T.E.S.T. Interview: JulieSindenHandmade

We hope to introduce you to all the great etsy sellers to be found right here in Toronto. Here at the T.E.S.T. blog, we plan to interview them all. This is the 66th in our series and is with Julie Sinden of JulieSindenHandmade.

I love your hats!  I notice you studied textiles at the Kootenay School of the Arts in B.C.  Is JulieSindenHandmade and the hats the focus of your textile work or do you work in other textile areas too?

For the moment, the hats and scarves are definitely the whole focus of my business, in large part because it keeps me so busy that I don't have time for much else.  The work that I did at KSA was largely focused around weaving and natural dyeing, two things that I am very passionate about.  I teach workshops in natural dyeing at The Workroom which I absolutely love.  It gives me a chance to share the fabulous world of plant dyeing with others, and also to connect with so many creative folks from all walks of life.  I have attempted once or twice to create a line of naturally dyed goods for sale, but it is a very labour intensive process, and would also require a proper dye studio set up if one really wanted to make a go of it.  So for the moment, my focus is on the hats!  I do hope in the next couple of years to expand to include a line of interiors, since boiled wool is such a great material for upholstery and cushions, and all sorts of housewares.

Did your Etsy store and an online presence coincide with the beginning of your hat making, or did you start with other kinds of outlets – craft markets or retail?   

Right after I graduated from KSA, I was experimenting with all sorts of techniques and materials.  I was living in my hometown of Port Dover, and participated one fall in the fantastic local studio tour, where I was selling naturally dyed handwoven baby blankets, and boiled wool upholstered ottomans.  I also had a few boiled wool purses and hats.  To my surprise, the hats were a huge hit - people loved them.  So I kept making them, and people kept loving them.  I spent that Christmas season doing smaller craft shows in Toronto, and by the following year I participated in the One of a Kind for the first time.  I opened an online store around that same time (2006), but for some reason I didn't list the hats on Etsy until last fall.  And once I did, I realised that I should have done it way sooner!  I've been thrilled with the response on Etsy - with my previous online store I made sales primarily within the GTA and Ontario, people who had seen my work in person or in a store.  Etsy has allowed my to expand my business to the United States and internationally. And it's also been a great place for networking and connecting with other makers and fans of handmade.  I'm not sure why I didn't join earlier!

Right on Etsy for that international reach!  I notice you do some wholesale business, in-person craft shows, and online at Etsy and your own website.  Have you found the balance of those for business has changed over time and do you prefer one or the other? 

It has definitely changed over time.  I started out mostly just selling direct, through craft shows, and at a few small retailers in Toronto.  I then began selling online, but like I said, most of that business came through people who had seen me first in person.  A few years ago I did a few wholesale shows, mostly in the States, and that was great experience, and really helped to broaden my market.  But those types of shows seem to be dying with the advent of the internet, and so I'm back to trying to expand my online business.  I had a baby almost a year ago, so online is also a great option, as I'm not really able to travel to shows like I had been for a couple of years.  My big challenge is that I'm not great at social media, which I know is one of the best ways to increase your online presence and sales.

Was it a big step to take on the One of A Kind show – it can look dauntingly expensive for a small craftsperson.  How did you decide you could do enough business there to warrant the cost?   (And, I imagine, the sore feet ;)

It was definitely quite unnerving to do the One of a Kind for the first time, but I'm so glad I did.  I was waiting tables at the time, and making quite good money, so I was able to use my tips to invest in the business, and lucky to not have to go into debt to try it out.  But the biggest challenge was knowing how much stock to make.  I had brought what I thought was sooooo much product, but after the first two days it became quite clear that it was not going to be nearly enough.  I sold out on day four or five, and just kept samples of each piece for people to place orders.  Then when the show was done, instead of recovering, I had to get crazy busy making again.  It was nuts, but also amazing.  Afterwards I totally understood why people do only half of the show for their first time.

FYI, Julie will be at the Christmas One of a Kind Show, November 27-December 7, 2014, booth U43 for the full ten-day show.

It sounds like you are working with knitters and helpers to make your orders.  Is this a full-time business for you or does it flow seasonally?  And how did you find the knitters/helpers?

I do have helpers!  Couldn't do it without them!  They are actually all friends (and family!) who I have trained over the years.  I joke that I have my own personal scholarship program - whenever someone I know goes back to school, they end up working for me, usually knitting.  It's great work for a student, since it's piecework, so they can do it whenever they have time, and don't have to commit to specific hours.  The funny thing is that my knitters are all, against stereotype, men (including my husband).  And none of them knew how to knit before.  And they still don't, really - they just know how to make one pattern - my hats, and they make it over and over again.   

And the business is indeed full-time for me.  I quit waiting tables right after that first One of a Kind, and haven't looked back!  Since they are only winter hats that I make, you are correct that it is quite seasonal, but it keeps me busy all year - I just do different things at different times of year.  Right now is the busiest season, when I work more than full time, packing, shipping and billing wholesale orders, and getting ready for the One of a Kind - finishing up the embellishment of lots of hats, re-jiggin my booth, etc.  Right up until Christmas it's pretty nuts, then I take a couple weeks off for the holidays and when I go back in January I work a bit less than full time, still filling wholesale and online orders and just reorganizing and regrouping from the madness of the busy season, and doing my books and things like that.  By early April, I get going again on serious production, so that I can have stock ready again by the end of August, when wholesale starts going out again.  I usually take a few weeks off in the summer as well though, since my husband is a teacher, and, well.... I can.  These days I'm juggling having a baby at home with my while I work, so it's all gotten a bit crazier, but we're figuring it out!

As a trained fabric artist do you collect pieces?  Do you have a weakness?

I don't necessarily have a specific weakness, but I do have quite a stash of both yarn and fabric.  Teaching at the Workroom can be majorly hazardous, as the fabrics there are so amazing.  Pretty much every time I go there I end up buying something, and then don't always have the time to actually use it, so the pile is....growing.  But now that I have a little girl, I'm excited to start making some clothes for her, like my mom used to do for me.

Check out the other items available from Julie in her Etsy shop! You can find more of her work on Facebook and Pinterest and her own website.  And she'll be at the Christmas One of a Kind Show, November 27-December 7, 2014.

Julie was interviewed by Michaelle of FlockofTeaCosy, November 12, 2014


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