Another New Year

Happy New Year, my friends!  A huge thank you to those that have stuck around and are still keeping on eye on this dust collector.  Blogging certainly wasn’t one of my strong suits in 2013.

Last year was a tough one for me, in many aspects.  The transition from no children to 1, many years ago, was a big hurdle but after a few months we settled in and figured it out.  The transition from 1 to 2 was easier in some ways, yet harder in others.  Once again we settled in after a few months and adjusted.  But the transition from 2 to 3?  Ha!  It was a much more difficult transition than I ever anticipated and only now — and the sweet boy is now 14 months old — do I feel like we’re settling in.

Shop wise, 2013 was a great year.  Stitch To Stitch continued to see sales increasing and Facebook/Etsy fans growing and I’m beyond grateful — as well as excited — to see this happening.  As orders started coming in more steadily I found myself sewing, sewing, sewing just to keep up.  All of this continuous sewing to fill orders meant my turnaround times got pushed out to approximately four weeks during busy times, and getting new items up for sale fell to the wayside.  Just getting orders finished and out the door became my highest (shop) priority.  On one hand, this made me disappointed in myself because I missed the creativity of designing new outfits.  I started STS years ago because I love to sew.  I vowed to do better as the baby got bigger and we settled into a more structured schedule.  Unfortunately it didn’t seem to happen as quickly as I’d hoped.

After the rush of the holidays passed, I’ve taken a few days for myself to do some selfish sewing and to let my creativity percolate:  sewing up a super cute diaper bag that I bought the fabric/pattern for almost 18 months ago; getting my sewing room organized; and most importantly taking the time to sit down and really look at where I want the shop to go this year.  I want to sew more new items and start using some of these great patterns I’ve been keeping to myself, I want to see more great fabrics showcased in the shop and most importantly I want to offer more options for the (boutique clothing-neglected) little boys we love so dearly.

It’s always tough to juggle family and business but as life continues to evolve here in the Stitch To Stitch household, I hope to find a better groove and make more time to create great new items.  Thank you for your continued support and best wishes for a great year to come!

Amanda at Stitch To Stitch

Shop Slowdown

My apologies for it being so quiet around here! When life gets busy, my focus shifts to filling orders and I tend to let blog posts and new items fall to the wayside.  This isn’t very good business sense, I know, but when juggling a small business and two kids without any outside help, it’s the first things that I tend to let fall to the wayside.

There is an extra (special) reason too why Stitch To Stitch has slowed considerably this summer.  We will be welcoming another baby to our family in early November! Being pregnant means I’m working at a slower pace to deliver the high quality product my customers expect.

The next few months will see a continued slowdown as I gear up for the arrival of baby.  Shipping times are currently about 3 weeks out, unless a listing specifically states otherwise.  (Christmas pajamas are on their own shipping schedule, so please read each listing carefully when purchasing.)  If you need an item shipped sooner, please contact me before placing an order to see if special arrangements can be made.

Right now I’m planning on taking maternity leave for at least the month of November — shutting the shop down completely during that time; my hope is to have limited listings available early December for last-minute holiday shopping, and be back in full force by the first of the year.  So if you have items in mind you’d like to purchase for the holiday please do so early to ensure availability.

Thank you for your understanding and your support of Stitch To Stitch! I am blessed to have the amazing customers that I do.

Financial Fumble

My laptop quit on me on Sunday.  No warning, no blue screen of death, just complete silence.  I walked away from it mid-afternoon to go do some sewing work and when I returned it wouldn’t power back on.

We tried everything we could in the hopes it was an easy fix.  My hubby tested the power adapter/cord, the battery and the computer in general with his voltage meter to see if he could pinpoint a problem.  I followed every directions for a reboot/reset I could find on the internet.  Skipping dinner I even drove across town in the hopes my friend’s power cord would work to boot it up.  (We originally thought the power cord had quit working, thus draining the battery and not allowing it enough power to come on.)

Much to my dismay, my great computer “geek” ran some diagnostics yesterday afternoon and came back to me with the news I dreaded.  The motherboard was done.  Shot.  Toast.  With no signs of damage it decided to just up and quit, leaving me high and dry with no business computer.  All recommendations were to purchase a completely new laptop instead of replacing the motherboard in a machine that was already over two years old.  On the plus side at least the hard drive was still good so all of my data could easily be transferred to a new laptop.

