Lessons learned from mass production and selling wholesale!

Owls Masks for Seed by Willow and Stitch

Yet again I find myself wanting to start a blog post by saying ‘It’s been rather quiet around here recently’ and while that might be true of my little blog - it most certainly isn’t true of my life in general; It has been BONKERS around here recently!

Masks for Seed photoshoot by Willow and Stitch
Tails for Seed photoshoot by Willow and Stitch

September seems to have passed in a blur of felty activity.  It all started innocently enough - with an enquiry from stylist Tamara Maynes asking whether I could design and make a few masks, tails and ears for a photo shoot she was doing for Seed Kids in a few days time.  I love a challenge, particularly when it involves creating some new designs so I was happy to do it.  I was expecting that the campaign might help my business by advertising my masks on a large scale and being associated with a big brand - what I wasn’t expecting was to get a call from Seed a week later, asking whether I could make 500 masks for them to stock in stores to complement the campaign!  

 So. Many. Birds.

So. Many. Birds.

I make these dress up masks in my ‘spare’ (ha!) time so I wasn’t sure whether it would be possible to make so many in such a short time frame (I had 3-4 weeks) or even whether I wanted to commit to such a large project, but my husband persuaded me that I ought to do it; ‘I’ll help’ he said (and don’t you worry, I most certainly held him to it!)  I was expecting him to regret his offer (he generally dislikes doing anything that might be classified as ‘arts and crafts’ - weird really as he’s actually very artistic) but he seemed to rather enjoy it, and he certainly has a better appreciation for the work I do now!

 All the pandas

All the pandas

Panda Masks for Seed by Willow and Stitch

This really was a huge amount of work and while I have to say that I don’t really enjoy this type mass production there were definitely some interesting lessons that I learned while doing it:

Firstly, I need to accept offers of help more.  I don't know why but I usually turn down offers of help;  I suppose that I don’t want to impose on anyone or take advantage of their kindness so I try to do it all myself (and there may also be a tiny bit of stubbornness in there too!).  This time I was fully aware that I simply may not be able to do it all myself so I began to accept the offers. 

It made me feel enormously grateful to be surrounded by so many supportive and generous people. An activity that might, alone, have been tedious and stressful was turned into a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, particularly when you added in a cup of tea, a little cake and some happy chatting. (honestly - anything is bearable if you have tea and cake - don't you think?!)  There was also something surprisingly rewarding and soul nourishing about accepting the help; being able to admit that I needed it and finding that there were friends and family there ready and eager to offer it.  I suppose it's all related to our very human need for community and connection, but whatever the reason I was very touched so thank you so much to everyone who helped!

I also discovered lots of ways in which I can fine tune my making processes to find the most efficient way of doing things, for example I realised that sewing around the outline of the mask BEFORE I cut them out makes the whole process much quicker because I don’t have to deal with the double layers of felt shifting as I sew or cut.

I found here are a lot of hoops to jump through when you are selling to a large company, different people to talk to about different things, forms to fill in, barcodes to order and attach, accounts to set up, even using a courier service for the first time was a challenge!

Lastly, but probably most significantly, I realised that I have massively underpriced my products.  This is a bit of an uncomfortable thing to talk about, mostly because I feel a little like I'm standing here yelling 'I'm worth more than this!' but I did find it very interesting.  When I was contacted by the store they asked me what my wholesale price would be for a large quantity.  I had no idea!  I have obviously done some calculations to work out the cost of materials and my time for each mask and then added a bit of profit on top of that, although if I’m honest when I was setting the price originally I based it mostly on what I thought people would be willing to pay. As it turns out when I looked into it in more depth I realised I have been effectively selling masks at the wholesale price for the last year - oops!  

Exactly what, if anything, I'm going to do about this is going to require a little more thought but I'll come back and talk more about the whole thing once I've got it all straight in my head!

In the meantime here's a picture of a cute little monkey...

Goodnight!

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