Alexis Nguyen-Gonzalez never knew who would come through the emergency room doors when she worked as an emergency medicine physician. That’s one reason why she enjoyed her job — and what made it stressful.

Listen to Alexis Nguyen Gonzalez speak about her career transition from emergency physician to fabric store owner

It was difficult to do the job from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., be a mother of two children and get sleep. During work, she also encountered people in distress, facing bad news or with serious injuries.

“To work with that for 12 hours straight day after day, and then come home and try to be a normal person, that’s very difficult to do because you try not to carry that mental burden around,” Nguyen-Gonzalez said. 

But after 15 years working in the field, Nguyen-Gonzalez is doing something completely different. Inside a brightly colored orange house just off Magnolia Avenue, she owns and runs Illumination Fine Fabric. Since establishing the business in 2020, one month before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyen-Gonzalez sells fabrics that she sources from all over the world. 

Starting over 

Nguyen-Gonzalez always wanted to start a business and loves sewing, knitting and doing things with her hands. Her mother was a seamstress, and she remembers spending summers making her own clothes in a house full of fashion and fabric as a child. 

When she moved to Fort Worth 14 years ago, she wondered where people went to get their fabric. She wanted to provide Fort Worthians an option in town, too. 

Heather Romine, a friend of Nguyen-Gonzalez, noticed the lack of fine fabric stores in Fort Worth. Romine likes to make clothing such as shirts, dresses and costumes. But when she first moved to Fort Worth, she had trouble finding what she wanted.

“Everything was for quilting or home (decor), which is a very different type of fabric,” Romine said. 

Making the change was a mix of terrifying and exciting, Nyguyen-Gonzalez said. She was leaving behind the years of education, work and training required to become a skilled physician. But owning the fabric store is better for her mentally and physically, she said. 

Soon after opening, she faced another change: operating a business during the pandemic. She started selling fabric online and broadened her selection of fabrics. She would send swatches in the mail for potential customers to decide what kind of fabric they liked. Online orders helped the business survive for the past two years, she said. 

Overall, the job has a different feel than being an emergency physician, she said. She spends her days surrounded by colors and textures. 

“It’s definitely a completely different stress level,” she said. “I don’t worry about bad things happening here. And I’m surrounded by lovely fabrics.”

A woman spreads fabric over a table
Alexis Nguyen-Gonzalez works in Illumination Fine Fabric July 21, 2022. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

One thing that’s fueling the business is the increasing interest in slow fashion: A movement toward appreciating handmade clothes with hand-picked fabric that ultimately benefits the environment. The fashion industry has contributed 2.1 billion tons of greenhouse gasses in 2018, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

That’s one reason why Nguyen-Gonzalez is selective about where she orders fabric. She finds fabrics from all over the world: From European countries like Italy and France to Korea and Japan.  

Nguyen-Gonzalez’s husband, Stevan Gonzalez, said she has always had an entrepreneurial heart. She has another side to her that allows her to think openly about other things to do, he said.  Being able to transition from one thing to another is a characteristic of an entrepreneur, he said. 

Nguyen-Gonzalez has a passion for people, and working as a physician allowed her to connect with everyday people in all sorts of circumstances, he said. In some ways, the emergency room can be similar to a fabric store, he said. 

“You never know who’s going to walk in the door of a small business, right?” Gonzalez said. “In the same way, you never know who’s going to come into an emergency room.”

Nguyen-Gonzalez isn’t alone in her career transition. More than 4 million people quit their jobs in May as part of the ongoing trend dubbed “The Great Resignation,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

One reason for the trend might be because people are no longer stuck in careers for decades and the desire to fill a void of opportunity to do something different, Nguyen-Gonzalez said. For her, the feeling of fulfillment comes from helping people find the right fabric. 

“Being in fabric, most people come here with a positive feeling, they’re happy,” Nguyen-Gonzalez said. “And they’re looking forward to something that gives them some pleasure. So, in doing that, it gives me pleasure as well.”

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth Bodine

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....