Posted on 14, July, 2022
Last Modified on 20, July, 2022
Shop products from this customer spotlight
We're celebrating #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay today! While this is what we love most, and try to do every day, we love an opportunity to share an inspiring customer story. In this Customer Spotlight, come along as we get to know one of our newest customers, Lisa Shepard Stewart, the creator of this truly unique Black-Owned Business, Cultured Expressions.
On a trip to Senegal in 1986, Lisa fell in love with African fabrics and brought back duffel bags of prints, batiks and more. She’s since written three DIY project books about how to use them, given talks, taught sewing classes, and made frequent trips to Ghana to source new merchandise. Today, Lisa is the owner of Cultured Expressions Sewing Studio, in a Rahway, New Jersey shop filled with one-of-a-kind African textiles. It also offers endless DIY inspiration through hands-on classes and special events, all located in the heart of a vibrant downtown arts scene.
In her store, the wood floors in the 100-year-old building provide a warm backdrop for shelves filled with African print yardage, kits, and “precuts,” fabric packs designed for quilting and craft projects. Textiles including bogolan (mudcloth), Ankara/African prints, and kuba (cloth woven from raffia palm leaves) are folded on shelves and layered over ladders. Recycled glass beads and brass embellishments imported from Ghana attract jewelry designers to the space as well. Each piece is unique, giving one a real feeling for the culture. The studio’s specialty is a curated selection of jacquard cotton batiks from Ghana.
As it did for most small businesses, Covid created challenges for Cultured Expressions. But it also helped (forced, more accurately) Lisa to expand on existing ideas about sharing her distinctive inventory. In 2018, she started doing “virtual visits” via Facetime and Duo, so customers could shop the entire studio via video chat. “During Covid lockdown, I added Zoom and online booking for these virtual shopping appointments. Everyone was making masks and had time to quilt, so there was a huge demand for fabric and virtual classes.” Virtual shopping appointments via Zoom are available to those outside of the Rahway area.
Now, in-store traffic is beginning to shift back to pre-pandemic levels, so Lisa has been refreshing the store displays, including an upgrade to the outdoor signage. Main Street is known for its wind-tunnel effect even on slightly breezy days, so a heavy-duty sidewalk sign is at the top of her list right now.
Helping people to appreciate African fabrics and cultures in practical ways has been Lisa’s greatest passion since she wrote her first book in 1999, and it continues to excite her. “A customer may come in for fabric after seeing a demo on headwraps and I’ll say ‘You can make a pillow or table runner with that fabric, or how about a clutch to go with that head wrap?’ I love to convert people!’
The Story of How We Met...
It all started with the “ugly” truth behind a certain sidewalk sign.
Lisa was in search of a durable weather-resistant sidewalk sign for outside her storefront when we first connected with her. While she had shopped on our website, the traditional weighted base sign was not cutting it aesthetically. She kindly shared her feedback that she needed a sign that was as beautiful as it was effective.
We love this type of feedback as it allows us to develop products that will directly meet our customers' needs. Our product development team is working to bring more appealing and functional options to market, stay tuned!