The Death of Craft?

All of my favorite crafty/handmade things are moving online.  First, the Stitch Lounge closed up shop.  Then, Whizbang Fabrics shut its doors.  Today, Craft Magazine announced it will no longer be printing.  What gives?  Around the holidays all I kept hearing was that the craft market was growing, as people started making rather than buying things to save money.  Anecdotally, here in the Bay Area this does not seem to be the case.  All sorts of crafty ventures seem to be eliminating overhead and staff as they rush to move online.

Though I have never run a fabric store, a sewing studio, or a magazine, this seems to be a mistake.  The essence of craft is that’s it’s tactile.  How can you shop for fabric online, where you can’t feel the weight or the texture, and the colors aren’t accurate? Not to mention it’s simply not as inspiring to “browse” online as it is to be completely surrounded by a rainbow of physical materials.  Online tutorials are no substitute for a live, in-person instructor, and I won’t read anything digital in bed, in the bathroom or at the beach.

For me as a diehard craft consumer, moving exclusively online basically ensures your crafty business that I will no longer be a customer.  I might still visit occasionally, (if a favorite blog happens to mention something interesting about it, for example) but if a new, physical rival opens up, my alliance instantly switches.  I don’t know how many people feel the same way I do, but if it’s significant enough, moving online might just deal your company’s death blow, despite saving money in the short-term.

In the end, if going online is the only solution you can think of in a bad economy, maybe you don’t deserve to be in business anyway.  At least not in a creative business, because going web-only is perhaps the least creative solution I can think of.

When God Closes a Door, He Opens a Closet

I was saddened to learn recently that San Francisco’s Stitch Lounge is closing its doors for good.  Though it will continue to operate as an online entity, offering tutorials and a blog, their fantastic, in-person classes are coming to an end on September 12th (click here to sign up for one last class).  Here is a snippet of the announcement the lovely Biz Misses of Stitch posted on their website:

Some 4 and a half years ago, three hopeful soon-to-be-Stitch-B*tches held hands and jumped and opened the first sewing lounge ever….We achieved so much more than we ever imagined and so it is with pride that we look to our next life chapter where we focus on our families and (non sewing) full-time careers. To make room for our new experiences, the time has come for us to close the San Francisco lounge (the brick and mortar portion of it, that is). While the physical studio will no longer be available, we will keep the virtual lounge alive and continue to post free downloadable tutorials and keep you up to date with the goings on in the sewing and fashion world and with the crazy B*tches!

But as they say, when God closes a door, he opens a closet, sometimes in the form of a tiny fiber arts studio.  On August 25th, Jamie Chan, the organizer of my favorite craft fair, Bazaar Bizarre, and the person who introduced me to needle felting (i.e. wool sculpture) announced the opening of Urban Fauna Studio, the brick-and-mortar entity of her business, Mary Jane’s Attic.  UFS is located at 1311 16th Avenue (between Irving and Judah) and has hours Friday - Monday 10-6:30 PM and by appointment.  Like the Stitch Lounge, Urban Fauna Studio is an open workshop that hosts classes, sells supplies and runs a consignment boutique.  But whereas Stitch emphasized sewing, Urban Fauna is all about everything fiber arts, from spinning to felting to weaving, and only carries eco-friendly, socially responsible products by independent designers, like Biz Miss favorite, Girl on the Rocks.  I am VERY excited to stop in this weekend.

Also on my list of must-see shops this weekend is WhizBang Fabrics, in the Mission/Potrero Hill neighborhood.  WhizBang also opened just this year and were responsible for this summer’s RockMake Street Festival, which combines my two most favorite things: rock and roll and crafting.  I couldn’t decide whether to apply as a maker or as a musician, but then I found out I’d be on my honeymoon then, so that settled that.  Located at 3150 18th Street, Suite 113 (on Treat @ 18th), WhizBang carries mostly printed cottons, both vintage and modern.  Though I have yet to visit, they carried many WhizBang fabrics at the Stitch Lounge and from what I’ve seen, the designs are really fantastic.

Though neither Urban Fauna Studio nor WhizBang are a substitute for the Stitch Lounge, they both give me something new to get excited about and it’s nice to still see Biz Misses blazing trails out there.  Rock on, ladies!

Making Your Extra Income Work for Your Business

Unless you have truly hit upon “the next big thing” and your business takes off without any effort from you, you will likely need an extra source of income while you get started. Up until this fall I was a full-time teacher, so it would have been fairly easy to keep teaching part-time while starting my business. But teaching requires a lot of take-home work, and uses up a lot of mental energy even when you’re not on the job. It’s also not the kind of work that I could ultimately apply towards Sweet Meats. Mine is primarily a product design business, so I wanted to support myself financially in a way that would also open up new opportunities in my current field.