To say I’ve been in a foul mood the last 40+ hours has been an understatement.  I get it, it’s only a computer and yes my data was recoverable.  Worse case scenario my husband and I go back to sharing the macbook (although this presents some challenges as all of the software I’ve purchased has been for a PC) for the time being. Last night as I drove home from the store with a spiffy new laptop on the seat next to me, the realization of why this has been so disheartening came to me.

I paid for the first laptop completely using Stitch To Stitch profit.  As I opened the shop in June 2010 I financed it using 18-months “same as cash”.  Each month I scraped together enough money to pay my bill, never dipping into our personal accounts for funds.  The goal of opening the shop was to become self-sufficient.  To fund my own sewing/crafting addiction, to be able to spend “fun” money on myself and the family, and to help out here and there with our household bills.  When the end of my payments rolled around I was ecstatic.  I was so proud to say I’d bought it with money I’d MADE from the business.  Over the last 6 months the business has continued to take off and do well.  I’ve made a couple of wholesale fabric purchases — we’re talking buying full bolts of material with minimum order requirements — and paid cash for them.

I felt like I was finally getting to where I hoped the business would be.  Making money.  Being able to spend a little money here and there without worry about having enough to cover basic supplies.  More importantly I was feeling like I was successful in this venture.  And now I feel like I’ve taken a step backwards in my financial freedom.  That I’ve hit a huge stumbling block, business-wise.  I know this is all part of the growing pains that accompany being a small business owner.  You have to account for the unexpected and roll with the punches.  It still stinks though.  It still makes you want to cry and shake your fists at the sky.  And something that seems as trivial as having to buy a new laptop can make you feel like you’ve been knocked back down to square one.

At least it wasn’t my sewing machine that decided to quit, completely putting me out of commission the last few days.  At least I’m in a place where I can go finance another laptop with their 18-month same as cash program again, but this time with more confidence in being able to make the payments.  It just means I need to work harder and be more diligent about driving my sales up to offset this new expense!  :)  It’s motivation to push myself to do even better.

More than a Nuisance — Clothing Tags

We’ve all had them: tags in the back of a garment that are more of a nuisance than anything else.  Maybe you’ve pulled out your scissors and cut them out; maybe you rolled the dice and tried to rip them out.  I’ll gladly admit that I hate them.  I hate how they scratch against my skin; I hate how they irritate my children’s skin; and I really hate having to put them in the items I sew and sell (because I know your children think they’re a nuisance too).

But thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I have to pass that nuisance — times two — along to you!  Once again, I’m sure you’re asking, “why?”

These labels allow the buyer to “ascertain” product and source information.  Translation, it’s a way for the buyer and seller to know exactly what materials are used in a specific garment, in case of a future problem/recall.

For a crafter the CPSIA tracking label (required on all items for children under the age of 12) must be permanent and to the “extent practical“.  They must include at minimum the following information:

  • Your company or shop name, or your CPSC’s Small Batch Manufacturers Registration Number.
  • Information on where the item was completed.
  • Contact information, website, or business registered address.
  • The season with year of manufacture (at minimum) or date of completion of the product.
  • A batch number if you make repeats of the designs.

**Small volume manufacturers and crafters may be unlikely to use lot, batch or run
numbers, and, again, the Commission does not interpret Section 103(a) to require them to
create such a system. Nevertheless, reasonable practices should be in place by such
manufacturers to keep records of components used in their products.**

In simple terms, if you already keep records of your materials and sources and you can tell where each material came from, you do not need to use a system of batch numbers.

Along with the CPSIA tags that I’m required to include, manufacturers who create garments, regardless of the age of the intended user, also need to comply with the FTC’s Care Labeling Rule (unless you are lucky enough to fall into the exemption).

An FTC label needs at the very least:

  • Your company’s registered business name, or a brand/label name with Registration Number.
  • Fiber content by percentage.
  • Fiber’s country of origin.
  • Washing and care instructions

If the FTC required information is already found on the CPSIA tracking label, it does not need to be duplicated on the care/content label.

