Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spotlight Award Winner June 2010 - LeChatCrochet Candidly Talks to Ira Mency

This month's spotlight pick is a shop all the way from Holland!  Here, Astrid Sikkema's  Eco-Indie sense of style meets her passion for upcycling and recycling.  I thought it would be interesting to see how it is for an international seller on Etsy, and to learn more about her, and some tips and tricks from her as well.  Welcome to the inner workings of LeChatCrochet!

                                                            From Holland with Love!

Ira:  Astrid, tell us more about you! 
Astrid:  I grew up in a crafty family. Dad loved woodworking and did everything in the house himself from paint jobs to carpeting and even some furniture making. Mom starred at practically everything from sewing to decorative painting and made a good living from it as a craft teacher.
My parents were never ashamed to use scrap materials and made me toys from leftovers or samples they asked for in shops (imagine my doll house from scrap plywood had 100 % woolen carpeting and real wall paper from such samples) and every bit of cardboard from food packaging was saved. Mom made me fancy party dresses from here old evening wear. Her and grandma made my doll’s clothes with leftovers from leftovers of their own handmade clothing. My brothers and I painted on the back side of leftover wallpaper. And so on.
So I guess I have the homemade and recycling idea deep in my bones. Though I hated the clothes I had to take over from my cousins I was always proud to wear my big brothers’ old sweaters and jeans wear and at 14 started to shop for second hand myself. I much preferred that over what the current fashion dictated me. Then started altering clothes and knitting my own sweaters. Ever since I was a little girl yarn and thread had been my favourite craft materials. At 16, soon after my first sweater done with mom’s help I started to unravel old knits I found in the attic to do my own experiments. And have done that ever since to get yarn.
Reusing was simply to get stuff for free when I was young, but the older I get the sadder I get from new mass produced things.
I designed and knitted for years for myself, friends and family, but had to stop because of a nasty shoulder ache. I turned to crochet just because it was pain free but gradually fell in love with the technique that so far I had deemed somewhat uncool. Then the internet came and widened my horizons and for the first time the idea of selling came up. 
   One of Astrid's creations using upcycled yarn. 

Ira:  Explain to me how you found Etsy and more about the decision to sell internationally. 

Astrid : I discovered Etsy in its early stages through a craft community but was put off at first by the poor quality of what I saw from sellers and the fact that you needed a credit card to open a shop. I came back because local channels didn’t do anything at all for me and decided to go international. By then, June 2006 Etsy had grown to be a platform for really talented people and I finally gladly accepted to pay the costs for a credit card (thus far my way cheaper debit e-card did everything for me I needed).

Ira:  So I notice a good portion of my sales go overseas.  Since the Postal Service in the USA has eliminated Surface mail for heavier items, (forcing you to use priority)  it has been very expensive.  I would like to know more about how Etsy works when you have to ship outside of your own country, for instance, into the USA.
Astrid: Shipping abroad is a problem especially for larger items that need a box. On top recently Dutch Postal services have abolished all lower rates (slower shipping) forcing me to ship priority and the minimum I have to charge for the lightest weight packet overseas is $15. Light weight items that ship in a flat envelope are still affordable though. So I focus on that in my shop, keep my item prices fair (lucky as a recycler who has low costs I can do that) but still list large items because they do attract attention.
Ira:  So has this affected your sales, or tell us what percentage of sales come from USA or what percentage from countries near you?
Astrid: Despite of what I said above 80 % of my sales are to the US/Canada. Then maybe 15 % to my own country and only 5 elsewhere in Europe. The fist two numbers do not surprise me, but I wonder why I don’t sell more to other European customers. I thought perhaps it was because I don’t list the shipping fee, but that’s impossible  because I’d have to do each country separately, while the amount remains the same. It would be nice if Etsy made it possible to list Europe as one (regional) destination. Now buyers have to convo me about it. Those who did order didn’t bother and paid the everywhere else fee. The difference is not big though to almost neglectable for the very light weight items.

