Knack For Sewing Launched Donna Salyers' Career
COVINGTON - Donna Salyers didn't grow up wearing furs - neither faux, nor real. She did, however, grow up with a grandmother who could whip a mighty stitch, and under her tutelage Salyers learned to do the same.
"I was just one of those little kids who like to sew," Salyers said. "I loved pretty clothes and I was from a poor family, and if I was going to have them, I thought, I'll learn to sew, and I'll make them."
She not only made her own clothes, but became an expert on how others might do the same.
In 1974, Salyers, who grew up in Northern Kentucky and graduated from Dixie Heights High School in Crestview Hills, wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper saying that publication's sewing column wasn't up to par.
"I said the column in your paper is so bad even I could write a better column," Salyers said. "They called me and said, 'We wish you would.' I wrote six samples, and I remember thinking I've never written anything but a letter to the editor."
But lack of experience didn't matter and for the next 17 years Salyers wrote a weekly sewing column, "Sewing, Etc.," for Gannett newspapers. She also made guest appearances on sewing segments for a cable television show that was taped in New York City.
"I would go to New York to do these shows and I thought everybody in the whole town had a fur coat but me," Salyers said.
So, Salyers made her own fur coat.
Because she had been writing the column for so long, she had some good contacts in the textile business. As a result, she was able to get her hands on good quality faux fur.
"People would just marvel at that coat," Salyers said. "After about four or five years I'd worn that coat so many times and so many people had tried it on, and I thought I'm getting rid of it and I'm buying a fur coat today."
But, as it turned out, Salyers plan changed with the turn of a radio dial.
Salyers was listening to radio commentator Paul Harvey talk about a toy manufacturer in London who took litters of kittens, skinned them, then used their fur to make teddy bears.
"I thought, I don't want a fur coat," Salyers said. But she wanted the look of fur, and she thought others might, too.
Salyers bought an ad in a sewing publication and sold sewing kits for her fur coat. In 1989, her first year of business, she earned $300,000. This year, Fabulous Furs will earn more than $10 million.
"Do you know who Ice T is?" asked Salyers. "I didn't."
But Salyers soon found out, when the rap star became a customer. As it turns out, Ice T and his wife Coco purchased three custom bed throws from Fabulous Furs for their home which was featured on MTV's "Cribs," a television program that gives viewers a glimpse into celebrities' far-from-humble abodes.
Fabulous Furs established celebrity appeal early on. Actress Loretta Swit of the sitcom M*A*S*H contacted Salyers after reading about her in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"She read about us in the Chronicle and said, 'I want one of your coats, but I don't know how to sew,'" Salyers recalled. "I told her I'd turn it over to the ready-to-wear department. So, of course I'm in my kitchen making it that night."
Swit showed the coat to her friend, actress Stefanie Powers, who contacted Salyers and asked her to bring some of her coats backstage while she was in town performing "Love Letters."
Fabulous Fur pillows were on the big screen in the movie, "You've Got Mail," starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. "All My Children's" Susan Lucci sported a faux-lynx coat on the daytime drama, and Cosmopolitan Editor Helen Gurley Brown owns both sable and coyote faux furs.
"We still get excited about celebrities," Salyers said.
Fabulous Furs' business offices are located in Covington along with a showroom that Salyers said has become a tour bus destination. She's hoping her new endeavor, Fabulous Bridal (see related story, this page), located at the corner of Sixth Street and Madison Avenue in Covington, will have similar appeal.
"If we can make Fabulous Bridal a destination, people will travel from down in Kentucky and Tennessee," Salyers said.