Alfamarama – Hand-printed gift ideas with a sense of humor!

Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…

 

Hi my name is Pedro Vieira and I live in Lisbon, Portugal.
I graduated and worked as an architect but had always been interested in graphic design and creating my own range of products I could then sell. I eventually launched my own brand – Alfamarama – and I am so much happier now doing my own thing than back in the day working long hours facing a screen. You can read more about me on the Etsy’s About (www.alfamarama.etsy.com) maybe if this is not detailed enough
Yes I consider myself a maker, I started by hand screen printing all my products although nowadays I do have some things made by friends so I can print but also focus on creating new things, managing the shop, etc.

 

How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?

 

I found Etsy after a failed attempt at Zazzle. I then looked for an alternative and bumped into Etsy, it seemed to be just what I needed at a fair price, made by makers for makers (at the time!) and full of beautifully crafted and presented items! I had no previous experience in selling my work before, it was all new and exciting and Etsy, selling online, offered a low cost, low-risk opportunity to try my luck and see how it went without any major investment.

 

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 an ever-growing range of products, from notebooks to prints, door hangers, face masks, mugs, badges, tote bags, piggy banks, t-shirts, pillow covers, etc. I use blank items that I customize with hand screen printing or sublimation. The USP is I guess humor. All products are very simple items with just a hand screen printed quote, something funny more often than not. I believe people relate to those quotes and find it funny to offer specific quotes to specific people, almost as if they were made to order in away.
As for creative process, I have random ideas at random times and places, I also regularly brainstorm new quotes when I want to release new things and some times people make suggestions or ask me for specific items like do you have something for surfers?

 

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 learnt screen printing at Putney School of Arts in London, so my basic training was there. With experience I found my own hacks and tricks and soon I was happy with the end result. It definitely takes some mistakes before you learn how to screen print with confidence.

Lisbon bag Lisboa tote bag
Large Size MOLESKINE notebook. Custom made MOLESKINE
Kids T-shirt with Portuguese quote

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 goal was to make a living out of my creativity, have my own job, and feel more fulfilled and able to have some flexible working hours while actually enjoying what I was doing. It is now my full-time job.
It was tentative to being with but gradually became more obvious it could work and I needed to reinvest earnings into expanding my range, etc.

 

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?

 

Yes, of course, I thought no one would ever buy anything from me! lol, It took years for me not to be surprised every time I had a sale! It is a bit daunting to begin with there are just so many things to be on top of products, photography, marketing, finances, deciding prices, doing craft markets.
I overcome the fears by not waiting for everything to be perfect. I just did it, if necessary I would fix, upgrade it later or I would be paralyzed and end up doing nothing. Gradually many things that were complicated, to begin with, became second nature and I was able to risk a bit more at something else.
These days there are still concerns and things that need improvement of course, will my shop survive in the long run, when will bloody COVID-19 be over, will my stuff go out of fashion or will people get tired. But I just keep on investing time, creating new things, trying to predict what people will want to buy and what will tickle them so the shop stays fresh and interesting even for regular buyers.

 

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?

 

2 days for the first sale, but mostly friends to begin with. I tried not to think about it and just focus on expanding my range and understanding people’s tastes and do my best. If it worked, great, if not then it would mean I needed another job! lol To begin with my goal was just to sell, to anyone, so I could get some financial return and some confirmation that I was doing something right, something that was actually feasible as a life project. Thank god it did!

 

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 have no other job, Alfamarama is my full-time job. Until Covid19 I was able to live on my sales income but now things are a bit patchier, there are some sales just not as many as before.
My typical day doesn’t exist, they are all different. I have an open studio shop with other mates so I am there once or twice a week, other days I am at the studio shipping orders, other days I print all day, replying to emails, the social media monster needs to be fed at all times and so I tend to do whatever needs doing first. Time management is not my forte, I mean I do not have a diary or an organized agenda. I tend to just keep doing whatever needs doing first. When things are slow I take that time to create new things, organize the studio and prepare for future work… or just rest and go for a swim, it’s important not to let your work – as much as you love it – take over your entire life!

 

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?

 

I manually hand screen print or sublimate all products or have friends doing it for me. Screen printing is a bit dirty and you need to take care at all times so that ink does not end up where it is not supposed to. You need to open a screen with the stencil you want first and then you use that stencil to repeat print in your items. Then freshly printed items are either let to dry or go on a hot press to dry instantly. There is still a lot of washing and sorting before it is all over.
I do customize my products, people can choose different quotes for instance at a higher price because a new stencil needs to be created on purpose.
a I use all items related to screening printing: screen printing base and screens, ink, tape, a squeegee, and lots of water to wash everything in the end!

 

What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?

 

I think it is the price of the black materials. I need to research my suppliers carefully to get a good quality/price ratio. If raw materials are expensive rot begins with then profit margins will always be small. My most expensive item sells for 28€ so I am on the low end of the price range in terms of hand made gifts. In order to achieve that I need to be careful with the prices of raw materials. I try to price at a 2.5 margin although sometimes it is not possible so in those cases I decide what I think would be a decent price for me and for the buyer, even with less profit.

 

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?

