Before I go, I want to share an interview I was invited to do for a Blythe blog. The blog is called Blythe Life, and every March it features four "new talents" in the world of Blythe. Since I opened my Etsy shop last summer, I qualified, and after submitting a questionnaire, I was chosen to be interviewed. It was fun and exciting, and my favorite part was all the comments left by readers (of course, they had to comment to be entered in the giveaway I was doing, but still, their sweet comments were so uplifting and encouraging to me!) If you would like to read the interview and comments on the blog, click HERE.
My Interview with Michelle of Blythe Life
Hi Leslie! What can you tell us about yourself?I am happy to be a stay-at-home wife, mother (although my two kids are in college right now), cat-wrangler (we have four cats who don't always get along...), crafter, seamstress, blogger, Blythe collector and Etsy shop owner! For the past 15 years we have lived in the touristy town of Williamsburg, Virginia, which I love for it's small size and proximity to bigger cities.
How did you discover Blythe? Who is in your dolly family?
I have a nice variety of Blythes in my collection now, including several of the face molds and lots of different hair colors. My first two girls were brunettes (Petit Dejeuner was #2), but I've come to realize that the fantasy hair colors are my favorite. Right after Christmas I lined up all 20 of my Neos and took this picture of them in their bookcase/dollhouse:
What was the first thing that you crafted for Blythe?
The first patterns I found for Blythe were at Puchi Collective, and the first one I made was the Empire Dress. Here is Bonnie--this is both my first dress and my first picture of Blythe! She didn't even have shoes (she came with boots but they didn't go with this dress), and I just plunked her down on my front doorstep to take the picture.
Since then I've become a lot more creative with both my sewing, crafting and picture-taking; here's a recent photo. I made the room box on the right, and the winter-themed stand on the left; I also made the yellow table (from perler beads) and the red and white outfit on Heather (my Prima Dolly Violet). Oh--I just added Precocious Candy Mushroom to my collection--this is her first photo!!
Tell us a little bit about Blythe Happy - what made you decide to open up a shop?
As I've already mentioned, one of the main reasons Blythe appealed to me was that I could make lots of "stuff" for her. I quickly became involved in swaps on Blythe Kingdom and Plastic Paradise, and I got so much positive feedback from my swap partners about the items I knitted and sewed, that the thought of opening a shop started to form. I resisted it for a while though, because I didn't want the hassle of running a business--getting a business license, keeping records for taxes, and filing quarterly returns for Virginia sales tax DO NOT appeal to me! Eventually, though, as I sewed cute dresses and knit fun little hats, I really wanted to share them with more people. I decided the hassle would be worth it, so I opened Blythe Happy on Etsy in the summer of 2013.
How has opening a business changed the Blythe world for you?
What is the first thing that you sold through your Etsy shop?
The very first thing that sold was a Happy Cloud Dress, which was purchased by one of my lovely swap partners because it matched a hat I had sent her! See what I mean about connections? Several other former swap partners made purchases from me in the early days of my shop, which really warmed my heart and boosted my confidence--I truly appreciate those first customers, and every single one since then. Here's a picture of that first dress; I opened Blythe Happy with a dozen dresses I had made as a personal challenge to sew or knit a dress every day for a month.
I soon noticed that a lot of people on Etsy sold outerwear for Blythe, but not many were selling underwear, so I decided to try making some panties. I wanted them to be pretty and practical, so I used white fabric (practical, so there are no worries about staining) and I came up with some simple embroidery designs for the front (pretty, but still practical, because embroidery is flat and won't cause lumps under clothing like other embellishments--bows, buttons, beads, etc.--would). As soon as I started offering the panties, they sold well, so that's what I concentrate on now. I try to keep a good variety of designs available all the time, and I'm always coming up with new embroidery patterns to keep the shop fresh. I've also started making the panties in Middie size, and they have received a good response from my customers.
Do you end up keeping a lot of what you make, or does most of it end up in the shop?
When it comes to the panties, everything I make is for sale--leaving my own dollies with "seconds"! Only a couple of the girls are actually wearing my panties, and those are the prototypes I made that had imperfections. But I do like to see all my dolls dressed nicely, and I like to see them in items I've made myself, so I go out of my way to sew and knit outerwear for them. If a dress doesn't sell in my shop by the time the listing expires, I keep that for myself. Since I only make items that I love, I am very happy to keep anything that doesn't sell quickly!
