Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
First I want to say thank you very much for giving me the possibility to present myself and my shop. My day job is in nature conservation, but I was always a very creative person and tried a lot of crafts like painting, working with clay, sewing, designing gardens. In my day job, there is no way to live this creative side, so I needed a creative hobby. Everything started with a journey to Egypt. In the evenings we were “Bellydancing” at the bonfire in the desert. This got me on the hook and once returned home I started to learn Bellydance and later also American Tribal Style Dance. But I needed a costume. While for training it is not so important what you wear, I needed a proper costume for our performances. And also the right jewelry. Tribal Style Dancers wear ornate clothing with very wide skirts and rich colorful jewelry. It was hard to find the right size tribal bra on the market and as I love creative challenges I started to make my own tribal bra. And more tribal bras for other performances and dancer friends. And I went on and on and on as I just loved designing and making such bras. I tried to sell my over-production on boot fares with zero to not much success until a friend asked me: “Why don´t you sell these bras on DaWanda ?” Next step I opened a shop on DaWanda in 2011 and I had to learn how to manage a business and meet all the legal requirements. I worked like day and night: sewing, producing, buying supplies, taking pictures (which were awfully bad at the beginning), listing, pricing, storing inventory, shipping. and so on……
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
From DaWanda it was only a small step to Etsy. I opened an Etsy shop in 2015 to spread out and it didn´t take long until I had my first sellings, which gave me encouragement. I put a lot of work into it and soon my Etsy-Shop “neemaheTribal” was more successful than my DaWanda shop. I sold tribal bras and tribal belts and I also sold all the components needed for my customers to make their own dance costumes. And also later I added all the vintage nomad tribal jewelry that is needed to provide the tribal style dancers with the original authentic look. In 2017 I opened another Etsy shop “TribalshopSalome” for the exquisite high-quality jewelry and present those in a separate shop aiming not mainly at tribal dancers but for everybody who likes ethnic jewelry. Later DaWanda closed their business and DaWanda shops were allowed to transfer their goods to Etsy. But at this time I was already established on Etsy.
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 everything around Tribal Style and Tribal Fusion costumes: Bras, belts, headpieces, and some jewelry I design myself by using old and new materials depending on the look I want to create. I also sell the components for the customer’s own creations and I also sell the needed jewelry to make the look complete. I have to say I am more than thankful to have found a good provider for the needed authentic materials. I get them directly from Afghanistan and it also makes me feel good for every business I am able to provide to this country and its people who have suffered so much from war and poverty. Every little business over there helps to get the country back with jobs and the economy. I think my shop stands out because first I have over 1200 items listed – customers like to have a big choice – and second I offer a big range from neemaheTribal-designed costumes to components to jewelry to vintage ethnic fabrics, tassels, beaded medallions to nomad clothing and textiles from afghan ethnics and bordering countries of central Asia. Like in former times a caravanserai on the silk road.
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 craft is mainly self-taught, but I also had a few courses for sewing. My sewing is mainly time-consuming hand stitching and not so much using a sewing machine. Of course, I have two different sewing machines and I like using them. Sewing for me is like yoga for my brain. It relaxes me so much. I always was into sewing my whole life. When I was a teenager I used my mother’s sewing machine to create everything imaginable and later when I was a single mom I used to sew clothing for my little daughter. Of course, it was a big learning curve. As a very impatient person I tried to take shortcuts and I had to learn that in sewing there is not such a thing as a shortcut. It takes its time.
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?
When I first opened my Etsy shop I think it was mainly the challenge to try if I can be successful. I had my DaWanda shop and I also wanted to spread out. I needed to sell my overproduction and it was a big possibility to live my creative side. First, it was a hobby only, but it became bigger and bigger. I invested a lot of money in inventory and equipment and now it is a big part of my life. So big that nearly every day I think about quitting my day job to make my business my full-time job. It just takes one more step.
