Throwback to October 2012 and the end of our first photoshoot - By Hand babies!
Dear lovely sewing pals, wonderful customers, Kickstarter backers and general internet-friends-who-like-what-we-do,
It is with extremely heavy hearts that we are writing this post and with great sadness that we have recently had to make a rather tough admission to ourselves… From the outset we knew we were taking on an awful lot last year when, all with the same three-person-strong small business, we aimed to continue expanding our range of sewing patterns as well as launch a textile printing service - but we were excited by the challenge! And we have tried our hardest, done our best and put absolutely everything we’ve got - money, time and love - into making it work. However, even through our best efforts we simply have not been able to make the business financially viable enough for us to be able to continue as we are. Which means that we have decided it necessary to close down our textile printing service over the next few weeks and also no longer print paper patterns any more.
But we are definitely not disappearing! We have loved every single minute of being part of the wonderful online sewing community with its inspirational, sharing and supportive attitude and you are what has spurred us on since the start of it all. Making this difficult decision to quit the fabric printer and paper patterns has forced us to re-evaluate everything: what we want for the brand and the reality of actually needing to put food on the table at the end of the day. So this is our plan: we continue to sell our existing stock. However, from this moment, our printed patterns are now limited edition as they will never again be re-printed. As and when the paper patterns run out, the designs will become available for PDF download. All future patterns will be released as PDFs only (don’t worry, we already have a handful of new beauties waiting in the wings!). We will continue to keep the blog active with tutorials, pattern hacks, guest posts and the usual fun stuff, as well as keeping y’all updated with our daily goings-on via our various social media portals. We will continue to be on hand to answer all your blog comments and emails as normal. Basically, to the naked eye, it will be business as usual (minus the printer and paper patterns of course). But behind the scenes, we will go back to living as so many of us in this industry do - meetings held around kitchen tables, new patterns masterminded and sampled late at night after the kids/boyfriends have been tucked in, and all of us pursuing new careers that actually pay the bills.
The past few months have been pretty scary at times, but what has continued to be a source of endless motivation is you guys! It’s no secret that one of the most rewarding things about what we do is seeing women all over the world, of all ages, shapes and backgrounds interpret our designs in their own unique way. The community, the sewing patterns, the blog, the constant exchange of inspiration and information is what has driven us from Day 1. And when you take away the things that circumstance has dictated to no longer be a possibility - an expensive London studio, salaries to support three women and pricey physical products - amazingly, we still find ourselves left with the essence of what we set out to create in the first place: a library of sewing patterns that continues to grow, and the (also ever-growing) community of wondrous women who make our vision a reality.
We’ve always felt compelled to be honest with you in the past, whether it be our faux-pas or our triumphs, and this is no exception. And as a small creative business exploring fairly new waters, we also feel it important, and maybe even of use to our peers to be transparent about what has worked for us and what hasn’t, keeping an open journal if you will, to document and share our journey. Although we are terribly sad that it didn’t turn into quite the empire we had intended, we are approaching this as a positive step in the evolution of By Hand London. We are, as ever, extremely grateful for the opportunity we have been given, and it has been an absolutely amazing journey so far. Any success we have had is quite simply all down to you and your loyal support. So, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
Ok, so what happened?? AKA a lesson in high points, low points, crowdfunding and a rookie error or two.
A great question! And one which we are still rather painfully unravelling ourselves, washed down with a bittersweet pill of hindsight.
We launched this business back in 2012 with big dreams, big excitement, and big loans. Over the following two and a half years we threw ourselves into it fulltime - AKA overtime! At the start we relied on part-time jobs to see us through till word got out amongst stitchers around the world, orders picked up and our little business came through it’s baby stage and could at least wobble around on its own two feet a bit more. We then graduated from bedrooms as warehouses and kitchen tables as offices to our own studio in a business park in the outskirts of NW London - the studio might have been grotty, the business park was definitely creepy, but it was ours and by golly it was magnificent! Then we took a massive leap, as we made the decision to expand by adding a manufacturing business to our little empire and launched our Kickstarter campaign, which was unbelievably nerve-wracking and almost exactly a year on we are still overwhelmed with humility and gratitude at all the support.
Equipped with your Kickstarter dollars we set about building up a totally new and much more complex business to work alongside our sewing patterns. With your help we were able to move into and rebuild a brand new studio in a more accessible part of London, do some seriously jazzy and beautifully designed web development, get our hands on some cutting edge hardware and generally work with an exciting array of talented web, print, design and textile experts along the way! We were excited and unbelievably proud when we managed to launch our print-on-demand fabric service to our Kickstarter backers at the end of November 2014 and were beaming from ear to ear as we printed the first orders for them.
