My Five Favourite Handmade Businesses Right Now

blackcraft_harness_lingerie

Blackcraft Harness by Battie Clothing

I like to support other handmade businesses.  I love the connection between maker and object. The quality, attention to detail and individuality that goes into a handmade object is usually far superior to something factory-made.  When I need something– be it clothing, toiletries or storage solutions, I always look to handmade businesses first, and local if I can find it– meaning, in the UK or at least Europe.  What have I been buying recently?

Gothica Harness by BattieClothing

Gothica Harness by Battie Clothing. I’ve gotten a lot of wear out of this harness which decks out low or square necklines or adds a bit of fetish-inspired mystery to sheer tops.  Battie makes these in plus sizes as well, and these run large so definitely order a size smaller than what you would normally wear, or better yet– ask her! She makes them to measure too.  I’m tempted by the Lovecraft Harness  with removeable hood.  Because, well, harnesses and hoods, handmade from a easy-to-work with seller– it’s a win all round.

Papatotoro Hand-printed storage pods

Storage pods from Papatotoro. Papatotoro use vintage wood blocks and lino cuts to make their storage baskets, handbags and purses.  I use these to store my wire spools, my makeup and sofa-side books.  I have several– they are super sturdy and beautiful, harmonizing in any room far better than a plastic storage crate would. They come in a fascinating array of patterns and colours as well.

Nurturing Soul Lip Balms.

Nurturing Soul handmade balms and creams.  I use the lavender lip balm everyday, and the tattoo healing balm is the bomb.  I can highly recommend it for soothing and speeding the healing process.

It looks like she is on vacation now, but when she returns I’ve got my eye on the shea butter balm.

Cadmium Rose 2

Based in Barcelona, Cadmium Rose is a tribal fusion handmade clothing company. I’ve been wearing their ruffle trousers when I teach American Tribal Style Belly Dance® (my other hat!). They are well made and she offers great customer service.

Eco-femme washable menstrual pads

And sometimes my search for handmade goes global.  Eco Femme washable pads are my new love. They can be purchased in the UK by Feminine Wear. I have long used cloth pads and I needed some new ones. Washable pads are better for your body, the environment and your pocketbook. These are super functional (The sturdy metal snap and protective outer layer were selling points for me). Plus, they are pretty, with colourful striped Indian cotton on the outside, and have a great story attached to them.  They are made by a women’s collective in India and their pad-for-pad program means with every pad purchased, a pad is given to an economically disadvantaged teen girl in India.

I’m always on the hunt for new handmade businesses to support.  What are some of your favourites?

And, I can hear you asking.  Yes, I do accessorise that harness (though necklaces are out.) I wear it with my Scrying Mirror Ring:

The Crystal Nimbus Collection

crystal_collection

The end of the year is exciting. We gather together against the cold, thinking of the possibilities of the new year. The Yule gift I’ve given my business, (because, let’s face it, Feral Strumpet feels like a person to me now) is a new online shop. It’s easier for my customers to use, it’s still independent and best of all, it’s pretty.  I can now accept credit cards, as well as the old, tried and true Paypal as well as bank transfers if you are in the UK.  Also you can see prices in your country’s currency by using the drop down menu at the top of the store page.  The shop is also integrated with this blog.

What a better way to celebrate a new shop than with a new collection.  The Crystal Nimbus Collection is based on a hand-forged design which grew out of my incredibly popular Anglo Saxon pennanular brooch.  A simple, endless circle inspired by the moon, ouroboros and archeological finds. This penannular brooch is based on an Anglo Saxon design discovered in North Yorkshire. This brooch was featured in the Easy KnitnSweater Jacket Tutorial from Very Pink Knits.

These new crystal necklaces were born out of that design, of which I have now made many. I recently read a fascinating article on crystallography.  The otherworldly voids and stark, icy structures inspired me. Rather than form a holiday collection I started to think about light and shape. The forging process itself shaped these.  The raw crystals capture the winter solstice spirit so well– they are a light in the darkness. The nimbus shape came from the anglo saxon brooch but also my obsession with medieval iconography and the fine gilded halos of saints– a simple mark denoting grace.  Highlights of the collection are below. Each is one of a kind and I hope to add more pieces as the season darkens.

Small Business Saturday

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Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday and to celebrate I’m offering free domestic UK shipping all day with coupon code SMALLBIZSAT at both feralstrumpet.co.uk and my Etsy shop.

Shopping small can often mean shopping local. That’s why I’m offering free shipping to my neighbours on this island.  It’s interesting to note that this holiday season my customer base in the UK is growing exponentially.  Was it the Etsy UK ads? Word of mouth taking hold? Or my own work at UK-based SEO? It’s a mystery to me but I’m grateful. Etsy brought many international customers, many Americans as well as others from all over the world, but very few British customers. This has changed, and perhaps it’s because people are coming around to the idea of shopping local.  Compared to the US the UK is very small– the size of Florida. When I ship something to a UK customer, I can picture where they live, what it’s like there. Sometimes I wonder if I might know them or if they are a friend of a friend.  The shared geography heightens the connection that is already a strong one between maker and the potential wearer of a piece.

As a small business this time of year is particularly challenging; you are competing to be heard over the shouts of the mega businesses, hoping to reach your customers without also having to resort to shouting.

By buying small you get something unique, you support diversity in the marketplace, and best of all, you are investing in the dreams and hopes of the underdog, the little guy, people like me.

