Contributor post by Ashley of French Soul Knittery
Tell us about yourself.
I am a New Zealander living in the sunny Hawkes Bay. Normally I am a teacher of French, English and Media Studies at an all boys state school, however this year I am on maternity leave with my second baby, a wee girl, now just 6 months old. I learned to sew when I was a little girl and this sparked a lifelong creative passion for me. I have previously designed and made ballroom and latin dance dresses, but two littles ones and Swarovski elements don’t really mix too well. Now my just turned 4-year-old has her own sewing machine and can often be found creating things alongside me as I sew. I have in the past had to send her creations to ‘a lady in America’ too as she loves to package them up and take them to the post office – maybe when she is older I will confess that I actually put our address on them so that ‘the lady in America’ always sends them back to our house the very next day!
When did you open your business and what made you decide to do so?
I had never made a quilt before but a friend was having her first grandchild and asked me to make one. Her reasoning was that I could sew and she couldn’t and so I should know what to do. I read a book, figured it out and loved the end result. Not long afterwards I had a miscarriage and then endometriosis surgery – during recovery I discovered jelly roll quilts. I was totally hooked and after all my friends and family got them, I started selling them.
The Bella and Zahn label was one I already had, for children’s clothing. My nephew wanted me to make him shorts that would make him go fast down the slide and he wanted a label in them. I didn’t feel I could put my sparkly dance wear label on boys’ shorts and seeing as he and his cousins adored playing with our dogs Bella and Zahn, making them jump a mini course in the show jumping arena, I started a new label named after them and so Bella and Zahn was born. Hence the puppy in the label. When I started selling the quilts online in 2010, I gave them the same label.
Tell us a bit about your products.
I specialized initially in making baby quilts but am now also making quilted Christmas tree skirts, Christmas Stockings and Christmas Advent Calendars. I love creating new designs and seeing the new fabrics coming out each year. Now that I am at home full-time, and my second baby sleeps so much better than my first ever did, I am loving having the time to create and try new techniques, especially with my tree skirts. I use premium quality quilt shop cottons, and all my baby quilts are 100% cotton. I have been experimenting with using satin next to the cotton in my tree skirt designs this month and am loving the look! I love that fact that all my products can become much-loved family heirlooms and be brought out year after year.
Even the baby quilts are still used as snuggle rugs in the horse truck, or for watching TV with my older nieces and nephews.
What inspires your work?
I love fabric and often find pieces that really speak to me. I am quite traditional in that I love nursery rhymes, storybook characters and traditional Christmas characters and scenes but I am branching out into more modern looks as I discover new fabrics and designers. Sometimes teaching 5 lessons of boys all day can be quite tough and I often say my sewing machine never argues with me anywhere near as often as teenage boys do.
Teaching can be quite negative sometimes with all the paperwork, the pressure of qualification statistics, marking etc and it is very rare that we get compliments whereas with my crafting, online and at the markets, I get so much positive feedback from my customers that it becomes very uplifting and therapeutic for me. I definitely have withdrawal symptoms when I go on holiday.
What are your future goals for the business this year? What is your dream for this business?
I would love to eventually work full-time on my Etsy business, and am super happy with the way it is continuing to grow. I am thinking though that hubby might have other ideas as my teaching salary still brings in more each month and the mortgage hasn’t shrunk enough yet. This year I am trying to double my previous year’s income and extend my product range. I have a couple of ideas swirling in my head right now and will be spending some time this month researching viability.
What makes your business stand out from businesses that sell similar products?
I really try to produce a premium quality product, and have as wide a choice of designs available. I love creating things and get such a thrill when customers send me pics of them being used. I never send out anything that I wouldn’t be proud to own and use myself. I try to make the backs of my products as interesting as the front and most are completely reversible.
Tell us a bit about your work space. Do you have a separate studio?
I keep trying to organize my work space but it frequently gets out of control! I have supplies all stacked up in plastic boxes and both my girls have lost half of their wardrobes to quilts and things hanging up. I used to have a separate room but had to clear the machine out to the dining room table and a spare office at my hubby’s work. Most of my sewing is now done on the dining room table with the girls playing around me, but eventually we will be building a new home on a lifestyle block and having a separate studio for me.
What have you learned since opening your business that you wish you had known before hand?
I have had to learn a lot about SEO and marketing that I had no idea about before and I have had lots of help along the way from reading forum discussion and chatting with other sellers at craft shows. Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a seller is so important, especially when the bulk of my orders are international.
Any advice for those thinking about selling on Etsy?
Overnight success would be wonderful but the reality is it takes time to build your brand, product and style. Don’t give up hope and make sure you take good photos – if you have no clue about your camera, then check You Tube for a tutorial!
When you’re not working, what do you like to do to unwind and have fun? Do you have any hobbies?
I love to hang out with my family, and often go back to the farm so that my girls can ride the ponies with me and enjoy the lifestyle that I had as a child. I love galloping through the paddocks with the wind going through my hair, and always seem to get my serenity back in the wide open spaces. I love to turn the music up and dance around the lounge with my daughter, even if she thinks I am crazy!
What is your favorite quote?
Reach for the stars!
Where can people find out more about your business?
My shop: bellazahn
My facebook: BellaandZahn
If you would like to be featured, please go to the CIJ Etsy Forum and fill out the questionnaire. Please note you must be a member of the CIJ Etsy team to be featured.