Shopify Email Pop-Up Best Practices

Shopify Email Pop-Up Best Practices | How to Effectively Use Pop-Ups to Add People to Your E-Commerce Email List (without annoying people)
Love them or hate them (and we know, many people hate them), email pop-ups (those windows that appear while you’re browing a website asking you to subscribe to an email list) are a necessary evil in the e-commerce world. Adding a pop-up can increase email signup conversion rates by several percentage points on average, and with email’s ridiculous power in e-commerce marketing (a 4300% ROI, really?) every new email address you grab means dollar signs for you.

But, ugh. How do you use an email pop-up in your online shop without feeling like a total jerkizoid?

We’ve been developing e-commerce websites on Shopify for a while now, and we’re also nice people, so we felt particularly qualified to answer the question of Shopify email pop-up tactics that convert visitors into subscribers without inspiring rage.

In this post, we’re going to cover some must-haves for pop-ups (non-negotiable stuff that can affect your website’s performance and search rankings), as well as some general advice on how to use them effectively without annoying people. We’ll also look at some awesome email pop-up examples from past Aeolidia clients and friends. (And don’t worry, while we focus on Shopify and some of the specific advice here is for Shopify, this advice applies to all e-commerce websites.)

Must-Have Considerations for Email Pop-Ups

Understanding Google Penalties for Mobile Pop-Ups

Starting in January 2017, Google unleashed a penalty for websites using “intrusive interstitials” for mobile views. What does this mean? To start with, “intrusive interstitials” basically means pop-up content, which on mobile can be incredibly disruptive to the user experience if it blocks most of the main content. So if your pop-up email capture box appears when someone visits your website from a mobile device (a phone or tablet) and it blocks most of the main content, Google now penalizes you by not showing your website as high in the search rankings. Not good!

Now, you may have a website that isn’t even showing up in search anyway, and maybe you’re collecting lots of email addresses from people on mobile devices using a pop-up. You might choose to ignore this policy. But you should at least know the risks you’re taking.

Using a Shopify Email Pop-Up App with Flexibility

So how do you turn off or modify pop-ups for just mobile users? You can use a Shopify email pop-up app where you control display settings for mobile (such as Privy, JustUno, WisePops, or Sumo, among others). If you’re not using Shopify, you want to work with a plugin or other code that is flexible enough to control pop-up settings for mobile users.

Monitoring Load Times and Site Speed

Some pop-ups can slow down your website load times, which can lead to a higher bounce rate and more Google penalties. If your pop-up email capture box is image-heavy (and the images are big), your site visitors might experience an interruption. You can check your site performance by running your URL through the Google Page Speed testing tool.

How to Not Be Annoying

Now that we’ve covered the considerations that might lead to bad things happening (site penalties and people clicking away), let’s talk about things that might simply annoy people.

example of cute shopify email pop-up

We love this cute pop-up example from Emily McDowell Studio. Who can’t help but love the Annoying Pop-Up Bear?

Timing Is Everything

We’ve coded pop-ups to work differently based on traffic source, time of day, browser, repeat visits, time on site, etc. Many Shopify email pop-up apps allow this flexibility out-of-the-box, and this advanced targeting can yield amazing results. You should be able to control when your pop-up appears based on traffic source, repeat visit status, browsing time, scroll depth, etc. You can also set pop-ups to appear only on certain pages, or just when someone is about to click away forever (this is called “exit intent”). Make sure your pop-ups are smart enough to stay away after a user has dismissed or submitted one.

Pop-Up Content is King

It may seem like people immediately click away from pop-up windows without reading them, but A/B tests reveal varying success rates with different pop-up messages, so we know people absorb the content. (Spoiler alert: discounts always lead to more signups — wah wah.)

Basic elements of an email pop-up window:

  • Graphics: the visual elements (including photos, illustration, and colors) that appear inside the pop-up box
  • Intro copy: serves as the headline or greeting and appears alongside the call to action
  • Call to action: the compelling reason someone should sign up to your list (for example: sign up to our list to get 10% off your first order, etc.)
  • Dismissal option: the “x” at the top right corner or “no, thanks” that allows a visitor to click to get rid of the pop-up box

A good pop-up window should:

  • Reflect your brand voice
  • Communicate that the visitor will be signing up to a list
  • Communicate the value of signing up for your email list (what do they get for joining?)

Where Your Pop-Up Appears Matters

shopify email popup example corner

Past Aeolidia client Shiny Happy World uses an email pop-up that displays in the bottom corner of the website.

Your pop-up doesn’t have to appear as a box in the middle of the page. With many Shopify email pop-up apps, you can control the display type, so your pop-up can appear as an announcement bar, or pop in from the bottom corner, or even display as a full-page takeover.

You Don’t Have to Offer Discounts

example of shopify email popup with no discount

This email pop-up example from one of our past clients, Fox & Clover, does not use a discount incentive.

Even though discounts tend to perform better as list signup incentives, you can capture plenty of emails without offering an immediate discount or free shipping. While these calls to action tend to be somewhat less compelling, you can still use them in a pop-up to gather more emails than you would if your signup incentive was sitting quietly in your email footer.

cute email popup window from madewell

Madewell‘s email pop-up doesn’t offer an immediate discount. Instead, it relies on the brand’s popularity to entice people to sign up for the promise of new arrivals alerts and future sales.

Here are some ideas for email pop-up calls to action that don’t rely on immediate discount offers:

  • Giveaways: offering a change to win a small product (usually monthly) in exchange for joining the email list
  • Free digital content: giving away free digital downloads with useful information for your target audience in exchange for joining the email list (things like cleaning checklists, children’s coloring book printables, recipes, etc.)
  • Access to exclusive sales: running sales that you advertise only to your email list and communicating that joining the email list gives subscribers access to these sales
  • Free gift with purchase: offering a little something (that doesn’t cost you much) with an email subscriber’s first order

Always Be Testing

Don’t assume you know what will work best with your audience, even if you know them well! Always test conversion rates on variations of your pop-up placement, design and copy. How does an announcement bar compare to a box that pops up in the middle of the page? Or how does one signup incentive compare to another? What timing works best? What copy or graphics convert better? Some Shopify email pop-up apps offer A/B testing functionality out-of-the-box, but you can track statistics on your own by counting site visitors and signups associated with each version of your pop-up.

Examples of Awesome Pop-Ups That Don’t Inspire Rage

mapamundi kids shopify email popup example

This great example from past Aeolidia client Mapamundi Kids has a great intro (“Let’s be friends!”) and two sign-up incentives. The graphics are playful, friendly, and totally on-brand.

gingiber cute shopify email popup example

Are bears particularly high-converting? Probably. This “bear hug” pop-up from our past client, Gingiber, uses a beautiful illustration that’s quite endearing, coupled with (again) TWO sign-up incentives. What’s not to love?

cute shopify email popup example from tickled teal

This email pop-up from another one of our past clients, Tickled Teal, has an attention-grabbing intro and a simple discount incentive. We love how the pop-up box is designed like an invitation, too!

jewelry designer email popup incentive

This email pop-up example from Dogeared Jewelry uses a simple discount incentive and includes all the important fine print right on the pop-up window.

