Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 4 Income Report

Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 4 Income Report

Dear readers,

If you have been following me for a while, you know that the income report is one of my favorite posts to write. If you are new, you need to know that I am almost as passionate about the sewing community's business side as I am about actual sewing. Since I started Just Patterns 4 years ago, it has been essential for me to share as transparently as possible how and why I run things the way I do. You can also read past years' income reports and lessons learned.

In this post, I share the sales and expenditures numbers for 2020 and my reflections on what I have learned. I also provide an update on the Diversity Commitment I wrote in June and some guiding thoughts for 2021. 

I mentioned this before, but the numbers I'm just discussing below are only hindsight on selling sewing patterns online. If you plan to launch your own business and are willing and able to dedicate yourself full-time to it, you could likely grow faster. As for me, I am enjoying the slow organic growth in line with the 3 priorities that guide how I manage this project: 

  • Flexibility: this is essential for me because I sometimes need to dedicate a lot/all of my attention to my other job and personal life. That means, for instance, that I actively avoid physical products, such as paper patterns. I also do not set objectives for myself in terms of pattern releases or sales.

  • Breaking even: so far my goal has to make income cover expenses. It’s taking me a long time to account for all actual expenditures but I’m getting there. Paying myself is starting to be the horizon!

  • Pleasure: it has to be fun! I don’t want to ruin my hobby of 20 years in the pursuit of some illusionary success! I only release patterns that I want to wear and I’m passionate about making. A pattern will often dominate 3-4 months of my making time so I need to have fun sewing and wearing it!

Income in 2020

2020 has been a year of change and one of growth as well. At times it was a bit scary and overwhelming. But by the end of the year, it felts like things were falling into place, and I'm really pleased with the directions I took. 

1501 patterns sold (776 in 2019) :

  • 87.5% on my e-shop (55% in 2019)

  • 9% on Etsy (37.5% in 2019)

  • 3% on Pattern Review (15% in 2019)

  • 0.5% on Makerist (1% in 2019)

Tyra, the new pattern released in September, became the year bestseller with just three months of sales :

  • Tyra Tee: 379 (released in September)

  • Christy Slipdress: 322 (discontinued in September)

  • Tatjana Trousers: 200 (released in December)

  • Kate Bias Top: 171 (discontinued in September)

  • Stephanie Skirt: 168

  • Naomi Bias Skirt: 110 (discontinued in September)

  • Yasmeen Skirt: 80

  • Linda Wrap Dress: 71

At the full retail price, this represents $11,715 ($3,215 in 2019). This total includes the fee paid by a UK-based sewing magazine to include a pattern in one of their issue: $350. This number does not account for sales, commissions, transaction fees, etc. In effect, the amount received was $10,695 ($2,789.73 in 2019), which means that selling platforms and payment fees, commissions, and special sales amount to $1020 or 9% of the full retail price sales (13% in 2019).

Expenditures in 2020

$7,385 of direct costs ($1,583 in 2019) :

  • $509 for the website ($323 in 2019):

    • $406 for Squarespace;

    • $103 for Weglot (translation into French);

  • $1,017 for softwares ($660 in 2019):

    • $239 for Adobe suite (Illustrator, Lightroom, Indesign, etc. );

    • $486 for the CAD software (I use Padshare);

    • $152 for Later (scheduler for Instagram);

    • $140 for Grammarly (English editor);

  • $4,011 for external services:

    • $2980 of Graphic Design;

    • $813 for tester fees;

    • $218 for editing;

  • $1,405 for equipment:

    • $453 for a second-hand large format printer (mine is an HP DesignJet 500);

    • $105 of paper for the printer ;

    • $157 for photography (seamless background and lights);

    • $215 for muslin;

    • $156 for a custom dress-form (I used a customized Bootstrap pattern for size 50 of my size chart);

    • $320 for a cutting table (3 Ikea Kallax on wheels and a wood top)

  • $442 on learning:

    • $228 for an online class on MOTIF (the learning platform of Alvanon)

    • $214 on books (grading, pattern making and construction);

Highlights

I think the most notable thing is the growth that happened last year. The number of patterns sold doubled, but because of the new value and pricing, the income was multiplied by three!

Three factors for growth:

  • A lot of the growth can be attributed to releasing three new sewing patterns last year: the Naomi Bias Skirt (now retired), the Tyra Tee, and the Tatjana Trousers. But since Eira and I jointly decided to split as business partners in Just Patterns, that meant retiring the shop's three bias patterns from the shop in September. So the catalog looks different, but it is the same size as before, with currently five designs for sale.

  • The other motor for the sale increase is increased visibility on social media. I dedicated time to Instagram: I signed up for Later to schedule posts. That helped with regularity on my personal and business account. Although I still need to post more regularly with the business account, I doubled the following between May and December, going over 10K followers on both accounts.

