So I was just completing some orders on my Etsy storefront when I realized that its been 3 years since I opened shop!! Wow..where did the time go! I feel so blessed to be able to do something that started as a complete shot in the dark, and is still holding its own today. Thank you, thank you, thank you to each and every one of you who has supported my venture!! For your awesomeness, there is a special treat at the end of this post, right after these snapshots of some key moments in Shivam's history :)
2012: MY FIRST BAG + CRAFT FAIR
Like most handmade, creative business owners, I did not plan on this route. For starters I did not know how to sew! I had just quit my job as an editor of a finance publication and took a break by doing a 200-hr yoga teacher training. As a newly-minted yoga teacher, I wanted to have a nice yoga mat bag that would stand out, and thought about making an Indian bag from old saris. With the help of my sister-in-law, we sewed a few prototypes and I took it to class. My students loved it! The studio owner, Jessica Diktas of Soul In Motion Yoga, was a jewelry designer and craft-fair veteran and suggested I test some bags at the local craft fairs where she had a booth. I had no props or product staging experience! Just the best chair I could find! LOL!
MY First International Order:
After selling at least 20 bags at 2 craft fairs, I decided to look into Etsy. I had 5 bags up for sale when I opened shop. I had no idea about anything. I just wrote what I knew about the bag and that's it. There was no major effort put in the first 2 months because I was busy trying to build up my yoga teaching. Then that December somebody bought my bag from Australia. I believe that was my 10th Etsy sale and it made me think that I must be on to something if someone from the other end of the world wants my bag! You know how it is..you are constantly doubting yourself, but this one made my day. The purple bag below is the one. These were the initial best sellers. Notice how the photos get better from left to right :)
By this time, I had spent many hours breaking down in front of my basic Singer sewing machine and decided I needed some help with sewing. I got a local NJ lady to do the sewing while I did the designing and cutting. Designing is my favorite part: visualizing the different combinations with the available saris was fun, and still is my most favorite thing!
2013: Growing More + My First Wholesale Order
After selling out with my stock that Christmas, I entered 2013 with confidence about this idea and decided to grow it more seriously. I launched my Facebook Page and took online workshops on marketing and writing ad copy. Even then the focus was on yoga teaching gigs, but after we moved from NJ to Nashville that Fall I devoted more time to the bags. I realized that I couldn't run two part-time businesses. It seems fairly easy to work from home and run an online shop, but it takes a lot of work and sometimes the pay off isn't worth it. Even then, my husband encouraged I keep going. Then that December we went to California and I took some bags with me in case I ran into any studios. So that's how I landed my first wholesale order for Drishti Yoga in Santa Barbara.
2014: New Products + Getting Serious with Branding
Two major changes happened this year: First was finding a small sewing workshop in my hometown in India when I went for my sister's wedding. The workshop consisted of a husband-wife team and 3-5 local seamstresses. The couple were experts in burlap and cotton-silk fabrics, both of which were on my list. You see, after making the initial batches with existing silk and cotton saris, I got feedback that customers wanted sturdier materials but with the same design aesthetic. After many hours hunting for the perfect burlap shades, and hounding family members for old saris, I made my first 200+ pieces. These became, and still are, my best sellers!
The other big step was investing in branding. I worked with a graphic designer to create a complete brand identity. I even did an entrepreneurship course at The Skillery, a co-working space with amazing business resources. Doing that class helped me refine my business idea, and for the first time I understood the scope, and limitations of my business. Everyone thinks their business is going to get big, but sometimes you find hard proof that indicates otherwise. Regardless, it was my best year ever in sales.
2015: Adding a New Aesthetic + Hitting a Plateau
This year I experimented and did a complete change in the design and look of my products. Firstly, I introduced items other than yoga accessories, such as tote bags and wallets that would appeal to a wider audience. Secondly, I didn't use my trademark upcycled Indian saris, but instead focused on this gorgeous hand spun cotton called Khadi, which is spun by artisans in small towns in India. The fabric is strong and feels organic just like linen, but without the high cost.
The other major investment I made was hiring a professional photographer this year. All this time, I was the one taking and editing pictures, which is great fun but very, very time consuming. Also, if you want to be taken seriously, it makes sense to have professional looking pictures. I have been very happy with the results so far, thanks to the very talented Mary Clark Guillory of Psalm27 Creative Photography! So far, so good.
The one disappointing factor this year has been finding local manufacturing help. While my team in India does a great job, my goal is to keep production close to home and support local economies. I tried to work with some local seamstresses but they eventually drop out. I am hoping I can solve this predicament soon enough.
All in all, it's been a wonderful, exciting adventure these past three years. I have sat at the edge of my seat most times and made decisions on the fly, sometimes not to desired results! I have driven my "highly numbers-driven" husband crazy by being clueless about profit and loss statements. I have grumbled and panicked to my mother and sisters, and my closest friends who have lend a patient ear, and much wisdom. But most of all I have counted on you, my readers, my customers, my social media followers, who are always here for me. Thank you for everything!
I can safely say its been one hell of a ride and I look forward to many more!!
(P.S. As a token of my appreciation, I am giving a 20% discount for all orders over $25. Use code ANNIVERSARY at checkout here and on Etsy. Valid only till October 13th.)