Pattern making business: Felicity Patterns & Repeat customers
Stephanie Bull is a veteran pattern-maker with over 4 decades of industry experience. Not ready to retire, Stephanie decided to leave behind working for commercial company’s to do her own thing and sell her patterns online.
She has an Etsy shop with over 10,000 sales, 148 available patterns, and she works out of a home studio in the beautiful Blue mountains of Australia. Her website has also brought in over 10,000 sales since opening in 2012. Despite being part of the Baby Boomer generation, Stephanie has proved adept at working in a digital environment.
She has a Facebook page that she also started in 2012 with over 4,000 followers and direct links to her Etsy shop. She’s also leveraged Facebooks’ Events feature to run sales and giveaways. Her Pinterest page has over 300 followers and showcases her latest patterns.
Checkout our interview with Stephanie as she provides invaluable advice for small business owners.
How did you learn to make patterns?
When I finished high school at 18 I went to Art/Design College and studied Dress Design and Pattern Making for several years to qualify for a position as a designer in the clothing industry. I worked as a designer, product developer and patternmaker in the clothing industry for my entire working career, more than 4 decades. I also ran my own patternmaking service for 20 years during that period. So I have a lot of experience with industrial production.
What is your design process and how do you choose what to make?
I usually choose to design and make styles that are unique and that I know will sell e.g. baby rompers. I also look to fill the gaps in my collection by adding items that I don’t already have.
Do you use any specific tools when designing patterns (software programs, french curves, etc)?
My most important patternmaking tool is my Grafis pattern CAD software. I make and grade all my patterns using this. There are many tools that are also important like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop plus a good camera although now I use my iPhone mostly. I also use a PDF writer to pull all the files together to make the final product for sale.
Note that you don’t need a complicated setup to start or run a business. Stephanie is using her smartphone for pictures, you can find free pdf writers for assembling pdf’s from finished images, and while Grafis is a complex and commercial program specific for pattern making, you can find simple and less expensive options (such as ModaMake) for drafting patterns.
You would never know that Stephanie’s product pictures were taken with a phone. By leveraging natural lighting and interesting backgrounds – she creates an image that is just as professional as what you could get with an expensive DSLR and lighting equipment.
The bottom line is that you can start your business modestly by leveraging your creativity and using the tools that are available to you – whether you are making patterns, fashions, etc.
What do you enjoy most about running your business?
I like designing and making the patterns, I also enjoy sewing the samples.
While Stephanie’s answer is short and to the point, it shouldn’t be overlooked. She has been successful in her online business and over the course of her 40 year career by loving what she does. Don’t underestimate the power of passion to get things done.
Choose a path that you love and you’ll wake up every day excited for the challenges that lie ahead.
What are your biggest challenges?
Social media and promotion is my biggest challenge mainly because I just don’t have enough time for it.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? No – and your products, no matter how great, won’t matter if you don’t master marketing. You have to get your products in front of people for anyone to know how wonderful they are.
Stephanie, despite not growing up in the digital age or having tons of time to dedicate to social media, has amassed quite a following on Facebook. Her shop on Etsy has been favorited over 6,000 times, and she blogs on her website.
And it seems she’s figured out the biggest hurdle to marketing – time! I like to spend 1-2 hours each day 7 days a week and 1 entire day a week for marketing. It’s easy at first, but try keeping that schedule for months on end and then years. Marketing is a tough grind, and if you can’t keep it up – hire someone else to do it.
What advice would you offer others who want to design and sell their own patterns?
I think you need to be well trained in patternmaking otherwise it’s likely to be a struggle. You must be able to produce a good product. You can hype and market all you like but it will still be down to how good your product is. You will find that return customers are a massive part of your sales success.
We saved the best for last – return customers are critical for any business. If your customers aren’t coming back, your business will fail. The cost, time, and effort in acquiring new customers is monumental (did you read how much time it takes for marketing), so if they aren’t coming back, you’re not going to make it.
Part of your marketing strategy should include collecting feedback, soliciting repeat customers, and ensuring that you’re iterating on the feedback that you receive.
Where do you hope your business will be in 5 years?
I really haven’t thought about it; I don’t want to have a big business because I prefer to be able to manage it all myself. As long as it makes me an income that is all I want from it. I may not want to still do it in 5 years.
We love your honesty! We’re sure that Stephanie will have an income and business as long as she desires. My only feedback is for her to create ‘boards’ within her Pinterest page to make it easier for her followers to view her collections. EG: “girls”, “boys”, “accessories”, etc.
If she has time, I’d also recommend that Stephanie invest more in her Instagram page. Daily postings of her garden, mountain views, and her works in progress would be a great way to connect with potential customers on that platform.
Checkout Stephanie and her patterns at the links below:
Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/FelicityPatterns