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Finding markets for handmade fashions

Colette_Cadwell | Posted in Gather For A Chat on

b Your beautiful sewing projects are finished. Now how do you market them?
i Share your ideas for getting the goods from your sewing room into shops.


  1. Sarah_Kayla | | #1

    Dear Colette -

    forgive me -- this is long

    First of all - figure out your niche - Who are you serving? Who can't live without whatever it is you make ?

    I started out all over the map - I exhibited my work at a local craft show that I used to help administer. My first show I had; painted wood furniture, kids costumes, Judaica and baby quilts. I sooon realized that 1 - since we don't have a car (we live in NYC) bringing painted furniture to any shows further than two blocks away is impractical so that was the end of that. I continued to do the kid's costumes until I had learned enough sewing skills from them to quit, besides my profit margin was too thin on the costumes. I sold the costumes at a small independant toy store in my neighborhood.

    Baby quilts are too easily purchased from China where folks are paid pennies per hour. While my stuff was nice I don't think it created enough of a pull from consumers... You know that "I must own that" that makes a sale. i also realized that my work was too funky for the custom stores that line the upper east Side of manhattan - the folks with really big bucks to spend. Many of those people want stuff that is very conventional looking - My stuff is edgy and has a goofy edge. I can't work sweet and that was what those stores carry. Just because I think that baby bedding done in black stripes & dots is cool and worth doing, those moms with money are thinking antebellum grandeure for their daughters and sailboats for their sons.

    So although I was doing some sales in the baby stuff, I dropped that except as baby gifts for friends. After a while I realized that I was creating Jewish work that was far more interesting than anything else out there. My sewing skill were still not great but I knew Jewish texts really well and I have a good eye for color.

    At first I would exhibit at any show that would take me. After about a year of that I realized that I need to exhibit only at high end juried Judaica shows. When my work is placed next to .50 earings, folks don't look at it as seriously. When my exhibitor neighbors are folks doing beautiful work, my work sells better.

    As I have imporoved my sewing, I have also raised my prices. I'm still struggling with pricing. I just realized yesterday that folks are paying just for my labor but not fabric for one of my stock items, yes, my next show, next weekend will reflect that price change. But as my prices are raised, people no longer try to dicker about the price.

    I sell a mixture of stock items and custom work. Before I meet with clients, I explain to them how I charge, ( an hourly fee + materials ). So far no one has given me a hard time. I see that comparable work goes for more and I'm slowly raising my prices to reflect that. ( don't want to freak out my current clients)

    Most of my clients come to me by word of mouth. I have done some custom clothing over the years. I'm a lousy tailor. I'm clear about sending away work that I will not do well. In general folks appreciate my honesty and come back when they have work that I will do well in. Either that, or they send me other clients.

    For about a year I sold some of my work to the Jewish Museum. I really don't like working with stores. I would much rather work directly with clients. It was useful for me at that point to say to customers "Yes, you can also buy my work at the Jewish Museum." Now I have enough of a reputation even without the museum to sell my work on my merits and my reputation.

    I'm known within a narrow universe. I've started doing some teaching this year which is useful both financially as well as putting my name out there on the planet.

    You may find that reading the magazines The crafts report and fiber Arts useful because they talk both from the artist's end as well as from the consumer end of things. Both magazines will tell you about selling opportunities around the country.

    There are shows that I will be able to do as my young kids get older. My plan was to establish a reputation as my kids were little and then go out into the general world. The reputation part had taken place quicker than I expected. The hardest thing for me is keeping up with work between teacher conferences, family and community events and 1/2 days at school.

    So in a nutshell, figure out who you are and what you do better than anyone on the planet. Do that as well as you can, keep growing and developing.


    1. karen_morris_ | | #2

      *Hear, hear! This is great advice on how to focus and narrow your market, and decide on what you do best....also what you enjoy most.

      1. silkscape_ | | #3

        *It may be in a nutshell, but its pretty tough to actualize! Good for you, Sara!

        1. karen_morris_ | | #4

          *Dawn, so whoever told you that marketing was easy??I think they lied....

          1. Sarah_Kayla | | #5

            *My across the hall neighbor had wanted to start a business making quite wonderful decoupage frames & eggs. They were covered with photos of jewels from old auction catalogs. The problem was that there is no niche that is crying out for that particular product. Her stuff is beautiful - but there are no buyers.Who needs what you do??? What do you do better than anyone else? What you do better than anyone may infact be what you like to do best...My other friend tried to go into blouse manufacturing. She soon realized that she was up against the really big guns & couldn't succeed. She then decided to serve an underserved market. She now has a quite sucessful business designing and maufacturing maternity lingere. It was too small a market for the big guns, and what was out there was weird & ugly. She makes stuff that is pretty and sweetly sexy. She is a big deal in a small pond. Find a small pond. (Not an easy task )Sarah

          2. silkscape_ | | #6

            *Well, Sarah, I think that one of my goals for next year will be putting some serious thought into my niche. I do want to be careful not to make it too narrow, b/c I know myself and I will get bored quite easily. I do firmly believe that if you do what you love and do it to the best of your ability, doors will open up to you. I am fortunate that I am able to "follow my bliss" as my husband makes enough for living expenses and my income does not have to meet a certain level. However I find that the more I make,the more we come to depend on it, and the less ttime I have for exploration and creativity. A catch-22 I guess.So, I think for me, it has to be a balance b/w planning and happenstance (is that a word). In other words....I'm going with the flow.

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