How to design a handmade shop: the story behind Caroline-made.

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It took me two years to make this shop happen. Does that sound a little bit crazy to you? I’ll be honest: it sounds a big bit crazy to me. Part of me thinks that two years is way too long, what was I possibly doing all this time while waiting to launch Caroline-made?

Well for one, launching a handmade shop has it’s scary moments. I mean, more often than not I’m putting a big part of who I am as an individual into the products inside my shop. When I started Gussy Sews I was very much into exactly how those products looked. And ruffles? Ruffles everywhere, please.

But what I’ve learned over the years is that it’s the easiest to design an item to sell that I’ll use on a regular basis because it will serve me so much better. So Gussy ruffles made perfect sense. A few things have changed since then: we’ve moved twice (Minneapolis and Los Angeles), we traveled around the world to Africa, and we welcomed our firstborn into our arms.

How to design a handmade shop // Maggie Whitley Designs

With all of these exciting changes it’s only natural that what I look for in a bag or organizational pouch has changed, too. It’s not that I don’t like Gussy ruffles, it’s that the aesthetic/design of Caroline-made serves me better.

Do you own a handmade shop? How can your products serve you to be the best designer and seller of your wares?

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Caroline-made has actually been in the works for two years. I know I wrote that above, but it’s worth re-writing.

Two years ago I was dreaming and doodling away when the idea for CM came to me. I also remember (around that same time) trying to add some variety to the Gussy shop by changing the look of our signature ruffle. I even adding a few pieced fabric designs to the shop. But alas, the Gussy Sews community was a tough one to convince a new design was necessary. Which is awesome! :) It’s really, really awesome. Having such a strong brand community is such a blessing! But what I learned through that is if I wanted to change the way my products looked I would need to create a totally new shop. And that’s how Caroline-made came to be.

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I knew the best place to start with designing a new shop would be to spend some time evaluating who I am (it helps me to think of myself as my ideal customer)?, what interests me?, what colors/textures catch my eye? and what is the purpose of these products?

Answering these questions gives me huge insight into the new brand I was creating, and it’s a process you can adopt for your own shop if you’re seeking assistance with your direction.

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To help me visually I leaned on a tried & true exercise: visit a local fabric store for some hands-on inspiration.

Here’s what my plan of action looks like, it’s nothing genius but it works well for me: I walk around the store a couple of times, first looking at all the fabrics available and taking note of what fabrics catch my eye. The second time I walk around I “select” what I noticed the first time around, but this time I’m also looking for complimentary fabrics. I repeat this process until I have confidently built my fabric and color palette for the first round of products.

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Once I have my first selection of fabrics in hand it’s easier for the rest of the line to come together aesthetically. That’s what works best for me, since I’m a pretty visual person. I already knew what I wanted to make (continue with bags and pouches) and I had an idea for the overall aesthetic, but putting together the first bundle of fabrics solidified so much for me.

What can you start with first so you can officially “begin” designing your handmade shop?

The next step for me was to review my inspiration boards, notebooks and overall vision for the new brand. I took some time with this, and good news, I was right on track — which felt great!

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When I started my first handmade shop in 2008, Gussy Sews, Zack and I were newlyweds living in Detroit. It was just the two of us living in our tiny rental home, and having an Etsy shop seemed like the trendiest thing ever. I quickly became enamored with the idea of having a handmade shop of sewn items, so I spent some time learning how to sew and then I opened up shop. I continued to review dozens of library books to learn the trade, but for me I knew it was more helpful to simply get started than to wait for the perfect time.

It’s probably safe to say I was obsessed with learning how to sew. And the more I learned about sewing and handmade the more I shared on my blog, which ultimately created a really wonderful community that is still alongside me today… I’m incredibly grateful and blessed.

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Even now, nearly six years later, everything about the sewing process is still magical to me. I learn new techniques frequently and pay attention to what catches my eye. These are things I tuck into my pocket because I know they’re timeless tips.

Something else I want to share is that Zack and I were both unemployed when I started sewing/Gussy Sews in 2008, which is so inspiring to me when I take the time to really think about what that means. My point is you don’t have to have a lot of money to start your handmade business. You don’t even have to be an expert in the field as a whole!

But here’s what you do need to start a handmade business:

Encouragement to keep going, an area of focus/study, and a support system to rally you on.

We were so desperate to stay ahead of our expenses while unemployed in 2008, and we totally did because I had a vision for Gussy Sews and I was committed to making it work. And you know what? Those three things that you need to start a handmade business (above)? They won’t cost you a dime :)

I’ve been asked a few times, So why a new shop? It seems very similar to your other shop, Gussy Sews.