There are four valuable things I’ve learned in my search for relevant extra income:

  1. The key to moving into a new industry is to start with the areas that bridge your current field and your desired field.
  2. Sometimes you can create a job where one doesn’t already exist.
  3. The value of a job is often measured beyond how much it pays you. A job that pays very little, for example, but provides excellent networking opportunities, relevant lines on your resume, or exposure for your business can be much more valuable in the long-term than one that simply pays the rent.
  4. Be symbiotic with your friends.

stitch loungeTo elaborate: there is a sewing studio in my neighborhood called the Stitch Lounge, where you can take classes and rent time on their equipment. I originally looked at it as a place I might be able to consign some of my homemade creations, but then noticed that they didn’t have anyone teaching a plush or pillow class. So I approached one of the owners with a plush class proposal. It turns out that someone had recently asked her to add a plush offering and with my background as a teacher (including a semester of Home Ec.), I was hired right away.

As a source of income, Stitch is not particularly lucrative. I teach 2-3 classes a month, which only amounts to a couple hundred dollars. The opportunities for networking, however, are worth much more than that. Before I had even taught my first class, for example, the owner who hired me referred me to her friend at PSY/OPS, a local type foundry, to help them develop some of their letter forms into decorative plush objects. Not only does design consulting pay more than than teaching, PSY/OPS is a fantastic client to include in a product design portfolio.

the present groupProduction work for friends is also an excellent stepping stone to design jobs. My friends Oliver and Eleanor, of “The Present Group,” sometimes hire me to do production work with them on particularly complex pieces. Likewise, I have also hired them to help with photographs or production when I get swamped. Though we’re basically just doing each other mutual favors, working together like this allows us to confidently refer each other to other clients and provide examples of the work we’ve done.

One final note about extra income: it takes a while (usually at least a few months) for the networking mill to bring enough referrals your way to make ends meet. It is therefore much easier to quit your full-time gig if you have a bit of a savings cushion or a partner who can help support you for a while. That said, if you put yourself out there and you’re good at what you do, the work will find you, I promise.

Working with the Press

I know I haven’t been keeping up with writing very well lately.  I apologize, but I’m being forced to prioritize a lot these days.  Know, however, that I’m working on a lengthy write-up of the California Gift Show I just attended, in addition to a review of Brian Tracy’s “The Psychology of Selling” CD and a description of the uber-weird Westin Bonaventure hotel.

In the meantime I would like to point out yet another free workshop being given by the awesome folks over at San Francisco’s Small Business Administration.  This one is on working with the press (and is so titled).  It is being held from 6:00-8:30pm this Tuesday, 1/29 at 455 Market Street in downtown San Francisco.  Luckily, the SBA recognizes that many of us have day jobs to support our businesses and hold most of their classes during reasonable hours like this.  This week and next I’m working full days at Klutz and teaching some sewing classes at the Stitch Lounge at night, and even I might be able to go to this.  The SBA says that you need to register here (and I do recommend this if you want a seat) but I have seen many people come to these things at the last minute without signing up.  They just take your info once you get there.  Please leave your thoughts in a comment if you attend!

Rip-offs and Licensing

Tonight I attended an intimate little gathering at the Stitch Lounge in San Francisco to promote the new Sublime Stitching book by Jenny Hart. If you’re a member of the craft community, you probably recognize items from her hip embroidery empire. I recently bought some Sublime Stitching materials for my sister’s birthday (that she loved) so I was excited to meet Ms. Hart. She was very generous, friendly and forthcoming.

Everyone who was at the table tonight owns and runs their own creative business. Unsurprisingly, talk soon turned to rip-offs. A lot of good points were made, and I’d like to share a few with you:

  1. Some people steal without remorse. Many big companies send scouts to small events like local craft fairs, looking for ideas to steal. Many of them have no qualms about ripping off small designers or artists, because the artists either a) never find out, b) don’t have the courage and/or resources to pursue legal action c) require such a small settlement that it is still financially worth it to be shady. The only way to stop this, is for every ripped-off artist to sue. If you’ve been ripped off by a bigger company, I’ll bet it wouldn’t be too hard to find other people who have been similarly robbed through web sites like Etsy or Craftster. Then everyone can pool their resources and file a much more dangerous class-action suit.
  2. Just because you bought it does not mean you own it. This is often confusing for people. It certainly was for me. If you buy a font, for example, you are buying a license to use it, including on things you might sell. You can use it to create printed note cards, for example, and selling those note cards is well within the terms of that font license. But different licenses use different terms. It is usually not okay, for example, to buy a knitting pattern for a scarf and then sell the scarf you made from it. Similarly, it is usually not okay to buy an embroidery pattern and then release a line of dishtowels you made using those patterns, even if you made them all by hand, designed the colors and placement of the images yourself, etc.
  3. It’s easy to borrow legally. Many designers, including Sublime Stitching, will let you license their designs. Though fees vary, a standard licensing agreement usually involves paying the artist about 5% of the gross sales of any product on which you used their design. So if those dishtowels sell for $10 apiece, every time you sell one, you would pay 50 cents to the designer of the embroidery patterns you used. That said, a licensing agreement is just that — a signed agreement between the licensor (the artist) and the licensee (you with the dishtowel line) that often includes certain conditions of use. Maybe the designer only intended for them to go on baby products, not dishtowels. Maybe your dishtowels are made using toxically produced fabric, or are just plain ugly. In any case, it is the artist who gets to decide whether or not and how their designs are used.

I think that’s enough for today. More on intellectual property in posts to come.