And… we’re back! Princess Awesome fans, you may have been wondering where we’ve been for the past seven months. In person, many of you have asked us what’s going on with the business. We’re starting our blog with the story of our business so far, including why we stalled out for a few months, where we are now, and where we plan to go next.
One year ago, in September 2013, we were hard at work ordering fabric, sewing dresses, and getting ready to debut our handmade products. Our plan was to test the market with a sample sale of these dresses to see if our little brainchild, Princess Awesome, could actually make sales. I found it exhilarating and exciting to spend Saturday afternoons in Eva’s basement cutting and sewing while our husbands watched the four bigger kids and the then-baby W sat watching us work. But as much as we enjoyed that first stage of the process, we never wanted to open an Etsy shop. We never wanted to make dresses by hand forever. With, at the time, five kids between us and two full-time jobs - one in the home and one out of the home - we knew that was not a realistic or desirable goal. So when our sample sale was successful (we sold 75% of our product within six weeks) and we got fantastic feedback from friends, relatives, and strangers on facebook, we knew that we wanted to try to move the business out of the basement - literally - and into a production facility.
In January and February of this year, we decided to begin our pursuit of mass production with finding a custom printing fabric supplier. For our first run of dresses, we found fabric designs that spoke to us on various websites, but we mostly purchased fabric from Spoonflower, a website that allows you to upload your own designs and have them printed on fabric or buy designs created by others. It was here that we found truly unique, interesting designs that perfectly fit inside the Venn Diagram of cute, fun, and non-traditional (for girls). Our Pi fabric, periodic table of elements, and dinosaurs fabrics all came from Spoonflower. Spoonflower is an amazing resource, but it’s way too expensive to use on a large scale ($18/yd). Also, at the time, it only offered the Kona cotton fabric that we used in our first run of dresses, which worked fine, but was not ideal for us. We wanted (and still want) a softer, stretchier fabric that will allow girls to wear our dresses while climbing trees, twirling, and running footraces without being constricted by the skirt. So we set out to find a custom printing fabric supplier. We figured we’d solve that problem first and then move quickly on to finding a cut and sew manufacturer. We hoped that we’d have it all lined up and ready to go by summer 2014 or, at the latest, fall.
I’d like to now share with you an (almost) exact transcript of the first phone call I made to a fabric printer.
Me: Hello! I’m starting a new business, and I’d like to find out about your pricing for custom printing fabrics.
Printer: We charge $85 a yard.
Me: Um… ok… $85 a yard...
Printer: Unless you want it to be washable. In which case it’s $125 a yard.
This was, to say the least, a bit discouraging. It turns out that there are two basic models of custom printing fabric. One is using a digital fabric printer. This was the model of that first company, and these printers tended to be extraordinarily expensive. I think they’re primarily used for super fancy, high-end fashion or for people who want to print Monet’s "Water Lilies" on their curtains. The other model involves paying for the creation of screens, which are basically large stencils for dying fabric, and then relatively low per-yard fabric costs. But. These companies have minimum requirements for fabric orders. Minimums in the range of 500 - 1000 yards. And even $5 a yard gets expensive real quick if you have to buy 600 yards.
After getting pricing details from nine custom fabric companies, we realized that our dream of being able to finance this enterprise ourselves for under $10,000 was unattainable. The cost of the fabrics alone would require investors or a small business loan or winning the lottery, not to mention the labor for sewing the dresses, buying labels, shipping, and the myriad of other costs that we knew were out there waiting for us.
And so there we were in February at a crossroads. We didn’t know what to do. And Eva was super pregnant with this lovely lady:
And Eva was homeschooling her two oldest while also watching her at-the-time youngest all day.And I was in the throes of one of the busiest and most challenging times of the school year (I teach third grade). Andafter school I was taking care of my own two kids. All of this left the both of us with only a couple of hours between kids’ bedtime before our own bedtimes, and we were exhausted. And, like I said, we didn’t know what to do. So we stalled out.
Meanwhile, Eva had her baby and I had report cards to write and spring flew by. Summer rolled in. Our plan was to buckle down and figure out what to do. We made an appointment with a mentor at SCORE, an organization that connects new entrepreneurs with retired businesspeople. We were ready to go. But we both bought houses and moved. And there were summer travels in between the packing and moving. So we got to the end of August having only had that one meeting with the SCORE mentor and signing up for the highest access account on Makers Row, a website marketplace allowing production facilities to connect with companies.
Our SCORE mentor thought that if we re-investigated our options that we would be able to do what we’d be hoping to do, scale up to production for a relatively small amount of money. We actually planned to just keep using Spoonflower, put off the custom fabric sourcing, and find a company to do just the cutting and sewing for us. We started looking into it.
Using Makers Row, we found a number of companies that seemed like a good fit for us. Eva, settled in her new house with two kids off at school during the day and a babysitter for a few hours a week, started making phone calls and was more productive in a few hours than most people are in a week. Through her amazing work, we quickly narrowed down our sewing company to one based outside of Philadelphia. They said they could help us with the fabric sourcing and put us in touch with a screen-printing company that we’d actually spoken to back in February. Eva got deeper into conversations with the fabric company and the cutting and sewing company, and we started to get excited. Really excited. Just the thought of printing the Pi fabric and having the tops dyed to match the pattern gave me goosebumps! However, we again quickly realized that this was no cheaper than we thought it would be seven months ago.
Coming to this realization again but this time with more energy and drive to tackle the problem, we decided that our best course of action is Kickstarter. Using the Kickstarter model, which essentially functions as creating capital through pre-sales along with some donation to the company, we can hopefully raise the funds we need to launch our line of clothes with three designs of play dresses and onesies.
And that brings us to today. We’re officially launching our “We’re Going to Launch a Kickstarter” campaign! We have a lot to do to get ready for the actual launch of the campaign. We need to upgrade and redesign our website (anybody out there want to help with that?), make an awesome video (great ideas are percolating), get our sample dresses and onesies made in the production facility, and start doing more networking and PR work than we’ve done so far (or really ever in our lives). Our hope is to take the next four months to get all of these things done, and launch around the beginning of February. We’re going to keep updating this blog and you all with our progress, our ideas, our worries; so check back in to see where we are and how you can help (if you’re so inclined :) ).
We’re so sorry for the extra-long hiatus we’ve been on. We’re thrilled to be back and we’re raring to go!