Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
Like many people, I started making face covers at home in February 2020 for myself and my family as the pandemic began. Then in March I lost my full-time job working as a lab assistant for a small perfume ingredients company and was suddenly left with no income. I have always had a creative streak – I had a poem published as a child, won an award for a painting I did at the age of 16, and have applied my design skills to every home I have ever lived in (of which there are many!) but until now, would not have described myself as a crafter, but perhaps a closet artist! In contrast, until this year I had worked in Financial Services and Healthcare.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I created my own website initially and promoted it on Instagram but quickly discovered I was not reaching many people. I researched various platforms to sell my goods and Etsy seemed the best fit for handmade goods.
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 make face covers using fine quality cotton and silk. Unlike many sellers of face masks on Etsy, I use the Olson pattern which is trickier to make but results in a well-fitting two-layer mask with a properly concealed pocket for a filter and an adjustable nosebag. The comfort and fit make these face masks stand out and the fact that the materials I use are high faulty and really do survive many washes.
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?
Apart from 6 weeks of sewing lessons 45 years ago at school, I am self-taught. Of course, YouTube videos have proved very helpful plus tips and tricks I have learned from other makers. The first few masks I made for friends and family were good but I would say once I’d made 100 masks I had perfected the pattern and finish. Just yesterday, I came up with a new innovation to improve fit so, like everything, it’s a constant learning process.
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 goals were to keep busy in lockdown doing something useful for society in such terrible times. I wanted the masks I sold to be of exceptional quality but also exceptional value for money. I also aimed to make the buying and wearing experience as pleasurable as possible as most of us really didn’t want to cover our faces. I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback received and over the course of the last few months, selling online has become my full-time job.
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 was concerned about the costs of using a service like Etsy. Initially, I was not concerned about profit but, now 6 months in, it is becoming clear that the margins are very tight and the profit from a lot of long hours and little sleep is low. By keeping my standards high and publicizing my customer feedback, I have begun to maximize visibility and therefore increase turnover.
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 took less than a week for my first sale through Etsy. I had no idea I would be making 20 masks a day when I started! At the outset I only wanted to keep from going mad in lockdown, now I seem to have discovered a real talent for choosing and working with fabric that really could provide me with a full-time job into the future.
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 do not currently have another job. I have always been an early riser and tend to get started around 7 am. I always make sure I get out for a walk for at least an hour every day regardless of the weather and stop for meals at regular times. I try to stop sewing by 6 but will do the planning, prep, and paperwork in the evening. The hours are long but because I enjoy what I do and can stop at any point to make a cake or deal with the washing, the flexibility works very well 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?
All my masks are made to order but I prep the face lining layers and filters for speed. I have patterns cut out ready for each of my designs and during Christmas, I did primate the most popular masks. I use a Singer sewing machine.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Etsy fees and postage have the biggest impact on profitability. Some of my fabrics are expensive but I try to factor this in when pricing.
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?
The creative process is an iterative one – each time I am sewing I am thinking of new designs, but many innovations and improvements to my masks have come as a result of direct feedback from customers and especially my husband who has to wear a mask for hours at a time for work.
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?
I do ship internationally and charge just enough to cover the postage. It can take up to 3 weeks for a parcel to arrive in America so it’s a slow process. The majority of my business is in the UK and for that, I do not charge postage. The packaging is key to a good buying experience so I take care to make my packages unusual and beautiful. People don’t want to spend money on face masks given a choice so I feel it’s important to make the parcel opening experience a joyful one.
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?
There are thousands of people making facemasks. The vast majority are much cheaper versions and I have to say not as good – either because they us a basic design or only sew one seam around their edges. Pricing is therefore every tricky as some sellers are selling thousands of masks at just £1.99 each. But as with so many things, you get what you pay for and feedback tells me customers are prepared to pay more because my masks are actually wearable even if you wear glasses.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I always respond to issues with orders, whether that be a delayed delivery or if a customer finds the mask is too big or small. As these masks cannot be returned, I offer to make a replacement where necessary. I try to thank those that leave a good review and use all feedback when considering how to improve.
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?
My life I snow completely different. From years of working in a corporate environment to working at home fo ray self, my life could not be more transformed! I do get stressed, especially when I feel I have more to do than I can handle – when that happens, getting outside for a walk in the fresh air usually re-energizes me.
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 started promoting my work on Instagram and now have over 200 followers so keeping that up to date is critical to launching new designs and showing how I work. I started off using Facebook Ads to promote my shop but it’s expensive so I’m trying to do that less now.
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?
There is a mismatch between delivery expectation times on Etsy and the reality but that may be mostly due to the increased delivery times experienced in this extraordinary year.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Stock control is a constant challenge – one problem is getting hold of some of the most popular fabric in time and having to mark a popular item out of stock is annoying.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Etsy really does make it easy for a novice to set up shop. The biggest mistake I made at the beginning was setting my pricing too low because I was comparing my product with the cheap options that are everywhere whereas in fact customers are prepared to pay more for quality.
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Thank you for helping me achieve such success in the first few months of starting my business!