You may have noticed that a new section of my little corner of the internet has appeared. I’ve expanded the ‘jojomakes’ segment of this journey through my random brain activity by adding a shop. This blog post will explain the thought process behind my choices of what to make, why I’m selling stuff here rather than on a platform like Etsy, and what I’m hoping to achieve with this whole thing going forward. It’s a bit scary to put this down in writing publicly because if it goes to heck in a handbasket (whatever a handbasket is) then there’s a record of my formerly naïve and optimistic self for all to see. But hey, you’ve got to give things a try, haven’t you? Let’s say ‘yes’ for the sake of argument.
My aim with ‘jojomakes’ is to produce unique, high quality, handmade items in the most ethical way I possibly can and make a bit of cash in the process.
My own principles have been the first obstacle to getting ‘jojomakes’ up and running. I really am the master of getting in my own way. When I buy things, I try hard to look for the most ethical options possible. I’m far from perfect but I endeavour to only buy what I need, invest in good quality items that will last a long time, avoid materials that cannot be recycled, and buy second-hand whenever possible and practical. I want to apply similar principles to making my own products. This means I don’t buy new fabric, which complicates matters. The fabric I source is either left over from projects I’ve completed in the past, donated by family and friends, or acquired second hand from charity shops or websites like Freecycle.
You might think that getting fabric like this saves a lot of money as it’s generally cheap or free so there’s no need to make a fuss about it. You’d be right, it does save cash, but it doesn’t necessarily make life easier. Also, I like making a fuss so please don’t take that away from me. Sourcing fabric like this saves money but adds time. And, as some old bloke (possibly Benjamin Franklin) said, time is money.
Buying new fabric off the roll means it turns up in a nice, neat chunk ready to be washed, ironed, and used. You know exactly how much fabric to buy for what you’re making. Getting fabric in more creative ways means you’re never entirely sure what will arrive at your door or what you’ll pick up from a stranger’s porch. It’s exciting getting a random box of fabric goodness. But it takes more time to sort through it all, work out how much you’ve got of each material and what you can get out of it, and see if it goes with any of the fabric you already have. Locating the materials also takes a bit more time than just ordering new fabric. Whether it’s rummaging through charity shops (once Covid-19 is under control), searching Freecycle listings for people in my area getting rid of curtains, or delving through my mother-in-law's epic stash of left-over fabric, it’s a slower process.
So, when you see the prices of my products you may think they’re high considering the cost of the materials. However, I’d urge you to remember the steps I’ve taken to make them in a more ethical way and the extra time this has taken.
Why not Etsy?
You may also wonder why I’ve chosen to open the shop here on my teeny-tiny website rather than on a platform like Etsy. This is a sensible question. You’re clearly very wise. Well, this is not my first venture into the world of running an online shop. I did have a shop on Etsy before and it had good points and bad points. On the positive side, it was easy to run. The infrastructure was all set up for you so adding listings and dealing with payments was straightforward. You don’t need much tech knowledge or website creating know-how to open a pretty nice-looking shop on Etsy.
Etsy also gets a lot of traffic. This is a positive and a negative as far as I’m concerned. The fact that lots of people shop on Etsy means your potential pool of customers is pretty big. On the other hand, the fact that lots of people sell on Etsy means you can get lost in a crowded marketplace. I can’t claim to fully understand how it all works but the Etsy algorithm appears to favour shops that make the most sales, so they come up first in searches, get more sales, get bigger, and the cycle continues. Breaking into that is difficult. Especially as more shops on Etsy sell more vintage stuff rather than handmade items, which take less time to produce, meaning they can make more sales and I think you can see where I’m going with this. I ended up spending vast amounts of time trying to win the Etsy game rather than making and selling things and I never really felt like I was winning compared to the bigger shops on there. So, I’m going to try to go it alone and build an audience for the blog and shop in, hopefully, more fun and productive ways.
My choice of products for the new shop has been heavily influenced by the experience with my previous shop. My best sellers were waistcoats. I sold standard sizes and also made custom orders. Some customers were excellent about taking the measurements I needed to make a waistcoat and it was barely any different to making one from a standard pattern. Some people were not. Complications always arose when people wanted to surprise someone with a customised waistcoat as a gift. They didn’t want to take measurements and give the game away. I appreciate the fun of a surprise gift but making customised clothing with no measurements at all is impossible. Every email I had to send explaining that ‘No, I can’t make a waistcoat based on a shirt collar size’, or ‘I’m afraid small, medium, or large is not specific enough’ or ‘That’s a lovely photo of your husband but I can’t use it to work out his chest measurement’ wasted more and more of my time and cut my hourly rate down to a pittance. It also put my blood pressure and frustration levels through the roof.
I love making clothes, but it is simply impractical for me to make customised clothing over the internet as the mainstay of my business. I am capable of doing this and I’m not saying I never will. But I'd like ‘jojomakes’ to be something easier to run and a vaguely stable and straightforward thing to restock and maintain. I’m also not Asos. I don’t have the resources to just make one of every size for every item I can produce and hope they all sell. Companies like Asos can also afford for people to buy a load of items from them and expect half of them to be returned. I cannot. I’m just one woman with a sewing machine and every product matters to me a lot more than it does to Asos. So, this has led me to the napkins, placemats, and things that don’t require measurements specific to anything more complicated than a table.
Plans For The Future
Finally, when taking into consideration the way the rest of my life is likely to go, a portable business makes sense. I’m married to an academic. A very lovely academic, whose career decisions I fully support. And this involves a lot of moving around. Husband's choice of career is the one that will always make the most money, so we go where he needs to be for whatever amount of time he needs to be there. So far, this has meant living somewhere for a few years and then moving on for another few years and this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. I can sew, make, and post things from anywhere in the world so it makes sense to put some effort into making this work. The same principle applies to the blog. The corner of my brain reserved for optimistic thinking plans to get a decent readership for the blog and start a Patreon page with bonus content for my adoring fans. The part of my brain that deals in hopes for the future also dreams of making some money from my sewing skills without inducing an epic amount of environmental guilt or frustration with strangers on the internet.
There it is. I’ve confessed all to you now, gentle readers. Please be kind to my hopes and dreams. They’re small by the standards of a lot of people in this world, but I’ve never wanted to run a huge business or be centre stage in the action of the world. I’d just like to make some pretty things and spread some joy with my rambling words.
If you can help me do that by sharing my blog and shop with your friends and family, I would be very grateful. Thank you for your interest and support. I wish you all the very best wherever you are and whatever you're making, doing, or climbing.