Shop Small this Friday and Save Big

Black_Friday24It’s the Blackest of Fridays and I’m offering 20% off at both my independent shop as well as my Etsy shop with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY.  It’s good for 24 hours, starting at 7am GMT. (offer can’t be used on reserved items, custom orders or retroactivley).

While many resist this, the darkest day of shopping, why not shine a light on your choices as a consumer? Choose to support small, microbusinesses like mine and know that not only are you getting a good deal and a unique handmade gift, you are also helping subvert the dominant business paradigm by helping an one-woman business flourish (might I say against all odds?)

 

Holiday Order Deadlines Approaching

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Order deadlines for Xmas are fast approaching, dear reader, so order early to give the Feral elves (ok, that’s me, Ally) and the Ye Olde Yuletide Postal Strumpet (ok, me again!) Plenty of time to make your sparklies and post them out to you.  These dates are guidelines and not guarantees. I’m very aware that readers of this blog form my most loyal and long term supporters!Hope this joyful season is full of light for you and your families. –Ally

A Year After the Changes at Etsy, It’s Worse than We Thought

Mabon Tree of Life in progress-- curling up the hammered tendrils

Mabon Tree of Life in progress– curling up the hammered tendrils

In October of last year I wrote a post about my concerns regarding Etsy policy changes to allow manufacturing and drop shipping. A year on, how have these changes affected sellers and buyers? A great article by Sharon Whitehead of Brooklyn Accelerator discusses both, and prompted me to revisit this topic.

What has essentially happened is this: Etsy used to be like a lovely little beach where you could go and find interesting little stones.  Combing through the sand was fun, with many delightful surprises: a shell here, a piece of beach glass there.  And then one day the authorities decided to use it as a dump, piling up plastic junk. You could still go there looking for little stones and shells, but you would have to wade through tons of refuse to find the treasures.

I’m not competing with the two dollar, sweat shop made goods. I have more in common with the people making those sweat-shop goods than I have with the factory-floor managers or the designers sending their stuff to be duplicated in factories or the companies that own the factories.  Etsy would like me to become like the managers and outsourcing designers. This has always been my bottom line, that I make in solidarity with those who do not have the luxury to set their own price and must work for an hourly wage decided be someone else.  I am not in competition with them.

One of Micheal Wolf's portraits of Chinese Factory Workers.

One of Micheal Wolf’s portraits of Chinese Factory Workers.

I’m convinced the Etsy shoppers who are buying the cheap, mass-produced goods are few, and they are not my customers.  The widespread presence of those goods on Etsy makes it harder for my customers– both potential ones and loyal fans– to find my work on Etsy.

This was the edge Etsy gave makers– it put us up front in Search Engine Optimization and its effective, streamlined internal search meant that we were served up to customers who were looking for exactly what we make. It was great, for a short time.

It took less than a year for Etsy’s changes to take hold and have an effect on authentic makers, but it’s happening now. What’s at stake here is not the redifining of “handmade” to include “handmade by someone else”. We need to understand that all along Etsy was about supporting handmade microbusiness– businesses of one or two people doing it themselves and the magic of connecting to them as a consumer.

Last year when I saw that I would have these challenges ahead, I created my own web store and enrolled in a handmade business course. The course’s advice? Outsource my designs to a manufacturer. Pay someone else to make the things I’m making or burn-out and financial catastrophe awaited me. I’m stubborn enough to disregard this advice. I’ve gotten this far without compromising on this, and I’m going to keep to that.

Etsy used to send great business and sales advice emails, coaching sellers.  I followed all their advice initially and it helped make my shop a success. Now the emails they send me are about how to outsource my work to a factory or how to make storage space for all the manufactured items I’ll be selling on Etsy after they come back from the factory. I don’t even read them anymore.

I feel lucky that I have loyal customers who continue to support my shop.  You know who you are.  You have put a roof over my head and food on the table and have paid the vet bills for my cats.  I have a direct relationship with many of you and if I outsourced what I made I would lose that.  I’m not willing to do that.

If you love my work, I would ask you to support my independent shop and give me feedback on your shopping experience there so I can continue to improve it. There will always be perks shopping at feralstrumpet.co.uk.  Have you seen my SAMPLE SALE section of one-off designs?  Did you know I have a Birthday Club- on your birthday month you get special savings only at feralstrumpet.co.uk? (Email feral.strumpet.info at gmail dot com with your birth month and day and I’ll add you to the club!).

I know there are some loyal customers who will prefer to shop on Etsy because they shop on their mobile devices and Etsy’s app for that is great.  If you do want to shop for my work on Etsy, use the search term “feral strumpet” or “folk reveries” to find my work (and the work of my fab Folk Reveries team mates.)  Be sure to favourite the items you like so you can go back to them because they might not be as easy to find in search as they have been in the past.

I stand by my statement last year.  What I predicted has come to pass, but it’s even worse.

While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process.

I know that someone out there who is tech-minded and passionate about handmade micro-business is already hard at work making something to replace Etsy. Whoever you are, I wish you godspeed.

In Sharon Whitehead’s insightful article, she offers advice for makers facing this drop in sales from Etsy’s changes. One suggestion is to “create a small network of fellow sellers” that goes beyond the Etsy Team model. Are you a maker with a companionable aesthetic to mine? Do you make other things besides jewellery, yet have a similar target market? Get in touch! Let’s work together to make better things happen.