Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
My name is Natalia. I am from Ukraine. And I am a bag designer. My bag business is 3 years old. I have two shops on different platforms, and I am planning to open one more shop. This is my story… When I was a child I used to think that people who could sew are magicians. I loved watching how someone was sewing. We had sewing classes at school, and for me, these classes were the most interesting. People say that one of my grannies could sew, and I remember that she made some aprons, napkins, tablecloths, etc. All my life I tried to sew something simple for me or for my family. One day I asked my husband about a birthday gift. I wanted to have a sewing machine. I should say, that he was very surprised. And he couldn’t believe that this gift was my dream. Of course, he bought it for me. Years passed, I made a lot of things with a help of a sewing machine, and… One day my kids needed sports bags for school. And it was the start of my bag business – two drawstring sacks for PE classes for my kids.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I have never sell any handmade products. I even have never thought that I could nake something and sell it. But one day one friend told me about Etsy. She saw my kids’ sports bags and said that they could be a great business. So, I decided to try. I should say that that bag style – drawstring sacks – wasn’t very popular in my shop. That’s why I had to find out other niches and popular bag styles. It wasn’t easy to catch bestsellers, create unique designs for them, made OOAK style for my products. But my attempts were totally worth it, I think.
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?
As I said, I sell bags. A lot of bags. For travelers, for men and women, for dog owners, for elder people, for kids, for crocheters and knitters. My customers can find crossbodies, fanny packs, totes, project bags, treat bags, organizers for face masks, neck pouches, mouth retainer bags, and many many more in my shop. Some of those bags are OOAK, others are made in limited editions. I used different materials in my work. Velvet, denim, tapestry fabrics, faux leather and genuine leather, cotton, etc. But first of all, I try to use upcycled and recycled materials. It’s important for me to create something that can help to save our planet from pollution and give a second life to the old stuff. The main style of my bags is hippie, tribal, ethnic, sometimes boho. I love colorful outstanding accessories. My customers are very creative and stylish people. How I create a bag? Ok… I put some pieces of fabric, leather, decor elements on the table trying to combine them and get something unusual. This is an ideal birth. Then I take some photos of the idea and put all the elements together, and a bag is being created. Sometimes my customers give brilliant ideas for me. They asked for making a special bag, and then I make a new listing with this idea.
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?
I am self-taught, and I am learning every day. I look through YouTube videos. I listen to other sewers and crafters. I try to upgrade my skills every single day. I think I became satisfied with my creations only 1 year ago. I am very self-critical, and it’s good for the quality of my bags.
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?
I didn’t think about any goal when I opened up my shop. I thought that it would be an interesting experience for me and I should try it. I just wanted to see if other people like my creations. Firstly, my business was an extra income to pay for my hobby, but now it’s my full-time job. It is interesting now to analyze my business start. I understand that now I am happy with my result.
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?
There were a lot of fears. And many more fears appeared then. I was worried not only about profitability or product competitiveness, but I was worried if my products are good enough for other people. I tried to make the best bags, I resewed them, upgraded each detail. I had no questions about shop opening in my head because I thought that if I would be a loser with it I just closed it. But when I got my first sale, I decided to stay on Etsy.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever think you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was the goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
When I opened my shop I thought that the first sale would be on the first day. But I got my first sale after 6 long months of waiting and hardworking with my shop. The first customer was from Europe, and she came from Instagram. She saw my bags on Instagram and decided to support my tiny business. My goals were to upgrade the shop and make it interesting for customers. I was looking for the best bag styles and sewing a lot of bags in those days. Now I get about 35-50 sales per month (it’s about 10 sales per week), and I am not going to stop at these numbers. My goal is to get 100+ in sales per month.
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 haven’t got any job outside Etsy. It’s my full-time business. I am a mother of 2 teenagers, so my typical day consists of business and children care. I haven’t got an accurate timetable, and I can wake up at 5 in the morning, for example, if I have a lot of orders. Or I can work with my shop online almost all night long (SEO, photos, descriptions, etc.). My timetable is very flexible. Every evening I write a list of plans for the next day. And it’s very helpful for me.
How does your manufacturing process look 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 the tools that you are using in the manufacturing process?
