Crafty Blogs

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Everything you're wearing is handmade

Me hand making a Swiss Roll shoulder bag

I'm a hand-maker, and as such I'm trying very hard to make a full-time living. Every day I spend either with needle and thread in my hand, working the sewing machine, tracing out patterns or cutting fabric. Lots of people I meet have a great appreciation for the hard work that goes into hand making, either because they craft for a hobby or have some training in manufacturing. I can easily identify these people when I'm out and about at craft fairs because they'll consider my work very carefully and, whether they like it or not, they'll say something along the lines of "There's a lot of time gone into this". They're not wrong, each of my purses takes a minimum of three hours to make from start to finish, a handbag might take closer to three days. What they might not have taken into account, however, is how long it might have taken me to set up the stall, man it all day, build a website to sell online, do my accounting and publicise my business. I don't blame them for not noticing these factors, they're mostly hidden, but without them I couldn't be self-employed.

I feel very privileged to live and work in the UK. I'm encouraged to work but not over-taxed (at least until I make more money anyway), I get free health care in the mean time, and Britons have the expectation of fair and decent working conditions for those around them. Unfortunately it's also my experience that, partly because Britain has lost its manufacturing base, a lot of people in this country have no contact with the idea of hand making, and no appreciation for the time and skill it requires. They want everything they buy to be as cheap as possible, and rarely see the hidden cost of buying cheaply. I've met a lot of people who seem to think my prices should be a fraction of what they are, and when I explain the time and skill involved they tell me to have my designs made elsewhere, specifically in India or China.

I've mentioned that Britains have an expectation that their fellow countrymen should have fair and decent working conditions. The popularity of the Living Wage Foundation is testament to this, they suggest a national living wage should be £7.65 (£8.80 in London) as opposed to the minimum wage which is currently just £6.31. The foundation has received support from David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Perhaps because they have this in mind my friends and family are sometimes shocked to find out that, at my current prices, I pay myself around £3 an hour. I'm not trying to garner sympathy by telling you this, I've founded my own business and I consider it my goal to build on my success and aim for better as the business grows. But I refuse to increase my profits by taking advantage of poorly regulated working conditions in countries like India and China. If it's unacceptable that I should be paid £3 an hour for the skilled work that I do then why should it be acceptable for a stranger to do it for me for even less? Workers in developing countries who do work like mine don't chose their own hours, don't work in pleasant surroundings and don't have the benefit of free healthcare. They don't get to wake up in the morning and chose between designing and making, manning a stall or publicising their business. According to research done by The War on Want in Bangladesh garment workers making clothes for highstreet shops can expect to earn between £25 and £32 a month, 80% of workers start work at 8am and don't finish until 8pm or 10pm. They perform the same task again and again, sometimes with unrealistic production targets to meet. The garments these women make are sold in Primark, Asda and Tesco.

Garment workers in Bangladesh

Take a moment to look at the clothes you're currently wearing. All of it is handmade. It might not be from a handmade emporium, a fair trade shop or a craft fair, but it is handmade. Somewhere the panels of fabric were traced out and cut, skillfully placed together and sewn carefully by a skilled machinist. Details may have been added by another worker, top-stitching, buttons or decorations were added. Finally it will have been hand checked for quality. How much time do you imagine each item took to make, and in what conditions do you imagine it was made? How much do you value the time and the skill of the people who made it for you?

The real luxury of living in the UK is that I am able to promote myself as a crafter. My skills are valued and even admired by some. If I was from India or China my skills would be commonplace, perhaps even not up to standard, and I would receive very little reward for my hard work at the sewing machine. In the UK we can afford to pay more for artisan-made and fairtrade products. We have the luxury of deciding what conditions we would like to see manufacturers working under, so why do we so often chose the cheapest option? Because the cost is hidden behind the brand, or behind the friendly profile page of the factory owner on who offers to make something for you cheaper and quicker than anyone else can. Before you buy cheaply, or suggest that I should make cheaply, look into what these options mean. Consider using your purchase to improve someone elses life, to reward someone for a job well done, to encourage good working conditions and investment in local communities. Imagine meeting the maker of your shirt or pair of jeans and being able to say to them "There's a lot of time gone into this".

