dust skirts, pillows, placemats, gift items and vintage items, among other things,” Jones said.