Stitch To Stitch CPSIA & FTC Labels

All this means, is that for every item I sell, I have to permanently affix (i.e. sew) both of these labels into the garment.  It adds a small amount to my production costs and a couple extra minutes to my sewing time.  As much of a nuisance as I think a label might be to the wearer, at the same time I think it makes the finished item look more professional as well.  It also means that I’ve done my part by following the laws to help keep our children safe.

The big question for other small business owners…are you CPSIA and FTC compliant?

The Basics of CPSIA

I’ve been asked numerous times, how come I don’t list (more) items with cute embellishments, matching hair bows or clothing with zippers and buttons.  I understand the question and take it to heart.  As a Mom of little girls, I love the thought of matching accessories to go with their outfits; as a business owner the thought of adding accessories and expanding my listings is extremely appealing.

The problem is all due to the CPSIA.

The what?

The CPSIA.

The CPSIA stands for the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act which is a law that was enacted in August of 2008.  The stated purpose of this bill is to “establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children’s products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

The CPSIA requires that all products intended for children under 12 are tested and certified as meeting the lead limits as set forth in the law. Phthalate testing is also required for toys intended for children under 12 or “child care articles” for children under three.

The CPSIA came about in response to the high levels of lead/phthlates found in children’s toys and products over the last 5 years.  It was written as consumers demanded regulation over imported products that often have little manufacturing safeguards in place.  What it means is the items our children will wear/play now have safeguards in place. A guarantee they are safe from harmful substances such as lead and phthalates.

What wasn’t anticipated was the impact it would have on small businesses making handcrafted items. It means there is much more involved with making children’s items than going to the store, buying materials and coming home to craft!  It means making sure all of your manufacturing practices and materials are CPSIA compliant.  It means spending unmeasurable amounts of time trying to read through the technical jargon to fully understand the legislation. 

But back to the purpose of this post.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the CPSIA and how it affects the items you see for sale at Stitch To Stitch

When the law was originally written and enacted, there were materials exemptions set based upon the manufacturing of said items.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission felt that certain materials would be lead-free if appropriate procedures were followed during production.

The following materials are considered exempt from third party lead testing by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission):

  • Precious metals, including gold, silver, and titanium.
  • Precious and semiprecious gemstones that are not associated with lead in nature, e.g. rubies, emeralds, tourmaline, jade, quartz.
  • Natural and cultured pearls.
  • Wood.
  • Amber.
  • Minerals and fossils, except for those minerals (like galena) that are associated with lead in nature.
  • Plant-based materials such as bark, essential oils, jojoba, and tung oil.
  • Animal-based materials such as horn, coral, seashells, bone, shellac, and animal glue.
  • Food-grade items such as beeswax, mineral oil, food coloring, herbs, milk, and honey.
  • All textiles: dyed and undyed, natural and synthetic.
  • Paper, cardboard, and similar wood-pulp products.
  • CMYK process printing ink.
  • Books, if they are made entirely of exempt materials.  All books printed after 1985 are considered to be made of exempt materials.

Thankfully, for me, this means that my fabric, lace and thread are considered exempt.  The exemption of these three materials covers over 90% of the basic materials used in all of my creations.  For me, these exemptions lend a huge sigh of relief.  When the CPSIA was originally enacted some people chose to simply shut down their businesses if their main materials were not on the exemption list.

Not only where certain materials automatically granted exemption, the CPSC also determined that some materials could be conditionally exempt.  Cases where they believed overall the materials could be a concern, but that in specific situations it became innocuous.

The following materials are exempted from third-party testing if they meet certain conditions:

  • Adhesives, if they cannot be touched by a child.
  • Stainless steel, except for 303Pb stainless steel.
  • Leather, if it does not have a surface pigment (these pigments are considered in the same category as paints)
  • Paper, cardboard, and other paper products, if they do not have a coating on them (such as laminating).
  • Any component that is inaccessible, meaning it cannot be touched by a child’s finger.

The conditional exemption of inaccessibility allows me to not worry about the content of elastics used in waistbands, necklines, armholes, etc.  (Some would argue that elastic is considered a textile; others disagree.  This bypasses the argument totally.)  The casings I sew are fully enclosed so the child can not touch the elastic under normal wear/conditions.  Yet another huge sigh of relief for Stitch To Stitch.

To minimize confusion, some items were clearly listed in the legislation as not being exempt from the testing.  These are items that have previously been culprits of high lead levels in children’s products.