 This adorable beanie is lightweight and relatively easy to ship, even internationally.
Ira: So how do you stay motivated, or what specifically motivates your creations? 
Astrid : Most times my pretty vast stocks of "found by accident materials" themselves inspire me. While unraveling a knit garment all the possibilities pass my mind. Often that’s enough to get started straight away, sometimes I’m not sure and the material gets stored for a while. Or sometimes the whole garment waits a long time in a box and I only start to unravel it to work out a certain idea.
Simply going through my stocks of yarn, fabrics, buttons, beads may instantly give me new ideas, but if on the other hand an idea comes from the internet or a book I don’t have to wait to get started. I always have what I need right next to me. As said I have a lot, my house is too small to store it all but I love living between my materials and yes, I think that’s what mainly inspires me.

Astrid keeps a wide variety of items available in her shop, from brooches to fruit bowls.

Ira: What tips might you have for others who offer handmade items to promote their shop, or what trials and errors can you share, ie: ideas that have worked for you?  

Astrid:  Soon after I opened I had a custom order for a tea cozy. Not the cheapest thing! It made me feel so confident but I didn’t know a thing about Etsy and didn’t list it as a reserved order. Handled everything by email with the lady and so missed a visible sale. And you know sales generate sales, and you especially need the feedback too as a starter. Then for a long time nothing happened. It took almost a year before I had another order.

The tea cozy that Astrid refers to is an item usually stocked in her shop, like this one priced at $50.

Ira :  I do realize for a lot of the handmade community, it's not uncommon to have a long time in between sales, however, a year is a really long time.  What did you do in the interim, and what can you advise others to do so that they don't lose faith or close their shop? 

Astrid:  I did all the usual things. I started a blog about recycling, put my Etsy widget on it, joined my first team, listed regularly, worked at my photography (still not my strongest point to be honest, but improving step by step). 
I then joined a blogger’s community. I marked down some items. 

I thought a good buyer may make a good seller. I’m not a big spender but sometimes I need supplies I can’t take from curb found items so I started to look on Etsy for them. Found some interesting things and so at least got my first positive feedback.   And finally… yes! Since then I’ve had more or less regular sales (1-3 a month), but I do this next to a job so I’m sure if I had five days a week to put time in it I’d do better.

Ira:  So patience and persistence paid off in your case.   Any favorite things? 
Astrid: I heard a musician – when asked for his favourite piece of music – say: the one I’m listening to or playing at the moment. I think that works for me too. I’m always full of what I’m working on. If I’m happy with the results I’ll make some more, but my attention span is limited and I’m always hungry for trying out something new. I think the diversity in my shop is the proof for that.  :) 

Be sure to check out Astrid's shop, or read more about her HERE.


42 things said...

Astrid, I didn't know you were dutch??? I grew up in a Dutch Canadian settlement in northern alberta :) more dutch than the dutch we always said ;)

Much like your upbringing it was never shameful to save or reuse what we could. and I just love your shop :)

YanniCreations said...

Hello very first costumer is a globe collector from Holland and she was very accommodating and understanding being me very new to Etsy at that time.The Dutch are really a loving people, aren't they?

Your interview is insightful. I love how you and most of us members of the team always see beauty in a heap of trash pile.

Shared this post of Facebook that others may be inspired to reconsider what they call trash and start thinking that just about anything can be re-used, recycled and remade.

Ira Mency said...

I also think it's exciting that she braved thru a year with no sales, but applied that energy into doing positive things, and look at her now :)

Le-Chat said...

Hi girls and thanks for the comments!
Ira, thanks especially for the spotlight and getting it up so quickly!
42 things, I don't have to explain you what 'stroopwafels' are then?
Yanni, the Dutch are especially proud of their openmindedness towards foreign cultures, I think, so no surprise dutch Etsians, both buyers and sellers are always very helpful.

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