reclaim, recycle and reupholster – The Downfall of a Throwaway Society


Thanks in part to mass production, the invention of plastic and the rise of disposable products, we have become a throwaway society. This bad consumer habit, where what is produced mostly ends up in the landfills, is driving the global crisis we face today. The average American dumps about 1,000 pounds of trash in the local landfill each year, and predictions are that, globally, we will reach 2.2 billion tons by 2025. One highly visible landfill contributor is the furniture industry. Americans buy an abundance of “fast furniture” – inexpensive, poor quality and easy to obtain and abandon. This “buy, toss, replace” furniture buying mindset has resulted in 12 million tons of furniture and upholstery fabrics getting dumped into landfills last year alone (EPA). 

Textile Recovery and Resale

At Modern Fabrics, Co-owners Ewa and James Powell and Store Manager Debra Worthy are committed to providing customers high-quality designer textiles rescued from the cutting room floors of domestic luxury residential and commercial furniture factories. When the Powells opened their doors in 2007 as an online fabric reclamation business, they believed there was vast potential for textile recovery and resale, and they were right! The following year, they added a brick-and-mortar store and, over the years, their reach has been remarkable. From New York, Dallas and California to Italy, Denmark and Japan, they provide customers with fabulous fabrics and leathers from the most sought-after furniture companies. Ewa shares, “We step in between the manufacturer and the landfill – our business is literally built on waste. The numbers continue to rise, but we presently divert more than 15,000 pounds of designer fabric and leather each month, and then pass these amazing textiles on to our savvy, eco-conscious customers at discounted prices.” 

Rather than manufacturing more and more, we want to encourage designers and DIYers to utilize existing sources of textiles before resorting to consuming more raw materials.

~ Debra Worthy, store manager, Modern Fabrics

Reupholster or Replace?

Debra states, “We have many customers come into the store wanting to update their home and trying to decide if they should replace or reupholster Grandma’s old chair or their well-worn sofa.” The primary reason most furniture pieces are reupholstered is because people simply cannot imagine parting with them (e.g. fits the space perfectly, sentimental value, comfortable, love the style, family heirloom, etc.). In addition to the connection and comfort factors, there are a number of other important considerations in the reupholster-or-replace debate. 

*Construction: If it is “fast furniture,” it is most likely a low-quality product made with soft materials like plastic or particleboard and isn’t substantial enough for the reupholstery process. Higher quality pieces have a stable construction and are made of hardwood (e.g. ash, oak, maple, etc.), so giving them a facelift makes great financial sense. Simply put, Ewa notes, “Whether it is made in the US or abroad, the level of craftsmanship and quality of materials from decades past is almost always superior to furniture made today.”

*Cost: Individuals can quickly discern that the price they will pay for a quality piece of furniture in a retail store is greater than or equal to the price of the material and labor required to reupholster a beloved piece of (better) furniture. With a savings of 60-80% off list price ($24-$32 per yard) for top quality designer fabrics and leathers, the choice to give that mid-century modern armchair a makeover is an easy one.

*Customization: “When you reupholster, you get exactly what you want with premier quality textiles – ‘that’ couch with ‘that’ fabric will be unique,” Debra explains. Modern Fabrics contracts with various high-end furniture manufacturers across the US, and all of the sorting is done by Ewa on a weekly basis to ensure the textiles for online orders (kept in the warehouse), as well as inventory in the Huntersville store are the “best of the best.” Not only are the fabrics and leathers highly curated, they are also the same textiles currently seen in luxury lifestyle magazines. “Reupholstering allows customers to choose from thousands of options and mix textiles to customize pieces to fit their décor. For those who are overwhelmed by all of the choices, we are happy to help them pick out the perfect fabrics,” says Ewa.

*Convenience: After the fabric/leather decision has been made, the furniture is picked up from the customer’s home, sent for upcycling and, three weeks later, the reupholstered piece is delivered to the customer’s home. Ewa is proud of the fact that she has secured the best and most affordable upholsterers in the US and that they charge 1/3 of the average national price – she happily passes that savings along to her customers. The entire process is quick and hassle-free.


*Conscience: Modern Fabrics, an environmentally conscious “steward of exquisitely designed textiles” makes these otherwise discarded fabrics (frequently only offered to designers and professionals) accessible to the public at very affordable prices. If you are thinking about updating your furniture, look no further than Modern Fabrics. You are guaranteed to love the results, AND you will feel great knowing you are contributing to a greener society. Bonus…it is easy on the pocketbook! 

While we are a small mom-and-pop company, as we grow, we aim to lessen our impact on Mother Earth.

~ Ewa Powell, owner, Modern Fabrics

Modern Fabrics Company is located at 15435 NC-73, Huntersville, NC, 704.740.9676. Shop the online store at, email for more information and follow them on Facebook and Instagram @modernfabrics. Store hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.


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