Testing, Testing……..

(Disclaimer: this post is my rambling thoughts and slight freak outs as a budding business woman. I’ve talked most of this to death with dear old hubby, but he really can’t help with fabric decisions and clothing ideas, etc. Feel free to skip if you aren’t interested, but no sharp sticks, y’all. If you have something to share, good or bad, I am all ears, but be kind.)

As a trained scientist, everything I do revolves around using the scientific method. You would be surprised at how globally helpful it can be when faced with questions that need to be answered, especially when there are way to many variables and permutations in play.

Scientist

Scientific method

Variables

Permutations

Have I lost your attention yet?

See, what this post pertains to is how do you decide why something is not selling, and when is it time to try something new?

Here’s an example. When stocking premade items for my pop up shop at the market I have to make decisions on:

1) what type of garment to make – a dress? Onesie? Pajamas?

2) What size(s) to make? 2T, 6 months, 8 years?

3) What fabric(s) to use and it what combinations?

So, by the time I have a finished product to hang on my rack I have made many, many decisions that could be the “wrong ones.”

What if no one wants a 6 months size?

What if no one wants Ninja Fabric?

What if no on wants to buy handmade pajamas?

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All of these questions must be answered, quite arbitrarily, before production of anything can begin. And, before even that, sometimes. especially with wholesale accounts.

As a small business owner I have the ability to buy fabric by the bolt at a discounted rate. This is quite beneficial, because the profit margin on handmade items is quite small. There aren’t that many people who aren’t craftspeople themselves who understand the work that goes into making “something outta nuthin.'” So, buying fabric at wholesale helps bump the profit margin a little closer to “OK.” I’m not complaining, I love what I do, but I still need to put food on the table.

Soooooooooooooooooooo, how do you decide what fabrics to buy???

Here are my observations and thoughts so far:

1) I based by biz model around providing handmade clothing for children using only GOTS certified organic fabric, which means this is all I can/want to buy

2) GOTS (and really any organic) fabrics carry a higher price tag, due to the extra costs to produce the fabric

3) Lillestoff is, by far, my fave company for such fabrics since not only do they provide GOTS certification, but the have such amazing prints.

4) People swarm to buy Lillestoff yardage to make their own garments, but pre-made items on my shelves are not really going anywhere fast.

QUESTION #1: Do people want to buy clothing made with Lillestoff (and and similar) fabrics, or do they just want to buy the fabric?

TEST: Offer a small amount of Lillestoff fabric for sale to see if it sells faster or slower than the clothing.

DATA:

# of garments sold using Lillestoff fabrics, on average, per month: 5

# of Lillestoff fabric purchases in a 48 hour period: 5

Mmmmmmmmmmm……

I know this is not a very good controlled test, but I sold the same amount of units of Lillestoff fabric in 48 hours as I average handmade clothing in a month.

DO PEOPLE WANT TO BUY HANDMADE CLOTHING MADE WITH LILLESTOFF FABRIC?

DO THEY REALLY ONLY WANT TO BUY THE FABRIC?

WHY WOULD SO MANY PEOPLE WANT TO BUY THE FABRIC TO MAKE THEIR OWN, BUT NOBODY WHO DOESN’T SEW LIKES IT?

This last question makes no sense to me. If there are so many seamstresses out there that love the stuff so much than NO ONE can keep Lillestoff fabric is stock for very long, then why aren’t there more people who want to buy the finished product? I can only imagine that they must not think my handmade items are worth the price, but I know that I should be charging more.

I recently discovered that both Monaluna Fabrics and Birch Fabrics are GOTS certified. I knew they were organic, but I was unaware they were also GOTS certified. So, I bought a smattering of some of these fabrics (all very difficult to come by, since they are all sold out or mostly sold out) to see if making some items with more subdued fabrics would be more appealing. Is it that fabric choice, or something else, was the idea. Change one variable and test.

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I stitched up some onesies in Birch Chevrons and the ooohing and aaahing and squealing began. Everybody raved about them! Everybody loved them! But, no on bought them (yet). Now, I just made them and they have only been at the market once, and we all know an N of 1 means nothing (another science reference, sorry). But, it at least seems on gauging the reactions and interest in the clothing made with Lillestoff versus Birch, Birch was the clear winner.

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Which brings me to the next slew of entangled questions, concerns, and issues.