Go Forth and Use Pop-Ups… Wisely

Collecting email addresses is so important, and pop-ups are very effective, but they’ll never cease to be controversial. Every website is different, so what works for one e-commerce business may not work for yours. Test, analyze, and tweak your pop-ups regularly. And look at how other maker businesses are using pop-ups to be inspired! What kind of incentives, language and artwork are they using? What can you incorporate in your own business?

You certainly don’t want to “trick” people into being on your list. Give them a real, compelling reason want to hear from you and you’ll build an engaged email list that you can rely on for steady sales for years to come.

Get help setting up all the important elements of an online shop. Download our online shop setup checklist, here:

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Package Design Before & After: Siamese Social Club

Product Package Design Before & After | Behind the Scenes of Designing Laser-Cut Packaging for a Unique Cat Toy

In addition to designing websites, logos and doing branding, our designers love working on package design. Package design is so, so important for physical products businesses! A well designed package can mean the difference between customers having that “a-ha” moment with your product (and buying it!) or just never picking it up at all, whether it’s sitting on a retail shelf, displayed at a craft fair, or selling online.

We worked on a package design project recently that I wanted to share with you for two reasons:

  1. The before and after is just incredible. Our client went from literally packaging her product in a cardboard shipping tube to finally displaying one of her most innovative designs in a package that not only did her product justice, it looks beautiful.
  2. I want to share how fun and collaborative our design process is. We don’t disappear into a sealed vault while designing packaging—we share our ideas and progress every step of the way. As you can see with this project, clients sometimes come up with ideas that create real breakthroughs in our design process.

A better package design for Siamese Social Club

Kristin Cella started creating her modern, sustainable pet products by hand after she couldn’t find any cat accessories on the market that fit her minimalist aesthetic. She founded her business, Siamese Social Club, in 2005. Sarah on the Aeolidia team designed Kristin’s new logo and brand identity in 2014, and this year we came back to polish up her packaging.

siamese social club minimalist cat fishing toy design

While her products delight customers looking for minimalism and functionality in their pet products, Kristin found that her minimalist, functional packaging wasn’t helping to sell one of her best designs, her magnetic fishing cat toy.

Kristen started selling the fishing rod toy in a simple cardboard tube package, which she purchased from Uline, affixed with stickers. But, as she explains,

I found that the magnetic fish were hard to fish out from inside. Also, the tubes had [the Uline] logo printed in blue inside the tube which would rub off on my toys. I had to wrap them individually before putting them in the tubes and it was a pain in the ass.

plain tube packaging from uline before redesign

The tubes didn’t showcase the delightful product, either! Stacked on a shelf, they looked more like a shipment of products about to be dropped in the mail than a cleverly designed, minimalist cat toy.

Kristen needed a package design that showed what the product inside was. So she and her husband made a DIY attempt at a better package design.

old package design

Kristen’s DIY attempt at package design. Not bad, but it just wasn’t working for her.

While this box was a much better representation of the product than a plain-looking tube, the felted merino wool fish kept “floating” inside the package, and the exposed plain cardboard felt unfinished. Kristen knew this packaging wasn’t ideal.

Though her husband owns a local sign company and could print, cut, and assemble almost any box design they could come up with, the couple were still having trouble envisioning how to display the product in a box that held it together correctly and illustrated the toy’s magnetic functionality.

Kristen:

Visually the box wasn’t all that appealing and there was something missing from the design. The toy itself is such an unusual one, trying to meet all of my requirements (functionally, visually, price-wise, etc.) was the most challenging part. That’s why I decided to contact Aeolidia for help.

Getting Started with a Professional Package Design

Kristen began working with Aeolidia designer Sarah Connor on a box design that would accomplish 6 goals:

  1. Demonstrate that the toy uses magnets to attach the fish to the end of the pole, so cats can “capture” the fish, which can be reattached
  2. Hold the product in place so customers could feel the felted wool fish without pulling it through the box, detaching it
  3. Display the wood fishing pole so customers could see the paint detail and hold the material in their hands
  4. Match the minimalist and sustainable feel of the Siamese Social Club brand
  5. Illustrate that the product is for cats (duh!)
  6. Be fairly easy to pack and assemble, as Kristen would be doing the boxing by hand

In addition, the packaging had to communicate a short but important safety notice.

Tall order, right? Not to worry! This is why you call in the professionals.

Preliminary Sketches and Design Ideas

Almost immediately, Sarah came up with the idea to include an illustration in the product package design that would communicate instructions for use in a simple, easy-to-understand style.

Sarah says:

You know, sort of like how IKEA do their instruction books. Step one, unbox. Step two, jiggle in front of cat. Step three, cat pupils dilate with hunt instinct. Step four, enjoy play. I see this in my head and it’s so cute and dorky!

I tried to keep everything as minimal as possible while using enough detail to convey how to play with the toy and that the end is magnetic and comes off once the kitty has pounced on its “prey.”

ikea style product package instructions

Because she was familiar with the client, Sarah included a few extra details in her IKEA-esque drawing and waited for Kristen’s approval.

Kristen:

Ohhhhh my gosh, Sarah, this is fantastic! Really, it is SO good! The cat is adorable (the increasing pupil size is amazing and I LOVE how you snuck in that cat butthole—classic Sarah!) and it totally shows how everything works as simply as possible. And the little zappy lines in the last one emphasize the magnet perfectly!

Sarah:

Haha, I am so, so glad you like this! I was a bit scared the butthole would be a bit too much but I am thrilled you dig it! I think anyone who owns a cat sees plenty of butt to not be offended by this. 😛

For the package design, Sarah envisioned a minimal, triangle-shaped box.

Sarah:

Since triangles feature heavily in your brand style I thought it might be cool to bring it into your packaging design, a simple triangle box with a fishy cutout at the bottom. Then we could get the fish pressed up against the cutout like you already do in the boxes you are using now. I love this as people can feel the texture of the fish. I worry that people might be able to pull the fish through the hole, and that would suck, so we might need to test some ideas on how to stop that from happening. Maybe even just making the cutout shape smaller so they can feel but can’t pull anything through.

 

cat toy package design sketch

Sarah’s original package design for the triangular Siamese Social Club cat toy box with paper sleeve, which included a cut-out that exposed the felted wool fish.

Sarah also envisioned a paper sleeve to fit over the triangular box that would contain a pop of color and all the information.

Sarah:

Then I’m thinking we add a fitted sleeve to the box that slips over the top and sits in the center. These are super easy to make and put together. I’m thinking bright white card stock, bright logo, and your triangle pattern sprinkled around the place with all the information for your product on each of the three sides: washing instructions, about Siamese Social Club, cat illustration, etc.

 

product package design sleeve

Sarah’s original design for the package’s paper sleeve.

 

One thing that this package design did not include, however, was a way for buyers to see and touch the detail on the wood rod design, which is actually dipped in paint—quite a beautiful finishing touch!

