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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting or Growing Your Fiber Arts Business

June 17, 2017




The OMG Yarn (Balls) blog and Etsy shop may seem like an overnight success. In fact, it’s been a LONG time coming.

I opened an Etsy shop back in April 2011 after becoming a stay at home mom to my oldest, Peanut, who was about 18 months old at the time. He was an easy baby who’d started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks old, so I was feeling a little bored. I started knitting again. All the time.

By the following year, I’d opened a little yarn shop to keep me occupied. Peanut tagged along and took on the role of shop helper and the self-designated door opener for customers.

The success of my little yarn shop was not short lived, but I closed my doors to evolve the business beyond the storefront and do the things I loved.

Even with a Master’s in Business Administration and half a decade of management experience in the health care industry, I still made some mistakes and/or noticed other businesses make certain slip ups when it came to the billion dollar + fiber arts industry.

I warn you though. You can do EVERYTHING “right” in business and still not have the kind of success you want. Some of us will never be WEBS Yarn Store or Debbie Bliss, BUT we can have the kind of success that will feed our families or at least give us a little extra money to spend on more yarn. (That’s why we’re in this business, right? We love yarn.)

Let’s chat a little about some of those mistakes and what you can do to avoid them, shall we?

  1. Diving in head first without a plan or a safety net. 

    They tell you that entrepreneurs dive in and build the parachute on the way down. In a sense, we do, but really, there’s so much more involved.We stand on the edge of the cliff and decide whether or not to jump, whether or not the build the parachute, what color that parachute should be, and whether or not we might be able to aim for the bushes or not. What does that really mean?

    Start with a business plan. It doesn’t have to be a 50 page dissertation on why yarn and wool is awesome and that you think you can make money off of it, but it does have to lay out the basics – the Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How?

    I’m not going to go into how to write a business plan here, but things to keep in mind: Who is your tribe (target audience)? What services and products you plan to offer? What sets you above the rest (find other businesses that you love and write down what you could do better than they can or what you could stand to improve about yourself to be successful)? Where you will operate (a physical location, online, or both)? Why you are doing this (and no, it’s not just about making money)? What are you goals (mission and vision in the business vernacular)? How will you achieve your goals (include milestones and numbers – determine what success looks like to you)?




  2. Copying someone else’s business plan or strategy and not finding your own “OMG Factor”. 

    I often joke about making a project “OMG worthy”. Well, your fiber arts and your business should have that “OMG Factor”: something that’s unique and sets you above and beyond all the rest.Seriously. Don’t copy other people’s businesses. I’m not going to offer you a course on business ethics and it doesn’t matter what other people do. You need to do you, not be like someone else (and that’s a sub-point here too: don’t focus on what other people are doing). This isn’t high school.

    I once panicked because a local yarn shop opened up nearby and you could tell that the owner had essentially looked at my Facebook page and website and copied a lot (almost verbatim).The mistake there: businesses are more than just the sum of their parts. Fiber artists each have their own magic that they bring to their business. That means, you can copy EVERYTHING about a successful business and call it your own – you might even make some money from that strategy – but you will never have exactly what that owner and fiber artist offers to his or her customers.

    There’s also karma…eventually it’ll bite you in the ass.

  3. Not paying attention to overhead costs. 

    This kinda goes along with a well-written and executed business plan, however, overhead (operating) costs will make or break any small business.There are fixed costs – costs that won’t vary much or at all each month like rent, utilities, wages for employees (if you have them), etc – and there are variable costs – things like merchant fees that go up or down based on sales volume, etc.Offsetting those costs is what you need to do to be profitable. The more costs you have, the more sales you need to make in order to be successful.The best strategy is to keep your fixed costs low.

    For example, I took advantage of the fact that the real estate market in the area had not recovered yet from the market crash of 2008. I found a space where the landlord was desperate to find an occupant and ended up with 1,000 square feet of retail space and 1,000 square feet of storage for about $650 a month. There were no triple net fees like strip malls or other commercial spaces have.

    Because of how low the costs for my retail space and maintaining said space were, I could get away with just a few sales a day in order to break even! Any months where I got more than that offset the summer months when the shop was dead.

