Georgie Munro from FishPetals Do Fly designs a variety of sun hat sewing patterns. She has Look Books, a gallery of hat images and a blog too. After a friend asked how Georgie went from one hat design to a full-steam-ahead successful, sewing-related business, she decided to break the potential steps down for us all. Do you have a great product idea?
I launched my own sewing business just last year, and my friend Gillian asked me how I went about doing it. She’s a school teacher and had come up with a great idea for an equipment bag for the classroom. Gillian thought her colleagues would love the bag and that it might even be worth her learning to sew in order to create a small sewing business of her own! These are some of the things I suggested:
Make/Create a Prototype of Your Product
My business is all about digital sewing patterns for fabric hats so for me this meant making lots of trial hats until I came up with a pattern that worked and made a great hat. For Gillian it was about creating an actual bag that would work for a teacher in school. Don’t worry at this point about things like design/drawing software or the perfect fabric or components. Just get the basic idea made up to prove to yourself that it will work. What is important is to be aware of copyright right from the beginning; your idea has to be your own. If you’re unfamiliar with copyright law it’s worth acquainting yourself with it, but basically the appearance or precise shape of the product needs to be unlike any other and you need to create any patterns yourself.
Scour the internet and magazines to find similar products to your idea. Is anyone else already doing the same thing? How is yours different, or how can you make it different? Should you shift your idea sideways or can you offer a more appealing version of this type of product? Or, have you hit on something unique?!
Share Your Prototype
Share your prototype with friends or colleagues who could be customers. They do actually need to be potential customers; it’s no good showing your soft toy pattern to someone who doesn’t sew. Make sure you share with them the best version of your product you have. Often their imagination of “how it could be” is not as generous as yours. And ask them to use it– if it’s a pattern they should make it up, if it’s a travel bag they should take it on vacation. Take on board their feedback (if you can’t convince them, you’re unlikely to convince others) and tweak it or redesign it. When I gave a pattern and set of instructions to my friend Sue who loves to jump right in, she said the text was too wordy. My friend Ann who isn’t a regular stitcher wanted more detail! This led me to come up with the idea of the digital flip book– basic instructions for people like Sue, and interactive, pop-out details for stitchers like Ann. Next, ask them how much they’d pay for an item like that.
If you jump ahead you’ll see one of my suggestions is to test your product on the public, and to do that you need to have made up a fabulous version of your product. This is the time to explore materials and components. You might want to pound the streets or jump on the internet again to discover materials you may have been unaware of (my friend Gillian with the teacher bag needed to find robust fabric not available in regular stores), or to find suppliers of specialist items. You may find the perfect materials but discover they’re out of your price range. Take a note and move on. Look for something affordable and suitable now, and maybe upgrade later.
Think About Pricing
A couple of steps ago I suggested you ask friends or colleagues what they’d pay for your product. If you haven’t already, now is the time to also hit the internet, stores or craft markets to find out what price point similar products are placed at. You need to develop a good understanding of how much the finished product is likely to sell for. It’s no good selecting a fabric that makes your product double the price anyone would pay for it! (A bit further down I’ll talk about how to calculate the cost to make the product.)
Test Your Product on the Public
Once you’ve got your materials, make up several versions of your product and head to a craft fair, gift shop or wherever your product might sell. Ask the store owner if they would trial your product, or take out a stand for a day at the fair. Display your product as professionally and attractively as possible. If you’re uncomfortable in that environment take a friend with you and have a fun day out while you hit the stores or sit at the fair. Alternatively, ask a stand holder at the fair if they’d share their stand with you for a day. Take the time to talk to both browsers and customers, get their feedback and observe their level of interest. Find out what would make them buy the product– different color, different price, different time of the year?
I have to admit this step is a bit trickier if you want to sell digital patterns like me. Of course, if you plan to sell paper patterns it’s no problem; head for the store (try the smaller, more personal ones first) or craft fair. However, if your goal is to sell online then consider offering it on eBay or Etsy (you could even offer your tangible products online too).
Consider Where to Sell Your Product
So you’ve got feedback from the public after taking your product to the shops, craft fair or online but you’ll also have learned something about the best place to sell your product once you’re up and running.
For me, my initial plan was to sell paper patterns. In the end I realized the paper, printing, packaging and posting would be cost ineffective and going online with a digital product would be better. I decided to create my own website using the ecommerce platform Shopify, but I could also have used Etsy or eBay which would have been simpler and cheaper (but less individualized). Gillian plans to advertise her product in education magazines and sell them by email order (and eventually online).
Price Your Product
Pricing your product is an amalgam of what people will pay, how much it costs to make (the materials, the purchase of equipment, electricity, your time, etc.) and how much it costs to sell (transport/postage and packaging, transaction fees, online platform/website monthly fees, your time, etc.).
You need to think in multiples. For example, how much fabric you’d use to make ten products is not just ten times the fabric needed to make one (it could be less by placing your pattern pieces more efficiently). Will your machine be up to the job of making 100? Do you need any other new equipment or software? Then there’s electricity, internet, phone, petrol (gas), coffees while you’re out sourcing fabrics… You probably aren’t going to worry about the last few too much but it’s worth realizing they’re all part of it.
I would certainly advise to try and get away with not upgrading your machine or buying new software or any other costly piece of equipment until you’ve shown that your product really does sell. In my case my machine, though I’d really love a fancier one, is fine for making my prototypes. Luckily I already had most of the software I needed to draw my patterns, publish my instructions and edit my videos.
And don’t forget your own time! If your product is a tangible good it’s fairly easy to calculate the time and cost to make the product. But if you’re like my friend Gillian and not yet a competent stitcher you may have to think about the cost of having someone else make it and whether it’s still a viable idea. And if your product is more like mine– a pattern that may have taken weeks to develop– your time is shared between lots of sales of the final pattern.
As far as selling your product goes, costs depend on how you do it. If you find a gift or craft store keen to stock your product, or if you sell tangible goods online, you’ll have packaging and shipping costs (even if it’s you filling the trunk of the car). Craft fairs charge to set up the stand and of course you’ll have to spend your own time at the fair as well. If you sell digital downloads you’ll need to email them to customers, which takes up your time but is free, or use a digital download provider to do it for you, which doesn’t take time but costs money. You’ll also need to compare online platforms; Etsy, eBay and full ecommerce platforms like Shopify charge either a listing or monthly subscription fee, plus transaction and payment processing fees. Building a website from scratch is cheaper if you know how, but it takes specialized skills.
Connect with Customers
It’s no good having a fabulous product and not having anyone know about it. Selling your product in a store or at a craft fair means much of the marketing is done for you, but online selling often requires a bit of extra effort to connect with customers. People searching the internet may not find you (try searching for similar products yourself and see what you get). There’s lots of advice on how to improve your SEO (search engine optimization) if you have your own online store but you may decide you need other ways to connect. Gillian plans to advertise in a print magazine but you can connect without spending a cent! Be prepared to become part of an online community and contribute to blogs. Social media is an important way to get your product known, and if you’re unfamiliar with Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and others, find a friend to show you around!
So you’ve tested, trialled, talked and all that’s left is to convince yourself to go ahead and do it. Being brave and making that change sometimes requires a leap of faith. Think about all the challenges you’ve faced before. Remember the hardest thing you ever did and use it to give you courage to jump right in! Think about your business as a business (not a hobby). Apply your time to it as you would to any job, even if you’re starting small and working your way up. And keep being brave.