What has been your best-selling panties design so far?
The top favorite design is a flower trio (on the Middie panties it's a single flower) that I do in several different colors. I consider it my "signature" design, because it's the only one I do completely free-hand (for all the others, I trace the design onto the fabric and embroider over the lines.) The next best-seller is a kitty face; every time I put one in the store it disappears quickly! But all the designs sell well, probably because I am careful to choose themes that are popular in the world of Blythe collectors--anything cute or pretty or kitschy will work--like animal faces, mushroom houses, gnomes, hearts, crowns, unicorns, rainbows--even a cute little T-Rex! But since the surface area for the design is small, the images can't be too complicated or detailed. I keep a little notebook where I brainstorm ideas for embroidery designs. Later I go back and decide which ones will work, and I refine those sketches into workable drawings.
Generally speaking, my dolls don't run around with their underpants showing - how does it make you feel when you do get to see your embroidered pants on other people's dolls?
This question brings up the biggest drawback to making panties--they rarely get to be seen in action!! Recently, however, I sent a pair in a swap package, and my partner posted a cute picture of her doll raising her skirt to show off her panties--that really made my day!
I always enjoy the surprise of seeing pretty panties on my dolls when I'm changing their clothes, so for the most part, the panties are a pretty secret to be enjoyed only by the doll owner (and the dolls themselves, of course!)
10. What's been the biggest lesson you've learned about business owning and being the owner of an online shop since you've started selling things?
You have to advertise! After opening Blythe Happy, I quickly realized that I couldn't expect customers to find me on their own--as with any business, you have to advertise so people will know you exist. I post links to my shop in the Facebook Blythe groups; and both Blythe Kingdom and Plastic Paradise have sections for shop owners to show what they sell. All of these are fantastic opportunities because they directly target the Blythe community, and they are FREE!! So far I haven't used the option at Etsy to pay to have my listings at the top of the page when customers do searches, but I am keeping that in mind for the future. Another thing I'm considering is making up something small to be packaged with my business cards to donate to Blythe Con 2014 for the goodie bags. I know that when I got home after Blythe Con this year, I made a point of looking up all the businesses that gave freebies; that would be a great way to put my shop name directly into the hands of Blythe collectors.
I think it's fun that you make cute underpants for the dolls that we all love. Can you tell us about any future plans you may have for Blythe Happy?
At the moment I am thinking of ways to feature my little embroidery designs so they will be more visible--I might do something like a line of dresses with embroidered pockets, or perhaps dolly shoulder bags with embroidered fronts, for example. I also like to embroider a doll's name on a white dress--I do this for all my dolls, and I plan to offer it in my Etsy shop soon.
During the summer and fall, I am planning to do more giveaways through my Facebook page (which is also called Blythe Happy). I love giving stuff away, and everyone loves a freebie, so giveaways are a win-win!
What would you say has been the hardest thing about having a small online business?
I LOVE everything about having a small online business--except the paperwork, and it's not really hard, just boring! I love being able to make what I like, and working from home, and setting my own hours, and meeting people online.
Really, the only hard part is deciding what to charge for what I make. The dilemma is always the same: if I charge too much, nothing will sell; if I charge too little, it won't be worth my time. So, for the dresses and knit hats and sweaters, I looked around at what similar items were sold for, and priced mine accordingly. The panties are more unique, making it harder to know what they are worth. I started out charging too little for them, and luckily one of my first customers was someone with a lot of experience in buying and selling for Blythe; she told me to charge more! I did as she suggested, and I am grateful she took the time to offer me her advice.
Thanks so much for participating in the March Talent Showcase, Leslie! What kind of advice do you have for someone who wants to start making things to sell in this community?
You are very welcome, Michelle! I am so happy and honored to be included in your Showcase.
For others who want to create items to sell to fellow Blythe owners, my first word of advice is this: try to do something a little different. Put your own personal stamp on your creations so you stand out from the crowd and your items will be recognizable as yours. The next thing is so important: be sure everything you produce is top-notch quality. You may have to practice for a while as you work to get all the details perfect before you are ready to open a shop, but your reward will be happy customers and a personal feeling of satisfaction in a job well done.