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
Comments on this post (84)
I’m late because I’ve just found out this post, this is really sad news. I have to say your Anna dress (worn yesterday with great success) is my “Precious” on so many levels (being able to sew such a nice dress, getting compliments from it and also feeling great in it). Thank you so much for your hard work.
So sorry to hear you’ve been having a rough time. Running your own business, although rewarding, can be so unbelievably hard. I think what you’ve done so far has been amazing. Elisalex was the first pattern I bought when I decided to get back into sewing last year and I absolutely love all 4 dresses I’ve made from it. I couldn’t have wished for a better dress pattern to start with and the sewalong posts on your blog have been invaluable. I have since bought Holly and Kim and look forward to making awesome pieces from them next. Congratulations (and thank you!) for all your hard work so far and I wish you all the best for the future. Looking forward to seeing how the brand evolves.
Lovely By Hand London Ladies,
I’ve been quietly stalking you guys, your patterns, and your business for a while now. So sorry to hear you’ve had one heck of a rough patch.
Think it’s pretty awesome that you’re so positive. Can’t wait to see your next patterns and hear what you all do next.
Hello Lovely ByHand Ladies,
My discovery of sewing coincided with your launch of ByHand and it has been such a revelation and a delight. I have received so many compliments about the clothes that I have created courtesy of your designs and your invaluable tutorials, so thank you so very much.
Well done in making the decisions now so that ByHand will continue to exist, develop and evolve and I shall continue to follow and support you in your future endeavours.
Bummer about your printed patterns being no longer available!!! Thank goodness I just bought the ones I did not have!! So worth it!! I look forward to your PDFs. I will miss the beautiful presentation of the printed ones!! Will continue to support your business though. Best of luck??
I just wanted to say how much I love your patterns and to wish you such good luck with the new chapter of By Hand London. Having used “normal” dressmaking patterns in the past, I find it such a pleasure to make your designs as everything is so well explained. I really enjoy reading your blog too, although I haven’t commented before. I look forward to seeing the new designs you come up with and will have no problem with the pdf versions, although I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we see more of your beautiful printed patterns in the future :-) xx
— Jo Navin
So sorry to hear this guys. I admired your gutsy decisions in a very competitive market. However continue with your ideas and your spirit and enthusiasm will help you through this time. Wishing you all the wishes I can. Lee x
I am not worried. By Hand, or another wonderful business, will grow again. You have what it takes. For one thing, you created one of the best kick-starter campaigns I have seen. It was very well written and each message was a pleasure to receive in the inbox. Being a woman in business myself, I have admired your business style. Your integrity and intimate communications made us feel like part of your community. Keep on keeping on.
— Laura Grunfeld
Just wanted to say, please do not give up on designing new dresses in pdf patterns. Your patterns are one of my favourites among all of the online indie patterns. All the best for the future. I am sure that this steep learning curve will help you in future challenges!
Anyone who owns or has owned a business knows one thing for sure : business changes all the time & in order for you to grow, you have to change with it. Its part terrifying, part exciting but requires a whole lotta faith. Im confident you girls will revisit this project sometime in the future, wiser for sure. Ive loved being part of your adventure & would continue to support in what ever direction you decide to take yourselves. x
So sorry that you have to stop printing paper patterns and end the fabric printing business. But I’m happy that you will still be releasing patterns! I look forward to seeing your new designs! XXOO
Just a quick message to say good luck! It’s sad to hear. I like your patterns because they feel like clothes I actually want to wear – not always the case in terms of sewing patterns.
I’m very sad to read this news. I echo everyone else’s sentiments that your ethos and your honesty make you truly brave people.
You know Simon Cowell went bankrupt and began again. A few unfortunate decisions and unlucky timing doesn’t mean the end of your something wonderful. It’s just going to be a bit different from what you’d hoped.
I’ll be watching, with all the very best wishes.
