Running a sewing business: Three months in

December 3, 2019 10 Comments

Running a sewing business: Three months in

December 3, 2019 10 Comments

In September I began a six-month-long hiatus from my day-job with the purpose of working solely on my sewing business. Now three months have passed (already!) so I thought I should do a little recap with some insights on what I have learned so far.

I’ve released my first garment sewing pattern, produced around 40% of my jeans sewing book and worked hard on all the stuff I didn’t have time for before. Such as SEO, more structured marketing efforts, produced the proper print run of my book Master the Coverstitch Machine, created new sewing tutorials on my blog and even began working on a couple of more products that I will release at some point. So I’ve kept myself busy and feel like I have great momentum currently. And I have so much fun, I feel like I’m living the dream!

That said, I am nowhere near making the kind of money that could replace a regular salary, especially when one factors in things like benefits and taxes (which are almost 60% if you are self-employed in Sweden)

And let’s be real, the market for garment sewing is still very small, especially compared to most other pursuits. So while there are some shining stars doing well, my qualified guess is that even the second tier is struggling to make ends meet, due to the audience still being so small.

But I do think one can make it work, and I have some ideas on the best ways to make it financially viable.
A. Build up a fairly large and diversified product catalogue. Since the audience is so small, just a couple of products will not be enough (unless you already have a large platform AND create a blockbuster)
B. Create premium, detailed, products, as the sale volumes aren’t there to support a lower price tag for less intricate offerings.
C. Never skimp on the marketing. Positioning is probably just as important as your products.
D. Focus on easy, popular, patterns if you are a pattern designer. The ROI is so much higher on these. You probably just need a small twist to make them desirable enough (if the positioning of your brand is on point). This insight kinda hurts for me, since I love patterns with detailing and intricate construction methods and that is where my heart is. But from a business sense, I think simpler patterns are a better choice.

So if you want to give a go at this, those are the things I would recommend. As for me, I will return to my day-job in March, which I’m totally cool with. I have loved almost every minute of the three months so far, and I will miss this time dearly.

But I like my day-job too, and what I like even more is to be free of monetary stress. I’ve had several years where I struggled financially, and it wasn’t until my 40s that I could fully relax on this front. So I’m not super keen on letting that security go.

My plan is to keep going though (if I can keep my sanity and health). Theoretically, I think I could even turn this into a full-time business if I just keep at it long enough. So for instance, if I publish 4-5 sewing books, release 8-10 sewing patterns, produce some on-line sewing classes and maybe think up some other products that would be useful for the sewing community, then I think I would reach the critical mass that would make it all financially viable. Yes, it will take years and years of work, but I’m already kinda 2/5 there, so it doesn’t feel totally unrealistic.

Only the future will tell if my calculation holds up, but I think it will! And that actually feels super encouraging, if I would one day choose to make this a real full-time career.

Johanna Lundström

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10 Comments

  • Kim December 4, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    I have both your books, have found them extremely informative, and am looking forward to the jeans book so I hope things work out well for you! Also, what is the pattern for the top on the first picture, it is really cute?

    • Johanna Lundström December 4, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      Thank you Kim! Getting a comment like this means the world to me! I often think about what keeps me going and a key to that is hearing that something I’ve created has made a difference for someone <3

    • Johanna Lundström December 4, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      I forgot to mention the top, it’s a dress pattern from Burdastyle magazine, maybe from 2010?

  • Kate December 4, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Hej from the United States! Thank you for this honest report. I’m frequently asked why I don’t look at making sewing (in some form) a business or my full-time work, selling clothing or items I make. There are many other issues surrounding that of course, but financial security and viability is critical for me, and it’s strangely reassuring to know that my concerns are valid. My instincts tell me that starting out small in conjunction with a full-time job would make me most comfortable, so thank you for sharing your experience and suggestions! Also I just started listening to your interview on the Love to Sew podcast (have not finished), and I am enjoying it so so much!

    • Johanna Lundström December 4, 2019 at 7:53 pm

      Hi Kate!
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts around this. And yes, this niche is tricky, since it has the unfortunate combination of being a relatively small market and a fairly low-value craft. So it requires some really nifty business thinking to make it work. So for instance in order to succeed with sewing and selling products, I think one needs to either find something that takes relatively little time to produce but is seen as high value by the customer. Or doing premium, custom made products, that are properly valued by a big enough customer group to make it financially feasible.

      I think you are wise to test the waters to see what resonates, both with your own interests and the customers. And if you ever choose to go full-time, you can do that once you have truly validated your offerings and also made the math to see if it adds up. I also love the idea of having a side-hustle, as it gives us plenty of room to experiment, which is the fun part of running a business! Good luck with your plans!

  • Laura Bradshaw December 5, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    Like the others, I agree that your honesty is super refreshing in the sewist / maker community. Not that others are dishonest, but that the roses picture is featured much more often. As far as your plan goes that part that is most alluring to me is
    B. Create premium, detailed, products, as the sale volumes aren’t there to support a lower price tag for less intricate offerings.
    I’m an intermediate to advanced sewist and what the “Indys” seem to lack is decent complete instruction. I would gladly pay for better detail. Also you could conceivably add “advanced packages” to simpler patterns for those who want to level up their game.

    Best of luck and thanks again for telling it like it is.

    • Johanna Lundström December 5, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Laura! And I agree, that most tend to lean towards the rosy narrative, which I can totally understand. As a business owner, you want to project success, as that can boost the confidence in your brand and create that desirable aura.

      But it also paints an unrealistic picture of how “easy” it is to achieve success. And for me, as someone with a background in journalism, I’m a little allergic to fluff stories, that hides the raw, honest stuff. They are not very helpful and doesn’t really resonate with the reader either. So even though I’m a business owner too, I still want to tell it like it is. It might be a bad business decision, but it feels better for my soul 🙂

      And good points about skewing towards premiums, I think this is the way forward for sure and is something that will benefit everyone!

  • Synthia Richardson December 5, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    COngradulation on your adventural jouney,its a very rewarding hobby/ business/job but worth every second . Your inner creativity is the most wonderful gift you have unlock.many happy moment ,hours ahead.s

    • Johanna Lundström December 5, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you, Synthia! Yes, I agree, it is rewarding, regardless of what direction this journey will take me. We have a blessing in finding this craft, and I’m so grateful for the things it has given me, including the ability to connect with people from all over the world!

  • Corey December 8, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Believe me, i understand how you feel about your work and life. I am going thru a similar situation. I use to do information technology projects on a consulting basis. I have never liked this work nor the people i worked with, i was extremely stressed and unhappy. I will probably have to go back and do one more project/job until i can finally make a switch to doing my own business, working from and being here for family and my rescue dogs (which i totally love) Being home is so wonderful and give me time to get my sewing done instead of living in hotels and travelling. Now i finally got a new 7 series Bernina, i am inspired to do more sewing and even try a quilt. Hang in there with doing what you love, i think it will find some way to work out in the end. You could be the swedish version of nancy zeiman!

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