DO I NEED TO MAKE A SWITCH FROM LILLESTOFF STYLE FABRIC TO MONALUNA/BIRCH STYLE FABRIC?

DO I NEED TO STOP MAKING CLOTHING AND SELL FABRIC INSTEAD (OR IN ADDITION)?

I had soooooo many people ask me where I got my fabrics from, since the only fabric store we have in Knoxville In Jo-Ann’s.

SHOULD I SELL OFF MY LILLESTOFF INVENTORY AND/OR BECOME A LILLESTOFF RETAILER?

MAYBE I SHOULD JUST OPEN A LOCAL ORGANIC ONLY FABRIC STORE AND STOCK KNITS AND WOVENS?

My hubby tells me I am in panic mode and I need to wait and see and it’s too early to tell about anything. While I do agree with all these statements, I have officially been in business 6 months, so I would think I should have some information to base decisions upon. I do have some, but not enough for me to comfortably make any decisions.

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Monaluna’s gorgeous knits are back ordered until January, so I can’t even buy any. Birch Fabrics ever popular Elk Grove and Just for Fun Collections are still available (some about to be off of back order), but are they “sooooo last season?”

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Birch and Monaluna are also coming out with new fabric collections in September, but how do I decide which, if any to buy? I was so sure that Lillestoff would be a hit, now my confidence (and bank account) is low and I am struggling to see what the next step should be.

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SO,

Should I buy more of the older Birch collections? Should I wait and buy some of the newer collections? If so, which ones? What about Lillestoff? Is it a dead end for garment construction, but a cash highway for selling yardage? Should I “stop panicking” and do nothing?

what would YOU do??

If anyone can offer some sound advice I will offer you your choice of a piece of fabric. And, if your advice is to wait and see, give me a solid reason. I know it’s my hubby stance, but he will wait and see if the laundry will fold itself, so I am not sure I trust him on this one.

(PS: I’m terrified to hit publish on this post, but I’m gonna do it anyway)

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Testing, Testing……..

  1. Hmm. I don’t own a business, or sell anything I make currently, but in my experience, most people don’t want to pay the price for handmade clothing. Especially if they have some sort of an idea (even if it’s misguided) that they could do it themselves.

    Could you try selling some more fabric, if you have any, at your next market event, and see if it keeps selling better than the clothes? A short-term wait and see 🙂

    • Yeah, I am kind of wondering if I could sell enough fabric to keep biz going and allow me to keep lots of fabric choices in stock. But, which fabrics to choose??? The eternal question :-). Thanks for your input, Kirsty!

  2. All good questions and thoughts! As someone who is taking way more time to actually start selling the premades (I don’t want to stress and force myself to hate it), I can tell you I’ve pondered some of the same things. What I do know is building a business takes time & (unfortuately) money. I’ve gone about it the custom order route for about 10 years, and it has had amazing years and pretty awful years. I think it’s estimated that new businesses don’t actually start making a profit for 3-5 years and most new businesses give up in a year or two. When it comes to premade stock, it’s all about timing and the right person seeing it – so it’s really hard to predict.

    I think you should give it at least a full year before you try to change everything. Focus on custom orders and building your web presence with as much social media (including blogging) and free advertising as you can. Keep your premade stock listed and see how it does in the meantime. Sometimes it’s all about finding one client to start passing your name on to the next and so on. (If I knew people needing baby gifts, I’d definitely be giving your name out because I don’t really like making those things personally!)

    And just a thought, try making some outfits for your kids to wear – totally free advertising! Blog them, IG them, and mention to people who bring it up in person that you made them and can make one just like it for their kids/grandkids. Sometimes people just have to see something on a real person to want it for themselves.

    Most importantly, only do what you enjoy! If you aren’t having fun with your business, you will begin to hate it and burn out. Plus, joy and excitement about what you do will make more people want to buy just because they want a little part of your happiness. =)

    • All very good points, Brooke. I knew you would weigh in. I do think I may need to sell some of my Lillestoff fabric and buy some Birch and Monaluna, though. After polling my peeps the obvious consensus is they prefer the muted colors and themes. I love them too, so it feels like a win, an excuse to buy more fabric, right? But, now I don’t have a need for 6-8 yards of lots of Lillestoff prints. But, Lillestoff sells, so it should be OK.