After interacting with Sarah’s triangular box design for a while, Kristen actually devised a hack she thought would work.

package design hacks

Kristen devised this package design hack based on Sarah’s design. Here, you can see the exposed wood fishing rod with its dipped paint detail.

We love working with clients who become a part of the design process! This innovation on Kristen’s end was a real breakthrough on this project.

Sarah and Kristen both came to the conclusion that, with the exposed rod, an additional paper sleeve was no longer needed. So Sarah worked up a new package design that incorporated the exposed rod cut-out with details printed directly onto the box design.

Finishing Touches and Final Details

Kristen worked at her husband’s sign shop to print up mock-ups of the box in several colors.

package design color selection

Kristen experimented with printing the design on several different colors and materials.

Ultimately she settled on white, which helped Sarah’s illustrations and designs really stand out.

completed cat toy package design

The final design prototype!

Results

package design by aeolidia

The final package design in all its glory.

Product packaging box design for a cat toy

Back of box, showing instruction illustrations

Product packaging box design for a cat toy

Cut-out detail, where you can feel the fishy without detaching it, and understand that it’s magnetic.

Kristen loves the new packaging. Not only is it prettier, it’s actually boosting sales!

Now that I have new packaging, my toys are selling much faster in person at craft shows and I’ve seen a slight increase in online sales, too. Overall, everyone who sees the new box design gets pretty excited, especially when they discover the illustrated directions on the back!

Are your product sales suffering because of poor package design? Contact us to talk about how Aeolidia can help design product packaging that elevates your brand and helps your products fly off the shelves. Want to know what we can do to help you grow? Download our services guide, here:

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Has Your Handmade Business Outgrown Etsy?

Has Your Handmade Business Outgrown Etsy? | 6 Indications You're Ready to Move On (and what to do about it)

With its massive, built-in community of buyers, search ranking dominance, and near total ownership of the handmade marketplace online, Etsy is a powerful sales platform for entrepreneurs who want to start and grow creative businesses. You would be hard pressed to launch your own website and reach the sales numbers you can achieve within the first few months of selling handmade goods on Etsy, and that’s why so many sellers flock to the platform as a first step.

But what if, after some time selling on Etsy, you feel like you’ve hit a wall? Maybe your sales have plateaued, or you’re receiving violation notices with Etsy threatening to terminate your account. Maybe you’ve started running Facebook ads and are tired of paying for traffic that you have no control over. Or maybe your product line is expanding to the point where you can no longer adhere to Etsy’s manufacturing policies.

Whatever the reason, many sellers find themselves feeling like their handmade business has outgrown Etsy, and they’re unsure of next steps. How do you expand your business beyond the limitation of the Etsy platform, and is it worth the extra time and effort to do so?

Are these 6 Etsy issues limiting your business growth?

We’re going to take a look at a number of ways selling only on Etsy can limit your business growth, and we’ll talk about how to assess whether these limitations are just the worthwhile cost of doing business with Etsy, or a sign your business is ready to expand.

The Etsy Algorithm

Etsy’s search algorithm is complex and not fully transparent, so just when you think you’ve mastered getting your products found in search, things change. If you’re only selling on Etsy and your products are no longer discoverable via the Etsy search engine, you could experience a serious drop in sales.

While Etsy is transparent about some of its ranking factors, such as title and tag relevancy and listing quality, some sellers swear their shop traffic dips mysteriously from month to month, or that Etsy puts “sales caps” on their monthly earnings. This may sound conspiratorial, but the underlying frustration is that sellers don’t feel in control of their traffic from Etsy search, their most important acquisition channel.

Is this an issue for you?
If you’re only selling on Etsy and you sometimes experience unexplained stretches with low traffic and zero sales, you may be coming to the realization that you can’t rely on Etsy alone for shop traffic. This means you have to do some marketing to drive traffic to your shop on your own, as Etsy’s built-in marketing engine is no longer working for you. The question then becomes: if you’re doing your own marketing to combat the ebb and flow of Etsy algorithmic changes, do you want to spend that energy (and budget) driving traffic back to Etsy, or to a domain you own?

Etsy Fees

For low-volume businesses, Etsy fees aren’t that much of an issue. Many sellers consider them to be part of the cost of marketing (which they aren’t paying for because Etsy already has a built-in buying audience). But once you start making more sales in your business, the Etsy fees add up, often eclipsing costs you’d pay on other e-commerce platforms. (Check out our blog post on Etsy fees for low versus high-volume shops.)

Is this an issue for you?
At high volume, you can save hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars by switching to a platform like Shopify. You can redirect these savings into marketing expenditures to help drive traffic to your new Shopify store. If you want a real-life example of what this looks like, read about how Amy, owner of Little Hip Squeaks (now June & January), came to the conclusion that she was paying too much in Etsy fees.

Use our Etsy vs. Shopify fee calculator to see how much you would save on fees based on your monthly Etsy sales volumes.

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No Control Over Your Branding

You may know you’re a legit business owner (you certainly work hard enough!), but when you’re selling solely on Etsy, people sometimes view your business differently. Tricia Lee, owner of KidEssence, summed this phenomenon up perfectly:

I cringe when friends ask, “How’s your Etsy business?” It’s not Etsy’s business, it’s my business that I work extremely hard to build.

Similarly, when someone purchases something from your Etsy shop, they don’t think of it as having been purchased from you.

Stefanie Lin, owner of Oh! You’re Lovely, says:

When people buy a product on Etsy, and a friend asks them where they got [it], the response is normally, “I got it on Etsy,” not the store/artist/brand.

Is this an issue for you?
There are instances when you may want to brand yourself and your shop as something bigger than “Etsy seller” or “Etsy business.” For example, think about the information that goes on a business card you hand to potential wholesale buyers at a trade show. Do you want to use your Etsy shop’s URL, or your own domain? Your own domain certainly looks more professional. And while it’s true that a domain can redirect to an Etsy shop, is that where you want to send potential wholesale customers?

Even if you’re making more sales on Etsy than your own website, just having a website lends a legitimacy to your business that is hard to establish on the Etsy platform, and if you need that legitimacy to reach the next step in your business, getting your own domain might be the smart way to get there.

Selling Next Door to Your Competitors

On your own website, you have a bit more control over the user experience than you do on Etsy, where a customer using the search tool might leave your shop and buy a similar product from another business on Etsy.

Is this an issue for you?
While comparison shopping is to be expected, even outside of Etsy, the rules change when you start running ads.

Tiffany Morgan Emery, owner of Adoren Studio, sums it up:

If I am paying to drive the traffic, I want it directed at a higher-converting site that I own that is not showcasing my competition. I paid for that customer, so I want to retain them and put my best foot forward toward making the sale.

If you’re paying for traffic to your Etsy shop, you run the risk of paying for people to buy from your competition. Not a great position to be in!

No Control Over Customer Relationships

Even though people are buying from you on Etsy, Etsy maintains that the email addresses you collect in the course of a transaction can only be used for “Etsy-related communications or for Etsy-facilitated transactions.” Etsy does not allow you to add buyers to your email list, nor do they facilitate any intuitive, high-converting way of capturing the email addresses of people interested in your shop. In essence, there’s no easy way to keep in touch with people who have favorited one of your items or bought something from you.

