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Ensconced in the Family Fabric

Multi-generational purveyors of textiles, a father and son wrap their wares around Detroit.

Remember those commercials the cotton industry aired with the tagline “the fabric of our lives”? For Bradley Foltyn, that line held particular resonance since he never questioned where his career path would lead him.

From the time he was a teen, Foltyn, 33, says he would go to work with his father at the family’s wholesale textile business; an operation founded by patriarch Andrew Foltyn, Bradley’s grandfather.

And, after graduating from Michigan State University in 2000 with a degree in business, the Birmingham resident became the third generation of Foltyns to sell yards of gingham, damask and other fabrics to designers and retailers.

“I used to work in the showrooms after school and during the summer,” Foltyn says. “I loved working with my family, with fabrics — I love everything about it.”

With his father, Paul, who is his partner and co-owner at The Fabric Warehouse, Bradley is putting his own mark on the family’s business, bringing it into the digital age. “I’m focused on building online sales,” he says, adding that the store has begun shipping internationally to customers in the United Kingdom, Greece and Australia.
Of course, the textile industry isn’t the same as when Grandpa Andrew opened his wholesale textile business.

“You adjust,” says Paul, who leveraged the relationships he’s built in the industry over the last several decades in an effort to recalibrate his business model to accommodate the economy. “You just have to hope you’re moving in the right direction.”

Forty-five years ago, founder Andrew Foltyn, a Czechoslovakian Jew, came to Michigan with his family to escape the Nazis and opened up a small eponymous-named wholesale textile company. His son, Paul, eventually expanded the small company to 25 states, employing 40 people; the Foltyns even had a showroom in Chicago’s famous Merchandise Mart, selling wholesale luxury fabrics to designers and department stores.

Then the housing bubble burst.

“During the housing boom, it seemed that everyone was an interior designer,” Paul says. “But those designers lost their clients when the bubble popped — nobody was buying new homes anymore.”

As the Foltyn’s wholesale business began to shrink, Paul and Bradley knew they would need to move in a new direction to keep the company alive. After nearly a half-century, the father and son made the difficult decision to close the wholesale operation and open a new concern in the retail arena.

“Unless you reinvent what you’re doing all the time, you get left behind,” Paul said. “You always have to adjust.”

Adapting to a new business model and a changing economy with a more cost-conscious public, the transition was, as Bradley described, “nerve-racking,” but borne of necessity. “We had no other options,” he says.

“Those who can’t afford to buy new homes are choosing to decorate and update their current homes,” Bradley, a graduate of Birmingham Seaholm High School explains. “Here they can find luxury fabrics that anyone can afford — to reupholster a couch or make draperies for example.”

The Fabric Warehouse, which opened in 2005 and is located in Warren, originally had two showrooms but consolidated to one huge venue at the end of 2009. Customers can find upholstery that Bradley says normally sells for $60-$150 per yard at prices ranging from $3.99 to $9.99 per yard.

Will a fourth generation of Foltyns put her mark on the family business? Too early to know, says Bradley, who has a 1-year-old daughter, Sophie, with his wife, Jamie. At this point, the little girl is too young to know the family legacy she stands to inherit.



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