The shop with no stock

I used to have a craft stall on the farmers market in Leeds. I didn’t have a car, so once a month I’d have to cram a whole market stall of goodies into a taxi and make my way into town in the early hours of Sunday morning, before I’d even put the cloth on the table I was £8 down in taxi fares.

I enjoyed the camaraderie of the other stall holders, I loved the chats with the customers and I loved the summer whether and making a sale.

Making sales was tough and the browsers (those with no intention to buy) vast outweighed the actual customers. I had my fill of people out for their Sunday stroll, with a burger from the van, dripping in fat in one hand, leaning over my crochet star wars toys and grabbing at things with their other hand. Then there were the folk who felt the need to pick up every item glance at it then put it back in the wrong place, and finally those who asked the price then said, “you’re joking, my gran could make that”. You get several of each type every time and add to that the rain, wind and pickpockets and… you can imagine the little joy you got from it was dwindled by the end of the day.

The council would double the rent just because it was Christmas, and if you got ill and didn’t turn up your stall might be given away to the next person on the waiting list.

I made very little money, but despite all the lows, I loved it.

For the past few months I’ve been exploring a different way of selling, print on demand.

There’s no early mornings, no one gets to mess with the display, no dripping burgers and when it rains it’s business as usual.

But most importantly, there’s no boxes of stock cluttering up my little home.

Print on demand is a simple idea.

My patterns are put on items made by other companies items like fabric, clothing and accessories. A customer buys an item and then the company makes it and posts it to the company and I get a commission of the sale.

Getting a commission rather than the whole profit might not sound too exciting, but the parts of selling that some might not enjoy, the costing of postage, having stock of packaging… having stock! even taking professional looking photographs are all done by the company.

In the end, it leaves me to do the things I like most, the designing and painting.

Print on demand websites I like

Printful (www.printful.com) works with your Etsy shop to make the process even more easy to use. They produce everything from babygrows to jewellery to bean bags.

Printful lets you choose how much profit you want to make from each sale, of course, the higher you sell your product for, the more you have to charge and the less potential sales you could make if someone else is selling a similar product cheaper.

My watercolour painting on an Iphone case

They use something called a Mock up, a styled image of the item with your artwork imposed onto the object you want to sell. So although it looks like I’ve spent money on printing a sample Iphone cover and paid a professional photographer to take the photos, so far, I’ve not spent a penny.

Even better, because Printful can be linked up with my Etsy shop the listing on Etsy is almost made with a click of a button. They fill out the details of the listing and work out the postage and all I have to do is add a few extra details.

They even have a warehouse and fulfillment options, which means they can send packages out as though you yourself have wrapped them with your own little details, Y’know, like we Etsy sellers like to do.

Spoonflower (www.spoonflower.com) prints fabric but also have a sister website (www.roostery.com) that produces finished items from the printed fabric.

They don’t like with Etsy, but you create your own designers page on their site and tell them what your image can be made into. Most people create repeatable patterns which I create on Adobe software, but there are ways to create these patterns on cheaper drawing apps and even on godd old fashioned paper.

The list of fabric available to print on is quite vast and there is an initial cost to sell your pattern. You need to purchase a sample piece of fabric, a test swatch to check your print looks like you intended. It’s around £4 for each sample. They even print wallpaper.

Buying your own printed fabric is more expensive than fabric made commercially in bulk, and there is a huge amount of fabric designers all trying to sell their patterns. I am not sure how much money you could make, but for testing the waters it’s a great starting place.

The price of finished items seems very high, this set of 2 tea towels with my Leaves & Berries design costs $38 plus postage, so if you can sew, it might be worth looking into printing the fabric and making your own items to see if you can make it more profitable. As a designer you get 10% commission on any sales, but higher selling designers can made more.

The company deals with everything, you have no customer complaints to deal with but then again, you have little say in the product. It leaves you to be a designer, nothing else.

There are several companies similar to Printful and Spoonflower. I like Printful because it gives the best commission (allowing you to decide for yourself what you earn) and works with Etsy putting you in control the most. Spoonflower is the company I’ve heard of the most that prints fabric.

Other similar websites you could look at are:

  • Zazzle – http://www.zazzle.co.uk, a UK based company that allows you to set your own commission from 5%-99%
  • Doc Cotton – http://www.doccotton.com, a Peckham based company that offers 10% but focuses on sustainable clothing
  • Redbubble (www.redbubble.com) commission from 10% – they also make stickers!
  • Threadless.com – create your own shop on the site and have control over what the shop looks like, also sells skateboards
  • Society6.com – similar to redbubble
  • fashion-formula.com – like spoonflower but limited to maximum 20% commission
  • Spreadshirt.co.uk

Yep, the list of companies offering bespoke fabric printed items seems to grow every week so you really need to decide what is important for you brand and have a good look at the options, even try a few out before deciding which ones you should focus on the most.

Things you might want to look out for include:

  • Where the product is made – most have a workshop in the US and in Europe, but the further away the print workshop is the longer the item takes to get to your customer.
  • Ethical values – If this is important to you then perhaps you need to look at a company that offers sustainability or organic materials and the ability to not offer products made from plastic.
  • Company location – Is it important that you choose a UK based company that maybe doesn’t have such a worldwide customer base or marketing budget?
  • Your own style – does the company suit your branding and style?
  • Commission offered
  • Ability to bespoke your online presence on their website
  • Ability to sell alongside your existing website or Etsy shop

It might be some time before the craft fairs open up again so selling online is becoming the way of the current life, and if you don’t have the funds to bulk buy stock and worry about initial outlay costs of making your own products then it might be worth looking into.

So! What do you think?

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