Christie O’Kelley made her passion a reality when she opened her business Main Street Fabrics 29 years ago in downtown Ackerman, Mississippi.
O’Kelley learned to sew from her mother and has always been passionate about the art of sewing. When she was in high school, O’Kelley dreamed of owning her own fabric store after having worked in the fabric department at Ben Franklin in Ackerman.
When O’Kelley’s family moved back to Ackerman after living in the Delta for many years, the lady she worked in high school asked if she still wanted to run a fabric store since she was closing down her business and selling her merchandise. O’Kelley already had plans drawn up for a potential store and seized the opportunity to pursue her dream.
Since starting Main Street Fabrics in 1989, O’Kelley has worked hard to serve her clients and makes sure the store is always stocked with fabric that appeals to everyone for nearly any need. While owning a business in a small town has been a struggle, O’Kelley has managed to stay in business through dedication and personal sacrifices.
“You have to be able to give up a lot of time and work at it,” O’Kelley said. “One reason why I am still here is because I have worked myself to death to stay here.”
O’Kelley has chosen to never pay herself and works for free because she loves her business so much. All the money from Main Street Fabrics goes directly back into her inventory. Over the years, she has expanded Main Street Fabrics and has close to 4,000 square feet full of bolts of fabric and sewing supplies. O’Kelley said she does not even know exactly how much inventory she has in stock and only knows that it grows each year.
In addition to her in-store sales, O’Kelley has run an Etsy shop for the past three years. O’Kelley said she realized that if she did not move her sales to online than she would be left behind. Also, Main Street Fabrics previously relied on word of mouth as the primary means of advertising but has started to shift to Facebook advertising and influencing over the years. Since her Etsy shop is relatively new, most of Main Street Fabrics’ sales are made through in store purchases.
Main Street Fabrics now ships all over the United States and has even shipped internationally, the furthest was in New Zealand. While she prefers to ship in the United States, O’Kelley is willing to work with her customers in order to continue building her online brand.
However, her online frequently vary and sales lack the consistency of her in-store sales. In the future, O’Kelley said she would be interested in getting an intern to help grow her online business, but she wants someone who is already familiar with sewing and fabric information since she does not want to have to explain the details of every fabric to the intern.
O’Kelley has expanded the services of her business to include embroidering, children’s clothing, sewing classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays nights and alterations. O’Kelley said these efforts have been successful at drawing in more clientele, especially since many places do not offer those services. O’Kelley has also hired four part-time employees who help manage the shop and complete orders for embroidery.
O’Kelley said sewing is a lost art and thinks there is a need for more fabric stores to revitalize the sewing industry. Unfortunately, due to chain stores like Walmart, many independently owned fabric stores have trouble competing with lower prices and staying open. O’Kel-ley said the best year and a half of her business was when Walmart temporarily stopped selling fabric.
O’Kelley said she would also like to offer garment making services, but often people do not understand that it costs a lot for the material and time. Unfortunately, the age group that previously dominated the sewing field are not longer working and the need for workers in the field is growing more each day. In the past, O’Kelley had in house seamstresses, but four of them passed away, one is in a nursing home, and the other is too busy to make clothing at this time.
O’Kelley also plans to expand her services by working more with schools and companies to embroider logos. Currently, Main Street Fabrics embroiders logos for Starkville Christian School and Starkville High School but is not licensed to embroider official Mississippi State University logos.
As Main Street Fabrics continues to grow, O’Kelley hopes that people will understand it is possible to own your own business and follow your dreams, but it also requires sacrifice and changes.
“People have to be willing to make changes,” O’Kelley said. “I have made changes but I do not regret it and am glad that I can do what I love each day.”