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 no fears as I had a DaWanda shop already for five years before I opened my first Etsy shop. And I like challenges. Also, Etsy makes it so easy, you have all the tools you need and Etsy brings also in the needed traffic. They have a big customer base already there waiting for your offers. They get your shop exposed and show your ads. Being able to speak and write fluently English helps a lot, but is not a “must”. The biggest challenge is to sort out the legal rules for running a business, especially in the EU. Most people are a bit naive when they start a business and I also was very naive. But once you have set up the legal requirements, you can start selling. Also, you have to stay updated as rules change a lot. Without the help of lawyers, you are lost and easy bait for expensive cease and desist cases. You have to learn about customs rules for import and export and in Germany, you need a license for all the packaging materials you send out to customers. The money you pay for this license goes into the recycling of those needed packaging materials. In the beginning profitability and competitiveness were not an issue because it was only a hobby. Later after investing so much time and money in my shops, I needed to be profitable. Let’s say: I am still working on that and it gets better every year. As long as I put a lot of effort into my shops it pays out. A successful Etsy shop is not for laid back people. Running an Etsy shop and customer service needs a lot of attention.
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?
It surprised me that my first sale came in very soon. I think it took only a few days. I did not expect many sales in the first year as I was really not spoiled by my DaWanda shop, where I only had one sale every few days. I did not set a certain amount of sales I wanted to have in the beginning. I had my full-time job to make a living. My business was only extra money and honestly, I invested every Euro back into the shop to buy more and more inventory. I just was like working day and night to make my shop bigger and have as many sales as possible. And my business grew every year. At the moment I am getting about 15 to 20 orders a week in summer and 30 – 35 orders in winter (oh I just looked at my sellings stats and I am surprised myself about the numbers in December !).
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?
When I started my business I had a full-time job as a nature conservationist working for the government and I was a single mom. I was like working 24/7. Later as my business grew I reduced my full-time day-job to part-time to have more time to expand my business. I like my day-job and I like working in my Etsy shop and I like sewing. So I can say I only do what I love. Recently we bought a small spot of land and built a garden to grow our own beyond-organic food. Setting up the garden took a good part of my time last two summers. Maybe that’s why my shop is slower in summer because I did not spend so much time attending my business. I have a very much appreciated assistant who is “my better half”. He helps me in the garden doing the heavy jobs and he also helps me in my business sorting inventory and pulling out the ordered items for me ready to pack. My typical day is like getting up, packing the orders, and answering customer requests while I drink my coffee. Then I go to work in the next town, where I can drop my parcels off at the post office and get them scanned. After my day-job, I come home. In summer I would go to the garden and play with our ducks, enjoy the flowers and grow and harvest fruits, berries and vegetables. In the evening I answer customer requests and pack orders. Only on rainy days and on the weekends I spend my time to set up new listings and do a bit of sewing. In winter I would be in the shop right after returning home from my day job. In winter I really try to give my shop a push with new listings and new costume design. I do a lot of sewing in the evenings while watching TV.
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?
There is no best-selling product of my own designs as they are all unique. I create as I have time and inspiration. I used to do custom orders, but this stresses me too much. I always was afraid, that the customer would not be so happy with the product once it’s finished, because they might have a very different picture in their head than I would have. While customer requests gave me a lot of new ideas, it is much easier and more fun to follow my own inspiration without having a time frame to deliver a finished product. My tools in the manufacturing process are mainly my brain, my needles and thread, my sewing machines, and all the stored fabrics and trims I bought over the years resting in my cupboards waiting to see the light. I also use all the components, which I also offer in my shops like buttons, pendants, chains, beaded medallions, tassels, and coins.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Ohhh, the biggest impact on profitability is taxes. VAT and income tax is by far the biggest part. All the fees I pay and all the money that goes to my tax accountant is nothing compared to taxes. Yes, also the materials cost something, this has to be taken into account. I price my products accordingly.
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?
In the beginning, my inspiration was the actual tribal costumes on the market I have seen in fares, in shows, and on Pinterest. Pinterest is a huge source of inspiration. Nowadays I just look at my inventory. I see an intricate fabric, a trim I feel I have to use. When I go through my cupboards full of amazing trims and fabrics I find much more inspiration than I would be able to convert. I pull the fabric and then I try to find matching trims and components to accomplish the idea. This process can be quick or take half a year. Sometimes the half-finished tribal bra sits in my living room for half a year and I look at it and I look at it every day. Until I find the perfect finish.
