Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
My name is Claudia Bustos, I’m the person in charge of ZonaShirt, where I create and personalize t-shirts and other unique, beautiful and original products for everyday life, to give as a present, to express yourself, to transmit messages and feelings like love, gratitude…
Ten years ago I started this project with a lot of enthusiasm, the same enthusiasm that I still have day by day. I started customizing T-shirts with social themes for schools, birthdays, hen parties, even sports… Then I realized that I could also customize other objects such as mugs, sweatshirts, tote bags, cushions… I used to sell my products among my acquaintances, in the local market, by word of mouth, online, and in social networks. Although I work alone in my shop, my husband is important to support and helps me to put my ideas in order. My children are also important to me, as they provide me with casual and easy-going advice to apply in the shop. I consider myself creative, artisan, and enterprising. I believe that these three concepts must go hand in hand for a project to be successful.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I discovered Etsy one night by chance, surfing the web. I immediately fell in love with the platform and the exquisite way in which each of the products were presented. I decided that the next day I would be at Etsy with my creations too! That night I couldn’t fall asleep thinking that my products could reach the whole world, that my T-shirts would be worn by people in remote places. My goal was to cross oceans and seas with my T-shirts, to reach people from other countries, to attract people from other cultures, from other places. And so, to be able to live from my creations.
What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out ?
I sell personalized T-shirts, made of combed cotton and I print them with ecological and innocuous inks, 100% biodegradable water-based. The printing lasts without causing damage to the environment or health. I also sell sweatshirts, mugs, tote bags, cushions, and this last time, due to the pandemic, I have started to create masks.
Craftsmanship is unique, you will never have the same clothes. A handmade product is made with a lot of care, and that care generates a different empathy towards the product and between the customer and the creator or craftsman. The customer can know all about the manufacturing process of this product, from the raw material to how it was transformed, the traceability of the garment he has ordered. When I create and personalize a T-shirt I always think about who is going to wear it, where it will go with it, what it wants to transmit, how he will feel when he wears it. And then you feel a great creative freedom.
How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations
My journey was totally self-taught, although I had already ventured into the design from another sector. I spent hours looking for tutorials on different techniques and inventing others, until I reached techniques with my own touches and adapting them to my style. For a long time I dedicated myself to training, I signed up for online and classroom courses and I enjoyed it very much, it was a long journey that I had to make until I was satisfied with the final product.
What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job or extra income to pay for your hobby?
My original goal was to be able to sell online outside of my country and have my products look as good as anything at Etsy. And, of course, to be able to live from my store.
Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?
I’m a risk-taker, I had no fears or reservations. I wasn’t worried about profitability. Nor did I worry about competitiveness because I trusted my product and knew I could differentiate it from others on the market. When you join an online platform you know that the road will be long and will have ups and downs and that many times it will depend on each one of you according to the strategies you follow and the resources you have available.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever thought you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was a goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
During the first year I barely had any sales. It was in the second year when I started to have regular sales. My sales depend on different times of the year. For example, Christmas is a good sales season. Also Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day among other holidays, my goal was to have excellent customer service. I want my customer to be totally satisfied and happy, I have just reached 1000 sales, which shows that with perseverance and work a successful store can be achieved!
Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?
I don’t have a job outside of Etsy, I am totally dedicated to my store at Etsy. I don’t have a methodically scheduled day. I detest a strict schedule! My workshop/studio is at home, so there are no traffic jams or stress getting to work. Often, when my workload allows it, I try to take a walk on the beach before I go to work. This is a task that needs to be improved.
How does your manufacturing process looks like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are tools that you are using in manufacturing process?
My best-selling products are sets of T-shirts for couples, both human and pet. Most of my products are customized, so fluid communication with the customer is key. I don’t have any product in stock and everything starts to be produced according to the needs of each order. For this, besides the cotton and high-quality t-shirts I use the following equipment and materials: DTG printer, cutting plotter, sublimation printer, transfer iron, sewing machine, threads, inks, dyes, and vinyl. All products are designed and printed in my workshop, I do not use external production partners. Everything is cooked here, in my workshop!
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
The materials and consumables are a very high percentage in the manufacture of my products. If I add to this the cost of labor we have the price limit from which we should never go below. Free shipping and commissions are very important, too, when pricing our products. The competition sometimes sells the products below cost, so I try not to get carried away by their prices. My idea is to defend handmade and well-done work against massive productions that offer products at a bargain price.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
Everything inspires me! from quiet moments to the interaction of people. I get a lot of inspiration from traveling, from other landscapes, other accents, other realities… My main tool is a notebook and a pen in my bag. I write down everything, from sensations to ideas, and when I return from a trip to some unknown destination, new products come out. The wandering of ideas is permanent. I would love to have more time to capture them!
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Practically all my shipments are international. I offer standard and express shipping. The first one is cheaper and has a longer delay. Express shipping, which is the most common in my shop, arrives anywhere in the world in 2-4 days. I offer the guarantee of free shipping to the United States, following the recommendations of Etsy to promote the sale. Occasionally I offer free shipping to certain countries, my products are carefully wrapped in a rustic cardboard box, with a lot of care, because I want the experience of receiving the product to be unique, as well as the personalized garment they bought.
Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own stand out?
Fair competition doesn’t worry me, on the contrary, it helps me to excel, to continually try to improve my product and customer service. What I do care about are those who disguise mass-produced products as handmade and sell them at laughable prices. I sell a unique product, I want my client to be not only satisfied but also amazed, pleasantly surprised. Nothing makes me happier than reading the beautiful reviews that customers leave me when they receive their order.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Since my product is a personalized product, communication with the customer is constant from the moment they make the purchase and throughout the entire production process. In many of my products, they send me photos, in other texts, names, or numbers, so it is essential to understand each other so that the product is the desired one. I have not found myself in negative situations with customers. But I believe that everything can be solved by talking, proposing alternatives to the problems that may arise, and being a little flexible.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever thought you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
Selling at Etsy has changed my life for the better. I feel like I’m on the right track and I’m really enjoying this journey. Many times I am forced to work under pressure and that stresses me out a bit but I love it! It’s a different kind of stress, manageable and controlled by me and not by other people. Then, the satisfaction of a job well done is priceless.
How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?
I understand that social networks are very important for an online store, I try to show my products on them. I am present on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and tumblr, but my sales are not dependent on social networks, although on holidays such as Christmas, for example, I do advertise. On Etsy I work with Etsy Ads.
What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customers satisfaction?
I understand that we must adapt to Etsy’s rules and policies. I’m in love with the platform even though there are times when the algorithm changes, which I guess are meant to favor us, and decreases our sales.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
For my store to be successful I work on SEO constantly. I care about working and reviewing every listing. If a listing does not work well I try to change the SEO, keywords, description, title, even pictures, according to the recommendations of the Seller’s Manual. I also renew listings daily even if they have not expired. Every season I try to take new photos with professional photographers. This requires a large outlay of money. During the rest of the year, I take the pictures with the help of my daughter who offers to pose using my products.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering to sell on Etsy? How can they avoid beginners mistakes?
First of all I would tell them that having a store at Etsy is an exciting and rewarding experience but it requires a lot of work and perseverance. With these two ingredients it is possible to succeed.