Is this an issue for you?
Given that e-commerce conversion rates from email marketing are typically high, especially from advanced email marketing tactics like abandoned cart emails, controlling your relationship with your customer via email is important. Email also allows you to foster repeat purchases. If your business has any chance of getting another sale from someone who’s bought from you already, you might consider migrating to a platform where you have better control over building an email list you can actually communicate with.

Restrictions on Product and Production

In the course of running your business, you might need to update your production process in order to scale. Etsy only allows items made by you or a production partner (i.e. “manufacturer”), as long as you’re still the designer. And they have list of 4 critical pieces of information you have to share in every listing if you are working with a manufacturer rather than making the items yourself. While their policies make sense for the platform, they’re a bit restrictive for handmade sellers looking at various options for expanding production. Even if you are meeting the (somewhat nebulous) standards of the policy, Etsy states:

We reserve the right to reject any production partnerships that aren’t in the letter or spirit of this policy, Etsy’s Handmade Policy, or our ethical expectations. We would hate to do it, but if we find that you’re not being open and honest or that your shop violates our policies or ethical expectations, we may suspend or terminate your account.

This means your account could be terminated at any time without warning should you fail to respond to a more detailed inquiry about your manufacturing process.

Is this an issue for you?
If you’re a handmade seller making everything yourself, probably not. But once you venture into the world of hiring others to help with production, your shop and livelihood is at the mercy of Etsy’s cloaked decision making process. Just check out this story from Market Your Creativity’s Lisa Jacobs — who was making her full-time living on Etsy — describing what happened when Etsy decided her shop violated their policies. Once you start expanding your production process, diversifying your revenue streams helps protect you from unwarranted account closures.

Should You Leave Etsy, or Just Diversify?

If you feel your business is outgrowing Etsy, you now have a decision to make:

  1. Keep your Etsy shop open and add other revenue streams
  2. Close your Etsy shop and focus solely on new revenue channels

Each choice has its pros and cons.

Wrenay Gomez Charlton, owner of Paper Hive Studio, keeps her Etsy shop open in addition to maintaining her own website. “Etsy is just a sales channel,” she says, “so it’s one of many ways for me to expose my products to potential customers. I view my online shop as my main hub with Etsy, Facebook shop, Instagram shop, craft fairs, trade shows, etc. as strands from that hub — all working to reach new customers and promote my brand.”

With so many sales channels, inventory management can become an issue. If you do decide to keep your Etsy shop open, you should come up with a reliable system for tracking inventory as it sells from multiple platforms.

A few ways to handle this:

  • List only your best sellers on Etsy, not your entire product line
  • Use Etsy as a clearing house for old inventory and sale items
  • Invest in inventory management tool like Craftybase (we know this software has mixed reviews) that can help you track inventory across sales platforms

What Should You Do If You Want to Leave Etsy

If you plan on leaving Etsy entirely, be aware that driving traffic to a brand spankin’ new online shop isn’t a walk in the park at first. It takes time to build up traffic, especially the kind of traffic you’re used to from Etsy, so plan to work double time for a while, selling on both your website and Etsy.

Some ideas for getting traffic to your new shop:

  • Point all your social media accounts to your new domain
  • Think about any referral traffic (traffic from other websites, including blogs) you’re currently getting to your Etsy shop. Can you contact the blogger and have them redirect the link to your store domain?
  • Start directing Etsy traffic to your website for future orders (you can do this with your digital communication or with postcards included in each order)
  • Offer better deals through your website than on Etsy, at least for a while
  • Open up your website to wholesale orders, if you offer them
  • Consider running paid ads on social media to your new domain

Once traffic on your website ramps up, you can shutter your Etsy shop. But don’t delete your account entirely! Keep it open with no inventory, and use your profile to point to your shop domain. Etsy has fairly liberal linking policies, so it’s okay to include outbound links from your Etsy profile as long as they’re not directing users elsewhere to make a purchase.

It All Starts With a Plan

Whether you’re planning to leave Etsy entirely or simply expand your online presence, migrating away from a surefire sales channel is a daunting task — certainly not something you want to take on overnight. Leaving Etsy, or expanding beyond it, should be part of your long-term business planning. Create a list of pros and cons. Experiment with income projections. Make a list of assets you’ll need (a domain name, a website, a marketing budget) in order to make the transition.

While it may feel difficult at first, a move away from a single marketplace channel will ultimately give you more control over your business, and this can only help you grow.

If you feel like you’re ready to move beyond Etsy, you need a stellar website to get you to the next level. Want to know what we can do to help you grow? Download our services guide, here:

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Guest Post: What Improving a Trade Show Booth Taught Me About Defining Success

I subscribe to the Handcrafted HoneyBee newsletter, and I’m always impressed by how well our client, Stacia Guzzo, knows her audience and is able to keep her newsletter interesting and engaging. Her recent email about the evolution of her trade show booth is one that I wanted to share with you!  –Arianne

There are times in life when new things feel exceptionally scary.

Sometimes the new things are small: a new schedule. A different teacher. A new pet.

Sometimes the things are much bigger: a move to a totally new location. A new job. Starting college (or your child leaving for college). A choice for sobriety. A new baby.

A shift into new territory comes with a bit of discomfort, no matter how good it is in the larger picture of our lives.

Back in January, I experienced that very discomfort from a new experience—and the implications on our lives as business owners have been significant. I exhibited at my very first trade show. And I felt so, so small.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a trade show might be, imagine it as a gigantic, temporary candy shop for store owners. It’s a place where hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of businesses, large and small, put their best foot forward. Everyone’s goal is the same: entice buyers from boutiques and big box retailers alike to consider selling their products.

On a cold, rainy morning six months ago, I set up a small booth at the Las Vegas Market and hoped that the buyers who walked by would see all of the love, sweat, and time poured into our microbusiness. I planned our booth for weeks ahead of time—I bought new furniture, painted props, and designed catalogs.

It was intimidating to watch people come by, look us over, and consider and what we had to offer.

At the time, I had wanted our booth to look PERFECT for that first show so we could get into as many new stores as possible. In retrospect… it didn’t look bad. But compared to many other talented artists around us, it didn’t necessarily stand out as stunning.

trade show booth design improvements

The first Handcrafted HoneyBee trade show booth at the Las Vegas Market wasn’t stunning.

I learned lessons throughout that first trade show—things I never could have known without actually doing it—about what worked and what didn’t. I learned about what translated well and what was confusing to buyers. I learned how much was too much and what I wished I had brought instead.

And afterward, even though I knew I would do a few things differently the next time, the scariness didn’t feel as scary anymore.

Improving a trade show booth design… one show at a time

So when we attended our next trade show a few months later, I gave it another try. Our next booth had a theme. We took a lot of time setting up, and we dove into the trade show hoping that our mission and message would come across more clearly.

trade show booth design improvements

Our second attempt at trade show booth design was better, but we still felt like there was room for improvement.

