Alex Krause Matlack is bringing what she teaches in the classroom to Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as she pursues Sit Foundry — an all-inclusive reupholstery design studio.
“In the first week of my Intro to Entrepreneurship class, I tell my students to go out into the world and take notice of the problems they face. During that ideation week in my spring semester of , I was getting a couple chairs reupholstered for the first time, and the process was not what I expected it to be. … It clicked that I could provide a unique design experience,” said Matlack, who serves as a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well as the director of Entrepreneurship Scholars (E-Scholars).
Sit Foundry, which officially launched in January 2021, completely revises and simplifies furniture upholstery, Matlack shared. Rather than visiting numerous upholstery studios and looking through thousands of fabric samples, Sit Foundry streamlines the experience so that individuals never have to leave their homes.
“I really change the design of the piece to be truly custom,” she said. “The design experience is special, I come to their door to develop their design, pick up the piece, and drop it off fully finished.”
Customers take a questionnaire before the design consultation in order to narrow down what colors, patterns and textures they prefer. Then, Sit Foundry provides a transparent bid that includes labor, fabric and materials, design, pickup and delivery.
“A designer is a really good editor,” Matlack said. “I spend a lot of time sourcing through fabrics; every month, I’ll source hundreds of new fabrics. I make sure that all the fabrics are extremely high quality, so that they last a long time. I always tell everyone — I have an English bulldog and a baby, yet we have whites because the fabrics are extremely high performance.”
Click here to check out Sit Foundry.
Lessons in and out of the classroom
Along with fulfilling Matlack’s passion for interior design, Sit Foundry has enhanced her discussions within the classroom, she shared.
“This entrepreneurial journey has become a case study that I can talk about with my students each week,” she said. “It’s made my lessons more comprehensive because not only do I have the tech experience from [being a program manager at] Techstars, but now there’s the experience of the day-to-day of running a service-based business.”
Matlack’s duality of being a professor and entrepreneur has caused her to be more experimental with Sit Foundry, she added.
“Through every failure, there have been those moments of realization that I can learn from and bring into the classroom,” she explained. “I’ve experimented with doing this completely virtually, and that has been one of the failures I’ve talked to my students about. I will continue to take experiments, see where they land, and pivot — because that’s how you reach success.”
The classroom also serves as a community where Matlack receives feedback and insight from her students, she said, noting that each person brings their own unique perspective.
“I talked to a student the other week whose mentor told her that we need to think about luxury also as having services done for you,” Matlack recalled. “We used to think of luxury as having a fancy product; but as soon as 2020 hit, we realized how helpful it is to have someone come take something off your plate. … I like to think of Sit Foundry being part of the luxury upholstery market, in that we will take care of you through this process.”
The sentimental and sustainable value
With more millennials expressing sustainability as a high priority, Matlack was surprised to discover that they were not as likely to reupholster furniture as their parents or grandparents, she said.
Individuals might be familiar with the harmful environmental impacts of fast fashion (rapidly producing high volumes of clothing, made from low-quality materials), but the impacts of fast furniture are also damaging, Matlack continued.
“About 5 percent of [Americans] total waste every year is from furniture,” Matlack said, noting that the percentage is estimated to be about 12 million tons. “… I’m living in a Brookside house that comes from materials that are 105 years old. I think younger generations are seeing extreme effects of global warming and valuing more sustainable options. We can make so many things in our lives last longer if we make smart choices.”
Along with sustainability, reupholstering furniture preserves historic and sentimental pieces. One of Matlack’s favorite commissions was a client who upholstered her great aunt’s chair, she said.
“She had the chair sitting around for 10 years before deciding to have it reupholstered,” Matlack said. “Her cousin with the matching chair had it reupholstered and delivered on the same day, completely unknowing of each other. It was all so crazy, but also a really cool chair.”
It is time to revitalize the lost art form of furniture reupholstery, Matlack said.
“Reupholstery is an art form that needs to come back — both for sustainability reasons and sentimental value,” Matlack shared. “To have a custom piece that is a sentimental, beautiful heirloom is really special. I think it is important for our surroundings to really reflect our souls so we can feel connected to the places that we’re in.”
Matlack plans to continue growing Sit Foundry — whether that be as an ecommerce company with more designers or as a storefront with a showroom, she said.
“Shopping experiences are so different in 2022 than they were five years ago,” Matlack said. “Should storefronts still exist? Or is there something special about having a storefront where you can be immersed in the fabrics and designs? I don’t know the answers yet, but I do think people are craving more intimate experiences with the purchase that they are making.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.