RunawayWorkshop – UK Supplier of Foam Heads and Costume Parts

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


To be honest, I have been relatively directionless my whole life. but, in retrospect, the thing that stuck the longest was a desire to bring stories and characters to life. I bounced through so many creative disciplines all the way through school, college, then Uni, when I finally settled on illustration/Graphic design, I still kept playing and exploring. Much to the disapproval of my tutors, who thought I was spreading myself too thin.
What they didn’t know, and I didn’t know either at the time, was I actually have ASD (Autistic spectrum disorder, formally Asperger’s) which was the reason for my lack of focus, and a number of other issues that were holding me back. Particularly communication, it’s really hard to describe the kind of misunderstandings I would often have, but the most important thing is that good communication skills and networking are incredibly important for a career in creative industries. And I didn’t have those, what I did have was a level of unfiltered speech that left most people I’d met rightly confused or offended.
Which is easy to laugh at now, but at the time I had no self-awareness, all I knew was I had few friends and even fewer work connections and I had no idea what I was doing wrong. So, when I left Uni, finding work was a struggle, even if it wasn’t graphic design related. I eventually started working as a freelance graphic designer, mostly working with a startup company called Penguin media, I was able to do all of my work with them via email, and they gave me a lot of freedom with the projects, so things worked out pretty well. But it wasn’t bringing in enough work, and I found as a branched out to other clients old issues started to come back. No only did I find the working conditions too rigid and communication a problem, but some of the clients were just horrible to work for. I really struggled with it mentally, and I remember my breaking point was finding a voicemail at midnight from a missed call an hour before, berating me and calling me unprofessional for not answering the phone because they needed the logo I was designing for them completed for the next day. They were paying me £20 for this logo design.
(Cont in number 20)


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


I had bought a couple of things from Etsy before, particularly fursuit parts from another seller before I started making my own. when I was a kid, I would sell friendship bracelets at school, but that was about it.
Selling online was the broadest platform for such a niche business, I’ve found most of my customers are overseas, particularly the US.


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 ?


All of the things I sell in my store are fursuit related, particularly for people to make their own costumes more easily. The body parts are made with a soft expanding foam, and the eyes are made with plastic card and hand-painted buckram so they’re easy to see through.
I design my products based on what I want to make my own costumes with, so any animals or creatures I find particularity interesting. When I first started out, there were fewer people making these kinds of products, so I also wanted to make bases for creatures that weren’t available yet, whether they would be super popular or not, I just wanted to open that up for people looking for something different.
I did introduce cotton bandannas to my store a year or so ago, but all credit goes to my mum for those, she’s also quite a crafty person but didn’t want to set up her own store.


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


When I started working on fursuits, it really pulled all of my learned disciplines together from school, college and university. Particularly at college level, I did an arts and crafts foundation with DeMontfort uni where I had modules in anything from film development to glass blowing. I think the things that were most useful though, were mold making, woodwork, fashion, and sculpture. They gave me the confidence to experiment when it came to developing to specific skills required to make the costume parts. That, and I always had my mum and Dad on hand for extra advice where I needed it.
I’m always working to improve my products, so there is probably a low level of dissatisfaction with everything I make to an extent. But it was just under two years from me making my first head base, to getting those particular designs up on Etsy.

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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?


It was to just pay for the basics as I went back to college. I wanted to retrain as a countryside ranger, all but given up on being able to work a creative job full time. I hoped that it would at least pay me through that, and then be a side business after.


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?


Even though at the point I opened my Etsy store I didn’t feel like I had a lot riding on my success, there was part of me that felt my work was inadequate and that no one could possibly want to build a costume with one of my heads, especially as there were a few stores already selling very high quality and well-developed products.
But I just had to remind myself that making these bases was fun for me, and if people didn’t like these ones, then there was always room to grow and improve. No one stays where they are creative, you either stop and get worse, or you carry on and get better. Carrying on was the more fun option.


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?


I got my first sale within 2 weeks. I expected that would be the norm, a sale every 2 weeks or so, that would be enough for what I needed. I averaged about 1 – 2 orders a week for the first few months, so I started adding new designs. By the end of the first year I had about 5 orders a week, some fairly large orders as well.


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 work my Etsy store full time, which can be tedious, especially as someone with ASD. I need a routine for my day, otherwise, I start to drift off and I find myself having to work long hours to catch up and then burn myself out.
I tend to write down everything I need to do the night before, so I’m prepared to start in the morning.
Typically, after I write out everything I need to do, I’ll also write everything I want to do, and then make time for it in a timetable for the week. I’ll even include exercise, time with the dog, and meals on this list, because I find it very easy to lose myself to work some days, meaning the following days will be more likely to fall into distraction.
Just recently though, I have moved to a new house with a workshop in the garden, I was still working through the changes of that when COVID-19 became a thing. So in all honesty, when it comes to time management at the moment, I’m just doing the best I can.


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?


One of my best selling products is eyes, which I tend to make in batches on order. Part of them, the iris, is customizable, so I will do that on order, but the base of the eye would be pre-made. Those parts are also nice and small for storage.
the head bases though, they’re all cast to order because I have so many designs and they’re not so easy to store.
I make my own sculpts and molds for the bases over about a week, it’s all done by hand, but I will use laser lines and calipers to help get some symmetry in the sculptures though. Then I cast with a two-part liquid expanding foam, which produces a reproduction of the design in more appropriate material.
I am looking into different technologies I can use to further improve the sculpts in the future though, such as 3D scanning.


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


Postage is getting more and more expensive, especially as I ship worldwide. And since the new Etsy policy of setting free shipping for $35 for US customers was put into place, It’s really hurt profitability. I had to raise my prices to cover the cost and made my shipping free globally to make up for the unfairness of having to do this.
The materials have always been quite expensive though, and my prices have reflected it reasonably, I think most of my customers understand this so I’ve never had issues.
As I now work from home in my own workshop, the overheads are minimal as well, which has helped me keep costs down.


