Spoonflower can be a great tool and platform for growing your creative business. Designer and writer Abby Glassenberg has created a series of three posts exploring how designers can build community, leverage contest wins, and maximize sales in the Spoonflower marketplace. We start off with a profile of creative entrepreneur and Spoonflower designer, Andrea Lauren.
In 2010 printmaker Andrea Lauren was putting her artwork on mirrors, calendars, buttons, and rings and selling them on Etsy. While browsing the Etsy forums one afternoon, a comment about the print-on-demand fabric company Spoonflower piqued her interest. She’d been searching for a way to print her art on fabric, and this seemed like the ideal solution. Lauren drew a stylized grizzly bear, carved and printed a block, scanned it into her computer and began playing with creating a repeat pattern. “It started so simply and innocently without any plan,” she recalls. “That geometric animal design is still one of my best-selling prints.” The bear motif’s popularity led to numerous requests from customers to make other animals in the same style, and very quickly Lauren became a regular Spoonflower user. Five years later she has approximately 250 designs in her Spoonflower shop, with dozens of colorways and coordinates adding up to well over 1,000 patterns for sale. Today Andrea Lauren is Spoonflower’s #1 top seller by revenue, and fabric design has become a significant part of her career.
An early pattern, the Geometric Bears remains one of Andrea Lauren’s most popular prints.
Lauren grew up in the UK, just outside of London, but has lived in the United States for many years and now has her studio in Asheville, North Carolina. Her artwork originates as handmade linocuts that she uses to create art prints and digitally printed textiles.
The passive income created through sales in the Spoonflower marketplace allows Lauren the freedom to spend time creating new work. “The success of my fabric has allowed me to devote more time to creating,” says Lauren. “Finding a strong source of passive income can’t be stressed enough in the working life of a creative individual.”
Passive income is never truly passive, though. Tending to customer requests, responding to social media shares, and keeping new designs flowing into the shop is part of keeping sales up. “I certainly don’t want to imply that having this shop is just me sitting back and relaxing,” Lauren points out. “Many hours of my work day are spent managing the shop – creating new designs, editing files, taking custom requests, answering convos, and promoting via social media – that’s all part of the job.” Even so, because Spoonflower handles the printing, cutting, and shipping, Lauren can focus on her artwork and on building an online community of customers and fans.
If you look carefully at Lauren’s Spoonflower shop you can see some smart, strategic decisions that have played a role in her success. She uses a consistent color palette throughout all of her collections which allows her to create solids, dots, and other coordinates that mix and match with the prints. “Make simple coordinates – dots, solids, stripes, chevrons, and other basics – to build a cohesive look,” she advises. Many customers order more than one design from her shop.
Lauren uses Instagram to expertly build community around her work. She posts weekly images of her linocuts to her 18,800 followers. Each image is beautifully composed, showing the carved block, the inked brayers, and the printed image all on a gridded black backdrop. Each image gets several thousand likes and often more than a hundred comments. Lauren responds to questions and takes requests from her Instagram fans, and when she uploads a new fabric collection to Spoonflower, the excitement among her Instagram community is tangible with comments pouring in saying, “Dashing off to Spoonflower to add these to my favorites!” and “OMG, this collection is amazing!!!” The social response is very convincing.
Lauren’s fabrics have created a sort of cult following among other small business owners. Krystal Boyd sews baby leggings, shorts, headbands and hats exclusively from Andrea Lauren knits she buys on Spoonflower and sells them in her Etsy shop, BabyZane Apparel. “If you go to any big box store, you won't find anything like any of Andrea Lauren’s prints,” Boyd explains. “I think using Spoonflower really helps add value to my shop because there are so many prints and patterns that aren't readily available to people in large fabric stores, we are able to stay current and unique and to help parents have their children stand out.” Lauren is very grateful for the support of small business owners like Krystal. “My sales would certainly not be where they are without the incredible support of small business owners and individuals creating so many fabulous items and sharing them on social media,” Lauren says. “This brings in a large number of fabric orders…their success is my success. I believe that customers want to know the whole story behind the product these days,” she says. “They are supporting an independent business as well as an independent artist…the collaboration provides lovely provenance.”
Leggings sewn by Krystal Boyd from Andrea Lauren fabric. Boyd sells handmade baby clothes in her Etsy shop, BabyZane Apparel.
The #andrealauren hashtag on Instagram has several thousand images, including all sorts of products made from Lauren’s fabrics. Sewists are motivated to share the name of the fabric’s designer along with the finished pieces. “This ethos of local, ethical, or handmade has become a strong fixture in current customers’ expectations and crediting the print designer is just as important to them as that item being organic or locally made,” Lauren says.
Spoonflower has been instrumental in Andrea Lauren’s career as a designer. She’s parlayed her Spoonflower success into licensing deals with several different companies, both in the United States and in Europe, and she has a book of printmaking projects coming out in 2016.
“It is a curious thing that these print designs have done so strongly,” she remarks. Her success motivates her to continue to create. She says, “I’m always trying out new techniques, honing my skill, and challenging myself to improve.”
I’m Abby Glassenberg, the author of While She Naps. My blog is about sewing stuffed animals and running a creative business. I’m interested in soft toy design, publishing, the sewing industry, and entrepreneurship for creatives.
Most of all, I believe that it’s possible to build a creative business that sustains you.