Baby steps toward sharing my craft with others
March 20, 2017 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Over the past year I figured out how to upcycle interesting clothing out of thrift store finds. Now that I've outfitted myself and my partner with more than enough cute one-of-a-kind shirts, I am thinking of ways to expand this hobby to others who have expressed interest. Can you help me come up with some options for baby steps beyond what I am currently doing? A tiny commission-only operation? A clothing label? Next steps?

I work full time as a [not fashion] designer during the day, so making the clothing is my creative escape. It now takes me 2-4 hours to finish a shirt. If I had to do this all day as my job, I would probably not be as happy or productive as I am now, grabbing small segments of time here and there. Many friends and family members have been impressed with the designs and want to know how they can place orders. This freaks me out for several reasons.

First of all, sizing. I am mostly self-taught and fashion school is not in the cards. I haven't yet gotten to the point where I can adapt the size of my current patterns to a wider range of people's sizes. So, anytime someone who isn't my size wants a shirt, I will have to create a pattern, usually from an old shirt they give me as a sacrifice. Any advice about who to hire to grade my patterns?

My next fear is when people say "You should open an Etsy store!" I know this is the standard thing to advise these days, but everything I read/hear about Etsy points toward it being a major time suck and tedious to constantly manage the marketing portion as a seller. I also fear having too small of an inventory to be successful there. I might be open to doing craft markets, but it may take a while to build the inventory. Maybe selling in boutiques?

I am not looking to turn this into a profitable business anytime soon, but am open to starting a label and doing commissions. What does having the most basic level of A Clothing Label entail?

Any ideas for strategies or resources greatly appreciated!
posted by oxisos to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am biased because I have an Etsy shop .... but I don't see a downside in trying it. If it doesn't work out you can just close the shop. They charge low fees, shipping is integrated into the platform, and they handle the money, etc. You can have "custom" options as well.

So even if you are a fully custom provider, even just running everything through etsy means there some buyer/seller protection and shipping calculation PLUS you get a discount on USPS shipping through Etsy. And (in the US at least) you can use Etsy AT markets with their scanner and app. It's also a trusted source for online purchasing for customers.

I personally don't think there will be much "extra" time to run Etsy. Once you have everything set up you can pretty much forget about it until you have a sale or a message or whatever. Just take photos for listings, etc.

I also have a marketing background, so really any marketing you'd put on Etsy (photos, descriptions of items, shipping calculations, specials) you should be doing ANYWAY, regardless of using Etsy. Marketing is what's going to grow your business in addition to a good product. There's also the plus of people being able to post reviews there so that's a good thing for trying to expand and sell your product to shops.

That's my recommendation. If you absolutely have a specific reason why you don't want an Etsy, that's fine but it is what I would recommend in the smaller, entry level hand-made marketplace.

Of course, on the marketing side be sure to use social media, networking, photographs of products, etc to spread the word. It's going to take time to get the word out there. That's just how selling stuff works.

As for sizing, I'd find a really good standard shirt pattern that comes in a variety of sizes. Make sure you list finished measurements on the listings for bust, waist, hip, arm opening, length, and if there's stretch, etc. I think starting with standard sizes without as much customization will lead to more sales and less time you have to spend on each item.

Try looking at some Etsy shops that offer custom-made sizing and see what information they look for. Generally they want your measurements to make the piece adjusted from their standard pattern.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

For me, I do wear uocycled clothing but because a lot of the love for me is in the feel of it, I wouldn't buy online or on commission. I buy at art and craft sales locally, usually in the summer. So one approach would be to research costs of shows, build up an inventory, and try it that way.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:54 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you were to try Etsy, just do it on your own terms. You could even call it "Size 9, bitches." It's YOUR outlet. If people want to buy it, great. But I'd advise keeping it simple and entirely fun for YOU. Otherwise, do you have many creative friends? I've often thought it would be so much fun to join forces with 4-5 other makers to do local shows (e.g., fairs, festivals, farmers' markets). You sell whatever combo of things you make: clothing, soap, jewelry, jam, hats, etc. You form a mini co-op and there's low pressure for inventory, you share the staffing responsibilities, find some straightforward way to track sales, learn and bond, maybe make a little money while you're discovering how deep your interest in further sales lies.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:54 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it were me, I'd get some labels (or make some for much less money). If you're not into Etsy, that's fine. What does your personal network look like? For example, I would be excited (but not surprised) to see a stack of upcycled clothes or flyers for them at:
- my UU church after the service, right next to the free trade chocolate and coffee.
- at my yoga studio, next to the essential oil rollers
- at my favorite small coffee shop, next to the funky coffee mugs and locally made sweets
- at the fair trade gift boutique, next to baby wraps from South America (unless the store was specifically for a given region/cause)
- at the funky local independent book store, next to the handmade greeting cards