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 create a lot of Pinterest boards, collecting images of fursuits and costumes I like, but more so of unusual and interesting animals. I will look at their unique shapes and characteristics, think about how I would bring it to life as a character and go from there. Sometimes there are also popularity trends with different animals and species, I also try to pay attention to those if its a creature I might also be interested in making.
I will sketch it out from different angles, then just get stuck straight into sculpting.


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?


One of the first issues I had with shipping globally, was my parcels kept getting crushed, so I had to spend more money on filler for the boxes. I didn’t like the idea of filler, because of the environmental impact, but fortunately, there were biodegradable packing peanuts on the market. they were more expensive than plastic ones, but there was no question about whether it was worth it or not.
Typically, my parcels take anywhere from 5 to 7 days to get to their destination around the world, but I have found that unfortunately, some can take up to a month for no particular reason. I always shipped tracked now because of this, so I can at least give the customer some peace of mind.

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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 a lot more people selling fursuit parts on the market now than when I first started, it can be quite intimidating, especially as they utilize technology like 3D printing to produce seamless products, whilst I’m still here hand sculpting away with old school methods.
But, as I move into using technology myself, I’ll still be incorporating what I have learned from handcraft over the years and I hope that will show through.


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


I just try to remember that there is another person at the other end of these messages, which can be quite easy to forget over the Internet and probably why a lot of unnecessary disputes come about.
If I’m at fault I will always do everything I can to make it right, and I make that clear to the customer from the start of communication, even if they’re hurling abuse at me (which has fortunately only happened a hand full of times).
Even if I’m not at fault, I will do what I can to help and be as understanding as possible. I frequently get messages asking for advice on how to use my products, or asking how to build fursuits in general. So many, I made a couple of youtube video demonstrations to link to people. I also have some advice written out that I can add to messages to help people as well.


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?


Massively, I never thought I would be as successful as this, not just on etsy but just in general.
There has been stress, working with expanding foam can be trying, it’s very picky about the environment you cast in and even if you do get it perfect, it still might go wrong. At first, these issues had me ready to quit, but now I just roll with it.
When I first started, I would struggle with my 5 orders a week, now I hardly sweat 25 orders a week. I’ve become so much more efficient and confident, it shows even in my everyday life. I think the only stressors are postage issues because I have no control over them.


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 use a lot of social media mainly to post works in progress, talk about ideas I have, maybe post up something I saw recently that inspired me. I definitely don’t think I use it as much as I should though, in order to have any impact I should be posting at least twice a day, I probably post once or twice a week.
I do put a card in every order with my twitter handle on, just asking the customer to share the costume they make with me, I’ll post it up or retweet it for them, that generates a lot of excitement. especially from me, I love seeing what people make with my bases!


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 really dislike the free shipping policy and how Etsy implemented it. I lost about half my weekly order average before I felt forced to turn it on. I was told by Etsy to just increase my prices to cover the cost, that the fact I would get more orders from the policy, would average it out.
This is not the case for small niche businesses like mine, I wasn’t losing sales because of the postage cost. and free shipping did not increase my sales, it just brought them back to where they were before I opted in, I was just receiving less money for my work.
Increasing the price to cover the shipping to the US meant that customers in my own country had to pay more, which I didn’t think was fair. I brought this up as a complaint, but never received a response, but I believe there are a few things they could do to adjust the issue. Like being able to set prices for each country.
When this came into place, I felt more like an employee of Etsy, rather than what I was supposed to be, their customer. It has actually led me to look at alternative selling options.
Also: please stop hiding the product description deeper and deeper into the listing page, I want people to be able to find it.


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


Thanks to my graphic design background, I had everything I needed to brand myself straight off the bat, which meant I wasted no time in making a name for myself and being recognisable.


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?


Be honest, but don’t sell yourself short. Hand made products are quirky and unique, its why we love them and its why they’re special. know the value of your uniqueness and put that into the description of the products.
More practically as advice though, develop a brand for yourself, separate from Etsy’s imagery, put this branding on anything you can or want, like your postage boxes, or a little freebie for orders over a certain price for example.


Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion


Eventuality I lost all of my motivation for the craft to the point where I was spending at least 9 hours most days playing video games. and as depressing as that sounds, that’s actually how I met the client that got me started again. I was part of a gaming community and got to know some people pretty well, one of them is part of the furry community and after hearing about my funk he told me about fursuits. Remembering back at university, I stumbled across an artist and fursuit maker named beetlecat, I’d never seen anything like it, I was in awe and wanted to make one. Nothing was stopping me from trying.
Working in my 7ft x 7ft bedroom, suit after suit, I slowly got better and even took on some commissions, it became an obsession. Each new suit I sold was to pay for the next one I wanted to make, my drive was back. I’d never had better clients, and I’d became friends with most of them because the community was just so accepting and understanding that social difficulties were never an issue. I was given a job, and I was allowed to just get it done.
Not long after, I was actually diagnosed with ASD, (weirdly enough thanks to my amazing karate instructor, who’s son also has ASD)so, the world made sense, and I was able to then start working through issues caused by it. Now with the confidence to work again, I thought that I couldn’t live off of fursuit making, so I decided to go back to college to do countryside management and work towards becoming a park ranger. but, to make money over my course, for petrol and work gear, I put a couple of my fursuit foam bases up on Etsy.
I was actually quite surprised by how well they sold, so I sculpted a few more designs. Eventually, as I needed more space, my Nana let me use her garage to work in, and it just took off from there.
I now have a house, and just built my own workshop in the garden.


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