This worked a little better—but again, I left feeling like there were things I could have done better. Robert and I took notes and thought of how we could improve our clarity and presentation.

And once again, the scariness diminished a bit.

Just a few weeks after that, I flew out to Dallas for a market show with our new sales rep group. SmartyPits was featured in their showroom, and they had professionally designed my space. All I had to do was come and tell my story as the maker!

I was floored by the booth they had created:

It was so simple. So effective. So… perfect. They had conveyed effectively what I had struggled to express in my prior booth designs.

I walked around the showroom while I was there and studied the other booths. What worked, visually? Why had they been able to make such a compelling booth, where I had struggled?

You can’t skip over the hard parts

For a little bit, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t create such a clear, clean, joyful design on my own at a trade show. It wasn’t for lack of passion!

But the reality was this: I needed each experience to learn a little bit more.

Isn’t that such a common human experience? We want to feel totally comfortable and at ease with a new thing from the very beginning—the new job, or parenthood, or fitting into the new school, or adapting to the new schedule.

We wish we could skip over the hard part: the learning.

The part where we figure out what works and what doesn’t. Where we face the things that fall flat. Where we realize that we need to work harder at the things which are working.

Learning is one of the bravest things we can do. The chance to learn is ten times more valuable than the outcome of immediate success.

The opportunity to learn—to try, to receive constructive criticism, to adapt, to be praised—make us more compassionate, more emotionally and mentally agile, and more open to possibility beyond what we expected.

And so this weekend, we’re back at the Las Vegas Market for the second time. I’ve taken what I learned over the last 6 months—the critiquing eyes, the helpful suggestions, the confusion, the ‘A-ha!’ moments, and the guidance in the sales rep showroom—and I’ve come back to try again.

I think this might be our best booth yet.

improving a trade show booth design handcrafted honeybee

I know there’s still plenty to learn. And I know that the design of a trade show booth isn’t, in the long run, that big of a deal.

But it’s significant to me, because it embodies a bigger lesson. It’s a lesson we all learn, again and again, and it’s a good one.

It’s the lesson that my best self is still out there, and that tomorrow I will get another chance to try to be that best self, from the knowledge I gained every day prior.

And, I suppose, that makes the lessons of tomorrow a little less scary. Or perhaps I just feel a little less scared.

Learn how we helped transform Handcrafted HoneyBee into the mighty business they are now.

You can get past this awkward teenage stage for any aspect of your business by hiring design help. Contact us to talk about creating a beautiful, cohesive brand for your business! Want to know what we can do to help you grow your business? Download our services guide, here:

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Using a 360-Degree Photo App to Sell Art: Cactus Fine Art

Shopify website redesign uses 360-degree photo app

Our website redesign for Cactus Fine Art incorporated use of a 360-degree photo app.

If you’re looking to replicate in-person shopping experiences on your ecommerce website, consider incorporating a 360-degree photo app into your product listings. As the name suggests, a 360-degree photo app lets your customers view your products from all angles—they can zoom in, zoom out, turn them to the right or left, and toggle up or down. This works especially well for products that customers may want to scrutinize before purchasing, such as jewelry, clothes, toys, housewares, and art.

Based in Mexico City, Cactus Fine Arts gathers the finest works of folkloric art from some of the most recognized artisans in Latin America. Entrepreneur and art curator Ricardo Vazquez knew that he needed to make web customers feel like they were viewing each piece up close and in-person in order to successfully launch his fine art store for an international audience. Ricardo wanted a website that would be more than a shop; it would be a gallery that showcased the craftsmanship, culture, detail, and traditions of each item in the collection. To serve their international market, the new website would also exist in two iterations: an English and Spanish version with corresponding currencies.  

Cactus Fine Art quick brand guide for a fine art retailer.

Aeolidia’s brand guide for Cactus Fine Art

Covering All Angles, Starting With a New Logo

Our first step entailed designing a visual identity for Cactus Fine Arts, which included a new logo, graphic design elements including patterns and brand marks, and marketing collateral. The brand’s tagline—Handmade Heart—served as inspiration for Brooke on our design team, as did this statement by Ricardo: “When I see the handcrafts that we will be selling, I see the heart of the artisans reflecting their feelings in the masterpiece, the same as a Cactus.”

Brooke created a clean logo mark to represent the brand’s high-end, exclusive products. The prickly pear watercolor illustration looks like an abstract heart, connecting both the name of the company and the heart of the skilled artisans at the core of the brand. “Together, these elements position Cactus Fine Art as a fresh, artistic, and welcoming brand that sells exclusive products and is respected by collectors of high-quality handcrafts,” Brooke said.

Cactus Fine Art business cards for a fine art retailer.

Business card design for Cactus Fine Art

Designing a Store that Showcases Your Art

When choosing colors for both the logo and website, Brooke was mindful of creating a palette that would be refreshing, but not intrusive. The shop’s main goal was to showcase the art pieces front and center, so she designed a sleek, clean home page that allows the images to shine without competing with other page elements. Scrolling below the fold reveals some pops of color balanced with white space, easy-to-read typography, and vibrant, eye-catching images of the artisans’ works.

The home page invites customers to visit the shop through a few different avenues: the main navigation, the category links below the intro text, or the featured items along the bottom of the homepage. Once on an individual item page, customers get a chance to really appreciate the art in all of its 360-degree glory.

Cactus Fine Art business stationery for a fine art retailer.

We designed business stationery for Cactus Fine Art, too!

Integrating 360-degree Photos into Your Shop

Photo © Cactus Fine Art

Our developer, Jon, chose a 360-degree photo app called Arqspin that could easily be integrated with the brand’s Shopify site. A real perk of the app is that it allows store owners to upload new products as they’re added to stock. You purchase or rent a turntable, shoot the products yourself, and use the platform’s phone app to capture a full spin of the product and upload it to your site.

The result for visitors is unlike any other shopping experience. “It allows for customers to spin the products around and see a 360-degree view, almost as if they were holding the product in their hand and examining it,” Jon said.

For art pieces such as sculptures, vases and jewelry, as well as home decor items such as pottery, or even children’s toys, this complete, multi-angle view allows customers from all corners of the globe to take in the products’ full beauty.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Cactus Fine Art website »

Looking to make your products shine with a 360-degree photo app? Contact us to discuss designing a website that will truly showcase every item!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join shipshape collective aeolidia

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community, with access to our free Facebook group, plus weekly emails with tips for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Expanding a Wholesale Business to Capture Online Sales: Hester & Cook

hester and cook expanding a whole sale business by adding online retail

Hester & Cook flagship store, photo © Hester & Cook

Have you been thinking about expanding a wholesale business into online retail? Although seemingly daunting, this process is actually easier than you might assume. After all, you’ve already done most of the important work: you have a brand your audience loves, products that are proven to sell, and systems in place to fulfill customers’ orders.

We recently completed a redesign of the Hester & Cook website to help them expand their e-commerce sales. Known within the gift industry for its trendsetting paper placemat pads and table runners, Hester & Cook is a favorite among retailers looking to cater to customers who love setting beautiful tables without any fuss.

