Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 5 Income Report

Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 5 Income Report

Dear readers,

In this post, I share the sales of my patterns for 2021 and my reflections on what I have learned. I also provide an update on the Diversity Commitment I wrote in June 2020 and updated in March 2021. If you are new, you should know that I love the business side of the sewing community, and I’m committed to sharing 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. 

I almost thought I would not be able to share the numbers for 2021 with you this year, both because of a lack of time and because I recognize that numbers become harder to communicate as they grow. As you will see, 2021 has been a year of tremendous growth for Just Patterns, so it means that there was some money left for me to pay myself. While it is a substantial number, I lived in France in 2021, and that’s also where my fiscal residence is. That means that the level of taxation on what I pay myself is around 50% (social security, income, and other taxes). On the other hand, I do have access to public services.

I mentioned this every time, but the numbers I’m just discussing below are only hindsight on selling sewing patterns online that fit my particular conditions. It has taken me a while to get to where I am, and if you plan to launch your own business and are willing and able to dedicate yourself full-time to it, you could grow faster, but it could also go slower. In my case, I constantly check myself to ensure that I am aligned with 3 elements that are most important to me:

  • Flexibility: I actively avoid physical products, such as paper patterns, to avoid logistical constraints and not adhere to a release schedule. I work on designs, blog posts, and marketing when I can and often in between other tasks.

  • Breaking even: so far, income has always covered direct expenses. In 2021, I started paying myself!

  • Pleasure: it has to be fun! I don’t want to ruin my hobby of 20 years! I only release patterns for clothes I want to wear, and that I’m passionate about making them even if they might not be a commercial success.

SALES in 2021

2021 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 pleased with the directions I took. 

 4411 patterns sold (1501 in 2020) :

  • 91% on my e-shop (87.5% in 2020)

  • 8% on Etsy (9% in 2020)

  • 0.6% on Makerist (0.5% in 2020)

  • 0.3% on Pattern Review (3% in 2020)

The lesson here is that I should probably close my accounts with Makerist and Pattern Review to be rational. It’s a bit of a headache on the accounting side. It’s extra time to make sure I update those shows and for very few sales. On the other hand, I still think it can be interesting for visibility reasons. When I run the numbers for 2022, I think I will make a decision.

Helena, the new pattern released in July, was a huge success and has performed very strongly since. My other new pattern for 2022, the Claudia Tank, also fared well, but it’s a particular trend (how long will we be into shoulder pad tank tops?), so it is likely to slow over time. I also completed the update of the Linda Wrap Dress. It’s a complex design, and I did it in between other releases, so it took me about a year. As you can see from the number below, updating a pattern is more a matter of principle than a financial investment. Here are the number of sales by design:

The top 4 patterns drive my sales, and it makes me happy to see Helena and Tatjana there, two patterns that I would describe as intermediate/advanced levels. We often hear that beginner patterns sell better, and while that’s undoubtedly true, there is space for more advanced designs!

The full retail price represents $55,304 ($11,715 in 2020). But this number does not account for sales, commissions, transaction fees, etc. But in effect, the amount received was $37,334 ($10,695 in 2020), which means that sales (especially the release sale where the bulk of the orders occur and the pattern is 20% off), the fee of selling platforms and payment fees, commissions, amount to 32% of the full retail price sales (9% in 2020).

Expenditures in 2021

One of the reasons I hesitated to do this post this year is that tracking direct expenditures is becoming more complicated. You may know this about me, but in 2020 I became a freelancer at my day job. That means I had to create a business that is an umbrella for the patterns and my consultancy services. It’s hard to allocate utility bills, banking fees, accounting, computers, and software licenses to one side of the business or another. I did rough numbers for the sewing patterns, and they amount to about $8,000 of direct costs ($7,385 in 2020) :

  • 2000$ for the website and software ($1500 in 2020): Squarespace, Weglot, Adobe suite, Pad System, Later, Grammarly, etc.

  • 2200$ for external services ($4,011 in 2021): pattern testing, editing, and photography.