      • Well, if you just plan to sell off the fabric in exchange for the preferred fabric, that doesn’t sound like a total change in direction. Always best to give the customers what they want! =)

      • Indeed. Maybe this is the happy medium? I am thinking that if I can sell enough fabric I can keep the handmade biz open and always have fabrics to choose from.

  3. Stay the course!!! I know it feels like you’ve been sewing up a storm, but 6 months is way premature for a freak out… this is the natural development of a company, and why many new start ups call it quits within a year. I hate to be the one to say it, but its the price. That was my take-away from my one-time selling experience anyway, so many oohs and aahs, ‘love this fabric’, oh this is so cute, etc… one look at the price tag a sweet smile and moved on…and my pricing barely covered my costs. While people want to say they would rather buy locally or handmade, the truth is they don’t. They would rather go to Target where they are going to get more bang for their buck, which is why there is so little “made in the USA” these days, again and again people won’t pay for it.

    I’m also wondering if the farmer’s market is the best venue? I think, in general, when shopping at farmer’s markets people are looking to pick up small less expensive items like the wooden rings or hats…at least until you’ve built up more of a clientele and then people might start thinking, ‘oh I have a gift to buy, I know Melanie will have something great I can pick-up this weekend’. So here is an idea…sell off the fabric, along with other small things to keep things going and maybe add more Birch fabric or Charley Harper. What about visiting some local boutiques to see if they would carry a few of your items? You may have more luck there, as you and I both know there are some people that will just buy buy buy without even looking at a price tag!

    The farmer’s market season has only just begun and you are still making a name for yourself, be just a little more patient! And, in the meantime, take a break from it a sew a dress for yourself! Good luck, I’m totally envious of you even trying… I feel like its a pipe dream for me!

    • All great points! I have checked out several boutiques in the area, but I don’t think they would pay the prices my clothes are currently priced at; they want a wholesale price, and my current prices, like you said, barely cover my expenses. My prices are “too low” and do not have a built in wholesale price to offer a boutique. So, why would they buy an item for $30 from me and mark it up in their shop to $45 so they can make a profit if they know someone can buy it directly from me for $30? I will be at a big craft festival later this month, so I am hoping I do better there. I am trying to make more “smalls” like the teethers and maybe some burp cloths, etc., so there are some smaller ticket items. Oh, and I just bought a lot of Birch yardage 🙂

  4. Weighing in as a consumer, I wish I could but I can’t justify buying handmade baby/toddler clothes. They’re outgrown so quickly; often stained on day one; and even though I may not have the cute fabrics or sewing skills of someone with your talent I can make clothes for my daughter that are wearable. She’s too young to be critical and fitting is a breeze. I can bang together a little knit dress during her nap and a new set of pjs in one weekend. I do usually splash out on one or two items each year, usually something from Boden that is just too adorable to pass up. We use that as our “nice” outfit to wear sparingly. Perhaps that’s where you are more likely to see people overlook the price tags. You’ll never compete with onesies and jammies at big box retailers, but quality dress clothes are priced higher in the shops too.

  5. Could you do some market research? Survey your target customers with some of these questions, as really that’s the way to find out what they want and how much they are prepared to pay for it.
    Possibly price is the issue. I guess most people with young families have to be careful with costs, and cheap, mass produced children’s clothing is so readily available.
    Since children’s clothing gets torn and grown out of so quickly, I imagine ‘quality’ in terms of being long lasting and ethical may be a secondary consideration?
    Also, lots of people (like us!) like to make the clothes themselves, thus cutting the cost and gaining the brownie points.

    • Price is certainly an issue, but my prices really can’t go any lower. I know what you mean, though. Why buy a $25 handmade onesie when you can get a 5 pack for the same price at a big box store. As a new parent, I certainly thought that way too. Unfortunately, my current prices leave a very small profit margin, so they will have to stay where they are.

  6. Melanie, not commenting as someone who has a sewing/craft business, but I occasionally do machine embroidery for friends and know that there is a threshold & perception by the customer of how much they are willing to pay. Competition and comparison is always going to be with those items that can be purchased in department stores. Having said that, your items are handmade “boutique” items and you might get more sales from a juried craft show venue where the other vendors are also selling high-quality and unique merchandise. Another thought might be to focus more on the infant/toddler market where people like to purchase your items as gifts for new babies-grandchildren, etc. There is a different emotion attached to gift-buying rather than “needs buying”.
    Are you familiar with SCORE? http://www.score.org.or Sew Forum? http://www.sewforum.com Good places for business advice, etc.
    I have attended an SBA conference in the past; have a couple of friends in the craft business and know it’s a long process to get successful business up and running. It’s still too early in the game, and there are many factors involved in making it work.
    Best wishes and stay out of “panic mode”!