The following materials are specifically mentioned in the document as not exempted from third-party lead testing:

  • Composite wood products, like particle board
  • Paints, varnishes, and lacquers
  • Ceramic glazes and clay
  • Glass, crystals, and rhinestones
  • Art supplies
  • Inks that do not become part of the paper
  • Lamination
  • Screen printing inks
  • Metal and plastic components, such as nails, screws, zippers, buttons, snaps, hair bands, barrettes, and doll accessories
  • Metal or plastic bindings used to hold books together, including staples.

This is where the CPSIA gets really difficult for me.  Zippers, buttons, snaps and barrettes are the 4 main items that I’d be interested in using.  What does this mean?

It means that either I completely ignore the regulations and risk being fined, or I ensure these items are certifiably lead-free.  The biggest problem of this regulation, is the cost incurred at the small business level.  From what I’ve read lead testing through a certified lab can easily run in the THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for a single item. This might not mean much to a huge manufacturer with revenues in the millions of dollars but for a small business owner this cost is debilitating.  Without a doubt it quickly becomes cost-prohibitive.

Right now they are allowing for “upstream certification”, meaning a crafter is allowed to use the test results of a supplier to certify that a product is lead-free or phthalate-free.  So you’re in luck if you can find a supplier that has their items tested.  One of the common problems is that they will tell customers their items are not “designated for children under 13”.  A technical loophole which allows them to not complete the testing, saving thousands of dollars for those who could afford to do the testing.

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My biggest concern as a shop owner is what lies ahead for the handmade/handcrafted industry.  Are they going to tighten down legislation even further?  Will they mandate everything be third-party tested at some point?

It’s hard too, because it’s apparent that many people are either completely unaware of the legislation or are blatantly ignoring it. I know that I’ve lost sales to shops that are non-compliant. It saddens me to know that I’m losing revenue by following the law.  At what point will Etsy, Artfire and other marketplaces require that all shops affected by these standards prove they are following the legislation?   

To put it mildly, although great in theory, the CPSIA is a major hindrance for the small artisan community.

If you’re interested in reading more about the CPSIA, you can find easy to understand information at this link:  http://www.whatisthecpsia.com/

Growing Pains

Lately I’ve really been feeling the strain of getting a small business to take off.  After much thought I made the decision to believe in myself, take a leap and open some wholesale accounts to buy fabric.  This means buying larger quantities, or even full bolts at a time, but it gives the buyer a significant discount on price.  

I made the leap and opened accounts with Ruffle Fabric and Riley Blake, both of which companies are fantastic to deal with.  Super helpful customer service and fast shipping.  Not to mention amazing product!  I wanted to open another 1-2 accounts to give myself some more diversity but it’s proving to be challenging.  Initial order minimums of $500 and annual orders of $1200-1500 is just out of my league right now; no matter how hard I believe in myself.

This is where I’m at a disadvantage not being close to a large city with more textile shops to purchase from.

I’m brainstorming to come up with creative ideas but I’m coming up empty.  Maybe this is something out of my reach for right now.  Maybe in another year it could be a possibility.

 

The Extra Touches of Handmade

Sometimes, an order requires that little extra touch that can accompany something handmade.  When I make the Girls Heirloom Gown I add this little thank you card inside the package before shipping.

It takes a few extra minutes of my time but I think it’s well worth it.  I know, as a customer myself, that the little touches like this, that accompany a handmade order, go a long way towards making me remember the seller.  I hope this accomplishes the same with my customers!

At some point, I’d like to be able to do this with all orders.  Sometimes time just doesn’t allow for it when it’s quicker to scroll a simple, handwritten thank you note instead.

Happy sewing!

Stitch Schedule

I am a list maker: grocery lists, cleaning lists, to-do lists.  I scribble notes in notebooks, write them in my phone, scrawl them across small scraps of envelopes and papers to be recycled.  They litter the kitchen counters, peek out from stacks of stuff on my sewing table, find their way into the console of my vehicle and line the inside of my purse like a personalized tapestry.

Lists keep me organized.  They help me to remember the things I need to do and to stay on track.  I buy less junk at the grocery store when I write a list.  I don’t forget to buy white thread at Joann’s when I write a list.  I find myself staying on track and feeling accomplished during the day when I write a list.

