I met Alicia years ago when was starting my business. In fact, The Ella/Posie Handmade Holiday Bazaar which she organized was the very first place I had my things for sale, so I have to admit I have a big soft spot for her. Alicia has been a book editor, accessories designer, boutique owner and overall small business maven. Her work and home have been profiled in magazines and on television, and she has a book coming out next year which I’m really looking forward to. She makes goods for her online shop Posie, and writes about life and all things good at her personal site Posie Gets Cozy.
Your business has gone through the whole range of existence – you started out with an agent, opened a shop selling your own goods as well as handmade things from other people which you moved once, you started a blog about your work and life that has proved to be tremendously popular, you closed your shop to sell exclusively online, and you just finished your book which is to be published next year. I find your willingness to adapt while keeping things you make so consistently your style quite amazing. Do you miss having the shop? How has having more time in your studio affected what you decide to create? Are there any downsides to taking a less traditional approach to releasing and selling things?
Well, it’s been necessary to adapt just to stay in business. In my case, at least! I’ve always made the best decisions I knew how to make at the time, but I’ve never had a grand plan, and some things definitely have been the wrong things for me. I think the shop was wrong for me, really. I don’t think I should have that much face-to-face contact with the public. I’m much nicer (and happier) on the computer. But my business has evolved into something different almost every year I’ve had it. I suppose part of that is my personality (a little capricious) and part of it is just a sort of natural development towards finding a combination of approaches that will work better in my life, and that will also allow me to grow and change. I try to follow the opportunities that have come my way, and I’ve tried to change the way things are going when it turns out they’re not going very well.
I like having a life that’s the right size, and that’s my first priority, I think. Nevertheless, to make a living you often have to push that boundary uncomfortably. I am doing so many things besides just producing my product line that I feel like I’m hardly ever in the studio anymore. But I’m always trying to cobble just the right set of stuff together—retail products and wholesale patterns and a book and, well, we’ll see what else—that will allow me to support myself and still maintain balance on a personal level. I think it’s been a hard balance to achieve, because I feel like I have to say yes to as much as I can because the financial margins are very slim, but still, there are only so many hours in a day. But generally I see that everything I do just teaches me more and gets me closer (even though it might be one step forward, two steps back) to a patchwork of things that ultimately work, both financially, creatively, and personally. More than anything, I’m always just trying to do the best work I possibly can and stay balanced, and then I just have to trust that it’ll all work out. There’s no roadmap. I think most creatively self-employed people I know kind of make it up as we go. Sigh. Creative even when it comes to the plan, yeah? ?
You sell crochet patterns and have had a number of them published. Do you have any advice for people who are hoping to sell patterns of their own? Any advice on how to approach publications?
I love selling my crochet patterns on my site, and I wish I had time to design more of them. As far as selling designs to magazines and books, you can write to any of the crochet or knitting magazines and ask for their submission guidelines and production schedule and they will be happy to send them to you. Editors are always looking for new designs and designers — I know everyone always says that but in my experience it is completely true. If you are reliable, meet their deadlines, and present yourself professionally I would think they’d be quite thrilled to consider your patterns.
But definitely do your homework — research the publications you are interested in contributing to, and get a feeling for their aesthetic. Call and talk to an editorial assistant if you have questions and keep on eye on their themes. (Editors decide what major themes they’ll be focusing on in each issue many months ahead of time.) Follow their guidelines to a T and don’t commit to things you can’t follow through on. Editors are so busy, and they’ll often call at the last minute, and they’ll often need something more or different than exactly what you have available, and they’ll often need it faster than you think you can deliver — but if you are interested in developing a good relationship with the media, you do have to jump when they call. It’s just how it always seems to work!
Before you started your business you worked as a book editor. How did that experience help with the process of writing your own book?
I think it helped in all the obvious ways — I was familiar with to putting a manuscript together, thinking conceptually about a package, working with style sheets, writing efficiently (sometimes) — all that stuff. But in some ways I think it worked against me, because I would get very tangled up in the details — I think I was editing my own book while I creating the projects for it, while I was writing it, and while I was photographing it. It was an ambitious project and I had a lot on my plate, but because of my previous experience I had all these habits that were really hard to break and weren’t entirely appropriate for an author to have. I worried about the little things while trying to make headway on the big things, and there were definitely days when I thought my head would just blow off. I had a hard time separating the editor in me from the person who just really needed to keep moving forward and get the job done. That said, I think it was a really clean manuscript! So hopefully in the long run of the book’s production that will be helpful. But it was hard at the time to keep trying to get out of my own way.
You took the photographs for your own book, and bought a new camera to do so. Any great resources that helped you out during the process of leaning about all that?
I’m still looking for that one great resource, but I’m starting to think there is no substitute for experience when it comes to photography, or that I should really take a class — I seem to struggle with the reading about it. I know you have to take a lot of photos to get the good ones. I’ve written about my cameras and trials and tribulations in the Photography section of the blog, and there’s a resource or two in there, as well.
As someone who has both owned a shop and has her things sold in boutiques, is there any information you wish to share to people selling their handmade items wholesale? Any perspective from the shopkeeper’s side they should keep in mind?
I’ve also written about these things at WhipUp, and I know there is probably a lot of very helpful information in the comments attached to all of these posts.
