Profitable handmade business in just one year
At the end of 2017 I quit my full time job. It was a leap of faith, an unplanned decision, a rather impulsive choice. I had limited savings to start with, in the end I was quitting a job in architecture. (For all of you who only know architects from films and tv, like I did, It is NOT a well paid job.) But I was committed to make it and decided to take a year off to focus on my business.
I started Kaliko in early 2017 and was working on it in the evenings. I wanted to try to grow it and see if it has any future. Making things just for fun and selling them online while having a full time job takes a lot of time, but it’s not too stressful. Whether you sell your products or not - you’re still getting a paycheck from your boss. But when I quit my job in late 2017 I realised that having your own business puts much more pressure on making the best of your time. You’re constantly thinking about ROI (return on investment). You have to make enough to pay your own rent, buy food, cover all kinds of insurances, and - in my case - pay another rent for my studio. You can’t just make pretty things all day not caring if they sell. My business hasn’t been profitable from the beginning, but I worked hard for a full year and I can finally say: my business can support me!
There are many ways to achieve sustainability of your business but I want to share what helped me and hope that I can help someone else by doing so. I’m always interested in stories of other makers and business owners, that’s why I am sharing mine. Ok, so how did I do that? Simply put: I diversified.
My business has four main pillars:
1. Unique handmade products
This is the core of my brand and where it all started - my own online shop. The thing I like to do the most is making things with my hands, coming up with new designs and being creative. I love dyeing and weaving. I don’t weave that much these days because I figured it would take me too long to build a business around that, but I am finding huge pleasure in dyeing and testing new plants. Making unique pieces can be very frustrating at times, though. You never know how the next batch will sell, how much you should produce and what to focus on. My first batch of project bags this year didn’t sell out for weeks, my second batch sold out in 2 hours. Both of them were very similar. These are the uncertainties you have to prepare yourself for when offering unique handmade goods, that’s why it is so important to have alternative income sources.
I discovered wholesaling by accident when I was approached by Loop London to make a line of bags for their shop. I am forever grateful for this opportunity, for them being very patient with me and for being easy on me as a beginner. Wholesale makes for almost a half of my income at the moment. I am selling to 8 different shops on 3 continents. Why I find it so valuable is that it helps you plan your production in advance and ensure steady influx of money. When accepting a wholesale order, I always ask for a 50% upfront payment to cover all the materials expenses. I then allow myself 8-10 weeks to finish the task. In this way I know for sure I will be paid the rest of the amount in 2 months and can plan my finances accordingly. Another thing that helped my brand immensely is showcasing my products in shops around the world and spreading the word about Kaliko. So even though wholesale orders don’t bring that much money per piece, they give a sense of stability and work well on the marketing level.
Something I didn’t even consider when I first started playing with fibers became one of my main income sources now. After I found the perfect loom to weave on, I shared about it on social media a lot. I was asked where to purchase it by many people, and so I decided to approach the producer personally and started cooperating with them. I now offer these very favorite looms of mine in 3 sizes. They are handmade by a small woodworking company in southern Germany and made to last. The producer happily accommodates my wishes and I do all the marketing work, so that you get the best quality looms straight to your houses around the world. Reselling is great for two reasons: it’s not very time consuming and it helps you attract more buyers. I also offer local roving, loom accessories and seeds sets.
4. Workshops and teaching
I am very new to this field but realized it was a necessity. I am a dyer who just rented a separate space for my work and need to pay the second rent. So I decided that this space has to pay for itself. I offer workshops that help me cover these new extra expenses. I teach different workshops: Intro to dyeing, Bundle dye, Organic Indigo, Shibori, and put all the earnings towards the rent. This is the only way I am able to afford my beautiful shop at the moment, and it’s working great so far. I also wrote a small ebook about growing dye plants, which of course took initial time investment. It gives me a small but steady amount of money every month now, though, and it’s a great passive income. I am planning to expand on my teaching offer and came up with multiple ideas to do so, like an online course or video series. As a shy person I finally decided it’s not for me. I want to write a proper and extensive ebook about dyeing techniques I use in my work and my approach to this craft, though. This one is still in the phase of dreaming about it, so it won’t be for another year or more until it materializes, but I’m going to put my spare time into it this year.
I hope this honest post about the financial side of things can help other small makers to make the most of their business. My general advice would be not to put all eggs in one basket! If one of the pillars will fail me next month, I will still have another three to support me. It is highly impossible they’ll all fail at once, especially that they’re spread around the globe, in both online and offline world and serve different audiences. It gives me a peace of mind and helps me sleep at night. This is what I learnt this past year and what helped me hit my goal last December, just like planned: my business finally supports me and I am excited to see what lies ahead.
If you’d like me to talk about any of these in detail, please let me know. I’d love to know how far along the way you are and how you’re making it happen.