What Not to Do: or How to Fail at Business Without Really Trying

“I’m sure I’m not alone in someday dreaming of starting a fiber arts business, selling my handwovens as a way to use up yarn, make a little extra money, and then (if I’m completely honest) buy more yarn. Handwoven contributor and tech editor Lisa Hill also had the same idea, but things didn’t quite turn out the way she planned (or at all). So here she is to tell you what not to do if you want to start selling your handwovens.” — Christina

When people ask me how to create a successful weaving business, I tell them it is easy: Just carefully observe what I do and immediately do the opposite.

I found myself contemplating the notion of selling my handwoven items at a point in my weaving life during which I thought of myself as a “weaver”— little did I know what that would entail. I had given myriad gifts of handwoven items and received many compliments (sincere and less so) and had been asked, “Where do you sell?”

I sold items now and again to friends and family for gifts. I read all the very useful discussions about pricing handwoven items: making sure to keep track of all one’s expenses including materials, tools, power, rent on your work place, etc. (which led me to make the what-I-thought-was-comic-even-though-nobody-laughed quip, “Okay, I added it all up and I need to price my cup towels at about $2,500.00.”)

When starting a fiber arts business, it's crucial to consider pricing handwoven items as well as what items will sell.

Mohair Throw woven by Lisa

I had acquired a lot of fiber and was weaving things every day, so I thought how nice it would be to reduce my stash and my ever-increasing pile of handwoven items and re-fill my weaving coffers. Not exactly a firm, well-thought-out business plan.

I also wanted to weave what I wanted to weave, which at that time were large, fluffy mohair throws using gorgeous mill ends. I did not want to do what really needed to be done, i.e. think of a great idea, then really think about the “great idea.” Is it weave-able for a price that will sell? Are the materials affordable and available? Then think again: observe the flaws and needed improvements. Weave it again, noting how to make it more efficient and cost effective and correct the issues with shrinkage or hemming, etc., all the while researching the market and fiber sourcing.

Instead, I wove a huge number of un-reproducible (mill ends come and go) throws in luxury mohair that cost me a lot in materials (not counting labor, loom, electricity, rent…) There was no way I could ask more than $350.00 for them at a local arts coop where the artist receives a 50/50 split or a 70/30 if you work there. I did work there, so I observed first hand my lovely stack of fluffy throws being fondled and rejected as completely unaffordable to the local market. The few I did sell were to visitors from NYC from which I made enough to buy myself lunch at the neighboring restaurant. I also bore witness to them being used as lovely backgrounds for other artists to display their more affordable, sellable wares.

My failure at “the business of handweaving” did not for one minute stop me from weaving or wanting to weave. I continue to weave and explore, take and teach classes, and even think of myself as a “weaver.” But if your dream is to weave to sell, then very sage advice comes from my wise friend Gail Callahan, a.k.a. the Kangaroo Dyer. She put it succinctly and with love. She said, “don’t be a brat!” Don’t be a brat, listen to seasoned weavers like Robyn Spady who have woven and marketed their wares and know about what sells, how to make a business plan for starting a fiber arts business, and how to source materials. Be confident that there is a market for unique, well-made, hand-made items, despite the “HOW much?” comments, and use the resources we have at our fingertips to help you shape your “great idea” into a profitable business.


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