It’s a new month, I closed the shop and I’m looking forward to making new things. But first, I want to look back and think about some things I’ve learned on this journey so far. I was happy to hear that some of you were interested in hearing these thoughts, so here we are! I wanted to share a few points in this post, and then I started telling about the money aspect and that filled up the whole post. For some reason it was hard for me to pinpoint beforehand just what I wanted to say here, and I think it’s because my experiences with money and the lack thereof are all so intertwined with everything else that I only started to unravel it while I was writing.
Last summer, when it became clear that what I was doing wasn’t working, I thought long and hard about what to do next. I wasn’t happy with my then current collection; I felt I hadn’t been able to make something that truly represented my vision. I was pretty sure that when I did make something that was in line with my vision, it would do better. But when I sat down to make a plan, it became apparent that I would need funds I didn’t have for new materials. Joop and I decided to buy fabric to make tea towels and pillow cases from, so I could add those new products, but for scarves I had to make do with what I had. I figured it was at least the most sustainable option and I worked within the restrictions. They hardly sold. I’d spent a lot of time on them for no return. And again, it made sense because they also didn’t represent my vision. I’d made a bad investment in these fabrics that weren’t right for me, but what became clear is that the investment of my time in something that wasn’t in line with my vision was much worse.
Another thing that came to light when I sat down to make a plan, was that I would have to change my pricing. With my then current model there were a lot of costs that I didn’t cover. But when I took all those costs into account, and applied a standard pricing model, my products got more expensive than I was comfortable with. I didn’t think my products warranted such high prices. Most of my sales were made when I offered a discount; people seemed to be interested when the price was significantly lower. I told myself I wanted to make things that were affordable for a lot of people, spread the sustainable love! I looked at the model and figured that if I only got rid of the markup that enables me to sell to shops (forgetting that I am also a shop owner), I would arrive at the right prices. I set up my prices so that I wouldn’t be able to sell wholesale and launched the whole line feeling pretty good about it all.
Within a week, I had a wholesale request. Even though my prices weren’t set up for it, I felt I couldn’t afford to not take it. It was work! And I’m still glad I did. Not only is it nice to have my products sold in a flower shop at the other side of the world, I learned just how much time it takes to make my products. I’d set up my prices with batch production times in mind, but now that I was actually doing production, it became clear that I’d been very wrong. Not only were my prices not set up to sell at a wholesale discount, everything took about twice as long as I’d calculated. It was a good, hard lesson, one I learned again in November when I made 40 tea towels for a shop in Amsterdam. Decided again because I needed work, it sealed my believe that it was not worth it.
There was still one more lesson in store for me. The holiday season rolled around, and thanks to a giveaway with Reading My Tea Leaves and a feature in a gift guide on A Cup Of Jo, I was busy for a few weeks. Just busy enough to still be able to tend to every order with the care I like to give it while working hard to get everything out of the door as quickly as possible. I was happy to finally have a good month of work. But then I looked at the finances and realized it was not. I had worked on paid orders for the better part of a month, but I didn’t make a living wage. And that’s when it dawned on me.
I’m not a factory.
I alone, with just my two hands, can not make sustainable fashion and home accessories available for the masses. I should be running a completely different business if that’s what I wanted to do. There are businesses out there doing a fine job of that. But that’s not my strength. That’s not something I would be good at.
There are also makers of handmade products that run themselves almost like factories, that make lots of the same goods day in and day out. But that’s not for me either. With my wholesale orders as well as my “good month”, I didn’t enjoy making the same thing over and over again. I want to be able to explore and act out more of my ideas. I’m more a designer than a maker, though I love making as a part of designing. I learned to be quicker about production work, and I thought about ways to make things even faster, or cut down on packaging time, but that took away the joy for me. I like to give a certain amount of time, attention and care to what I’m making that’s just not possible that way.
For the longest time I’ve been trying to do this in a way I was neither good at nor enjoying and it made me second guess if I should be in this field at all. But over my Christmas break, I realized that everybody’s different, and that I’ve got to use my own unique skills and passions in my own unique way to make it work for me. I spread out all the pieces of the puzzle I had gathered so far (many strewn throughout this post as well) and although not all pieces are in their place, I can start to see the bigger picture.
Don’t quit your day job (unless you have a large enough amount of money to invest in your business)
You don’t want to have to make important decisions based on a lack of money. You do want to have room for mistakes.
Value your time
If you work hard and well and take all the risks and sacrifices involved in starting your own business, don’t pay yourself less than a fast food worker.
Be honest about what you really want
Sometimes it’s tough to figure out what it is you really want, because of conflicting ideas or skills. Be honest and realistic.
Utilize your skills
Do things your way; not only will you not have to battle yourself constantly, it will set you apart from the rest.
Have a vision and stick to it
The most important thing to have is a vision, something you can turn to in every situation. Sometimes it might be hard to stick to it, but it will always give the best results.
I hope this is helpful in some way. At the very least it was for me, writing it all down like this. I’d love to hear any thoughts, tips, criticism or whatever you wish to share.