Hester & Cook Custom Shopify design

Hester & Cook custom Shopify design for a kitchen accessories shop by Aeolidia.

Investing in your retail business to help it grow

Although Angie Hester Cook and her husband Robbie Cook launched their company 11 years ago, the Hester & Cook retail site had been running for eight of those years with pretty average results. Hester & Cook Art and Marketing Director Courtney Cochran had recently turned her attention to growing this part of the business, and she quickly encountered what she called “a barrel of limitations.” The website was not mobile-friendly, which made it harder for customers who shop on tablets or phones to make purchases. On the back end, adding new products to their growing line was becoming challenging, as was collecting important data, such as Google Analytics and visitor conversion rates.

Website design before Aeolidia:

hester and cook shopify redesign before image

Hester & Cook before Aeolidia

We kick off each project by discussing a client’s goals, and it was clear that Courtney was aiming high. This was great, because it meant every aspect of the new site would need to be at 100 percent upon launch. We always give projects 100 percent— and we love it when clients do, too.

To aim for the team’s high conversion rate goals, Arianne explained it goes far beyond design to also encompass photography, product descriptions, policies and shipping options provided by the client.

“Your marketing strategy will have to be refined to only be reaching out to your target customers,” Arianne said of how brands should expect to contribute to the process. “Your team would need to be available to provide the best possible content for the website during the preparation stage of your project.”

Website design after Aeolidia:

Hester and Cook website design for a gift and home décor brand.

Hester and Cook website design for a gift and home décor brand.

Tapping into your brand’s strengths & potential

Our overarching goal that set the direction for this redesign was to make Hester & Cook’s online retail sales strong enough to be on par with their wholesale accounts. After all, the brand had huge potential—our job was to make their neglected e-commerce site live up to it, both in terms of design and functionality.

Do-Hee got to work on designing an updated and beautifully branded experience that would not only appeal to Hester & Cook’s current customer base, but also attract a new online clientele. Because the brand already had such a strong following, it was important that the online experience match the quality of their curated, flagship brick-and-mortar store.

Hester and Cook custom website design for a gift and home décor brand.

“Visually, I took inspiration from Hester & Cook’s new logo, beautiful products, and timeless color palette to create a classic, but contemporary look and feel,” Do-Hee said. “Details such as the curved page corners, editorial typefaces, and stationery-inspired tables, add dashes of personality to this clean design.”

A completely updated and polished e-commerce design showcases Hester & Cook’s range of products beautifully, which helps to further instill customer confidence in the brand as the go-to for high-quality kitchen and home goods.

hester and cook product page shopify redesign

But the visual transformation is just the beginning. With a redesigned navigation, visitors can now quickly understand what Hester & Cook has to offer. That helps improve shopability and, of course, the retail shop’s conversation rate.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Hester & Cook website »

Does your wholesale business have the potential to drive sales online? Contact us to discuss how an online makeover can help your brand grow!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join shipshape collective aeolidia

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community, with access to our free Facebook group, plus weekly emails with tips for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

A Children’s Clothing Brand Logo to Grow: Well Dressed Wolf

Photo © Well Dressed Wolf.

Beloved children’s clothing brand Well Dressed Wolf already had so much going for it when founders Sarah and Shannon came to us for a logo and web design refresh. Their timeless, yet original designs are adored by loyal moms and happy children. The growth and success of their brand had recently allowed them to expand their offerings through a family of sub-brands, Omi Jo and Wildling.

Given that Sarah and Shannon hand-sketch, sample, and fit every piece in their collections, it was no surprise that they’d also created a strong visual identity for them.

“Marketing is really something I love,” Sarah told us. “I design children’s clothing, but I have also done all of the graphic design and marketing and photography for our business up to this point.”

All together now: bringing sub-brands together through design

We were excited to help take the Well Dressed Wolf family to the next level by bringing their established aesthetic together in a more streamlined, functional fashion that echoed their beautiful style.

Logo and brand identity design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

We expanded on an existing logo by creating a detailed brand identity for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children’s garments.

Christine began by brushing up their existing logos and optimizing them for the web by vectorizing the previous artwork, which gave them all a crisper, cleaner look. Next, she focused on establishing visual unity by creating a color palette and selecting typography that would work well—both within each sub-brand and across the entire family.

A couple of new design elements helped complement and enhance the brand’s existing logos. A custom illustration of a hand-in-hand child and a wolf with stars and a moon floating above them served as a whimsical foundation for a new brand mark and textures.

Logo and brand identity design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

A new set of websites for an enduring brand

With a refreshed brand guide in place, Christine designed an original, easy-to-use look for the new Well Dressed Wolf Shopify website that maintained all the adorable charm of the brand’s aesthetic.

Custom website design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

Custom website design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children’s garments.

 

“The website expands on the sweet branding we’ve established, while telling the story of Well Dressed Wolf, showcasing your wonderful clothes, and inspiring your customers—new and trusted alike—to make a purchase,” she said. “Accented with a few illustrative details along with classic and feminine typography, the overall look is professional but warm. A place where the Well Dressed Wolf community will feel right at home.”

The site was designed to be equally beautiful on the inside, with more streamlined functionality to improve customers’ shopping experiences. Using the template we created for the main site, Sarah and Shannon were able to customize the web design for the Omi Jo and Wildling brands—all while maintaining a cohesive feel.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Well Dressed Wolf website »

Do you think your brand could benefit from more visual unity and a streamlined customer experience? Contact us to learn about getting started!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join shipshape collective aeolidia

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community, with access to our free Facebook group, plus weekly emails with tips for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Be Inspired by These Online Flagship Stores

When you’re talking about chain stores, a “flagship store” is a special example store that works to tell a business’s story, provide a place for customers to feel like a part of the story, and make a statement about what that brand stands for.

At Shopify’s developer conference last year, they shared an idea that I liked, which was that your ecommerce site can serve as your online flagship store for your customers. This makes so much sense. Whether you have brick and mortar locations or are entirely on the web, your website is your home base.

Treat your online shop as your flagship store! Make it a destination, a resource, a place where your tribe feels at home. Make a statement with it. Let it tell your story in a way that feels like an experience for your visitors.

Here are some online flagships we’ve had the honor and pleasure of creating at Aeolidia. These were all designed uniquely for each business, not using a template. These are all Shopify shops.

Mafu

Bonnie’s new site welcomes visitors in to shop, yes, but also to discover and learn. With an ingredient spotlight, an informative blog, and a helpful newsletter, Mafu is more than just a place to buy, it’s also a place to nurture and connect with yourself.

Online flagship store for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Read more about the Mafu project on our blog

Visit Mafu in our portfolio

Browse the Mafu flagship store

Love, Georgie

Working with people who are passionate about what they do never gets old! Robyn of Love, Georgie is on a mission to spread happiness one gift at a time. Her online flagship makes customers feel known, cared for, and truly special. We worked the “love” in Love, Georgie throughout each little experience a customer will have as they find the perfect gift and discover how to personalize it.

Online flagship store for Love, Georgie, a jewelry designer.

