Hand-crafted and home-made items are as old as the dawn of man, however, not since the infamous macramé craze of the 1970s has the notion of ‘handmade’ been taken to a whole new level of chic. Handmade is definitely the new black – fuelled by a combination of accessible product, high-technology, the internet, and a resultant craving for ‘a return to basic living’.
The Martha Stewart empire could be arguably responsible for making handmade ‘chic’. Sticking sand in a bottle and tying a ribbon around it no longer cuts it. Modern day handmade aficionados are creating professional die cuts and letterpress. They are whipping up eye-boggling artworks, professional-standard screen printing and photographic imagery, and formidable fashion creations that stand their own against the style houses of Europe.
Handmade lovers are creating their own books, whipping up Ladurée-worthy macarons and cutting paper into all manner of fluttery creations that would sit with ease in galleries the world over.
The handmade revival hasn’t just arrived. It is well-established and thriving . . . most especially online.
Sites like etsy and made it are showcasing a smorgasbord of talent worldwide, but handmade designers are also fronting their own mini empires by creating a strong online presence.
Jennie McClelland has been in the handmade business for a decade now. With degrees in pharmacology and psychology, this busy mother of four, with a husband at war, is an inspiration for anyone with a creative fire in their belly
Owner of Posie Patchwork (and several subsidiary labels), Jennie is your typical modern ‘Renaissance’ woman . . . multi-tasking, intensely busy, and can turn her hand to just about anything, but Jennie’s business was originally born from a love of sewing.
“My mother was an amazing seamstress, sewing and knitting all our clothes . . . think matchy matchy Von Trapp Family style!” Jennie tells Australian Women Online.
“We used to play with zips, beads, buttons and cotton at the wrought iron pedal of her 1890 industrial Singer. I have vivid memories of mum calling out ‘don’t use the good scissors’ and now cherish my good scissors.”
Her love of art, colour, science and geometry translated well into sewing. Even as a young child, Jennie hand-sewed clothes for her toys, but it wasn’t until 2001, after the birth of her twins, that Jennie decided to get serious – and Posie Patchwork was born.
“With three little girls under the age of two, I wanted to be a full time mother as well as make some pocket money to feed my love of fashion. My husband was off to his second war zone and sewing was a great way to spend my lonely evenings,” says Jennie.
“I fell in love with patchwork quilts with a modern twist, making them obtainable, not just precious heirlooms stored in an armoire.”
When Jennie’s fourth child started preschool five years ago, she started selling wholesale, stocking over 50 stores around the world, and in 2004, she launched an online store featuring mix and match products and fabrics.
“Online with a bunch of young children at home, is a great way to do business,” says Jennie. “You never know who’s looking at your website. I’ve had business clients including Opera Australia, Baz Luhrmann, Perri Cutten and international department stores.”
At first, Jennie took things slow, allowing the business to grow with her family, but by 2007, Jennie’s online presence was getting strong, fuelled in part by her popular blog following. Out of necessity, she formed a wholesale branch of her business, which also operated online – and soon after, began more seriously committing to selling at markets and in shopfronts.
Like many women working in the handmade arena, especially those stocking markets and shops, demand soon began to outweigh production capabilities. With children entering high school and imminent hand surgery, Jennie knew it was time to take a step back and return to online selling, where she can more readily control her production output and stock portfolio.
“I’ve always had a passion for vintage toys, pattern and design,” she says. “So my online store is filled with French style suitcases, tin toys, gorgeous party wares, craft kits and beautiful books. I’m also selling off my massive collection of fabrics in a big remnant sale.”
Jennie says setting up an online store used to be very expensive. Quality photos meant pricey camera equipment or the services of a photographer, not to mention graphic designer and website fees, plus the time it took to upload photos and site maintain.
“Technology has improved and reduced in price,” says Jennie. “Readymade website templates are available for less than $100, hosting is around $15 a month, and maintenance is as easy as updating a blog; you can completely maintain your business with a little digital camera and minimal IT skills.”
As her confidence and online reputation have grown, Jennie says she has relaxed into her online business.
“I’m not overcommitting to orders, sewing at 2am to meet daily deadlines, posting overseas or offering free shipping, which chomps into profits. I had to stop being everything to everybody. Now, I upload what I can and I post just twice weekly, to Australia only, and charge a flat rate $15. It really takes the pressure off.”
For other women keen to take their business online, Jennie suggests finding your own niche. This will help you stand out, as online sites are hardly new.
“Keep your costs to a minimum, babysit your own children, use pre-labelled/prepaid parcels. Most importantly, don’t take a loan, reinvest sales into your business, be patient and grow steadily.”
Jennie says it’s important to find a business that suits your family situation, not interrupts it. You should set certain hours and space in your home for your business, and be sure to include your children by providing their own projects and materials, too.
“Sewing is great as you can stop and start, it won’t spoil – cooking isn’t so forgiving,” says Jennie.
Jennie also says organisation is essential. “When you work for yourself, EVERY customer is your boss. It can get stressful if you don’t keep things up to date and really know your limits, commitments and capabilities.”
As for the challenges faced by running an online business, Jennie admits that balancing home life, maintaining stock levels and keeping ahead of anyone else selling the same product range can be tough.
“You have to have the best attitude when it comes to all this competition for your time and energy.”
And the benefits?
“No one can hear your children scream on the internet, you are open 24/7, you can take breaks without fuss and you can do business in spare pockets of your day, especially if you have young children at home.”
Whilst running an online business can be fun, fulfilling and a great way to earn money from home, Jennie believes it has also kept her business brain active. She loves interacting with the adult world and fuelling her love of designer fashion, décor, art . . . and all things handmade.
“A finished product, created from original design, experience and skills, is incredibly rewarding, organic, beautiful and unique. Making something with your own hands for someone you care about screams love, effort and attention to detail. I love that I can pass on my skills to children, continuing the family tradition.”
After a manic 10 years of handmade production, Jennie’s online store relaunch is the perfect way to take a step back and re-engage with her Real Life. Over the next few years, she and her husband plan to build a homestead and develop a 100 acre farm on the outskirts of Canberra.
“By then, we’ll have three girls in high school, so maybe I’ll go back to markets again – I’m just not sure. We’ll have a whole new lifestyle, so who knows, I might be spinning wool from my own sheep by then! What I do know is this: family comes first, then whatever I can fit in between, which will always be sewing in my cottage studio . . . and blogging up a storm.”