'Would You Still Buy That Dress After Watching This' a documentary on the real cost of cheap clothes from Bangladesh's sweatshops

'Counterfeiting : Documentary on the Business of Counterfeits and Knock-Offs'
Includes investigations into China's black market manufacturing industry and the fraud behind some alibaba sellers.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Selling your handmade products in shops - how to find a stockist

This week I'm happy to announce that I have a new stockist for my products, The Shop in The Square in Wolverhampton. SITS is a shop run by artists and crafters in the West Midlands and is full to the brim with beautiful handmade items, I'm very proud to be joining them. A few of my friends and fellow crafters have asked me how I've found stockists for my products, and what they should do to find stockists themselves, so I've put together this guide based on my own experience so far. Comments and questions are welcome!

1. Sell first
Before you start trying to find a stockist for your handmade products you should first get some experience selling your products by other channels. You could sell online via etsy or eBay, or sell at craft fairs. Whatever channel you chose establish a range of products and spend a few months selling them to the public. Find out what sells and what doesn't, experiment with pricing and keep records. This way you'll be able to say with confidence that your products are saleable, you'll know which are your best sellers and you'll be able to set the right wholesale price. Retailers need to know this information, and they'll also be reassured by your figures that they aren't taking a risk on your products.

2. Crunch the numbers and getting prepared
The next thing to do is to start crunching the numbers. Let's start with an example, imagine you make a cuddly toy that you've been selling for £10. The materials for the toy only cost around £1, and it takes you 3 hours to make each one. When you sell the toy online or at a craft fair you make a profit of £9 per toy, and since they take you 3 hours to make you're effectively paying yourself £3 an hour to make them. Let's assume you're happy with that situation because, let's face it, handmade businesses aren't all about big profit. But once you start thinking about selling through a stockist you might find that the numbers are a lot less favourable. It's fairly typical for a shop to ask for 50% commission, so if you set the RRP* at £10 for the toy they'll only want to pay £5 per item. Suddenly your profit is only £4, and your hard work is only worth £1.30 an hour. No one would blame you for being unhappy with the offer, but is there any way around it?

Some people might argue that the best thing to do in this situation is to double your prices. But a toy that you've proven will sell at £10 might not be so tempting to customers when priced at £20, so by trying to protect your profit you run the risk of making no money at all. I would recommend a middle way, experiment with increasing your pricing through your own channels by 20-50%. Customers might be happy to pay £15 for the toy, and if you can increase your RRP you can increase your profit. The same toy prices at £15 could be sold on to the stockist at £7.50 each, £2.16 per hour for your hard work.

At this point some sellers might be asking whether supplying a stockist is even worth it when it represents less profit per item. But before you dismiss the idea out of hand it's worth thinking again about the positives and negatives of other selling channels. When you're selling at a craft fair it's easy to see the money in your hand as pure profit, but how much did the stall fee cost you? How much money did you spend on display items? How much were your travel expenses? And imagine for a moment that you were paying yourself an hourly wage for the time you spent looking after the stall, how much is your own time worth? If you add up all these expenses you might find out that the craft fair was less profitable than you imagined, and in comparison stockists can represent value for money. The 50% taken by the shop effectively covers stall fees, travel expenses and the cost of staff to sell your products for you. Depending on the stockist it might also cover advertising and presence in a busy high street location.

Take some time to look over the numbers, and decide whether or not selling wholesale is for you. Decide the minimum price per hour that you would like to earn and apply it to your products. Keep a list of your products alongside wholesale price and RRPs and this will form the basis of a retail trade price sheet that you can show to potential stockists.

If your items are large make sure to include pictures of the different product types on this sheet too, otherwise be prepared to take examples with you whenever you approach a stockist.