I joke with people about how since my brain surgery the important stuff must slip out of the missing piece of my skull.  :)  In all seriousness though, I know my lack of remembering stuff is a combination of getting older, not getting enough sleep and plain and simple just trying to remember too many things.

Trying to remember all the stuff I want/need to do for the shop can be hard to manage at times.  There are many facets to running a small business–much more than just buying fabric and sewing!  To ensure I’m staying on top of things such as marketing and book keeping, I know I needed to write the tasks down and make them highly visible. A weekly list, of sorts, of the tasks that I need to be mindful of.

So yesterday morning, when planning my week –both personally and for the shop– I finally sat down and wrote out a loose business schedule. 

stitch to stitch schedule

The schedule is written on a sheet of printing paper about 60″ wide by 22″ high and will hang on the wall in my sewing studio.  It’s much harder to ignore a schedule when it’s written in black permanent marker!  Hopefully this constant reminder will help me stay on track and manage my time more efficiently.

Small Business Saturday

As a small business owner I understand the importance of supporting other entrepreneurs.  Small Business Saturday nestles itself in the midst of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to drive sales to the small(er) guys and gals.

The 2nd annual Small Business Saturday® is a day dedicated to supporting small businesses on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

On November 26, we’re asking millions of people to Shop Smallsm at their favorite local stores and help fuel the economy. When we all shop small, it will be huge.

Many shops are running great specials through the weekend.  Stop in and see your favorite local shop owners, take the time to check a local business you’ve never frequented or head over to some of my online favorites!

Personalized Key Chains, Custom Sewing & Embroidery

Key Chains, aprons, handwarmers and custom jewelry

Easy to use PDF sewing patterns for girls, boys, pets

Handpainted Signs

Needle Felted Animals, Jewelry, and more

Custom Handmade Crochet Hats and Photography Props

Accessories for Happy People

Trendy Handmade Bags

Car Seat Covers, Rag Quilts, Patterns, Baby Diaper Bag

Luxurious Vegan Castile Soaps and Pure Bath Products

Bridal Invitations

Custom Vinyl Lettering, Wall Art, and more!

Crochet Girls Clothing

Handcrafted functional pottery

YoYo Hair Clips and Headbands

Earrings, Necklaces and Bracelets for Everyday

 

Happy shopping!

 

‘Tis the Season: Tips for Great Customer Service

With the holiday season ramping up, it’s imperative for small businesses to beef up their customer service.  Customers will remember how well they were treated and sometimes going that extra step could mean a repeat sale down the road.

Here are some great customer service tips to utilize this season

  • Respond to customer inquiries in a timely manner.  I try to respond to all Etsy conversations and emails by the end of that business day.  If I’m tied up with something I send them a quick response letting them I’ll get back to them within “xx” amount of time.  For me, having a smartphone makes this much easier — I get email notifications to my phone instead of sitting down at the computer every hour or so to check email.
  • Keep your listings current.  Make sure your clients can see exactly which options you have on hand (fabric, colors, etc.).
  • Notify buyers of your current lead times.  This can easily be included in your item listing, your shop policies or your shop announcement.  KEEP THIS CURRENT!  Often times people are buying items for a specific event; if you say the item will ship within 7-10 business days, make sure it does.
  • Acknowledge each order.  Sometimes this just means a quick email/convo saying you received the order.  This way the buyer knows it went through correctly.
  • Send a Thank You note with your shipment.  I bought 100 postcards and envelopes from Vistaprint to use.  They have a very basic design: my trademark black floral scroll (from my header) and a simple “Thank You” on the front of the card; the back is blank for a short, hand written note.  My cost came out to be about $0.15 per card, envelope included.
  • Include a packing slip.  If for some reason your package is damaged and comes open, the courier used has a better chance of putting the package back together.
  • Make your packaging look fantastic.  For ideas on how to implement this, read my post, “Pretty Packages“.
  • Spend the money and put a tracking number on all packages.  If you use Paypal to print shipping labels it only costs $0.19 if using First Class Mail, it’s free when shipping via Priority Mail.
  • Let the client know when their package ships.  Send them the tracking number so they can watch their package and know when to expect it.  If the sale was paid for through Paypal, and you print the shipping label directly from the transaction, the buyer will be notified via email automatically.

In doing these little gestures, hopefully every buyer can feel how much their order is appreciated.