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A decade of BHL; all paper patterns reduced to clear!

Since the beginning of BHL time, honesty has been a hugely important aspect of the way we operate our business. Being open and transparent about our highs and lows has been instrumental for us in cultivating a genuine connection with our customers, and painting a realistic picture of what running a small creative business is really like. Among the many triumphs over the last ten years there have also been setbacks, losses and straight up mistakes. I have always made a point of seeing these supposedly less positive moments as learning curves and an opportunity to pivot and re-establish our footing. I'm not really one for comfortable plateaus either, so being kept on my toes, troubleshooting and problem solving is fine by me ;)

This year, we celebrate ten years of By Hand London! We incorporated our business in February 2012, and launched our first patterns -the Elisalex dress and the Charlotte skirt- in December that year. A decade in business has me reflecting and looking ahead in equal measure, and one thing (among many things!) that I am proud of is our flexibility and willingness to respond and adapt. Whether that's to societal evolution, or being realistic when a great business idea turns out to be unsustainable long term.

I find myself in a similar situation right now - still enjoying and flowing with the growth that was brought on in part by Jessica joining the then one-woman team in September 2019, and propelled by the pandemic a few months later, while simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that, in order to maintain this growth sustainably, we need to rethink aspects of our business that are proving to be unsustainable...

Namely, paper patterns.

To those of you who prefer paper patterns over PDF, please don't worry - we're not going to stop making paper patterns, we're just going to dramatically change up the way we produce them. Please keep reading...

To give you an idea of how we (and a lot of other pattern companies) currently produce paper patterns, the packaging is printed here in London, while the pattern tissue is printed in the USA. The company that prints those huge sheets of pattern tissue was pretty much the only printer of its kind in the whole world that supplied most sewing pattern companies, and they just closed down... We've all been transferred to another printer, also in the USA, and from what I know, now literally the only company offering this service in the world! We've looked into options here in the UK, and there is Fabulosew, who are lovely and print patterns on the same sort of tissue, but on smaller A0 sheets, and because they're a much smaller company, we simply haven't been able to settle on a cost price that is competitive with the printer in the US, even when shipping and import duties are factored in. Fabulosew also print copyshop files for anyone wanting to print their PDF patterns, not just for pattern companies, so if you haven't heard of them before, definitely check them out ;)

Logistics aside, which are generally workable if just a little sticky - it can take up to a month from when we submit pattern files ready to print, to when the shipment arrives and clears customs - the thing that really begins to limit us as a small business are the minimum order quantities, and the upfront investment associated with that. With both the tissue printer in the US and our packaging printer in London, we have to print a minimum of 1000 per style, and bearing in mind that each size band of the same pattern counts as its own "style", and we have two size bands per pattern, we have to print 2000 patterns per pattern release.

Without taking any of the initial pattern development costs into account (pattern cutting, fit model, grading, sampling, photoshoot, graphic design, our time etc) just the printing costs alone end up just over £11,000 per pattern...! 😳

I get palpitations just writing those numbers down on this page!

Needless to say, upfront costs in that realm for a small business like ours present a real cashflow problemo! Especially when we have no idea how long it will take to sell 2000 of any given pattern, and means that we face sitting on thousands and thousands of pounds worth of stock for years. The other problem that we're presented with when we're having to order such large quantities, and likely taking years to sell them all, is that if we decide to make any updates or changes to a pattern, we either have to wait until all the paper patterns have sold out, or risk rendering our existing stock obsolete/a sub par representation of the most up-to-date version of the pattern in question.

Long story short, we have decided to stop printing patterns in the way that we have done up until now. No more 2000 unit minimum orders, no more printing in the US (nothing against the US whatsoever, I just would really like to get all our production as local as possible, thereby dramatically reducing our carbon footprint and delivery times), and no more astronomical, nay, downright unaffordable upfront costs!

So what's the plan?

Moving forward, we will be moving all our printing to a UK based printer who can handle the printing of both our pattern sheets AND packaging/instruction booklets. The packaging will change a little according to their specs, and the pattern sheets will be printed on a heavier weight paper than the tissue paper we currently offer (which means it'll last longer too!). Prices will inevitably increase, not only to reflect the more expensive cost of printing everything in the UK, but also to keep up with, and not undercut our peers (we will share more on pricing when the time comes). They will still be super beautiful, and something we hope you will still want to collect and proudly display in your sewing space and keep forever :) 

How does this solve the issue of minimum print runs and extortionate upfront costs??

The new printer we will be working with has no minimum order 🙌 We will be releasing printed patterns in "drops", meaning that with each new pattern release, we will print a limited number of paper patterns in all sizes, and after that drop sells out, that will be it for the time being. All paper patterns will be signed, dated and numbered (eg. 1 of 100). If any one pattern sells out super quick and there is enough demand for another drop, we will honour that and reprint that pattern again at some point in the not too distant future. As well as offering drops of new releases, the smaller print runs mean that we will also be able to release random drops of older patterns and updates so that each month there will be a fresh offering, and thereby the opportunity to collect more of our paper patterns as the months go by, than we would ever have been able to print in the traditional way.

We're so excited to try out this new concept in printing paper patterns, and we hope that this way we will be able to satisfy everyone who still would prefer paper patterns over PDF, without over-ordering and crippling our cashflow, and create some fun and excitement around the "drops" at the same time!

In a nutshell, the pros of printing our patterns in the UK, in smaller quantities will be:

  • A significantly more affordable upfront cost as we invest in smaller quantities of patterns per drop, enabling us to release paper versions of every new pattern we create, as well as limited drops of older patterns that have never before been released in paper
  • A quicker turnaround time and no shipping/customs delays
  • A much reduced carbon footprint with everything printed locally
  • More space in our studio as we won't be storing 1000s of patterns
  • A heightened, buzzy sense of excitement around pattern release time!
  • A viable business that can keep up with all the patterns we want to develop and continue to grow and evolve and do better as time goes by!!

In the meantime, and in order to free up the cash we need to keep financing the development of new patterns, updating of older patterns and getting ready to launch this new way of offering printed patterns (oh yeah and let's give the website a little ten year anniversary makeover while we're at it!), and generally keeping up with our own growth, we need to sell our existing stock! By liquidating our stock, we will also be creating space so that we can start running in-person classes at our studio, but more about that another day... Watch this space!

As of now, all our existing paper patterns are reduced to clear from £17 to £10.50!!! Please note, this sale does not include PDF patterns or copyshop printing.

Available while stocks last, and never to be reprinted or discounted in this way again, so if you feel like snapping up some of our iconic paper patterns at a crazy low price, now really is the time!

We currently have available:

It's taken us a little while of contemplation and much agonising over the cold hard truth of the numbers to get to this conclusion, but we're really excited about our new plan moving forward, and we really hope that you, our wonderful customers, will continue to support us along this new path. All we really want is to be able to offer as many of our patterns to as many people as possible, and run a sustainable business along the way. We hope that this concept will provide the solution, and support us in our growth!

If you've made it all the way to the end of this post, woo hoo and thank you!! 🥳 Any questions or feedback, please drop us a line at 😘

All our love,

Elisalex, and Team BHL xxx

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