If I were the one making the clothes, I wouldn't really want to go out and sell myself to all of those locations, but if I were already part of the community, it might happen more naturally.

Alternatively, you could do something like start a FB group to post pictures of your clothes as you finish them, and let people know you are starting to do custom orders.
posted by instamatic at 5:09 AM on March 21, 2017

For grading sizes, the easiest thing would be to find a brand new shirt in a style you like and buy that specific label in all the sizes. Do all the measurements from those. That will at least give you an idea of how much and where the increases are (they're not consistent).
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:34 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you checked out your area's arts organizations? My town's arts alliance runs a small storefront to help local artists get a toehold when they're getting started. It definitely includes art clothing and one-of-a-kind stuff. I think they also put together a shared booth at some of the local festivals and farmers markets.
posted by carmicha at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2017

Threads magazine has a good thumbnail sketch of the two basic methods of grading: slash & spread or pattern shift (they also discuss computer grading--which, you know, is not something most people will bother to pay for) I use the slash & spread method personally, but the shifting method is basically spreading without slashing. I find it easier to visualize with the slashes.

Here's a good tutorial for slash & spread that's more about specific fit issues than size grading.

But since you're making pieces for a hypothetical person, rather than an actual person, I would suggest just buying a pattern (or a thrift store garment) and patterning off that. Vintage or modern used patterns can be pretty cheap at Etsy.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about managing the marketing to be successful on Etsy. Don't get suckered into working towards somebody else's goal, just because there are lots of instructions and best-practices lists. If successful means selling a large quantity such that you can quit your day job, it doesn't sound like you *want* to be successful. Some advertizing is about converting no-knowledge into awareness and interest, but it sounds like you're at the stage of converting friend/local interest into sales. So you want accessibility rather than marketing. Etsy frames their success model as a path from your craft room to the whole world, but for you, think of it as a platform that will help you formalize and manage the individual commission sales that you're interested in. If I see you wearing your shirt and tell my buddy Alice to email you, you have to send Alice photos and decriptions and help her decide what she wants, or if you haven't got an active gallery of images you have to fend off requests for things that aren't what you do, tell her pricing, etc. If you have an Etsy website that is a gallery of all the shirts you've made in the past, Alice can click on one, and place an order that says "I want something like this only blue and size XL". Sure you can make your own website with images and a shopping cart - if you're a web-savvy programmer, that's not a bad way to go - but Etsy is like a storefront website builder. You don't have to buy in to the whole Etsy community to get value out of using their storefront model.
posted by aimedwander at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you have a big enough collection, you could set up a pop-up shop. Pro: you can control the entire experience. Con: you have to develop everything on your own.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2017

Years ago I turned my hobby into a fulltime job. May I share what I learned with you?

I learned that, while I enjoyed the hobby, I did not enjoy marketing it. I did not enjoy hearing criticism about it from people who had not communicated their expectations well. I did not enjoy working solo, without a team to fall back on and brainstorm with when I ran into trouble.

Most importantly, when I had had a tough day at work I did not have my hobby to fall back on for relaxing enjoyment, because I'd already been doing it all day. When I burned out and closed my business and got a regular office gig, I found that I no longer enjoyed my hobby and stopped doing it altogether. That part was the worst because I felt very untethered, and I basically wasted time on the couch in front of the tv or on the computer. I still haven't quite recovered in finding a creative outlet that I enjoy equally as much.

Someone upthread said if you do this commercially then do it on your own terms. I cannot stress my agreement with that enough. Do your creations first, then put them up for sale after that. Don't do commission work or take suggestions as to what to offer next, unless the suggestions spark your creativity enough so that you run with the idea and really make it your own.
posted by vignettist at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Etsy, and a Facebook page you invite all your friends to like!
posted by amaire at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2017

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