3. Approaching stockists
In some areas suitable stockists for handmade products might be well known and easy to find, but in others you might have to work hard to find them. Look for independent shops that already stock handmade local items, art and craft galleries and gift shops that are popular with tourists. I don't recommend chain stores for consideration unless you're in a position to produce a big volume of stock very quickly. Check local papers and business directories, and look on facebook and twitter, and try searching the UK Handmade Directory too. Make yourself a list of potential stockists and if possible go and take a look, and bear in mind that it isn't a good idea to have two stockists within the same town. Ask yourself whether your products would fit in with the products on display, and if you think they would ask to speak to a manager about the possibility of stocking with them. All being well you should give them your contact details and arrange to show them some samples or photos of your work, and discuss money, at a later date. Alternatively if you're familiar with the shop you could call ahead and arrange this over the phone.

When having an official meeting with the stockist make sure you take along your retail trade price sheet, pictures of items or sample products and details of your previous selling experience including facts and figures about your best sellers. If the shop are interested in a 'sale or return' arrangement make sure to discuss the following:
  • What percentage commission the shop will take 
  • Whether a 'trial period' would be helpful to see whether your products and the shop are a good match. 
  • How and when the shop will pay you for the items that have sold. Some may suggest a monthly payment, others may prefer to set a trial period after which time you will need to check which items have sold and issue them with an invoice. 
If the shop are interested in a pre-paid wholesale order discuss lead times** with them, and make sure the manager has a realistic idea of how fast your turnover will be. Be brave and passionate about your products, and don't be too downhearted if the meeting isn't successful!

(At this point I should add that some shops specialise is handmade sales, and may have their own procedures to cover all this, they might even have an online form where you can fill in your details and attach photos of your work, eliminating the need to arrange a meeting at all. Unfortunately not all shops are so organised, so it's worth getting yourself preparing just in case!)

4. Delivering your items
Congratulations, a shop has agreed to stock your items! Now it's time to deliver a range of stock for them to display. If the shop has paid up front for a wholesale order take your items along with a receipt. Take along two copies and have the shop sign your copy to confirm they have taken delivery. Now you can tell all your family and friends to shop there, and with a little luck they will order from you again soon! If you have a 'sale or return' agreement with the shop then the situation is a little different. Take along a seller delivery list detailing everything you are delivering, again take two copies and have them sign on delivery. Keep in regular contact with the shop to check whether items are selling or not. If popular items are disappearing fast you may want to arrange another delivery, if unpopular items are taking up space or (god forbid) have been removed from display you might want to arrange to pick them up. Make sure you are paid for the items that have sold and that the shop are treating your items with due care and respect. In return keep publicising your stockists, let people know that it's a great place to buy your products and other people's products too.

Of course once you have one stockist you're bound to want another and another, and that's the situation I'm in at the moment! Maybe next year I'll be able to pass on some more knowledge about managing multiple stockists and growing your craft empire, but until then please support all the lovely shops that sell Lucky Ladybird products at the moment; The Tania Holland Gallery, Urban Folk, Ice Maiden Cakes and The Shop in The Square.

Love and Luck,

LL xx

*Recommended retail price
** 'Lead times' the time it will take you to make or prepare your items. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Springing into Vintage

Saturday March 15th at the Castle Hall in Bridgnorth I went to my first fair of 2014, and to my first ever vintage fair. Hosted by My Vintage Events the Bridgnorth Spring Fair featured a cake-filled vintage tea room and live music from the Miss Fortunes. The stalls were a nice mix of vintage clothing and kitchenware, jewellery and handmade items. 

The Miss Fortunes sing live as the vintage fair gets into full swing

The Lucky Ladybird stall
In preparation for the fair I'd created a few display items including this pin board decoupaged with vintage cake adverts to display my vintage style 'slice of cake' brooches and bag charms. I also added my knitted daffodil bunting to the table for some spring flair.

A few of the items on the stall were brand new and put together especially for the event. Because cherries always seem to crop up whenever vintage is mentioned (The Miss Fortunes were wearing vintage cherry earrings and there was quite a lot of cherry patterned fabric on display) I was inspired to create a cherry cupcake purse.

Cherry cupcake coin purse from the Lucky Ladybird, now available through the online shop

Once I started making these cherry cupcakes I fell a little bit in love with them and was plotting to keep at least one for myself, but they all sold at the fair. The stall was very busy and I left with very few cupcakes at all!