    I also did not take out any loans whatsoever. Not a Kiva loan, not a small business loan, nothing. Could you imagine getting a $100k loan and then not being able to pay it all off? I couldn’t take out any loans anyway, so paying cash for everything, learning to budget and managing cash flow were very valuable lessons I learned “on the job”. And it translated to my personal life well too. I don’t own any credit cards, I spend below my means, and I still have all the fiber toys I want!

  4. Offering only one or too few products to survive. 

    You think you can get away with just selling your yarn? Nope. You need to be creative with how you diversify your creative business.Sell your yarn. Work with a designer and offer patterns (or design your own). Find some unique tools or signature items that show off who you are as a fiber artist and stock them. Sell in multiple venues (online, retail space, craft fairs, trade shows, etc). Collaborate with other fiber artists or makers.

    The sky is the limit.

  5. Expecting it to be easy, find the magic formula, or be an overnight success. 

    As much as business coaches want you to buy into how you can be a success overnight, it’s always the exception, not the rule. Yea, there are people that are successful almost overnight, but you cannot compare what you see on the surface to what you have to do. You need to pay your dues (for the most part).

    The first thing a yarn shop owner told me when I was doing my market research was, “You know it’s a lot of work, right? You can’t just put in 40 hours and think you’re done.”She was right. I’m used to working a lot. I completed my MBA full time while working full time. By the time I was 24 years old, I had a Master’s Degree, an awesomely difficult job, and did nothing but work and sleep.

    I now have three kids and work from home. I ALWAYS have to be on the go (I’m my father’s daughter that way).Expect 60- to 80-hour work weeks. The front door of your shop may be locked and the sign may say “Closed” but you’re not done. There’s paperwork, bookkeeping, “running the numbers”, keeping track of sales, and so much more.It’s the stuff most people hate, but that I love doing and do it quickly and well.

    There are multiple things you will have to learn by doing and some things you can take classes for. Accounting/bookkeeping, basic business operations, and marketing skills are just some of the things you will absolutely need, even if you hire someone to help you.

    If you plan on blogging or having a kickass website, expect to have to learn some coding or server maintenance skills, depending on how you plan on running your site.




  6. Not keeping your business organized. 

    I prefer a little chaos, but I also know that there are certain things I need to find on a moment’s notice.Keeping organized is a must, so find tools to help you do that.My landlord noticed once that my studio space was always chaotic, but if he needed a copy of a canceled rent check from the beginning of the year, it took me two seconds to find it.

  7. Lastly, not sticking to a marketing strategy. 

    This is a BIG one. BIG. Focus on social media or another marketing avenue to let people know about your business. This was my biggest mistake.

    In fact, most of your time is spent on marketing, not actually making your signature product. I thought that all you had to do was publish patterns or tell people about your products and they’d buy. That’s not always the case.

    You need to make them want to buy from you. Make them see how awesome you are. If you’re on Facebook, engage your audience in a group, through your page, and in other groups as well, but don’t be spammy. If it works for you, stick with it.

    On Instagram, find your audience and cater to them by telling your story. They’ll be more likely to buy if you can show them your passion for the fiber arts and have something unique to offer them.

    Don’t just show your yarn. Show people how you make it. Show them what inspired your creations. Show people what they can make with it. I mean, not everyone buys yarn for the sake of buying it, some people want to have a project to make with it.

Above all else, have fun and fill your life with the “OMG Factor”. If fiber arts is your passion, you should be able to show that. It’s endearing to see how much other people are obsessed with their craft, because after all, we all love yarn.


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Offensive Fiber Art and the Art of Offending through Art

May 11, 2017




My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish. – Joyce Carol Oates

What do you think? Should art provoke? Should art offend? It certainly can.

Let’s explore that fact today, shall we?

In case you did not know, I help admin a Facebook group called, “Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists”. My friend Nicole Goetz of Mercantile 519 started the group a few months ago and it’s now composed of over 8,000 people!

Being an admin for large Facebook groups requires you to step back from your own personal beliefs in order to objectively look at problems that may arise between members of the group and offer a fair solution that may or may not help. If you can’t help, sometimes you remove people from the group, sometimes you take down posts, and sometimes you offend or enlighten others around you.

Offensive Fiber Art(ists)

My foray into my own mildly offensive fiber art didn’t start with knitting that big pile of pink hats for the March on Washington earlier this year, but it certainly influenced me a great deal. Discussions surrounding the hats usually took on one of two forms:

  1. People who were greatly offended by their interpretation of what the hats were all about AND
  2. People who were offended at the offense people took over the hats.