A few years back a friend of mine was profiled on an episode of HGTV’s Crafters Coast to Coast. She had a great time, but the exposure didn’t bring a lot of businesses. You were also on that show, what happened after it aired?
I think there is a cumulative effect to exposure and publicity. I’m always very grateful for any that I’ve gotten, but I would say that there have only been a few times that the phone’s rung off the hook — if it’s a product, and it’s the right product, in the right place at the right time, yes, you can get an intense response. But most of the publicity I’ve gotten has just sort of added up, I think. We learned this so often with the store. It would get written up really nicely in the local paper, or even nationally, and we’d think, “This is it! Okay, everyone, stand back. When the customers come rushing through the door, we don’t want anyone getting hurt!” And then the article would come out, or whatever it was, and we’d be manning our stations excitedly . . . and there would be this deafening silence. We’d all look at each other like, “Okay. What was that?” Six weeks later someone would wander into the store by mistake, and say, “Oh wait! I think I read an article about you guys!” So, it can be a pretty humbling experience. You never know.
Publicity is really important, but sometimes it’s easy to overestimate the response. In my experience the kind of publicity absolutely affects what “happens” immediately after it comes out. (That said, occasionally you’ll be surprised and have that “just the right thing in the right magazine at the right time” happen unexpectedly and you’ll be unprepared!) Having a product mentioned briefly in the shopping pages of a big magazine can result in a lot more sales than a six-page lifestyle feature, definitely. Crafters Coast to Coast was a fun experience, and I can’t really quantify it but I don’t think there was any noticeable spike in sales, no. (There were, however, a ton of emails and phonecalls from people who had further questions about how to make the bag they showed me making!)
That said, the more publicity you get the more you seem to get, and when I went, several years later, to publish a book all of it turned out to be more important than I ever expected, so. . . . So, you know, it’s always a privilege to have editors include you in publications, and sometimes it results in sales, but the most important thing to me anymore is just having that experience of working with good publications and people that I really like. I try to do it because I want to be part of something I love and respect, not just because it might bring in sales. Big picture is that publicity is just one part of the equation. And it usually has a very short shelf life. So I always just try to be prepared, of course, but kind of forget about it all, too.
Please tell us a favorite anecdote.
I guess my favorite crafty story was years ago when I felted my first thing. It was a huge diaper bag I was making for a friend. It was knitted, and it took me absolutely forever, and I’d spent a lot of money on the yarn, and I’d told every single person I knew about it, and how hard it’d been, etc. So I had a lot invested in this bag. I think it was as big as half of a sleeping bag. I’m just sayin. BIG BAG. Lots of ruining potential. Not really the best idea for a first project, but such is my special way.
The morning I was going to felt it, I read the directions carefully because I was terrified to mess it up. The directions were very precise and said, you know, “Wash it for this long, then look at it, then wash it for two minutes more, then look at it, then wash it for one minute more, etc.” I was like, “Jeez, that’s so clinical! But I will do just as they advise!” I was in the basement in my ratty pajamas (it was very early), staring at the washing machine. I was on the “just two minutes more” part. Staring at the washing machine. Stopping it and looking at the bag. Almost perfect. Putting it back in the washing machine. “Just one minute more.” Staring at the washing machine. Suddenly, the smoke alarm. Blaring. What the??? Running up the stairs I could see flashing orange light in the hallway coming from the kitchen. Andy had been trying to make his espresso in his little pot but turned on the wrong burner and heated up another pan on high heat for ten minutes. Coming back into the kitchen to see why his espresso was taking so long, he’d seen the pan smoking and thought he’d “season” it by pouring some (wait for it) OIL into the bottom of it. Which burst into four-foot flames.
Out came the fire extinguisher. Kitchen filled with smoke and fire retardant. Alicia and Audrey (dog) start hacking coughing and are unable to breathe. Everyone vacates the house to stand half-naked on the front sidewalk in the freezing rain while all the windows are opened and the fans turned on. Meanwhile the washing machine is pummeling my almost-felted bag into an SOS pad. I’m freaking out on the sidewalk (people walking by with their dogs, wondering why we’re standing in the front yard on Sunday morning wearing boxers), screeching that I need to go back in for “My bag! My bag!” One more minute turns into about thirty minutes. Lesson: It came out fine. I don’t know what all that “one minute” stuff was about anyway. I’ve felted dozens of things and I’m much more relaxed since.
What is next for Posie? Is there anything you would love to take on in the future?
Gosh, right now, I am trying to catch up on sleep! And just getting dinner made. Finishing the book this fall has sort of left me spacey and wanting to take in for a while, rather than put out. But generally these days I’m interested in developing and finding outlets for my designs, whether they’re sewing projects, embroidery projects, printed fabric, crochetwear, or crafts. I think it’s the next natural step for me — full-time designing — and I’m much more interested in finding ways to publish and distribute my designs than I am in mass-producing flower pins; it takes so many flower pins to make a living, and my wrists have already logged more miles than I’m comfortable with. So slowly but surely I’m going in that direction. I’d always thought it was satisfying to sell my work, but I have to say that it’s even more inspiring to see people making things based on ideas I’ve had. That’s the best. So I’d like to continue in that way, in whatever medium I’m excited about. That would be a huge privilege.