Qui-Ja Fabrics moves down a floor
Craft stores have come and gone over the past 22 years but Qui-Ja Fabrics in Hamilton has remained a constant.
Owner Laquita Simmons talks a lot about trying not to stock the same old things her competitors sell.
“We try to sell what people need,” she said. “We are pretty much the only ones who bring in zippers, buttons and the little things that are needed.”
They are also one of the few stores on the island that sell cross stitch floss.
But she admits that actually there are not that many competitors left in Bermuda.
“I think I am down to two,” Ms Simmons said.
For the last 17 years she has been located on the third floor of the Walker Arcade, up a steep, narrow flight of steps. She had two stores upstairs — Qui-Ja Fabrics selling everything from dress-up fabrics, dress-down fabrics and ethnic fabrics, and Qui-Ja Phindings offering a range of bits and bobs related to sewing and jewellery making.
“We have feathers, boas and everything in between,” Ms Simmons said. Qui-Ja Phindings is particularly popular with people making gombey or carnival costumes.
A month ago, she moved her fabric store down a floor to the Reid Street level of the Walker Arcade. Qui-Ja Phindings is still upstairs.
Her floor space has gone from 600 square feet to more than 900. The result is an airier, brighter shop.
The space was previously home to a hair salon.
“We have done a lot of work in here,” Ms Simmons said. “I am very, very happy with the outcome.”
And she is pulling in more curious passers-by here than she ever did upstairs. Many of the new faces tell her they had no idea the shop existed, despite its two decades in operation.
“I just like being where we are seen now,” she said. “Now it is my time to do this.”
She feels the easy access from Reid Street is better for her older customers who don’t climb stairs easily.
The pandemic has been surprisingly kind to the veteran entrepreneur.
“With people not being able to travel as much they are doing more crafts,” she said.
She has seen more young people coming in looking for sewing and craft supplies and also men.
“They say they have never sewn before, but they have started during the pandemic,” she said “They come in sometimes and say this is what I made.”
She has also been making and selling protective face masks, and also selling the fabric and elastic to make them.
While many local entrepreneurs have struggled with supply chain issues since the world health crisis began, she has been all right.
“When I was travelling, I would often pick up bits and pieces to sell in the store,” she said. “Right now I am not travelling, but I have vendors that I can just call. So, for the most part, I can get what I am looking for.”
Ms Simmons started sewing when she was nine years old and is entirely self-taught.
She became well-known for sewing wedding attire, men’s suits and Gombey outfits.
“I always had work as a seamstress,” she said. “I also used to teach sewing.”
Now she is considering offering a dress-making class again.
“It would be called Back to Basics,” she said. “That is because you can’t just dive into making a pair of pants. You have to know how to get there first.”
She already has a long list of people who are interested in taking her class.
Opening a store was always her dream. She finally did it in 1999, seeing a gap in the market.
“There were things I wanted to do that I did not see other stores doing,” Ms Simmons said.
She called the business Qui-Ja combining part of her first name, and part of her son Jarizhino Simmons’s first name. Mr Simmons is a local comedian.
“I did not expect it to be as large as it is,” she said. “It has grown.”
For more information see Qui-Ja Fabrics on Facebook, call 295-9596 or e-mail email@example.com.