Freelancing Handmade Business

Making A Living From a Sewing Business

I’m not quite sure how it happened. One day I had a single product that I thought might sell to a few roleplayers, the next I was making half my monthly income from sewing and embroidering costume pieces! Well a little more than a few moments – about seven months to be exact. My sewing business had taken off!

I made a few commissions in 2017 and had a listing or two in my Etsy store, but I didn’t really kick it off until January 2018. And here we are at the beginning of August and I’m so backed up with orders that I’m not quite sure what to do! It’s a good situation to be in and I’m not complaining at all! So while I ponder the future, I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on why I’ve managed to do so well.

Everything is Top Quality

This absolutely had to come first. I didn’t want to put out shoddy work at any point in the process. Everything is beautifully finished. No raw seams on view. Hand stitching is done wherever hand stitching needs to be done – even if you can’t see it.

I use great quality fabrics and great quality threads. That means that the embroidery is lustrous and the fabric sturdy enough to stand up for the kind of abuse you get at LARP.

My Branding and Photography is On Point

Mosswood Studio Costume Pouch for Empire LRP

I had quite a strong idea of what I wanted my branding to be like when I started. Black and white, reasonably minimalist, but while maintaining a somewhat timeless and esoteric feeling.

In the end I settled on some relatively modern block lettering, with a cute little black and white octopus design. The whole thing is easy to reproduce in two colours on every bit of digital and print branding. I even have little labels that I sew into everything I make.

I’m not saying that I’m an expert with graphics or branding, but I did read a few books on the subject and spent some time thinking about it. Plus I guess my background in History of Art means that I’m starting from somewhat of an advantage.

Hand in hand with branding goes photography. Again I’ve got some experience here; a year working in London as a specialist fashion and product photography set me up with some good techniques and a keen eye for detail. I started with clean, clear images that were overwhelmingly shot on a grey background. Everything that could be shown on a mannequin was. I believe it made a huge difference compared to the usual LARP imagery that you see.

More recently I’ve been experimenting with slightly more styled and creative photographs as you can see here. I used to really enjoy shooting ‘flats’ at work – or flat-lays as the internet now seems to call them! If this style of photography will make a big difference or not remains to be seen. However I can’t see that it would do any harm and I do enjoy putting the images together. I also rather enjoy shopping for props for my photos. But perhaps I should do a little less of that or I won’t have any money!

I Advertised Organically

Putting a little advertisement on a LARP website that I run was a smart idea. I kept the advert clean and simple, chose some pictures that were reasonably generic but had striking, bold colours, and popped it in the sidebar. It’s brought my relatively huge amounts of traffic. If I didn’t run a related blog in the same niche as my business, I’d definitely be paying to be featured on one.

I also made gifts for friends. They posted pictures of their kit online, and people would ask where it was from. It generated several hundred pounds worth of orders. Word of mouth referral is a very positive thing in hobby communities. It’s a very genuine form of marketing and is also extremely effective. Would I have made and given those gifts anyway? Of course, I would. I never asked them to post online nor expected a referral. Anything I got was a bonus, and it’s how you should look at things if you give them away to friends. I sometimes also send free goodies to my customers along with personalised postcards, business cards, etc. In this way, they might also tell their friends about such additional benefits and spread the word about my business.

Influencer marketing is different of course, and that’s my next step. Shortly I’ll be contacting some of the ‘big names’ in LARP media production and seeing if they’d be interested in doing an exchange. I reckon some unboxing videos might be nice too, I really take pride in how I package and send my orders.

On top of that I also posted in various sales groups on Facebook that are related to the hobby. Because I’m not a new voice in the community I think this carried far more weight than it would if I was an unknown. Although saying that, I posted in a Pagan sales group and made a sale within 12 hours… and I was a complete unknown there!

You’ve Got To Do What Works For You

Fundamentally you could do everything the same as I did and it just might not work. This handmade goods marketplace is so fickle, you just have to keep trying. A variety of approaches works best though, I think. It means that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.

What If You Don’t Make Enough Money?

It’s a fear that everyone starting their business has. Or at least a fear that they should have. But the reality is that being a self-employed creative professional should usually pay far better than a comparable job working for someone else. There are other benefits too, like working the hours that suit your lifestyle and being able to take time off for the things you want to do, but lets be honest the cash needs to add up as well.

This infographic shows the difference in earnings between self-employed creative professionals and those employed in similar jobs in the US – it’s a fascinating read!