    • All very good points, Ellen. I missed the deadline for the juried craft fair (apparently it is in November for the August fair), but will try my hardest to get in next year. I have been playing around with gift set ideas. I have onesies, pants, hats, and teethers. But, maybe some burp cloths or bibs all packaged nicely would be good. I’ll check out the links you provided as well. Thanks for taking the time to talk me through my panic 🙂

  7. Could it be the products you chose for your collection? Onesies and pyama’s are not good for ‘showing off’ whereas people might be willing to pay for a one of a kind little girl’s birthday dress or a boy’s Christmas outfit. Or make some coats!

    • This is a thought I’ve has many times as well. I started making pajamas to go in the Pajama Eaters before I realized what I would have to charge to break even. My first though was “NO one is gonna pay that for pajamas!” I do have nice dresses that several people have bought for special occasions. But, I think I may be stunted my sales with my fabric choices so far. I’m going to make some dresses in more “on trend” fabrics (I’ve been sleuthing at the local boutiques) and see how it goes.

  8. have people who don’t buy fabric actually heard of lillestoff? it may not be a selling point for most people? i would also agree that maybe the price point for the smaller sizes is too high given how quickly they grow out of them (or vomit/ spill carrot on them). i buy more expensive clothes for n now that she’ll get a year or so out of them than i did when she was a baby. maybe the lillestoff prints seem too young – i’m not sure i would buy them for n now she is 6. i also would be more likely to pay a higher prices for actual outfits rather than onesies/ PJs.

    but in terms of baby stuff, do you do gift packs for new baby presents? maybe a onesie/ small toy/ bibs/ burp cloth in a nice basket? they seem to command a huge premium (at least in the uk). you also get nappy cakes and baby bouquets with small items of clothing rolled up in them.

    another random baby related thought – have you considered cloth nappies or nappy covers? people who use them spend a fortune on them and it seems to be very addictive. i reckon people might pay for those?

    i would totally agree with the person who said to dress your kids in them every time they leave the house – free advertising there!

    last point (sorry, v long!) would be are you selling them in the right places to find people who are prepared to pay for organic – so craft fairs / organic fairs rather than bog standard farmers markets.

    good luck – you are working so hard and deserve some success!

    • Hey Joanne, thanks for responding. I am playing around with the gift basket idea. I think people may be interested. I have been kicking around the idea of cloth diapers, but they seem so labor intensive to make. I’m not sure I want to do it, but I have been thinking hard about it. I am attending a big craft fair later this month, so we’ll see how I do. I just wanted to plan ahead and try out a few new ideas as a fail safe, such in case.

  9. Some random thoughts…
    – I sold stuff at a farmer’s market one year, and it really wasn’t worth my time. I’d be lucky to earn minimum wage for the hours I was there.
    – Later, I sold things at a boutique, and part of the deal was that i wouldn’t sell the same goods anywhere nearby for less. So for example, I couldn’t have had a farmer’s market stall in the same town where the boutique was. Just something to consider!
    – I agree with the people who say give it time, and make sure you are having fun!
    Good luck! i love reading about your process!

  10. I worked for an apparel production manager for a bit, so my perspective is coming from that direction.

    I think you’ve gone very niche, you have to find a customer who likes the print, likes the shape, who values organic fabric, who values handmade garments, and understands and can pay the cost. Each qualifier limits who your target demographic is and drives up the cost in acquiring that customer.

    Our rule of thumb quote to designers was cost x 2 = wholesale cost to boutiques, then multiply x 2 = the retail cost. So, if your onesie cost $20, we’d tell you that a store would charge $80 retail, which prices you out of a boutique.

    So, here’s my suggestion that requires a little tweak in your current business model:

    I think you really need to bring your costs down, and if you’re receiving little in the ways of labor/profit, then it’s your material costs that need to drop. By using expensive name-brand printed organic fabric for the bulk of the garment, you’ve severely limited your ability to maneuver cost-wise. And as mentioned in other comments, high costs on disposable little-seen items are harder for parents to justify.

