My children are the biggest cuddly toys fans and have a huge collection that they take to bed. I’m in two minds whether to show them this weeks creative corner interview as I’m sure they’ll both insist that they have room for just a couple more toys from the Purple Saurus.
1. Introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Rachel! I’m 27 years old, I began sewing in 2014 and I’ve been making soft toys since February 2015. I live ten miles north of Bristol (in my grandparents’ old house). With my wonderful other half, James, and lots and lots of cuddly toys!
2. Tell us a bit about your business.
The Purple Saurus is all about cuteness – every one of my products is something that I personally find utterly adorable! I absolutely adore animals. So, unless I have a commission request for a doll, all my toys are born from my love of animals 😊
3. What made you start your own business?
It’s a long story – I’ll try and make it short!
In May 2006, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I’ve been seizure free since April 2006 (thanks to my lovely medication), but I’ve still felt constantly “off” ever since that third and last seizure. As I was in year ten at the time this disrupted my GCSEs, which resulted in lower grades than I should have had and, as a result, I struggled to find employment upon leaving college in 2009.
After spending six years in and out of work experience and temporary jobs, I decided enough was enough. I had made my first toy using a proper pattern (Teddy!) in February 2015 for James as it was our first Valentine’s Day together (aww), and I caught the toymaking bug, making my handsome brand mascot, Saurus, in the same year. Making cuddly toys gave me such a great sense of satisfaction, as well as keeping me entertained. I decided I should turn my newfound hobby into a business venture and, with the support of my parents and James, The Purple Saurus was born! I thought “There must be people that love soft toys as much as I do!”
4. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
I am entirely self-taught, using a combination of my own trial and error (when it came to the sewing machine) and the fantastically in-depth instructions and tutorials provided by the patternmakers I use 😊 I’m now usually able to figure out piecing new patterns together without looking at the instructions too much! I’m still always learning new skills and ways of improving my makes.
5. Explain your creative process.
The first (and possibly the most important) step, is to find the perfect pattern. Once I get an idea in my head I spend ages searching for the best pattern for the job. I have three “go-to” patternmakers whose patterns I am somewhat obsessed with, but sometimes they just don’t have what I’m after, and so I need to hunt farther afield. I spent for ever hunting for the perfect pattern for Teddy, but in the process discovered one of my favourite patternmakers! Once I’ve picked and purchased the pattern, I set about making a prototype. I usually use fleece for this, as it’s cheaper and – generally – easier to work with. I use minky for my small items though. Thick fleece isn’t the easiest fabric to turn right sides out through a small gap!
When I’ve made the prototype (and once I can bring myself to stop snuggling it for five minutes), I get started on choosing fabric colours for the final products and set about cutting the pieces.
Next is a part that I sometimes find bizarrely therapeutic – pinning pieces together ready for sewing. After that it’s just a question of sewing the toy together, inserting any safety eyes if applicable and turning right sides out (sometimes with great difficulty).
At this point, I usually hand the cuddly over to James for stuffing. He somehow manages to do it without making them lumpy! Once he’s finished, it’s time to add any extra features (mouths, felt pieces for eyes, spots, etc.), stitch the stuffing gap closed, et voila! One adorable finished cuddly toy ready to love 😊 Depending on how many of an item I’m making, I will usually try and sew them simultaneously if I’m making multiples of a product – this always feels like it speeds up the process, but I don’t know if it does.
6. Describe your typical day.
A typical day at Purple Saurus HQ usually begins with me being rudely awakened by James getting up very early for work! (Sometimes he needs to be two or three hours away from home by 8.30.) Depending on the time I may go back to sleep for an hour or two, but always aim to start work by 9am. Then it’s time to do/finish any pattern cutting that needs doing before I settle down at the machine. I then aim to sew through until lunch time which is usually somewhere between 12 and 1. Giving myself an hour for lunch, then get back to it.
I tend to answer messages and emails as I go, unless it’s something that really requires some thought, such as an invitation to trade at a fair or market – I usually answer those either that evening or in the morning. Depending on how my head is feeling I might only work until 4 or 5, or I might carry on until James gets home, which can be anywhere between 5 and 8! I’ll often make him something tasty to eat (again, depending on how I’m feeling), and then settle down for the evening. I make sure to take plenty of small breaks during the day and keep myself well hydrated. I always have a bottle of water next to me.
7. What’s your biggest seller?
My most popular product has got to be my little Narwhal! They get a lot of attention at markets and fairs, and they’re one of my cheaper items too, being quite small.
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8. What have been the high and low points of running your own business?
The high points have definitely been over the last couple of months, where I’ve been invited to trade at a popular, well-established market (which James and I actually “scoped out” last year as a possibility to apply for in the future) and a fun day at Bath Cats and Dogs Home! I honestly think I’m more excited about the latter. I asked James if I can take the dogs home with me, but I don’t think I’m allowed to…
The lowest points are when my items are getting lots of favourites in my Etsy shop but minimal sales, despite a lot of self-promotion and marketing. It’s frustrating, but as someone who also sells at events and not just online, I try and remind myself to stay positive. I have had quite a few commissions from friends and friends of friends. As well, which is another reason to remain upbeat.
9. What would be your top tips for running your own creative business?
Promote, promote, promote! If there’s one thing I’ve learned, filling your Etsy shop is great, but promoting it is vital. Get on Facebook, get on Instagram, get on Twitter – social media is your friend when it comes to creative business, as there are always fellow crafters who are willing to share your work and spread the word. Sometimes they buy things too! Get involved with Facebook groups for crafters as well. I’ve gained a lot of new followers from this, as well as discovering lots of amazing new crafters! Don’t underestimate the power of friends either. If you’re on Facebook, share your links and ask your friends to share them around.
Even if you just print some yourself on paper to begin with, it will enable people to get in touch with you and find you online. You can include them in your parcels when you post items out or pop them in the bag with products you sell at events. My business cards are also part of the reason I’ve started getting picked for events by the organisers. You never know who might pick one up!
If possible, get involved in craft fairs or markets. I know it’s been said a lot, but honestly, people love to talk to the makers about our work and see the face behind the brand. It was terrifying when I did my first market. I’m not the biggest “people person”. It was a Christmas event at my local market (where I’ve since traded twice, I love it there). It was Victorian Day which is an extremely busy day with heavy footfall, and I had to interact with a lot of people.
I was very nervous, but it’s actually great fun when people are interested in your products and want to talk to you about them! The sense of satisfaction is immense 😊 It also helps to have someone to assist you at events as well. In my case, it’s James and I couldn’t do it without him! He organises the display, packs the purchases while I write the receipts. I’m convinced that it’s his handsome face that draws in the customers. I’ve had offers from friends to help out as well!
Get hold of a nice planner and fill it out with a work schedule, including craft fairs and other events. As well as to do lists and other bits and pieces to keep you on track. I have a personalised Purple Saurus planner for 2018, but this is just a nice indulgence, any planner will do 🙂
The best tip I can probably give is – stay positive! It’s taken two years. But The Purple Saurus is finally starting to get noticed, and if I can do it, anyone can!
10. What are your aspirations?
I would love to be able to settle into being a regular trader at one or two markets. As well as expanding the Etsy store and exploring new online sales platforms. If I can accrue more invitations to trade at established events alongside this, all the better!
11. Where can we find you?