Back in June, I announced my intention to pivot Spokes & Stitches toward more custom clothing and costume design work. Over the past few weeks, I shared a survey with the folks on my email list to gain more insight into my current audience’s thoughts and opinions of custom clothing and tailoring. I also conducted a survey through my Instagram stories.
Between these two surveys, I got 190 responses! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to respond! The stories, experiences, and perspectives that you shared with me were truly illuminating, and gave me so much to think about.
There were a few themes throughout the responses that I felt compelled to share and explore in more detail. I will definitely be using this information to inform the next steps I take with Spokes & Stitches. I’ll start by sharing some key takeaways, and thoughts on how I will move forward with these new insights!
- Only about 25% of my current audience lives in close physical proximity to my studio in Philadelphia.
-This makes sense, since I started my business during the pandemic and was primarily selling PDF sewing patterns and teaching virtual workshops and sewing classes online. Customers for these types of goods and services don’t really have a stake in the company’s physical location. You can order a digital download or attend a class on Zoom from anywhere in the world!
- About 80% of my current audience are sewists themselves!
-I started Spokes & Stitches as an indie pattern company, so this tracks. The primary customer base for sewing patterns are home sewists, makers, and crafters.
- Along the same lines, about 80% of my current audience is more likely to take a DIY approach to custom clothing or alterations than to hire a pro.
-I’ve been in the sewing and fashion education game for almost my entire career (even before I officially started Spokes & Stitches in 2020), so of course my audience skews heavily towards those wanting to learn from me!
- A significant portion of respondents expressed interest in custom tailoring, but were afraid that the price point of custom pieces would be out of their budget.
-This is a really important “speed bump” for me to contend with! I do not necessarily need to compete on price (as in, lower my prices to attract more customers), but it does reveal that I need to work especially hard to convey the value of my work and why it is worth it to invest in custom made pieces… so you can expect more content around this topic in the future!
- Thoughts on pricing (only asked via the email survey) were all over the place! About half of respondents said that $200-$300 USD seemed suspiciously cheap for a custom dress or blazer, while another half of respondents expressed that the very same price range was the maximum that they would be willing to invest in the same custom garment.
Several respondents said they would invest as much as $3,000 in a custom piece, while most agreed that at least a baseline of $80 was definitely suspiciously inexpensive for a custom blazer or dress. The range in expectations and what folks consider to be “affordable” or “worth it” is massive, and a reflection of the wide range of socioeconomic statuses of my audience.
-Again, this is a helpful piece of insight to drive my future writings and content. I want to be clear that I did not collect this information to help me set prices. Price setting was done with some very cut-and-dry feasibility calculations that I learned how to do from Kelly Hogaboom’s Whole Enchilada business course (highly recommend if you’re a creative small business owner struggling with this stuff!). At the end of the day, I need to make a living and I cannot afford to (nor do I want to) compete with fast fashion factories that exploit workers. However, it is key for me to understand what people think about pricing so that I can better shape my messaging around it. Custom clothing and costume pieces (in our world as it currently stands) are somewhat of a luxury, and this is something that I need to acknowledge as a designer. Not everyone will purchase from me, and that’s ok. However, I do believe there is a significant segment of folks who do have disposable income and choose quantity over quality, but may be willing to make the shift. You can definitely expect more content from me around cost per wear, the environmental and social costs of fast fashion.
Other findings of note:
In my email survey, I asked whether folks had ever had a bad experience with a custom tailor or clothing designer. I got a few responses from folks who felt like the designer didn’t listen to what they wanted, didn’t deliver the quality that the client was expecting, or shamed the client for not understanding the process.
Several respondents expressed skepticism around working with designers who did not clearly communicate pricing, expectations, and policies up front, or had no representation of diverse bodies in their marketing materials.
Overall, pricing was, by far, the biggest barrier that respondents faced when considering working with a custom designer.
What does this mean?
I’ve been mulling over these survey results for a few weeks now, and my main assessments are as follows:
I’ve spent my entire career thus far as a sewing and fashion educator; the pivot to custom clothing and costume design is exciting, but it’s going to take while to amass a wide enough audience for this new type of work. The majority of the folks currently following me are DIYers seeking resources and education: something I’m still excited about and want to continue to offer.
So despite the very wise advice I have received from multiple business mentors to niche down and focus on one very specific offering, my artistic brain still wants to do it all!
In the coming month, I’ll be thinking about ways that I can serve all facets of my audience, from the DIYers to the folks who are ready and willing to invest in a one-of-a-kind custom sewn garment.