So the start to a new chapter girls? Lets look forward and continue the terrific optimism that BHL always exudes. Can I please, please put up my hand in support of copy shop files – pleeeeese. I just cleaned up my sewing room and those blasted pdfs give me the pips. If anyone has an excellent storage solution for taped and glued bits of A4 – please share.
Best of luck for your future endeavours. Nearly done with my daughter’s latest Georgia in brocade. I’ll send you a photo to remind you of how awesome you all are.
This is such a shock and so sad to read, but I greatly admire how openly you’ve shared everything and I have utter faith that you three wonderful women will make BHL work beautifully in its new guise.
I really needed a good incentive to help me overcome my PDF-pattern fears, if anything will do it, this will!
Good luck and I can’t wait to see what goodies you bring us in the future.
— Katherine Sheers
I’m sorry to hear that things did not work out as you guys would have liked. The industry is a tough one to be in. Even though it didn’t work out in some regards I’m sure it was a great ride. All the best with the individual pursuits and the future endeavors.
Even if I wasn’t already a fan, the honesty of this post (which must have been the hardest thing in the world to write!) would have had me totally sold. It takes real class and guts to be so straight up about what worked, what didn’t, your plan and all stops in between. I can’t wait to see what you do in future, and will continue to rave at basically everyone who will listen about how great you are.
Hats off to you ladies, you’ve been doing a grand job and I’m sure you’ll continue to do so. As someone who has just started their own business along side two other jobs I can feel your pain. Your post is very courageous and reading it bought a tear to my eye. Keep your chins up and be proud. I look forward to new patterns!xx
I discovered you when I was doing research on digital fabric printing, as in the past year, I have started my own digital fabric printing business in the United Stated (just north of Boston, MA). I was so excited to see three women starting this business, as I, like you, am starting this business on my own with loans and a lot of money out my (and my husband’s) pocket. I was rooting for you and also told my family and friends in Europe about you! I would love to talk to you if you are interested in sharing stories..positives and negatives not in your great post above. I am also patent pending on a fantastic idea that ties digital fabric printing and patterns together.
Good luck in your future ventures!
— Lisa DiAntonio
I want to echo the support on here too. I think you’re very brave, and this post is honest and inspiring. Great things come from taking risks, and setbacks are an inevitable part of that. I’m glad that you are continuing – your patterns are fantastic, and I’m sure whatever comes next will be great too. With all the best for your futures, which I’m sure will be bright!
Totally understand exactly where you are coming from – there are never enough hours in the day when it comes to a business in this industry and after all life is for living! Good luck for the future :)x
— Julie Bonnar
This is sad news! But I’m glad you’re not going away completely. I’ll definitely still be buying your patterns, PDF or paper :)
You are such clever and talented ladies. The success you have already achieved is evidence of that.
Cashflow is the thing that really does make or break companies. The fact that you have recognised this and made the necessary changes to protect your brand and ensure your business can continue shows you are very sensible business women.
You have been on such a journey over the last few years and will have learned so much from the whole experience, keep going and who knows what the next few will bring.
We’ll all be hear waiting to see what you do next :0)
These are challenging times for small businesses but be proud. You have inspired so many people, with your on-trend stylish designs, to get out their machines and start sewing or return to sewing. I know because I am one of them. The sewing machine has sat dormant for thirty years but your patterns have me making things again. The right decision at the right time; who knows what the future may hold. Although you have to suspend areas of the empire now down the line it may be possible to move back into some areas, especially printed patterns! (Guess what – I’m not a fan of PDFs!) If your creativity continues, your timeless, stylish designs keep coming then the money will follow. Congratulations on everything you have achieved so far. (If you don’t believe me Google ‘By Hand London’ to see how many you have inspired!) Good Luck on your new journey, you know you have many following you along the path.
Sad day but I am sure you have learnt a huge amount. You should be proud of what you have achieved, it is a massive plus for the future.
Good luck with whatever you end up doing.