This eventually pointed me in the direction of where I wanted to go with OMG Yarn (Balls) and this little bloggy of mine.

I LOVE art. I have my own projects (like the “It Is Too Fucking Cold” hat pictured above), but I love seeing what people come up with on a daily basis in the Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists group. What I look forward to most is seeing some of the things that cross stitchers and embroiderers post: sassy sayings stitched in a way to provoke.

Most recently and most notably, a post in the group provoked a bit more than just an “OMG” from our members, but an intense discussion of institutional racism and experiences of others. Discussions got aggressive and beyond mildly offensive, leading multiple reports of the post. The image itself offended many as well.

Trying to stay neutral, I posted: “Admin here: Hi, stop reporting this post. If someone is being disrespectful to each other, contact us admins. You may not agree with the viewpoint given by the art in this post, but art is supposed to be provocative. Don’t like it, keep on scrolling.”

Then, I thought twice. Yes, art is supposed to be provocative but if it isn’t, is it still art?




The Art of Offending

As artists we cannot choose what is offensive to others, we can only create artistic works and hope that our intended meaning comes through. I mean, of course, sometimes a hat is just a hat and a sweater is just a sweater, but what about knitting or crocheting a uterus and sending it to a legislator to invoke change?

I cannot create a piece of art meant to offend and expect that EVERYONE will be offended. I also cannot tell someone who is offended by what I think is benign that they don’t have the right to be offended, even if it wasn’t my original intent. Like I said, we cannot control who is offended from who is not, but we can use art media in a way to provoke conversation.

Hell, there was a point at which someone was offended by my modern take on a dream catcher, even though I, myself, am Native American. I could have been offended by someone telling me what pieces I could and could not make, or I could have learned from the conversation. Why was she offended? What could I do better as a person to explain myself? Am I even required to explain myself as not exploiting a particular culture?

And then you could be offensive in what materials you use or how you use them…

The one thing that comes to mind when I think of offensive art was the fallout from Chris Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary”. The artist used elephant dung as a medium and the whole world lost their damn minds over it. Haha!

In the fiber arts community, there’s that lady who knits while keeping her yarn in her vagina. Nah, I’ll pass.

Offending, Provoking, and Invoking Fiber Arts as Means to an End for Change 

Me, personally, I just stick to my occasional craftivism and hope to impact the world positively through knitting and crocheting for a cause and also to help pass on the tradition of fiber arts to younger generations. That’s what I mean to do with my fiber art for fun. The heavy lifting for OMG Yarn, obviously is yarn dyeing and designing, but still, it wouldn’t be fiber art without a little bit of stirring up the pot, right?

Historically, knitters and crocheters have been on the forefront of change in many ways, and craftivism is not a new concept.

“The history of craftivist art lies in the foundations first established by the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK. The idea of ethical interactions and relationships between the artist and his or her environment as a whole has carried through the generations. Female-led efforts to promote craft industries in Canada during the late 19thcentury have also influenced today’s craftivist undertakings by implanting the trend with feminist values and ethics. Craft artists and social action groups are thus driven to create their art in conjunction with a framework dedicated to political change and constructive protest. Through the manipulation and exploitation of stereotypes that lie in the assumed innocence of knitted artwork, the familiarity and gentleness of craft art has become a tool for assertive social action.” (Hardy-Moffat, 2012).

Now, I’m seeing people I’ve met in the fiber arts industry, people like Donna Druchunas and more, invoking social change and awareness with their fiber arts. Facebook groups like Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists and Compassionate Craftivists have popped up for fiber artists to unite their efforts or just ogle over others’ hard work at “offending”.

In the end…

Fiber artists are really just group of people out for tolerance, acceptance, and change and they’re united through an obsession with various fibers made into string. What’s not to love about that?

And yes, I do realize that there are people that knit, crochet, spin, etc. just to relax or have fun, but that is evocative too, no? What say you?




References.

Frank, P. (2015, June 01). At $2.3 Million, It’s The Most Expensive Painting Made Of Elephant Poop. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/chris-ofili-elephant-dung_n_7470692.html

Hardy-Moffat, M. (2012, November 16). Feminism and the Art of “Craftivism”: Knitting for Social Change under the Principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://cujah.org/past-volumes/volume-v/essay3-volume5/

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