    If you’re adamant about sticking to the organic material, then perhaps consider making the base material of the garment in less expensive plain organic fabric. That way you’re not tied to specific retailers and can buy higher quantities of the base fabric and get better deals.
    You can add interest by:
    1) Making cute appliques in the printed fabric (i.e. a frog applique out of the frog fabric, an airplane out of the airplane fabric, etc) so that it makes the outfit special and interesting
    2) Embroidering a cute logo on the front
    3) Embroidering the child’s name on the front
    That way a onesie or a bib for the organic -conscious customer can be an impulse buy.

    Larger questions to consider:

    Would it be worthwhile to provide options in non-organic material? Do children’s boutiques value organic fabric? Do you need to go to an organic boutique to find the organic-friendly customer, and would they sell children’s clothing? If you do get your pricepoint down for a boutique, do you match the aesthetics of the shop and your competitors (soft colors vs bright colors)? I think your biggest marketing challenge is finding the customer and/or boutique who values organic fabric for children

    Also, experiment with adding more structured outfits and special occasion garments to your lineup, as they tend to demand higher pricepoints (resulting in higher margin) in boutiques.

    Anyway, sorry for the novel, I just saw some tweaks you can make to bring your costs down that didn’t require an overhaul in your business model. Hopefully I didn’t offend in the process!!

    • Not offended in any way, if fact I am more relieved that someone has given credence to many of the the thoughts that have been plaguing my brain. I am taking all of your suggestions to heart. I have sourced less expensive, but still GOTS organic fabric (sine this is still very important to me) and I am ramping up making lower ticket items for impulse buying. I am already seeing an increase in “buzz.” Thanks so much for weighing in.

      Melanie

  11. I am soon to be a grandmother, and in the past 6 months have rapidly moved from shopping clearance prices (I am great at finding clearance deals) for good quality clothing at retail stores to ordering expensive, custom cloth diapers. I do respect good quality, because one of the first things I ordered was a two year supply of very soft onsies from London. But all of it was a case of one thing led to another in relatively quick succession. Honestly, if our daughter had not expressed an interest in cloth diapers, we may not have gone down this path. But I researched and purchased the name brands, then discovered some low priced, custom diaper covers on etsy. They were so cute that we continued to seek out the more unique designs and requesting custom designs be created. It was addictive. Very addictive 🙂 6 months ago I never would have dreamed of paying that much for something that was going to be pooped and peed in – LOL. But what drove me/us, was the unique factor. We wanted good quality that was one of a kind (or close to it) and in a design that we liked – Star Trek, Firefly, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc. We appreciated the talent and effort of what we could not do and paid well for those that could do it. During the process, I decided to drag out my sewing machine and tackle making some flannel blankets. That went well, so I bought more fabric. I kept thinking it would be a short affair, but it continued to be fun so I dug out the serger for a tune up after 15 years. My sewing skills are basic. I never really had a patience for the process, I just wanted the end product. After 4 months, I am still having fun with the sewing and have tackled some other projects. A few diaper covers, toys, and I have expanded into some other fabrics besides flannel. I have now ordered some nice organic knits so that I can try to make some clothing items. I still plan on it, but I am nervous and I haven’t quite made the leap. After spending an exorbitant amount on others making some amazing things for us, I am shifting to wanting to make them myself. I spend spare time researching how to buy those euro knits for less money, because even if I put in the effort, the fabric is expensive. So after this very long, rambling post, my thoughts are:
    1) We worked with a number of WAHM’s and businesses and generally we noticed them because what they had was unique, eye-catching, and looked well made. Sometimes we purchased items in their inventory.
    2) We spent bigger money on these same businesses/artists (some of them really are artists) because they were excited to make custom items and were good at collaborating. We respected their talent, experience, and advice while they provided ideas and support for our concept.
    3) Some people, including myself, begin to want to try and do it themselves. At that point, we are looking for materials, not finished products.
    4) Grandparents will generally drop way more money on this stuff than parents. They are usually in a stronger financial position and want to spoil the grandchildren.
    5) I am drawn to the brighter colors, such as the ones produced by Lillestoff. Maybe that is not the norm, but researching Lillestoff is what led me to your blog.
    6) I liked your blog – the science factor was entertaining (I am a CPA that is not particularly creative). Once I finish this post, I am going to follow the links and see if you have anything for sale.
    7) Hang in there. Blog. Make eye-catching outfits for your kids (that was a great idea) and check on etsy and hyenacart. Those are the places we have made connections for what we have ordered.

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