Etsy Reflections

A few short months ago, I ‘opened’ an etsy store, creating clothing inspired by and using Hubble prints – combining my unending appreciation for the Hubble telescope and my design background. Thanks to a break in funding sources, I found myself without a paycheck, still needing to be in lab (I’m a PhD student in the sciences), and had no time or desire to get an actual second job, and so decided to see if I could keep up on my rent by leveraging my design background. In true scientist form, this was kind of an experiment for me, so here are a few things I learned from my testing:

  • I’m pretty sure I may have broke even, but I definitely don’t think I actually made any money on this venture. I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I only ran this store for 3-ish months and needed a large start-up time investment that I did not necessarily factor into my garment costs. For example, a shirt from my shop cost $60 – $20-ish was material costs and I thought labor would be ~$30, leaving me with $10 profit. I forgot to factor in the time it takes to make a pattern and frequently, had to test that pattern by creating a mock-up before creating the final garment. This step could add anywhere from 3-8 hours of time to making a single garment. I think I reduced the ‘wages’ I paid myself to <$5/hr pretty quickly. Oh, and there were fees I didn’t see at first – over 6% of each listing price went to Etsy and the payment facilitator!
  • Pretty much everything I learned in the few classes I took for a minor in clothing and textiles at my undergraduate university was useful. (Well, except maybe my history of costume [clothing] class – but really, I only use that class to talk about how women’s fashions and gender roles have shifted with time. It was a fascinating class, but likely the least ‘practical’ of all those included in my degree.) Thanks to my flat pattern class, I drafted all my patterns with relative ease. Thanks to my textile course, I could choose fabrics to print on without necessarily seeing them in person first. Thanks to my illustration course, I could put on paper the ideas that were swimming in my head. And thanks to my ‘Apparel Production and Evaluation’ course I was able to make up technical flats, source materials, and create faux-technical packs outlining the costs and construction of each garment (I say ‘faux’ because I’m the only one who ever saw them – though I probably could now ship them to a manufacturer and get the garments made fairly easily). The only class left is draping, which I didn’t really use because I don’t have a great dressform and so I typically make patterns via the flat pattern route.
  • Even with the novelty factor of my garments (space is a big trend in fashion right now) – I didn’t necessarily advertise aggressively enough to really get the traffic I needed to make it a more profitable business. I did send some clutches to a few bloggers who were interested in promoting my store in exchange for free merchandise, but I didn’t see an upswing in traffic or sales from any of them. Since I opened the store, I had 10,000+ individual listing views, but only 8 total orders. About 1/10 views resulted in a ‘favorite’, which while promising, did not translate into sales. If you’re interested, here are the blogger ‘collaboration’ posts:

Noémie Polverini, Molly McIsaac, Rory F

  • I have great friends who let me take pictures of them:

  • Etsy is an incredibly global marketplace – this fact alone was probably one of the best parts of my selling experience. I sold garments to customers as close as Portland, OR and Grand Rapids, MI, and to people in locations as far away as Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Okay, so Canada’s not that far away, but I still had to fill out a customs form!
  • I realized that I dislike the stress of making perfect garments. While my sewing skills and desire for well-made garments have noticeably increased since I left high school (sometimes I cringe to think of what the poor judges at the county fair had to look at) – I still don’t sew as well as my mom, nor as well as a factory seamstress with access to more than a multipurpose sewing machine and a serger. While I am thankful my mom is allowing me to borrow her old serger for a time, I just can’t make a double-folded hem with the same amount of precision, in a reasonable (let alone similar) amount of time as a worker using a machine specifically built for it. Generally I can let go of little ‘mistakes’ here or there, especially if they are on the inside of garment, when I make clothing for myself, but the attention to detail that making shop garments required just stressed me out and probably contributed to my less-than-intense desire to sew orders.
  • I have affirmed my belief that I am not called to be an actual player in the fashion industry. During college, I had thought that turning my delight in making garments into an actual job would cause me to dislike sewing (this thought kept me from dropping my science track and becoming a design major) and it turns out that I was right. I don’t enjoy creating garments because I ‘have to’ make them. I don’t like being limited to creating only what I offer in the store / what people purchased – I felt guilty every time I started to sew something that wasn’t working towards fulfilling a customer’s order and now I have many projects just itching to be made. I had to place them on the back burner in order to force myself to finish purchased garments. I found that I didn’t actually want to sew when faced with creating these garments for unknown recipients.
  • I think that last sentence touches on what I discovered about why I love to sew – I love to create original pieces, to translate ideas into final garments, to see where the fabric and pattern take me, changing things as I go. I do love to create gifts (gifts are totally one of my love languages) – I take joy in seeing the recipient enjoying and using something I made for them – something that doesn’t happen when selling garments on the internet. I miss knowing if the customer liked the garment and enjoyed wearing what I created for them. I miss creating something for someone I know with their tastes, likes, and personality sewn into the garment.

For now, I think I’ll keep the shop open with what garments and extra material I have on hand, but I don’t plan to make many new garments for it anytime soon. This was a good learning experience and in many ways reaffirmed that I really should be pursing my degree and career in the sciences, leaving the garment creation firmly in my personal life. So friends, be prepared to see me with lots of goggle lines and just a few pin-pricked fingers for a long time to come!

{The image at the top is of the one headband I made from some extra Hubble print fabric. I lost it on the bus on the first day I wore it out.}

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One thought on “Etsy Reflections

  1. Thank you for this very honest review of your Etsy experience. I have been toying with the idea of selling on Etsy for sometime and I did have my reservations about how the sums would add up. Unless you are lucky enough to find a customer base who not only appreciates hand made and original designs but has a hefty bank balance, I think we have to let the likes of mass producers reap their rewards. We can’t compete. We are not machines!

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