One of the best things about the vintage fair was that I met so many other lovely makers. Directly behind me were Emma Charlotte Makes and Kitschy-Koo Designs and to my left was Sandija's Treasure Boutique. Not only were their handmade items beautiful but it was lovely to talk to other makers about local fairs and the trials and tribulations of craft selling. I can't wait to see them again at future events. 

Vintage fairs might not seem like the most obvious places to sell handmade items, but my experience at the Spring Fair has taught me that the vintage crowd is warm and welcoming and that lots of people go along hoping to find something quirky and unusual. The live music was especially good for creating a fun atmosphere, and the vintage-style tea room was a big hit too. My next vintage event is just around the corner, so please come along is you're in the area. It's on the 6th of April at Linden House in Wolverhampton, details are on the Facebook page

Happy spring everyone, and stay lucky

LL xx

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

In the news!

I'm happy to be able to share the news that on January 31st I was featured in the Bridgnorth Journal, our local paper.  I think the photo came out really nicely, my only complaint is the slight typo in the web address. For anyone is doubt it's, not luckyladybirdcrafts. Never mind, it's already created lots of local interest and it's something great to be able to share with potential customers and suppliers.

It's only three days until Valentine's Day now, and I hope everyone who ordered the love-heart cupcakes has received them by now. To avoid the risk of selling a Valentine's Day present that couldn't be delivered in time I'm afraid I've had to remove them from the online shop today. 

Have a great romantic day everyone, and I hope the gifts are well received! 


Monday, 3 February 2014

The Personal Touch

This Valentine's Day I've put together a new cupcake for the Lucky Ladybird online shop, and it's something a little special, the first ever customisable Lucky Ladybird product. Just fill in the initials of you and your partner (for example K and T) when ordering and I will top the cupcake with an individually 'iced' love-heart creating a memorable gift.

Lucky Ladybird Valentine's cupcake purse £10

 To help make the new cupcake the perfect Valentine's gift I've also put together a 'sweet nothings' gift set. As well as the personalised cupcake purse I have also included a matching personalised keyring/bag charm, a selection of white chocolate champagne truffles and a presentation gift box all for only £20.

'Sweet Nothings' gift set

The special edition cupcakes will be handmade to order, so please place your order by Saturday February 8th to avoid disapointment.

And if you'd like to make something personal to decorate your Valentine's Day dinner table then why not take a look at my tutorial for a portrait candle holder (via Using a clear glass jar and some leftover Christmas tissue paper you can make a pretty centre-piece for a romantic meal.

There will be more spring craft ideas to come soon, but in the mean time have a lovely Valentine's Day everyone,

The (Lovey) Lucky Ladybird xx

Monday, 27 January 2014

New Moves For The New Year

Now Christmas is over I've been ringing the changes at Lucky Ladybird Craft. After a recommendation from a fellow crafter I decided to try supplying a new local stockist, the Tania Holland Gallery in Bridgnorth. The Tania Holland Gallery is run by the artist herself and everything inside is beautiful and well made. It's well situated on the most picturesque street in Bridgnorth on the route to the cliff railway, always a popular path for tourists to trace, and the focus on design and originality in the shop means my products look right at home there. Some of my more colourful items have been placed in the window this month and I know they've already created quite a stir locally, quite surprising given that January is meant to be a very quiet month on the high street!

The Tania Holland Gallery in Bridgnorth, just look out for the dog on wheels!

The presentation of some of the products in the THG was is so lovely that they gave me real food for thought. I decided to follow the good example of other local artists and crafters and package my smaller items on handmade backing cards. The new cards are designed so that a badge can be pinned to the section of fabric or a bag charm can be fastened through a narrow horizontal slot. Everyone who has seen these so far has said how professional they look, and I'm hopeful that they will also brighten up the table at my next crafting event.

A selection of bag charms on my new display cards

The cards turned out to be exactly the right size for display of a new range of badges I've just designed. Flat but with a 3D effect I've called them 'slice of cake' brooches. They're not available on the website yet as I've only made a few, but I think they should be perfect for the vintage fairs I will be attending later in 2014 as each of the 'plates' is decorated with appliqued vintage fabric

New 'slice of cake' brooches

'Slice of cake' brooches on display cards

 In the spirit of making my products look more professional I've also organised something this month that I've been meaning to do for a while and had some Lucky Ladybird fabric product labels made. These fabric labels are now sewn into all Lucky Ladybird products too large to fit on display cards, and they should mean that in the future anyone who buys or receives one of my bags or purses will be able to trace it back to 'The Lucky Ladybird'.