I’m sure it does at first glance, but once you start poking around you’ll notice there’s a slight change in the sophistication of the products and overall vision. Not in a stuffy way, but in a refreshing way. We are using designer fabrics that are fairly exclusive, gorgeous suede details (zipper pulls and tags) and metal zippers. And perhaps the biggest change is the drop of the ruffle. It’s exciting to try new things, right? So rather than change a brand that has been so incredibly defined through the support of its customers, creating a new shop so my new vision can come to life was the right next step.

My hope for Caroline-made is that you’ll feel confident sharing yourself and your talents with the world through the help of our products:

You hold unique talents, relationships and you’re a blessing to many. Do you know that? Let our Everyday Bags make going about your day a little bit easier.

You’re a versatile gal, but you also savor the daily routines of life. You enjoy being in community, feeding your soul, and learning. Our Pencil Pouches can help you with that.

And then lastly is our Basic Pouch, which knows how to pack a punch! Use it as a wallet, store your business cards, or let’s be honest — a catch all for all your tiny items.

The Caroline-made shop brings me a lot of joy. I feel challenged and even more brave since it’s launch, but I also still feel like my sassy, vibrant self. It’s a mix of comfort and needing to be brave… which feels perfect :)

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This shop is more than just selling a product…

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…it’s a tangible vision of combining beautiful textiles with the need to share your talents with the world.

Caroline-made products are dotted with color; they are blanketed with courage. They are pretty accessories for the modern gal.

Grab a hold of your courage and together let’s jump in!

xo.

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    I love this post, very practical and encouraging advice! I’ve semi-launched my new shop, but I’m feeling kind of nervous and shaky, not sure if I’m doing it right… I love your labels, would you be willing to share where you got them? Or do you stamp them yourself? Love this new aesthetic!

  2. 2

    says

    I hear you on the scary-ness of launching something new! Just this week, I helped my husband launch a long-time dream of his. Bringing it to into fruition actually turned it into my dream too, and now that it’s live, it’s EXCITING but oh so SCARY too! I think the biggest reason it’s scary is that people can openly criticize it, and if it fails, it’s a public failure now…

    BUT! Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I’m proud of us for making it come to life, and for doing it together! Regardless of the long term outcome, we are making our dreams happen every day that we continue on with it.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us! I love the new look of the Caroline-Made products as well as the fabrics you chose! They seem very Maggie-esque! :)

    Happy Friday!

  3. 3

    says

    I love the idea to use one of your pouches to hold business cards! I’m trying not to push my means right now (I’m about to graduate from college!), but I’m definitely going to save up to buy one of your beautiful shop items :)

  4. 4

    says

    This might be my favorite post you’ve ever written, Maggie. I totally understand the need to have your shop reflect who you are becoming as a person, even if your “old stuff” is still popular or selling well. And it’s so brave of you to take the new plunge.
    I think your tips were very helpful… also in the midst of thinking through a “re-brand” (have been for a year now, so I understand how it could take years to get this done!), your ideas for how you got started gave me some ideas too! Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. 5

    says

    I LOVE this post, I have, since 2008, been a partner in a business that sold handmade (by myself) bags, clutches, purses & wallets… we also did tie dye, second hand and vintage items. It was nice, it worked well… until lately. I decided that I needed to split from my partner and do “my own thing.” It was a very scary decision, and I am SO lucky to have such an amazing friend and partner, because she gave me her full blessing and understood why I was going solo. Now here I am trying to figure out how to start this off on the right foot… Making a brand, logo and new designs that are more “refined” than my previous popular designs, all while maintaining my previous customers and obtaining new customers is kind of scary! Thank you for this post, it’s nice to see how you started fresh, as this is what I am doing now! I am not one to follow many blogs… but I think I have officially begun with yours! <3

  6. 6

    Rachel says

    Maggie – I have been exploring your site for hours, mostly today to be honest. You have so much wonderful information here to encourage the daydreams of other handmade aspirers. Thank you for sharing your life and your passion.

    I am 6 months behind on this post, but I am wondering if you could share a bit of how you picked the name for your shop each time? I am wanting to open an shop (probably Etsy), have a pretty set group of product ideas that I just love, am researching more about where to buy wholesale fabric, etc., to make the items. But, my biggest challenge so far is that I do not know what to call my shop (or blog as I see you encourage blogging in conjunction with the shop). Do you have any suggestions for how to find a fitting name?

    Any help would be awesome. Thanks for inspiring me and boosting confidence!

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