  • 3500$ for equipment and supplies ($1,405 in 2020): I bought a large computer screen and a cover stitch machine. It also includes paper, muslin, fabric, and tools.

  • 300$ on learning: mostly books and patterns.

Highlights

The most notable thing is the growth that happened last year. The number of patterns sold and my income tripled! In previous years I invested all the money back into the business, and after five years, it felt like it paid off. Last year I said that it was a personal disappointment not to have been able to complete the upgrading of the Linda Wrap Dress and the Yasmeen skirt. Well, at least the Linda Wrap Dress was done in 2021, and I’m getting to the finish line for Yasmeen in 2022. I did invest as planned in a cover stitch, but an Alva Form is still on my list of dreams. I did not continue the rebranding with stationery, banners, etc., since I did not have time, and it felt less like a priority. However, I continue to be happy with my pattern production process. As you know, I do almost everything independently, and I enjoy it. I tried to use a photographer in Paris, but now that I have moved to Lisbon, I’m considering taking my own pictures again.  

A lot of the growth in 2021 can be attributed to 2 successful releases: the Claudia tank which got a lot of visibility upon release, and the Helena Wrap Dress passed all my expectations. The catalog has also been growing, which means that with every release, customers have an opportunity to buy something else simultaneously. The other motor for the sale increase is increased visibility on social media. I have done partnerships with sewing magazines before, but the collaboration with Peppermint Magazine was the most fruitful. Not only do they pay well for the development of the Milton Pinafore (they also included the fee for my testers), but the visibility I got was also excellent. My account on Instagram for Just Patterns started with around 10k followers in 2021 and finished the year with about 30k. I did work a lot on my social media last year, so only some of the growth is attributable to Peppermint, but I saw an effect. Providing an early copy of the pattern to post on release day continued to be very effective, and it is an excellent way to make sewing friends. Also, everybody knows that people love sales. I focused mine around pattern releases, but it does work any time of the year.

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 at the bottom of every page. I pledged to monitor the implementation of my commitment as part of this yearly report. I don’t have much news to report for 2021 as I continued pretty much doing the same things, but I do have some updates for 2022!

  • On representation, I continued intentionally highlighting BIPOC and black customers’ work and used more fashion-inspiration pictures featuring BIPOC.

  • On testing and marketing, the representation of BIPOC makers continued to improve in the testing group, and I provided fabric and printing stipends to all testers. I reached 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 process on my Instagram account. As I said before, if you are considering launching your patterns and have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch

Final words

My last thought is about the increased competition in the sewing pattern world. I do not have data for this, but I know some of you share my feelings. I think of myself as tough-skinned, but sometimes I have to step away from Instagram. When I see the number of patterns being released, I start wondering what the point is for me to put out one more thing. I don’t think it’s the first time the Indie Pattern world feels crowded; in my experience, it will even out. Releasing patterns is probably not the most straightforward way of making a living for most people: the product is priced relatively low, the development time is quite long, and the customer base is small.

To anyone looking to achieve financial sustainability, I would advise focusing on two things: increasing the size of the catalog and getting visibility. One without the other does not work. There is no point in having 100k followers if you have two patterns to sell, and you will not make much money with 20 designs that no one knows about. On the other hand, I also feel like the bigger players like Fibremood and Vikisews are changing the landscape by being able to combine the outputs of the Big 4 and Burda and the community engagement that is more typical of Indie brands. I don’t know what this means for me or other one-person businesses, but that will be interesting to watch.

Because of what I highlighted above, I will continue doing this type of post for 2022 and the upcoming years, but the format and the level of detail might change. I will continue to share the number of patterns sold, but financial information is becoming more complex to track and explain. It could also be interesting to focus on specific numbers. Like how many patterns get sold during release week and for the rest of their “lifetime.”

Let me know what parts of these reports you find most interesting, and if there are elements you think I could cover better!

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1 commentaire

Thank u for sharing! World is crowded indeed. Love Helena wrap dress.

Irms Mitrofanova

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