In a small startup, it’s quite amazing (in both the most wonderful and terrifying way) how quickly your fortunes can change. For instance, our sewing pattern business was in a very different shape this time last year - namely, we were quite comfortably cash positive. This was because until the end of 2013, at which point we started paying for salaries and rent, we had been selling pretty well but hardly had any overheads. Therefore, we had not quite appreciated how quickly that meant money would start leaving the bank account and therefore how ‘do-or die’ every month’s earnings would suddenly become. And also, how what had seemed like loads of cash to us, actually didn’t stretch very far! We then also made some rookie errors over the course of last year, like over-buying stock, over estimating earnings in traditionally terrible summer months and not moving fast enough in getting out new sewing pattern designs. While it seemed like we were bringing in good money from our sewing patterns, the bills were always more and pretty much every month we would not quite make enough money to cover our costs and every month that loss compounded just a little bit.
Along with our sewing pattern business showing signs of real trouble by the second half of last year, we had also taken on a rather risky Kickstarter model. Most Kickstarter campaigns around a product are tantamount to presales, using it to guarantee a certain amount of orders needed to put a product into production. However, we needed all the money to fund the setup alone - to finance the printer, web development, ink, studio rebuild, and cotton - meaning that all the rewards were to be fulfilled at cost to us. We were well aware of this, by the way! It just meant that there was very real pressure on us to hit the ground running and be selling well as soon as the print service went live. The shaky cash situation in our existing sewing pattern business added yet more pressure, because what we had counted on - that this would cover running costs in the early months while we got our printing service up and running - suddenly looked pretty unlikely.
Thanks to the Kickstarter funds we’d been able to afford a good sized first instalment of cotton, so we thought we'd be buffered against having to buy more fabric for a few months, by which time we figured we would have made enough sales to afford to buy more anyway. But, with the printing learning curve being very steep, we ended up using way way way more of that first fabric shipment on testing before launching than we had expected…. With most of the rest being used to fulfil Kickstarter rewards and us not selling anywhere near as much in those first couple months as we thought we would, this meant that we were suddenly out of that first supply of cotton and with another serious cashflow problem. And, as we very quickly discovered, starting up a manufacturing business, however small, with no cash buffer to get you through the early months when you’ll be more tied up in operations than you will be freed up to promote your services, is extremely extremely tough (and, we would now say, most probably ill-advised).
A few short weeks ago it all came to a head and we had to fully admit to ourselves quite how precarious our finances were on both the sewing pattern and the printing side of our business. We forced ourselves to face the hard truth that there didn’t really seem, short of borrowing more money (too terrifying!), a way out and therefore, perhaps it was time to change the way we did things before it was too late.
So, where did all the Kickstarter money go?
Another great question! Firstly, and most importantly, please rest assured we have no intention of earning any ’profit’ from your generosity. Below is a pie chart to demonstrate what the money has been spent on. Hopefully this chart illustrates that this money was never spent on anything other than costs directly related only to setting up and running the printing business. Another important thing to note is that we do not own our printer and therefore it is not our asset to sell on and pocket the profit. In order to get the Kickstarter funds to cover as much as possible, we decided not to try and buy a second hand machine outright, but instead to get a finance lease on a first hand one. This basically means we put down a deposit and pay a monthly fee to ‘lease it’. Therefore, now we have to sell it and pay off the full value of our five year lease, which is equal to the new value of the printer + interest.
Although our Kickstarter page says that the final amount pledged was £37, 033, in actual fact we received £32, 566 - due to a mix of dropped backers and Kickstarter fees.
We’ll know more within the next couple of months and we will be updating you here and picking a charity to donate any leftover Kickstarter money to.
We have very little cotton left - so if you are interested in getting your hands on some custom printed or gallery fabric it’s best to place your order very soon. Those Kickstarter backers who are past the deadline and have not yet claimed your fabric, please also do so asap to guarantee getting your reward!
We currently have Anna, Elisalex, Flora, Holly, Kim, Sophia and Victoria in printed pattern form. However, we are running pretty low on all of them, so please do place your order soon if you would like to own one of these ladies in hard copy.
And last, but definitely not least, a list of thank yous! This gang below went above and beyond for us in various aspects of our business and we absolutely could not have done it without their support:
YOU! Our customers and Kickstarter backers. We would literally be nowhere without your support, shout outs and makes over the years and are forever grateful for the opportunity you gave us to pursue our dreams.
Tadberry Evedale - printers of our packaging
ZipBoss - tech wizards and builders of our fabric customiser
iSub - printer suppliers
Pon Carden - our accountants