The Place That Makes FabMo Possible: A Salvaging Trip to SF’s Design Center

Every Monday morning Hannah Cranch drives from Mountain View to San Francisco, a forty-mile drive. Hers isn’t a leisure drive. It is more of a weekly hunt, a quest, a mission. Hannah, you see, is one of the founders of FabMo, an amazing Mountain View non-profit organization. Her weekly drives are what make FabMo possible. Hannah has been making this routine track for well over a decade.

FabMo, short for “Fabric and More,” is a California Bay Area non-profit organization that rescues discarded fabrics and other materials, and makes them available to teachers, artists and other creative souls. Each year FabMo helps divert over seventy tons of such materials out of the landfill. The source of FabMo’s riches, and Hannah’s weekly destination, is San Francisco’s Design Center on Henry Adams St. There, Hannah collects beautiful materials that the different show rooms no longer need, and brings them to FabMo’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Hannah is a smallish, delicate-looking woman, yet she drives a big, monster pickup truck. Jonathan, Hannah’s husband and FabMo’s co-founder, bought the truck especially for this purpose, over Hannah’s protests. She now admits that it has been very useful in more ways than one.

Hannah's monster pickup truck

Early last spring I had the honor of accompanying Hannha on one of her Monday-morning hunts. I went to help, but also to see first hand where the fabrics I use come from. Once at the Design Center, I witnessed how one woman can–literally–move a mountain. Following the trip, my admiration for Hannah, her husband Jonathan, and what they do grew many fold.

The Design Center, for those of you who don’t know about it (I certainly didn’t!) is a Mecca for fabric lovers. Or it should be! It is composed of two separate buildings, both several stories high, built as squares around central courtyards. The buildings are oldish, and look very industrial and somewhat unappealing. Yet, they are full of every imaginable kind of gorgeous furniture/tile/home decor stores, carrying beautiful designer good that are hard to find anywhere else. Most of these showrooms are open to the public, but sell only to designers (apparently there are resident designers available for hire if you want to buy something and don’t have a designer of your own).

Hannah comes to the Center well prepared, with meticulous lists of showrooms to stop at. She takes a bagful of large, black garbage bags from her truck. As she enters each building, she first picks up a ginormous trolley from the bottom-most floor. She then starts making her rounds, following the list, going around one floor and then up to the other.

This is what one of the showrooms looks like. And this is Hannah, showing me some of the beautiful textiles on display. Sadly, FabMo rarely gets these large fabric pieces, but looking through them was a real treat!

This, for example, is but one beautiful piece. The birds are embroidered, and I was salivating all over them (and over the other fabrics, too!).

Here is another showroom. The small pieces on the right, rather than the large swatches on the left, are more likely to end up in Hannah’s bags.

A showroom in the Design Center

When Hannah walks into a showroom, she knows all the salespeople by name, and has something nice to say to each. In some of the showrooms people hand Hannah whatever fabrics/other materials they no longer need. Sometimes they have nothing, or just a miser piece or two. Sometimes they have more. In some showrooms, Hannah makes her way to the back rooms, through hidden doors that normal visitors won’t even notice. There, in the behind-the-scene storage rooms, she often has a special bin dedicated just for her, where people deposit discarded items all week long.

Hannah puts all the fabrics, rugs, and wall-paper samples she collects, both big and small, into a garbage bag. Whenever a bag gets heavy, she ties it up, loads it onto the cart, and starts filling another.

After a while, the bags start piling up, forming a mountain of fabric-full garbage bags. Pushing the trolley becomes ever more difficult!

Things get even worse in the second building, where Hannah picks up tile samples. Now, those get incredibly heavy!

By the time Hannah is done, a  trolley or two are full. She then loads all her collected treasures into the truck. This, too, is no small feat. It requires much planning and elaborate packing skills, which Hannah seems to have mastered over the years!

The collection takes the entire day, and is hard physical, back-breaking work. I was utterly exhausted by the time we were done, but Hannah soldiered on without complaints, working with good humor, full dedication, and a genuine love for what she does.

Hannah drives the truck back to Mountain View, where she unloads everything into FabMo’s facility. This is where the FabMo chapter of the fabrics’ story begins. It’s not where it ends, however. More work needs to be done before these treasures can go on to their next adventure.

12 thoughts on “The Place That Makes FabMo Possible: A Salvaging Trip to SF’s Design Center

    • The fabrics stay at FabMo for a short while (I will write about how they are treated there in the future). Then they find loving homes, where talented and creative people make all kinds of things with them. The pieces I take, for example, end up as bags, journals, quilts, jewelry and other things 🙂

  1. I volunteer at FabMo. The next adventure is a regular sort. We volunteers sign up, and come to the FabMo warehouse for 3 hours on a day later in the week. We open the garbage bags, and sort the items by type, and the fabric samples by size. We have a regular selection event for 3 days once a month where the public can come take samples they can use. We ask for donations to keep FabMo running. Volunteering at FabMo is a great way to see and touch designer fabrics, tile and wallpaper without the trip to San Francisco. For more information, visit the FabMo website at fabmo.org.

  2. Thank you for allowing us to come with you. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I would love to be of help in any way if I lived nearby. It must be amazing to see what “goodies” can be salvaged to use in other ways. A delightful journey. P.s. Loved the bird fabric as well.😊

  3. I am interested in starting a FabMo Chapter in the Puget Sound Area. I say Puget Sound because Seattle would probably have more sources, but warehouse rent would be cheaper in Tacoma, where I live. Any suggestions on going forward?

    • What a great initiative! You should probably start small: find sources for fabric, find like-minded people who might want to use it. Things will probably happen on their own once you do. You should realize, though, that it’s a LOT of work, and required much dedication.

    • FabMo started in our founder’s garage and living room. You could start that way too. There are some issues to be aware of. The design houses may fear that you will take their samples and resell them. This would violate their agreements with the manufacturers. FabMo offers the samples for free and asks for donations. You will need a clean, dry place to store the samples. And you should make it easy for the design houses to save samples for you. FabMo visits the design center 50 weeks a year, so the samples do not pile up in the back rooms. We come the same day every week (Monday) except when there is a Monday holiday, when we come on Tuesday. The same person comes every week (with a helper who varies), and she knows everyone’s name and face. This way the design houses see a familiar face that they can trust. And at the holiday season, FabMo makes little gifts for everyone we visit. (This year it was small bags made from FabMo materials and containing a homemade cookie).

    • Molly, I am a member of the FabMo Satellite Committee – we work with groups that are interested in bringing FabMo to their communities. You can send email to info at fabmo dot org and we would be happy to share more with you.

  4. I have always admired and respected Hannah (and Jonathan) for their dedication and hard work. I started going to FabMo when it was in their home in Palo Alto. I loved the idea from the start, the tantalizing fabrics, the goal behind FabMo, and socializing with their dogs. LOL.

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching this video. It made me feel ever more grateful for what Hannah and Jonathan are accomplishing….reducing the landfills and providing gorgeous fabric samples for creative persons….and not-so-creative people. They also rescue wallpaper, tiles, carpet samples, useful for many things. Their ‘store’ is loaded with ideas contributed by customers.

    This operation has been a wonderful example of what can be accomplished by dedicated and passionate people.

    Hannah: keep on pushing that heavy load. And be proud of driving that big ol’ truck. I have learned to do that, as well, and it’s really not difficult….just scary at first. Little women facing a big, hunkin’ vehicle. Hannah may be little in form and stature, but she’s a giant in my mind.

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