I had a few heated emails from someone over the weekend…. Completely unprovoked (not even a customer) and out of the blue. It took me back a little and although this kind of thing rarely happens and I mean very rarely, I wanted to address it… not because I think that any of my customers, or crafting friends need to hear this necessarily (or that they hold the same views as this person), but I guess as an open letter ‘to whom it may concern’. An opportunity to be transparent.
[I also don’t want this post to be off putting to potential new indie dyers and designers out there… read on, as I plan a balance of positive light at the end of what starts as a gloomy tunnel.]
Anyway… The gist of this one-sided email interaction involved my not having a physical ‘bricks and mortar’ shop, or accepting visitors to my private address… and then some comments about my inability to provide heavy discounts for a kilo of hand dyed wool top.
I responded politely in brief on the Monday morning and left it at that… but I came away from it feeling a bit bruised, I don’t mind saying.
Part of this bruising I guess is spurred on by a couple of blog posts I read recently… firstly one from the very talented Woolly Wormhead, who I think a lot of us know as someone quite ‘famous’ in our woolly world (who has also updated with this post further thoughts on the issue of transparency, which is also worth a read) and then a post from Aroha Knits who I recently came across on YouTube and BlogLovin’ and I think is a fairly new designer. Both of these posts are worth a read to add a bit of context to what I am about to write.
You see these posts enlightened me to the fact that I am not the only one out there in this position… and whilst I always knew it, I feel comfortable now talking about it, in all of its honesty.
I have been running Sara’s Texture Crafts since mid 2006, so next year is my 10th anniversary and in that time I am proud to say that with a lot of hard work and some pretty awesome customers I have got to where I am today… a small business that keeps me working and happy. This is a business that also accommodates my lifestyle, whether that is by one by choice, or circumstance.
I’m going to be completely honest and say that in 2015, I was paid in wages a total of £7,200… £600 a month, which rather scarily on a 40 hour week works out to about £3.75 a hour (national minimum wage for 2015 was projected as £6.70). The honest truth is that I work far longer than 40 hours, as many indies do.
Eek you scream… and a good part of me is deeply embarrassed to even utter that out loud… deeply embarrassed! However, it is true and I’m no longer afraid to say it.
I do realise though that my pitch to the Dragon’s Den, might be rejected, Lol!
Now please don’t think I am moaning about money, or on some pity parade for more sales… I just think this topic is worth a mention, particularly as others have already started it (reference earlier post mentions).
How do I feed myself?
I’ll be honest and say that I have a very supportive other half, one who is happy to cover all of our household expenses and happy to help me at shows (he occasionally cards batts too… I know, he’s a keeper!) This is the agreement we started out with, but due to the nature of the indie scene and my current health is an agreement that we have had to settle on.
We make it work… and when I get paid I cover the little things (or not as the case maybe), like unforeseen vet bills, or a new fridge. On the very rare occasion we go on holiday, I can be proud enough to say that ‘I paid for that’… while the flip side is that I wouldn’t survive outside of my unique situation.
We don’t party at the weekends, we don’t go out every week, we don’t go on holiday every year and we don’t mind forgoing the latest fashions, or eating the latest fads. We live modestly and within our means. Now don’t get me wrong my other half is on an average
wage and so I’m not calling our situation bread-line, but it has to be well managed.
An angle I know a lot of you in this recession will also be feeling.
I know things could be worse.
So why wouldn’t you give it all up tomorrow?
Well, I’ll be honest here too and say that there are days when I wish I could do things differently… what I wouldn’t give to have a better nest egg to sit on.
The truth is that in my particular situation, my health is such that after a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy, preceded by a few years of fertility treatments, I have had some health issues come to light. These can leave me incapacitated on occasions. Something which business owners may find difficult to keep me employed long term because of. Working for myself allows me to switch around my hours if needs be, or cancel things on the very, very rare occasion. It also gives me a creative outlet and a place to work off my ‘workoholism’… you see I do want to work.
So, then why don’t you find something that makes more money?
Yes, again I agree and I have turned my hand to designing knitting patterns, as well as occasional teaching at events. I also when I get chance try things like a bit of textile design again… these bring in a little here and there.
The problem is that each of these new avenues requires a lot of work and financial input… I refer you to another insightful post from Woolly Wormhead here on the True Cost of a Pattern… and so I can’t quite maximise their potential given my current day job, which although pays little, does generate some income for me.
Don’t get me wrong… I won’t give up Sara’s Texture Crafts tomorrow, that’s not what I’m saying… but there are days here and there where I think about it.
I know I’m not the only indie that does!
I promise this post isn’t one long moan… I do love and I mean love what I do.
But this is why I don’t have a Bricks and Mortar store, or studio space… I can’t earn enough at what I do to pay the rent and rents are high in this part of the country… I also don’t have the man power to man the shop, or studio space during opening hours vs. the work I’d need to produce and sell to keep it open.
I’ve dallied with the idea and looked around at options, but in truth after big considerations I just can’t keep that covered.
I don’t sell from home either, as I live in rented accommodation where the owner prefers that I do not have customers to the home (there are also home insurance implications in having customers to your home… worth noting if you plan to have it as an option). So I respect those wishes in order to keep the roof above my head and therefore my home is not open for business.
Not all businesses are open to visitors, this is not unusual.
Instead I vend at shows and events… and I do as many as I can each year. 2015 saw 16 events in total; 2 of which were national scale craft events, 4 were national scale wool festivals and the rest local, or group events. So there is opportunity to seek me out.
I also keep my online shop fully stocked, with small inventory on Etsy, Ravelry and Love Knitting. My pricing is incredibly reasonable for the quality I provide within my sector of the wool industry, this is also true of my shipping costs (based on exact Royal Mail charges). I choose this strategy to enable me to sell from week to week and as a point of trust with my customers.
As a result I don’t have margin to play with in terms of discounting. Although I do provide wholesale if you are interested I don’t pursue these as the mainstay of my business. This is something I am finding more and more the case for fellow indie dyers too… like Kristen who runs Skein from Australia, who has an amazing yarn company and recently chose to give up wholesaling in favour of direct selling only (roughly a year ago). Skein is an independent company, a one man band just like me.
I guess at this point I should refer back to the post True Cost of a Pattern and ask what is the true cost of a hand dyed yarn, or braid? And I think I will come back to that as a separate post… it’s an interesting discussion after all, particularly with reference to wholesaling and discounting on handmade goods and one that extends across industries.
So I guess I’m not selling this lark am I?! I’ve not offered that light at the end of the tunnel yet, have I?!
Well here it is…
I love what I do, despite the financial constraints of that career choice on my lifestyle… It makes me happy to work with fibre and yarn and even happier to meet each of you and send that same fluff and yarn off to new homes.
I love our interactions, our camaraderie at shows and on-line... I have met the most amazing people in the last 10 years. People who have been there every step of the way and have held my hand through the tougher times… I love you all and you, every one of you make this a career worth choosing.
Do I recommend this as a career for others?
I don’t see why you shouldn’t join in our merry band of
Indies… you’ll find
us really quite friendly. I would however, take what I know now and use it…
maybe find something that you could start alongside a day job, as Aroha
Knits suggests. If you need to make a certain standard of living and you
don’t have a partner who is able to help, then taking your potential carer as a
part time gig to start with is no bad thing… many indies have to work this way
at the beginning and a lot still continue to do so.
So don’t be put off entirely, instead use this and grow.
You won’t regret having an opportunity to allow your creativity flourish... It is so rewarding to stand back and say… ‘I did that!’
Have a wonderful day,