  • Release day marketing: after complaining for years that I didn't like marketing, I finally decided to do something about it! So instead of releasing the pattern as soon as the files are ready (trust me, it's hard to resist), I now get in touch with several people on Instagram whom I either know and/or admire the aesthetics. I offer an early-release version of the pattern and ask if they can post a picture on the release day. Let me say that I did not invent this approach since I was actually asked to do it for other pattern brands. I like that it clearly separates testing from the promotion and that reaching out to people made me get over myself, and I made some really lovely connections with super talented sewists!

The other notable thing is how much I spent this year. To me, it's all investment: I invested in my brand (with the new visual identity and template), I invested in my equipment (I love my printer and my cutting table so much!), and I invested in myself with an online course and books.

The graphic design services were a big commitment, but I have wanted to do it for a long time. The most valuable thing for me is the template for the illustrations and the PDFs for the pattern files. It has made me a lot faster at preparing files, and the designer I worked with taught me some great Illustrator tips!

I'm also thrilled to have been able to start paying pattern testers. Right now, it's essentially a lumpsum for fabric and printing costs. Still, I hope to eventually be able to include a fee for the time involved. I always loved the energy of my testing group. Some of the members have been there since my very first test. But I have to say that since I started implementing the lump sum, every test's energy is even higher. It is invigorating! If pattern designers out there wonder if they should begin paying testers, I say: do it! Not only it's a better business practice, but it also leads to a better testing process!

Update on the diversity commitment

In June 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, I published a Diversity Commitment for Just Patterns that can be found at the bottom of every page. I pledged to monitor the implementation of my commitment as part of this yearly report.

On representation, I've been more intentional at highlighting BIPOC and black customers' work and used more fashion inspiration pictures featuring BIPOC, but this is an ongoing effort.

I partnered with 2 fabric stores for giveaways, and one is BIPOC-owned. This is an area where I still need to do better and highlight the work BIPOC indie pattern makers in the Sew the Look posts I just restarted on Instagram.

On testing and marketing, the representation of BIPOC makers continued to improve in the testing group, and I did start to provide fabric and printing stipends to all testers. I have been intentional in reaching out to BIPOC and Black makers to collaborate for the release day of my new patterns, but this is also a continuous effort.

On transparency, well, this post is my main effort. However, I also share more about my business and my process on my personal Instagram account. As I said before, if you are considering launching your own patterns and have questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch

How I’m approaching 2021

A personal disappointment is that I could still not complete the upgrading of the Linda Wrap Dress and the Yasmeen skirt. I feel that I need to push through for those two to feel free to release new things without the guilt of not working more on the past patterns. Linda is currently in its second round of testing for the new size range; the instructions are re-written and edited, but this is a crucial design for me. I want to get it right, and so it takes time. Luckily I have a fantastic testing team that is patient and dedicated. 

In 2021, I want to continue to track expenditures more accurately to understand better the costs of releasing patterns. The hidden spending from the above list is fabric. I plan to continue investing:

  • In my skills with more classes and training ;

  • In my brand, by finishing the rebranding with stationery, banners, and the like;

  • In my equipment, with maybe a cover stitch machine?? My dream is to have 2 Alva forms (one for each size range), but I guess this one will have to wait...

Regarding the pattern production process, I'm happy with how things are now. I'm enjoying the independence, so I'm unlikely to make changes or hire some of it out. One exception is photography: currently, I take product pictures by myself with a remote, and I'm not completely happy with the result. So if I spend money somewhere this year, it might be on photography services (if you have a recommendation in Paris, please share!)

My last thought for this year is about platforms that resell PDF patterns. I'm present on a couple, for instance, Pattern Review, that I consider more a community than a reselling site. But I get offers to join new ones almost every month. Most of them take 50% on the sale price (as a reference point, amazon takes 30% of ebooks), which I find really high. The recent platforms tend to push for constant sales. It took me years to feel comfortable charging a sustainable price for my patterns, so selling them for 2$ and getting 1$ minus the payment fee sounds like a step backward. Additionally, it's also an accounting nightmare to abide by French rules. I'm debating between closing my presence on some platforms or joining a select few like the Foldline... Any thoughts?

As usual, let me know in the comments if you have any questions. I will do my best to answer them!

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1 commentaire

Is there any possibility of having a specific pattern (or two) editorially featured on websites such as Pattern ReviewReview, or in sewing publications such as Vogue Patterns Magazine, Burdastyle Magazine, Threads Magazine, or Sew News Magazine – without being forced to undervalue the price point of your pattern?

Those publications often have editorial articles which feature independently produced patterns, along with the web address to purchase the featured pattern, for the normal purchase price (not at a discounted purchase price).

Just food for thought!
Respectfully,
wabisabi

It might be

Over the last 3 decades, I’ve seen lots of independently-produced patterns featured editorially, in different sewing magazines (

wabi-sabi

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