Read how sales skyrocketed before this project was even done

Visit Love, Georgie in our portfolio

Peruse the Love, Georgie flagship store

Hester & Cook

Hester & Cook was a business that was doing so well with wholesale that they had neglected their own website. This made them look less established, impressive, and appealing than they really were. Our goal was to create an updated and beautifully branded experience that would not only appeal to their current customer base but also attract a new online clientele. We also wanted the online experience to match the quality of their curated, flagship brick & mortar experience. Now they can feel confident that both branches of their business are communicating their quality!

Hester and Cook online flagship store for a gift and home décor brand.

See all we did for Hester & Cook in our portfolio

Explore the Hester & Cook flagship store

Emily McDowell

Emily’s astounding rise left her with no time to give her website the attention it needed for awhile. When we met with her last year to transform her out-of-the-box theme into a true flagship experience, we packed it full of completely on-brand details, like Emily’s own handwriting and illustration. Each call to action on the site is peppered with Emily’s humorous yet straightforward voice. Her “just right” customers instantly feel like they belong.

Emily McDowell online flagship store

See all we did for Emily McDowell in our portfolio

Shop the Emily McDowell flagship store

Bamboletta

Christina and her team put SO much love and care into each itty bitty detail of each adorable handmade doll. So it seems crazy for them to have a website that doesn’t show the same amount of care, love, and magic. We worked closely with Christina to create an online home for her dolls that communicates that attention to detail and sweetness from the very first moment.

Bamboletta custom flagship design for a maker of handcrafted dolls.

Read more about the Bamboletta project on our blog

Visit Bamboletta in our portfolio

Shop the Bamboletta flagship store

What is your website saying to your customers?

Sure, you could plunk your logo and photos into a pre-made design template, but I urge you to consider the alternative: a perfectly-fitting space created with your ideal customer in mind that makes her want to explore, shop, share, and come back. I’d love to build it for you.

Tell me a little more about your business here. The next group of daring business owners will begin the transformation with us in a month. Grab your spot!

Rebranding Your Business to Reach the Next Level: Indigo Ember

Sometimes, pressing the restart button and completely rebranding your business can be the best thing to do after getting established. It’s an understandably daunting undertaking, but it can truly be a game changer, especially when your marketing efforts aren’t adding up to your sales goals.

When we were first approached by Patricia to redesign her website, her main goals were to improve website traffic, increase conversion rates, and better communicate the voice of her brand—a personalized gifts and home goods company that creates wooden greeting cards, stationery, and accessories.

We assessed Patricia’s brand and quickly realized that the immediate solution was not a redesign; at least, not until the important foundational work was performed first. Having helped creative businesses with their brands for over a decade, we always want to be sure that our work will provide a good return on investment for the shop owner. This often means that a client may tell us what they think they want, but we assess and strategize over what they need.

Logo design for a gift company

New name and logo design for a gift company

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

We began with professional styled photography to increase desirability

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Start fresh, strong, and focused

We insisted on completely rebooting Patricia’s brand in order to set it up for success, starting with a month of in-depth, brand soul-searching marketing work with Caroline. Through these intensive consultations, Caroline helped Patricia pinpoint and visualize her dream customers—an essential first step for figuring out ways to reach them. They also dug deep to uncover what sets Patricia’s products apart from her competitors’ and created a mission statement. Throughout our project, Patricia’s mission statement, unique selling proposition, and dream customer informed every part of the process, beginning with her brand’s new name.

We loved how quickly Patricia got on board about changing her brand’s name. Rather than looking at letting go of her old business name as a failure, she wisely approached it as a chance to start anew, learn, and grow.

“It is enlightening to get outside feedback that my current business name may not be helping my business in the way I had thought: helping potential customers understand my brand and mission,” she said.

During business name brainstorming, Natalia was inspired by a personal anecdote Patricia shared. She paired this with the imagery of the burnt edges of wood in the shop’s engravings, and came up with Indigo Ember—a name with a very strong connection to Patricia and her products, but one that is also somewhat abstract with a romantic, rustic feel.

Indigo Ember brand identity design for a gift company by Aeolidia

Quick brand guide for Indigo Ember

 

Indigo Ember hang tag design

Indigo Ember hang tag design

 

Instruction design for Indigo Ember.

Instruction design for Indigo Ember.

A new visual identity for Indigo Ember

No stone was left unturned for Indigo Ember’s rebranding. Inspired by Patricia’s hard work of narrowing in on her target market, as well as the origin story of the new name, Jess created a logo featuring a unique feather icon that is reminiscent of a branch with leaves, and a match with a flame.

Across cultures, the feather represents virtue, hope, and charity—three values that align so well with that of Indigo Ember’s dream customers. The typography choice is strong but not overly feminine, with slightly distressed letterforms for a rustic feel. A sloping ‘R’ at the end of “Ember” gives the mark a touch of romance.

“This logo is elegant and timeless and will speak to your new target demographic. It also pairs well with your variety of products. While it is unique and eye-catching, it will not overpower your designs.”

We heard from Patricia immediately with her first impression. “I’m without words because it’s perfect.”

Now, Indigo Ember had a foundation we could truly build upon with completely new marketing collateral, website design, photography direction, and copywriting. The brand’s before and after shows a stunning transformation—one that, while changing the direction of the brand, still stays true to all its most valuable assets as it elevates them to their fullest potential. The products themselves are still as beautiful as ever, but the previous branding was not strong enough to let them shine. That small difference between “almost right” and “right” was revolutionary. Even the smallest details are not small at all.

Trusting the process for the best possible outcome

We are so grateful that Patricia was enthusiastic to let us do what we do best: steer her brand’s ship towards success! When all was said and done, she reflected on our work together:

“After a thorough interview process, customers have to trust the process and expertise by turning over the ‘designer’ reins to Aeolidia. This isn’t a common approach and I value this because that demonstrates confidence and understanding the customer’s needs. Too many designers want the customer to be in the driver’s seat, although the customer hired them to do a particular job that he/she may not be skilled at.

I view Aeolidia as platinum-level graphics design services company. If you want a design company who has extensive expertise in brand development and creating a website to reflect your brand in the best light, hire them despite the price tag! They are worth every penny spent.”

Visit Indigo Ember’s new online home here.

View this project in our portfolio.

Do you think your business might need a complete rebrand to aim for success? We’re ready to create a step-by-step plan just for you. Contact us. 

Join the Shipshape Collective

join shipshape collective aeolidia

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community, with access to our free Facebook group, plus weekly emails with tips for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Growing a Textile Business by Licensing and Collaborating: Cotton & Flax

Behind the scenes with Erin of Cotton and Flax about growing a textile design business.

I’m happy to introduce Erin Dollar, a designer I’ve admired for a long time! She’s here to share a behind the scenes of growing a textile business, creating multiple income streams, and partnering with other businesses to grow her brand.

My interview with Erin follows. Text in bold is me, answers to the bolded questions are Erin. Here we go!

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Erin Dollar in her studio. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

From sketch to printed textile; it begins here. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

A table set with Erin’s linens. Photo © Cotton & Flax

What do you create and what makes it so special?

