Have you ever finished making something (cake, cushion cover, really good soup…) and thought “you know, I really should make a business out of this!” I bet you never did get round to it did you? Well, in today’s Creative Workspace we meet Gaynor Hall and Helen Ashton who did indeed do just that.
How did Handmade start?
Helen: Well, we both used to work together and we’d talked about doing something together. But it all started properly when I made a dress for my little girl’s first birthday and at her party we sat nattering. We said “we could do this, we could make a business out of this and create proper girls’ dresses, something that suits their age, like a pinafore dress. That’s where we started from, we looked at patterns and then we started making.
Gaynor: I go to Sri Lanka regularly with my work (I’m a garment technician) and I brought back some fabrics from there and we started up.
Helen: We started off at Barton market in Chilwell, that was the first one we did in June or July last year and we got some nice comments, did quite well and got a few dresses sold. I went back the following month and then we’ve done a number of markets as well as starting to sell on the internet.
Helen: No we’ve done it all ourselves. I have another business as well, making invitations, which I started to do when I was on maternity leave so I played around with a few websites then. For this we have a Facebook site, a WordPress blog site and we sell on Etsy as well.
We looked at Folksy too, but Etsy gives you more information about who has looked at your site, what they like, who likes what particular style and so on – it gives you much better information about your potential buyers. It’s comparable to ebay in that respect. It helps as you can gauge which ones are working and which ones are not so it’s a really useful tool.
Gaynor: The other useful thing about selling clothes on the internet is that there’s always a market. We thought about taking our summer clothes off Etsy for a while but then thought about customers in Australia and have sold across the globe!
What’s the ethos of Handmade for Little Rascals?
Gaynor: We wanted to make reasonably priced garments as well, it would be easy to make dresses that were £40 but we might never sell them so we wanted to make sure that they stayed affordable.
Helen: People appreciate things that are handmade don’t they? But at the moment people can’t afford to buy much so you can’t set up a business where you’re that precious about your price point or no one will buy it.
Gaynor: We only get a certain amount of each fabric, maximum of five or six metres, so that there’s just a few of each one. It makes it a bit more special. We like the idea of it being more limited, we don’t want to go into mass production. We want them to be individuals, not wearing all the same dresses from Primark or M&S.
We have about four or five patterns that we stick to. I took the pattern from a skirt I bought from ebay and made up all the different sizes – that’s my day job too, you see, so I can do that.
We’re in discussion with local shops about stocking our things. We still want to retain the same limited edition ethos and only have a few of each kind in the shops, we don’t want to change anything just because there’s a physical presence.
Helen: We’ve been building the business up gradually. We started off making just dresses, built up some stock and did a bit of market research, going to fairs and fetes and markets. We also did some mornings at playgroups – went in with some stock and spoke to the mums and that’s when I got asked if we did some boys clothes. We had a lot of people ask us about boys clothes but we felt we needed to focus and get some stock together before we expanded the range.
Gaynor: We’ve just started doing things for boys – some shirts and trousers. That’s this year’s plan, to expand our range.
Helen: To move the girls on we’re going to do some celebration dresses – for parties, bridesmaids, christening. Again we want these to be reasonable prices but using different motifs, trims and cotton broderie fabric we can make them look special.
Quite a lot of people have said to us, “oh I used to do this!” and “Where do you get the fabric from?” We’ve got a very nice fabric shop in Beeston but not everybody does have access to that kind of place so unless you’re au fait with ebay then fabric’s the hardest thing for people to get hold of these days. So we decided that it might be good to do little kits with everything you need in them as a project for people who wanted to start sewing again. We sold several at the pop up shop at Barton’s over Christmas and Artwork on Chilwell High Road has some in stock for us, and you can buy them from our website too. They cost £12. There’s everything in the pack – instructions, fabric is already overlocked so you just have to sew it, buttons and a little motif to go on it.
What’s your routine?
Gaynor: Well, as you can see, my workroom’s not the neatest place! But I’ve got everything to hand. My fabric cupboard is something of a mess but you can see the range of things we’ve got ready to make up.
Helen: I have a load of fabric at home and just get on with things when I can and you do the same don’t you?
Gaynor: When we’ve run out, we’ll just say to each other, what shall we do now? We get together and discuss what fabric looks best in each pattern.
Helen: It makes it easier that we’re friends too, that we both understand that we’ve got work and family and life to get on with as well but that we both want to make a go of it when you’ve got time to do it.
Gaynor: Having said that, if there was a commission that needed dresses for a certain time then we’ll make time to do that as well. We can work together like a little workshop if needs be. We can also make dresses or outfits for people who have fabric already. Helen’s a designer, so we can make up anything you request.
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Sue is one of our crack blogging team! She likes nothing more than a cup of tea and a nose round someone else’s stuff but can also be reached on sue AT creativenottingham.com and followed on Twitter @basfordian