I sew some of my bags by myself, but also I have some seamstresses for help with orders and for sewing some bags for shipping to the warehouse in Minnesota (it’s a way to prepare for the High Season). Some bags are sewn after orders, some of them are sewn ahead of the orders. Yes, I customize my products. First of all, I can sew a bag if a customer gives me an idea about it. Then I have an embroidering machine and I customize some bags with names, texts, or initials. About tools. I have got two sewing machines and one embroidering machine, and lots of other supplies for sewing.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I use only expensive and high-quality materials in my work. The exception is only recycled jeans. They are not very expensive. My friends give me them for free. But I choose the best from those jeans to make my bags. Prices in my shop are based on *material costs, *time which I spent on making bags,
*OOAK-ness 🙂 (the price is higher if the bag was made in one copy only) and many other factors. But every time I try to put a price which will be good for my customers. Moreover, I run sales and give discounts to my repeat customers.
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 is inspiring for me in my life. My family, nature, other people. Sometimes I see great ideas on social media, but I don’t copy. I try to create something new with this idea. Sometimes my customers bring me brilliant ideas. And sometimes I put fabric pieces on the table and think about a new bag. A lot of my work methods and bag styles I create in my head because I do not know professional sewing secrets and I am self-taught. Tools? I haven’t got any special tools for creating my bags, I think. Usual tools for sewers.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Yes, I ship my products internationally. I live in Ukraine, so I have to use warehouses for upgrading shipping time. If I use our national postal service, it can take a month to ship the parcel to the US. It’s too long for my customers. Shipping times have become much longer with quarantine delays. And the US and Europe warehouses help me to make the shipping time shorter. Postage pricing in my shop is based on shipping prices and warehouse fees. If we are speaking about fast shipping, my customers pay for DHL or FedEx services. I don’t use free shipping. My customers don’t like it. It doesn’t work in my niche. The packaging is very important for shipping. I usually use a zip-bag to ship my products to the warehouse. These bags protect the products from dust or wet. And before shipping to customers warehouse staff package the products into postal envelopes. If it needs they use gift bags for packaging.
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?
Competitors… No, I am not worried about them. And yes, there are a lot of them on Etsy. I just try to create my own bag style. I sometimes find out that somebody has stolen my ideas, but I am not really worried about them. I have my own way. It doesn’t work if you copy your competitors like a monkey (copy their products, tags, etc.), because you don’t know how their way and you can’t copy that way.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Customer satisfaction is the most important thing for me and my business, that’s why I do my best for upgrading customer service every single day. Pre-sale and post-sale communications are important for me too. I am open to any questions or proposals from my customers, and I hope, they appreciate it. I had only 2 disputes and 3 or 4 not-5-star feedbacks for my 3 Etsy years.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever think you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed about dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
Etsy has changed my life absolutely. I have learned how to be patient, how to manage problems with my customers, how to understand what is good for the bag market. It has taught me how to manage my business. It’s really exciting to experience me! At the beginning of my Etsy journey, I dreamt about 100 sales. Now I am near 1000, and I am really proud of myself. I can say that I have done my best. I don’t remember stressful situations with my customers. But I remember all the positive situations. I remember all 5-star reviews with kind words about my work and with photos. I remember messages with “thank you” words. And I love those feelings when I receive any positive feedback from my customers.
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?
Unfortunately, I haven’t understood yet how I can manage my social media (have profiles on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook). And I should say that I don’t use them fully. But I have customers from social media too. I don’t spend money on ads outside of Etsy. I think any excitement or hype around my products is generated by my customers. It’s called “word of mouth”. For me, it’s the best advertising.
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 customer satisfaction?
I can’t say that I don’t like anything about Etsy. I can say that I don’t agree with something. If I could talk to the CEO of Etsy I would tell them that all those changes they have made on the platform sometimes are not the best ideas for Etsy. Not all, of course, but some of them. For example, free shipping (it’s not good for many niches) or Offsite Ads (when sellers can’t switch it off because they earn more than 12,000 $ per year), changes in Etsy Ads (when it doesn’t work at all for months, but money fly away). But! It’s their business, and I should work in their rules because my shop is a part of their business.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I don’t think that I am a super successful Etsy seller. Let’s speak about my success when I have 10,000 sales 🙂 Only one lesson that I have learned about my Etsy business is “Don’t stop and do!”. Every day I should upgrade my shop, my customer service, my products, etc. If I stop, I will lose the chance to be better.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Check your SEO, check the market, try to create useful and unique products, look for trends, ask your customers how you can upgrade your products. Never ignore bad reviews. I know, they are very offensive, but you will find in them what else you can upgrade in your business. And the best rule on Etsy: work-work-work and don’t stop! DOn’t think about possible mistakes, just solve them when you find out them.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
I love my Etsy business. I am not going to stop it. I am going to make it stronger. My products are in all American states now and in different countries all over the world. I think I go in the right direction.