I’m the designer behind Cotton & Flax, a collection of modern handmade home decor featuring my original pattern designs. I create pillows, tea towels, coasters, and other decor and gift items, with a focus on natural materials and low-waste production practices. I aim to create beautiful home decor that’s gentle on the environment.

My patterns begin as ink drawings, and I focus on creating minimal patterns with that perfect level of handmade, wabi-sabi imperfection, which adds charm to your living spaces. My fabrics are special because they are high-quality natural fibers, and each piece is hand silkscreen printed in studio, which makes for a stunning piece of utilitarian textile art. I’ve recently started partnering with other companies to license my designs, like my first fabric collection with Robert Kaufman, which debuted this summer.

How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity? What propelled you forward and how did you know you’d “made it?”

I’ve been in business for five years. I think the turning point was really in year two, when I finally had a grip on how to market my products, and partnered with some talented photographers to execute that vision. Ira Glass describes the frustrating state that lots of creative people face, when your vision doesn’t match the outcome of your creative pursuits. It wasn’t until I started collaborating with more photographers, stylists, and designers that my vision for Cotton & Flax started to match what I imagined it could be. I knew the business was working when I started to see my work featured on blogs and in magazines. Having my work recognized in that way was very encouraging!

Is your product entirely handmade? Could you describe who makes your product and how? How has that changed over the life of your business?

All my products begin as pattern sketches and handmade prototypes. I draw each pattern by hand using a brush and sumi ink, which give my patterns their unique look. Production for Cotton & Flax is often handled by me in my studio — I still print all the fabrics myself, and manufacture the coasters, trivets, and some of the tea towels in house.

Now that I sell to dozens of retailers, and my product range has gotten more diverse, I have production partners who help me finish certain products. I have wonderful sewers in LA who take my printed fabrics and turn them into pillows and tea towels, I partner with Scout Books in Portland to create the patterned notebooks, and I collaborate with local small business owners to create the leather keychains (Deakin Handmade) and sachets (Minor Thread).

How have you found production partners, and what have you learned from the experience?

I’ve found most of my production partners through word of mouth, and talking with other textile designers. Some designers are happy to share their production partners and sources, because it means sending more support to a vital partner of their business. Living in Los Angeles, which has a large manufacturing sector, it’s been relatively easy to find the supplies and production partners I need for my business. Even so, it’s been so important to have a firm understanding of my profit margins, so I can decide what products make sense to put into production, and how outsourcing can fit into that plan.

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Plus tea towel, ready to celebrate. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Designer napkins. Photo © Cotton & Flax

I know you balance your business with multiple revenue streams: wholesale, retail, workshops, and consulting. Could you share a bit about how that works, and why you would recommend diversifying like this?

I love having multiple income streams, because I naturally have a lot of interests, and having lots of different projects keeps me from getting bored with my work. I love the way that my retail and wholesale business feeds into my work as a creative educator! Sometimes my customers will learn more about my work, and want to learn more about printmaking or pattern design by taking a workshop with me. Sharing my passions with others through teaching has been a great way to keep things feeling fresh in the studio.

Similarly, the consulting and education I do for other small business owners is my way of connecting with the creative business community, and sharing what’s worked for me in running Cotton & Flax. Running a creative small business can feel really isolating at times—you spend your days in the studio, or fulfilling online orders, and you often don’t have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of, or get advice from. By partnering with CreativeLive, as well as speaking at conferences and doing interviews like this one, I hope to connect with other creatives, and form a supportive network that will boost all of our businesses.

You have worked with retailers large and small. Do you see a big difference between working with chain stores, such as West Elm, and independent stores, such as Rare Device? How have these relationships shaped your business?

I love working with my retail shop partners! The majority of the shops that I work with are independent stores, often run by just a handful of people. These shop owners truly amaze me with their incredible dedication to supporting designers and sharing their love of handmade pieces. Developing great relationships with my stockists is very important to me, and it all comes down to communication. Keeping them informed about turnaround time, product updates, and what they can expect from you makes that working relationship a lot smoother.

With larger stores, like West Elm or CB2, there are a lot more hoops to jump through in terms of onboarding and production, but the reach is incredible! Having lots of eyeballs on your work can be incredibly beneficial, and many of the larger retailers are eager to partner with up and coming brands. It’s all about finding the right fit, and making sure that expectations are clear from the get go.

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you spend on marketing or promotional work?

I love using social media to keep in touch with my customers, and that’s my biggest go-to in terms of marketing my work for Cotton & Flax. I try to take a pretty relatable and authentic approach to selling my products; I try to highlight the things that set my work apart, and share with a group of people who value handmade work. I haven’t done traditional advertising so far, but I do everything I can to share what I’m doing with editors from magazines, blogs, and other influential spaces, and I’ve been lucky to receive some coverage from those efforts. Each year I try to refine my marketing process—everything seems to change so quickly these days, with the growth of new social media networks and new ways of sharing your work with the world.

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Setting the scene with modern textiles. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Erin Dollar, hard at work growing her textile business. Photo © Cotton & Flax

What do you like about how you sell your goods? What about your selling process is not ideal for you?

One of the things I’ve debated over the last year is whether to open a retail space for Cotton & Flax. It’s one of the natural next steps for a business like mine, but the financial commitment and level of management required has been somewhat unappealing to me. Cotton & Flax is primarily an online retail business, which means I miss out on organic traffic of people walking into a physical retail space. For now, I’m satisfied with relying on my retail partners, who carry my work in their shops, to fill that role in my marketing plan. Someday I may be ready to expand into my own retail space, but for now, lower overhead is still a priority.

Is your business financially sustainable?

For the foreseeable future, yes! As I continue to grow Cotton & Flax, I hope that revenue will continue to increase, and that I’ll be able to continue my journey as an artist and a product designer. My worries are likely the same ones that other business owners face—what happens if I get sick or injured, or if I want to take time away from the business to have children? I’d love to see changes on a public policy level that would help create a safety net for small business owners, and encourage more people to take this path.

How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it a certain size? Would you like to expand? If so, how?

In the next few years, I plan to focus more on pattern designs and licensing my creative work. I love working on large-scale projects, and I’ve found that collaboration has been the key to taking on projects that are bigger than what I can handle on my own. Licensing and collaboration are going to be my priority as I continue to grow Cotton & Flax.

What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers about getting help in a way that feels organic, and not a betrayal to their values?

It’s easy to forget this amongst all of the other considerations of running a business, but I try to remind myself all the time: there are no rules, and you can create your own path. It’s so important to check in with yourself as you build and sustain your business, to examine your reasons behind what you’re doing. Knowing your “why” behind your business can fuel your creativity, as well as your ability to make choices that stay true to your values. In Cotton & Flax’s case, my love of natural materials, and dedication to ethical manufacturing led me to find partners who create beautiful natural materials, and production partners who live close to my studio, with similar values of sustainability.

I always advise creative business owners to find mentors or advisors who really understand your priorities and values, and turn to them during good times, and during times of stress for support. That network of support can make all the difference.


Visit Erin’s website here, and snap up some of her designs: Cotton & Flax

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