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 internationally without problems. The Deutsche Post offers cheap prices for international shipments including tracking and signature. My parcels are usually not heavy or big. This helps a lot. Bigger and more valuable shipments would be shipped by DHL. I have contracts with the Deutsche Post as well as with DHL. I charge my customers what I need for shipping and handling – no problem. In my TribalshopSalome with the more expensive jewelry, I have worked the shipping into the item price. This also works fine and I use free shipping for the jewelry. At the moment I also use free shipping to the USA for orders over 35 $, but I consider dropping that in the future as the threshold is too low and I don´t want to increase my prices to balance that.
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?
In the beginning, I was very worried about competitors, but as my shop gained more and more business I do not care about competitors anymore. It might impact my business when other shops sell similar products a lot cheaper. But these shops often are not sustainable and disappear after a while. I have seen shops come and go. My shop stands out for the big choice I offer as I have many products in my shop. I want to be a one-stop-agency for Tribal Style Dancers to get all the needed products for their costuming.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
In the European Union, we have very strict consumer rights. If you act in line with these European consumer rights to deal with complaints and returns, there is nothing to worry about. These European consumer rights are very customer friendly and I offer them also to customers outside of the EU. I answer customer requests as soon as possible, but otherwise, I let my customers in peace. It can be very annoying to get a lot of emails from shops, who want to make more business with you. I have a 5*-rating and customer complaints are very very rare. Maybe I have the nicest customers of the whole Etsy universe and I am utterly thankful that especially my US customers are extremely patient and understanding of the postal delays at the moment due to the pandemic.
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?
Selling on Etsy changed my life a lot and I never thought I would get so far with my shop. Actually, I could make a living out of my Etsy business, if I could convince myself to drop my day-job. Somehow maybe I need to know that I have a fall-back when all of my business would suddenly go wrong. The odd times when customers complain it stresses me extremely, but then I have my shop policy and nobody is perfect. We are all humans. If you go the extra mile with customer service, you do not have to worry.
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?
Actually, social media is very important for a shop. It could be also more important for my shop if I would spend more time promoting. I do not even have an Instagram account. I have a Facebook business page where I post my listed products, but this is all I do, because of lack of time. I used to spend money on Facebook ads, but have stopped it because this money is better invested in Etsy ads for more return. I do not generate excitement or hype around my products. It is not needed. People just come and buy without that. I have the feeling since Etsy set up some TV advertising on German television, my sellings within Germany increased. So that was very helpful.
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?
When I look at the forums it seems that sellers complain a lot about Etsy. But rarely somebody comes to the forum for praise when they are happy. Therefore the image you get by reading the forums is tendentious. I am very happy with Etsy. It is an own world of creativity and the idea of a better world of equality, possibilities, jobs, and environmental awareness. If I could talk to the CEO I would hope to convince him, that this special Etsy universe must be kept as a treasure and should not be neglected for the goal of making more money to satisfy shareholders. In the future western world, happiness and personal peace will be more important than money. We need to save the planet and the young generation knows that possessing more does not make you happier. I doubt that we can save the planet and have this enormous economic growth at the same time. The guidelines must change.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I listed a lot of stuff, I bought a lot of inventory, I ship out orders the same or next day and I answer customer requests as soon as possible. For the last two years, I never went into vacation mode. Every single day I was in my shop seven days a week. And I took my time to let my shop grow. The lesson I learned was that this business is very time consuming if it should be successful.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Please check out the legal requirements first before you start. Don´t be afraid, but be prepared to spend a lot of time put into your shop. Copyright infringement is a big thing to avoid. Go to the forum and read a lot. In the forum, you can find all the problems sellers have to deal with and how they handle them. Read the Etsy sellers handbook. Start small and make small steps but keep hanging on. If you want to be successful attend your shop every day. You can have a shop with only one listing and be successful if you sell something people want, but then you need to generate traffic. I know a successful Etsy shop with only one product, but he has a youtube channel with lots of followers, where he advertises his product. But for most of the shops the guideline is: the more listings you have, the more customers see you. This was the way I have chosen.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
Thank you so much for contacting me. I do not know if and when this will be published, but I just hope we will come over this pandemic soon. And I want to address to the customers that they shall have compassion with Etsy sellers. If the ordered product is not delivered on time, please be patient and understanding. Behind every Etsy shop, there is a human person doing his best and mostly it is only a one-women or a one-man show of people who also have a real-life with health problems and other things to deal with every day. As an Etsy seller, I want to thank the Etsy customers to support small businesses. May we all together create a better world.