Pattern making: carving out a niche with Elise of honigdesign

There is so much that goes into running a successful small business and previously I’ve covered passion, having unique skills, and bootstrapping.  When you’re first getting started you’ll also want to find your niche.

The path may be long and winding, but you should be receptive to differentiating yourself from your competitors and offering something that is unique, otherwise, you are in the commodities business (selling something that everyone else also sells) and that is a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.

Elise Seelig of HonigDesign

Elise, of honigdesign patterns, is working hard on her business having only started less than a year ago.  Check out our interview with her to find out her path to creating distinctive products.

We asked her if she had left her full-time job and what milestones she had set:

Gosh, no! I am very much at the dipping-my-feet-in-and-see-where-it-takes-me stage. Living in London at the moment, but not a Londoner by birth, I still have wide eyed excitement at the possibilities and access I have to creatives and resources in the city – from the pattern grader down the road who is used by a number of top designers, to the Saturday courses where I’ve learned pattern drafting. I really get a kick out of that. In terms of milestones, it’s been more a case of why not make the most of these and see where it goes? That said, I am working on upcoming patterns that I’m excited to share soon.

What is your design process and how do you choose what to make?

I’m always sketching, and my inspiration comes from everything and everyone around me. Sometimes a pattern is a long process of tweaking and sometimes it’s instantaneous. My first pattern on Etsy, the ‘Basel’ dress, was originally made with a neon-coloured waterlily motif cotton that I bought on a birthday week-end in Switzerland where I caught an exhibit on a Swiss couturier named Fred Spillman who had a heyday in the 60s.

The pattern was whipped up the following week-end on that rush of post-holiday excitement and inspiration. Some patterns, like that one, are heavily sentimental; some are more experimental – trying to recreate a feature on something I ogled in the designer section of a department store on my way home from work, or spotted in a magazine. With Basel, the more versions that I made for myself, the more I felt like it was something others might like to make too so it was the first pattern I put on Etsy.

Basil Dress Pattern

With all of the amazing, talented and creative independent pattern companies out there, I realise how important it is for a newbie to try to have their unique identity, so for honigdesign patterns my goal is to make modern clothing with links to the past, or “contemporary patterns inspired by classic silhouettes”.

My favourite era is the 1930s, but I love vintage modern and the juxtaposition of old and new in everything from furniture to jewellery, so it made sense to try to extend this idea into my patterns, too. You could argue that any style of today is based on something of the past, but I find it a good framework and one that best says what my style and ethos is about, if I had to pick!

Notice how specific Elise’s description is of her vision: vintage modern, with a specific focus on the 1930’s.  The more specific you can describe your product, the better able you will be to craft something different from what everyone else is creating.

Do you use any specific tools when designing patterns (software programs, french curves, etc)?

I would be lost without my Patternmaster and blocks! These are the starting point for every project. Sometimes I add some draping. Patterns that are for me get rolled up or folded into a Ziplock bag and archived. If it’s something I’ve decided to share digitally, Photoshop and Illustrator factor in heavily.

I once took a Central Saint Martins course on digital pattern grading using the Gerber program, which was invaluable for understanding the principles of how grading works and the stages of a fashion production line, but as I mentioned earlier my pattern grading friend has been a lifesaver to me in that area!

What do you enjoy most about running your business?

My “proper jobs” have always been project-based. I love having the chance to work on something that is completely my own, from the sketch of the pattern to the font used on the instructions. I am amazed when someone takes a chance and makes something that started as a seed of an idea in my head – whether it was the Basel Dress on Etsy or the Garden Party Dress I put up as a free pattern on my website a few years ago. It is so incredibly humbling and such a thrill to see sewers from Estonia to Australia in a dress that I first made in my living room!

What are your biggest challenges?

The fact that something is completely my own is also the challenge – it means that the options of what I can do are limitless and this can eat up time in a way that doesn’t happen in a corporate environment. I’m used to working on a deadline through my day job (first in journalism, later in business consulting), but it’s easy to keep tweaking when it’s your baby.

Define your niche to stand out from the crowd.

Elise will benefit from tightening the description on her niche – perhaps something like: 1930’s-1960’s era inspired evening dresses with a modern flare for women.  Then, when she starts to deviate from that description, she can bring her focus back to her niche.

Once she has created 5-10 dresses that fit that description she could expand into similar offerings such as young women’s structured coats and jackets inspired from the 1940’s and 1950’s, or whatever fits with her existing line and yet allows her to expand her creativity.

What do you do for marketing and to find new customers / what are your marketing plans?

I have an Instagram account and a slightly neglected blog. I put my work out and hope someone finds some joy in it. I find “marketing” myself cringey (pop it under personal challenge, above!) as there are so many wonderful people I’ve met on social media, It’s been a challenge to try to get over the fear of them thinking I’m just trying to “sell” to them. It’s something I’m working on and it’s a daily struggle I have with myself.

Marketing is one of the most common pitfalls of any new business owner.  We would recommend that Elise create a marketing plan and then dedicate time to executing it.

The marketing plan can be as simple as a list of action items on a scratch pad.  EG:

  1. Post 1 image per day to Instagram.
  2. Write 2 blog posts per week.
  3. Create a FaceBook page.
  4. Submit 5 comments on someone else’s work on Facebook each day.

It’s critical to get the word out about your products.  You’re not ‘selling’ people, you’re informing them about what you’re doing and sharing an interest with them.  Your interactions should always be legitimate – don’t make a comment about how great somebody’s work was if you don’t believe it yourself.

Once you get into the habit of interacting on social media, you’ll find that it comes naturally and isn’t hard or ‘salesy’.  React as you would normally, pay compliments to work that you find interesting, engage in conversations that catch your attention.  Before you know it, you’ll have built up a following and made some new friends!

If any sales come out of your interactions, it’s not because you ‘sold’ someone, it’s because you got in front of them and they decided that you and your product were something they wanted.

What advice would you offer others who want to design and sell their own patterns?

Find your niche, do it because it makes you happy, and find some good and honest pattern testers.

Where do you hope your business will be in 5 years?

In my dreams I am running a nice creative business out of a studio my home, and potentially with a link to adjacent areas – jewellery making is another one of my loves. I hope I will have a strong catalogue of patterns that have brought others some delight and that the home sewing community is still thriving and strong!

I think the home sewing community will continue to thrive, especially in a world where more and more people want to create and make things that are unique to them.  We wish Elise the best of luck and hope to see more patterns from her.

You can check out her blog and Etsy shop at the following links:

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