My new fabric labels
A fabric label sewn into the lining of a strawberry and cream swiss roll handbag

There's lots more to do this year and I'll be back very soon with news of a new Valentines Day product. Onwards and upwards!


Friday, 13 December 2013

Dear Dad (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Twitter)

Dear Dad,

I noticed you set up a Twitter account not long ago, and as a self-employed businessman I think it's a great move. Twitter can bring you lots of new fans, and it can also help you find customers and makes sales, it's amazing marketing tool but it's far from self-explanatory, so I've decided to share with you everything I know about how to use Twitter to your advantage.

1. Target market and contemporaries

First of all you need to decide two things:

  Who is your target market?
  Who are your contemporaries?

For me my first answer would be something like 'cake enthusiasts', 'bag enthusiasts' etc. and my second answer would be 'craft sellers' and 'small business owners'. For you I would guess your first answer might be 'historical fiction enthusiasts' and your second answer 'self-publishers' and 'small business owners'. We have a little bit of an overlap, but not much!
Now you need to start tracking these two groups down. Use the search function on Twitter and search for one of your key terms.

Try 'search all people' to bring up a long list.

Read through the profile information on the list and you'll find a mixture of your target market and contemporaries, and follow anyone who looks like they might be interested in your work. Imagine it like an opportunity to give out a lot of business cards all at once, follow follow follow! You'll be amazed how many people will follow you back automatically, just out of curiosity or interest.
Search regularly for any and all key terms and keep following. Aim to follow around 200 people to start with (yes, really!)

2. Monkey see, monkey do
Once you have a long list of people you're following it's time to watch what they're doing. This is most important for the 'contemporaries' group. When I started following other craft sellers on Twitter I found out about all sorts of pre-existing organisations who help to publicise small businesses (check out Purple Dog for example) as well as twitter events that anyone can join in with. There's a 'Handmade Hour' (Wednesday 19:30-20:30) where lots of people watch the hash tag #handmadehour. By tweeting something like 'Look at this item I made #handmadehour' and including a picture suddenly I had a captive audience. Find out if there's anything similar among your contemporaries, either in writing or publishing and join in. #newwriting looks promising as does #IndiePub
If you see a contemporary doing well on Twitter then take a look at who they follow and who they interact with. Follow who they follow and take a leaf out of their book. 

3. Interact
Once you start to join in twitter events you'll notice that the most popular Twitter feeds are maintained by the chattiest people. Some people have the gift of the gab, but twitter isn't just about self-promotion, it's also about lending a hand and interacting with others. If you see another start-up with a product or service that you think deserves promoting then retweet, tell them you like their product. You might make a useful contact, and that person is much more likely to share your products in the future.
Lots of people will send you a welcome message when you follow, consider whether it's worth doing the same (e.g. Thanks for following, have you seen my website?). It's not mandatory, but it seems to work for lots of businesses.

4. Repetition, hesitation, deviation
Finally imagine what a billboard would look like advertising your books. What would it say? Twitter is a lot like a billboard, with lots of potential customers driving past at high-speed. If something's worth saying it's worth saying a dozen times. Every time you repeat an important message you increase your chances of people noticing your tweet, and take note of twitter rush-hours on evenings and weekends to increase your visibility. Just reword your tweet and no one will mind if you repeat yourself (and they won't mind if you hesitate or deviate from the subject either).

There are lots more things to learn about Twitter I'm certain (for example did you know you could pay to promote a tweet saying 'buy my book' to everyone who likes Sharpe or James Bond?) but I'm still learning about all that myself. With a little luck you'll be teaching me how it's done before I work that out.

Keep tweeting and keep writing, lots of love


Note: For my regular readers my Dad is the author of a series of historical spy novels 'Most Secret'. He also runs a self-publishing website helping budding authors get into print and break into the world of e-publishing. Please drop by and say hello.