 

I get inspired by everything, good ideas happen in all kinds of places and situations. I try to keep updated on what is going on, I like to launch products that are current or make sense or make people laugh about a specific occurrence or something from the news for instance.
I browse competition very rarely but I do check Pinterest to keep up with trends and sometimes to make sure my ideas have not been other people’s ideas yet! Brain-storming is a productive way to come up with ideas. I just write down all the ideas, as many as I can, even silly ones. I make a circle around my favorites. Then I wait a few days and look at it to check if it still makes sense.

 

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?

 

I do ship internationally. I always charge the correct shipping cost + a tiny bit extra to cover for any lost items or cancellations. Delivery time ranges from the next day in Portugal, 3-5 days in Europe and about 10 days to everywhere else. All these times are a bit extended with COVID-19 now. Especially to the US where it can take up to 2 months at there moment! I only use free shipping to the US over 30€ I think. That’s only because recently I have lost many American costumers due to logarithm changes on Etsy and SEO probably. I don’t like to offer free shipping as it is unfair that someone local pays the same price as someone far away.
The packaging is something I need to improve on. I use cello bags for my notebooks, but I would like to buy biodegradable ones. I print all my packaging except for stickers and business cards so it is all a bit amateurish. In the future, I would like to be able to design and afford proper packaging!

Kids Piggy bank New toy fund piggy bank
Currency assortment zip pouch
Typographic Pillow Cover Free Hugs

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?

 

I only rarely check for competition. As long as I am selling and I am selling at a price that makes sense to me that’s ok. I have been copied a few times but then I was told by costumers or friends. I just do my thing and hope for the best. I believe my products are unique and affordable enough to attract cUstOmers so I don’t really look round to see what similar brands are doing.

 

How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?

 

With rage and frustration many times. People can be very rude and unfair. And mostly the problem happens because of postal delays, so nothing I did wrong, but costumers never complaint at their post office, only to me! lol As for bad reviews, when they rarely happen I just accept them, some people will not be happy. As long as there are many 5* ones it’s ok. As for communication, I keep that to the minimum, I try to be polite and professional without too much fuss. If people are chatty and sweet then I can be more engaging too. I actually do the same at crafts markets, I stay away from costumers until I notice them interacting with my products, only then do I go there and ask if they need help. I think this is the way I like when I am a customer myself so I think I do things the way I would like for me.

 

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?

 

Of course! Etsy was an experiment at the beginning and is my life and income at the moment. Etsy made it all make sense and reassured me I was going in the right way. it was only after I had some success on Etsy that I ventured into crafts markets and now a group shop and so on. I kind of hoped it would come this far but I thought maybe people won’t like my stuff enough to actually buy it. So sales on Etsy gave me a sense of achievement and where the base of everything that happened next. I even met my partner through my business, now that’s life-changing! lol

 

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?

 

Super important. As if I didn’t exist if I were not in Social media consistently. I try to post daily on Facebook and Instagram, and try to create a mood that reflects my brand, sharing also other beautiful things, vintage photos, interesting facts, funny stuff, etc. I do the occasional advert on Facebook and Instagram. But my most successful tactic is shared Giveaways. I mean running Giveaways with other makers and share all our fan bases. it’s an opportunity for many new costumers to be introduced to your work.
Yes, I do pay for ads on Facebook and Instagram, but only at very specific times like Christmas or when launching something new. For hype I use social media, I post and create stories, and giveaways so that more people find out about whatever is new.

 

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?

 

Lots of things but mostly their new greed and focus on making money for their stock holders.
I would kick out all the (many!) sellers who are obviously selling industrial and definitely not hand made stuff, I would reintroduce curated treasuries in the first place because for me Etsy lost its appeal since then, all I see in my front page is not attractive to me at all, although it seems to be curated to my taste…
I would change Etsy’s bias to be on the buyer’s side as very often buyers can have unrealistic expectations, didn’t read descriptions properly, etc. In one sentence I would like Etsy to be a real handmade community again and focused on quality and creativity of its makers and not just another eBay with handmade stuff somewhere in there as it is more and more becoming.

 

What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?

 

I think the most important things to consider are: is your product any good? Are your photos nice and appealing? Do you ship and reply to convos quickly? Is your price within a fair price range for most costumers? If all 4 happen then it should work!
A Lesson learned the hard way…hmmm… double check spelling, over the years I have made several spelling mistakes that I consul have avoided if I had taken time to double-check everything. Also trying a small number of items first before you make sure they are selling well. I often believed in one product and it turned out another product did much better than expected, you need to give your products a trial period in this respect.
Something that really worked for my shop was to spend time with photos. They are never good enough to us, but I believe better photos do bring more sales.

 

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?

 

My best piece of advice is to never wait for everything to be perfect or for the perfect time. It may never happen. Think less and act more, you can always improve the photos, the description, etc, but if you are always waiting for everything to be just right you are missing out on sales opportunities.
Another advice is to do your thing creatively but also consider people’s tastes at least in some of your products, think what is it that people would want from me. It is better to be able to make some money with a few concessions so you can then afford to make whatever you like.
Lastly, I say, always keep it simple and honest, most of us are one-man/woman shows so make sure your brand reflects your personality and your social media is not just a repetition of ‘buy my stuff’ post but also provides an insight into your world and shares stuff your clients will be interested in.

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