Behind the design team's desks is an inspiration board that serves as an unofficial guide to seasonal trends. Many of their cues are taken directly from the runway — mostly because it's often the kind of thing their clients call and request — but other times it's up to their intuition to know when to bring in a tie-dye print, or retire a Mod one. Art nouveau, for instance, was all over the recent Prada resort line, but the team had trouble selling it nonetheless. ("The client will go, 'I love this personally, but it's not our girl,'" explains one of the Printfresh designers.) So instead they've stuck more to ethnic and tribal prints for summer — trends with a bit more obvious momentum.

Printfresh, Textile Designers

It’s easy to imagine the backstory of a Prada print: Miuccia has a concept for the season, and either a high-end Italian fabric vendor or her own design team supplies prints just for her. But consider a patterned polyester work shirt from Kmart, and you’d never guess that a RISD textile-design grad like Amy Voloshin might be behind it, translating those runway looks into something that appeals to mainstream Americans. It’s an art unto itself: “I have a list of things I roll through in my head when I design for those clients: Is the print pretty? Is it scary, thorny, or edgy? If it is, it’s not going to work. A lot of us don’t really dress like middle America,” she says, referring to her seven employees at Printfresh, the Philadelphia textile studio she founded with her husband in 2006, “but the stuff that does well for that market is still fun to design.”

One of few such studios in the U.S., Printfresh has sold thousands of fabric designs in the past four years to clients like Limited Too, H&M, the Gap, BCBG, and Philly neighbor Urban Outfitters, for whom Voloshin once worked. She doesn’t actually manufacture any textiles; when a clothing company buys one of her prints, it’s the intellectual property only, and no one is ever shown that same pattern again. As a result, the designers and illustrators who work for her have a pretty sweet gig: They spend all day painting, drawing, even tie-dyeing, then translating their work or inspiration images into digital files the sales team can whip out whenever a client calls asking for an Ikat or a plaid. “When you’re at art school, you agonize over a couple of textile designs in a semester,” Voloshin says. “Here, you make four in one day.”

On our recent scouting trip to Philadelphia, Voloshin gave Sight Unseen a tour of the sprawling loft Printfresh occupies in the city’s up-and-coming Old Kensington neighborhood. (The space was once a bolt-making factory.) She showed us the company’s two work rooms — one devoted to digital work, the other to handicraft — and gave us a peek at its archive of past prints and vintage inspirations. “People are always surprised by what we do,” she admits. “It’s a funny business-to-business kind of thing. Some of our clients do have their own design teams, but it’s so much better for our sales person to show up with a huge suitcase of prints that totally suit them, rather than having an in-house artist who may or may not create something they love.”