Monday, January 9, 2012

The Weaving Monk

The following story was written by a fellow EtsyWeavers Team member, Blossom Merz. I've been following his business and reading his blog for a while and am impressed with what he is doing. He recently participated in a fundraising program using Kickstarter and I asked him to write about the experience. At the end is a link to his blog so that you can follow along, too. ~Annie

Closeups of the scarf I got from Blossom, showing the color gradations throughout the piece. He does a very nice job of color mixing and blending. 

First, I want to give a word of thanks to Annie for inspiring me to write this post and offering to share it with her blog readers. I'd been thinking about writing it for a while, but might not have never gotten around to it without a little nudge. Thanks, Annie!

When I set out to start this weaving business, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In the last year, I've learned one big lesson: starting a business is way more expensive and time-consuming than I thought it would be.

I had considered what it would cost to acquire my equipment and the materials to weave my cloth. But I didn't realize that I would need to have twice as much thread as I'll actually be using so that there's room to play with colors. Having "just enough" yarn to complete the work is not enough.

I knew I'd have to build a booth to sell my wares, but I didn't think that all the way through, either. The booth also needs its own carpets, lights, drapes, and display forms - all those little touches that turn an empty popup canopy into an enticing and professional retail outlet.

And then there's all the extra equipment that I didn't think about: a yarn winder, dehumidifier, shelving, storage boxes. The list goes on and on.

I realized part way through my first year that I would not get to market with a variety of garments if I didn't find a bunch of money somewhere. Enter Kickstarter!

Kickstarter is a group funding platform with an interesting approach to their projects. Knowing that half of the funding doesn't usually enable half of a project to get done, the funding is "all or nothing". A project does not receive its funding unless it reaches its target before the deadline set when the project launches. Kickstarter doesn't fund anything. In fact they take a little money for the service that they do provide: helping you to create a compelling presentation and a sense of trust for individuals to fund your project.

Every project is required to offer tangible rewards to people in return for their funding. They're flexible in terms of what you offer. Obviously, since I was asking for money to help me produce a new line of cloth, I offered some of that cloth as my rewards.

Before the project was approved, I had to interact one-on-one with a member of the Kickstarter team to prove to them that my goal was reasonable, and that I was asking for enough money to complete the goal if I was funded. After doing a little extra legwork to show them that I knew what I was doing, my project was approved.

Then, it was time for the real work to begin. I worked closely with other members of our new collective to write the script for our promotional video. Kickstarter highly recommends that all projects have a video, and I have to say that I agree. It helps to develop a real sense of who you are and what you're doing.

And once the project was ready to be seen by the world, it was time to launch it and do more real work: getting the word out to people who might be able to help. Yes, some projects get picked up by Kickstarter's publicity and receive help in connecting to donors, but most projects do not. It's up to us to find our own donors and convince them to help us. All but a few donors found out about the project from me or my friends.

Once the project is live, you're working under your own deadline to raise the funds. To spread the word, I used my blog, my email contacts and my Facebook friends list. When people donated, I asked them to help me spread the word to their friends. I kept my Facebook business page updated with the remaining time and money left to meet our goal. It was really down to the wire, but the donations all came in with a couple of days to spare.

And after a two-week delay in receiving the funds, it was time to manage the money to meet my goals. My plan was to use the money to buy yarn for three brand new cloth designs, build a booth to sell my garments at shows, and pay the fees for my first batch of shows.

The first shows would make enough money to pay for the shipping of the rewards. This is where things got a little hairy. I didn't actually do the math of how many rewards would need to be shipped out, or what this shipping would cost.

I also didn't have enough inventory to send out all of the rewards at once and still have a good display at shows. These two things combined, causing donors to wait...

Meanwhile, I had spent the money to get into shows that didn't bring in as much income as I expected. The upside to low sales is that I didn't sell off the rewards that I owed people, I just kept them marked in the booth so that I could replace them if I *did* sell them. The downside is that I didn't have the money to ship out the rewards.

In the end, it all worked out. I did more shows and produced more weaving. It took way longer than I expected, but everyone got their rewards about three months late and I learned some great lessons.

Here are the things I would do differently if I did it again:

1. I would set the rewards more specifically. Instead of "Shawl", I'd make it "Red Shawl", "Blue Shawl", etc. Then I'd set the number of rewards in each category to the inventory that's actually available to ship at the close of the project.

2. I would increase the project goal to cover the fees to Amazon, Kickstarter, and the US Postal Service, leaving enough for me to do the actual project.

3. I would time it to end nearer to "gift season". I'd then guarantee that people would receive their rewards in time for the holidays. I think this would make it easier for people to donate. "I can help out this project AND get holiday shopping done at the same time? Yeah!"

Other than my own mistakes, I found the Kickstarter experience to be a fantastic one. If you need some funding for a project that you're working on, I'd highly recommend the Kickstarter platform. They really do make it as easy as possible to ask for money and have people say "yes".

Blossom Merz Handweaving
"Weaving Monk"
Etsy Shop:


  1. As a backer of this project I have to say that doing business with Blossom was a wonderful experience! He came through with an amazing product and in timely fashion. Go figure I am still waiting for some rewards I backed a year ago!
    Some other projects actually ask the backers to add the postage fee to their reward. I find that the best way to not "loose" money on your project. Everyone knows that there is a value for the product and that you need to pay the postage in order to get it.

    I am also truly happy with the product. Apart from the wonderful color combinations, the fabric is of a rare softness and has a delicate feel to it.
    Good luck to Blossom and looking forward to other interesting weaving projects on Kickstarter!

  2. Sandrine- Thanks for adding your comments. I think that the whole creative idea of funding a business in this grass roots way is a beautiful thing. I'm pleased to have heard from someone who was successful at it and the lessons he learned along the way.
    With the Kickstarter help, the ball is now rolling and I wish Blossom the greatest success with his weaving business.