I have Ann Brauer here with me today. Ann is an attorney turned award-winning artist. Her work is in numerous museums, institutions and private collections including the American Museum of Art + Design.
Textile Art on Etsy With Ann Brauer
In this interview, Ann and I talk about
- Her small beginnings and how that helped her start her own businesses
- What to consider in deciding to build a textile art store on Etsy
- Marketing techniques and tips to help you succeed on Etsy
CN: Ann, Welcome to the Clara Nartey Blog and to this episode of Textile Art Business Interview. It’s my pleasure to have you here.
AB: Glad to be here.
Ann’s Creative Journey to Art Quilts
CN: Tell us a little about yourself. Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
AB: I grew up on a farm in Illinois surrounded by quilts. When I was born, my grandmother made me a postage stamp quilt from feed sack cloth that I slept under for years. I always found some different design she had included in the quilt.
I loved to sew but never thought I could make a quilt. Instead, I made most of my clothing, lots of costumes for the high school musicals and almost anything else I could think of.
Indeed, one of the best ways my mother had to bond with me when I was a teenager, was to take me to one of the many fabric stores in the adjacent towns. I think I knew them all.
Eventually, I quit sewing as I was no longer wearing the clothes that I liked to make. Although I still knew all of the fabric stores in Boston where I was then living.
Then, I had a roommate who made quilts. I realized that if I made quilts, I could buy fabric. The rest, as they say, is history.
Soon I ran out of friends to give my quilts to and began selling them. I decided to move to western Massachusetts and see if I could support myself making quilts.
I have done this for the last 36 years.
The Audacity to Build and Live off an Art Quilt Business
CN: Ann, that’s simply impressive. I’ve got to ask. What gave you the audacity to believe you could make a living off your art quilts when most people cannot envision making art quilts as a viable business path?
AB: By training, I am actually an attorney and I had my own business doing research for other lawyers for seven years. When I decided to see if I could support myself making quilts, I did know that I had a fallback position if I ever needed it.
I was also helped because I grew up on a small farm. Having that small business background gave me practice in dealing with the vagaries of small businesses and hunting for alternatives when the business market changed.
In addition, as my husband will tell you, I am very focused and more than a little stubborn.
CN: Let’s talk about your Etsy store. What was your reasoning in choosing to build a store on Esty.com and not any other place?
AB: For a long time, I resisted having any online store.
Then in 2011, I lost my studio to Tropical Storm Irene. Although I was able to find a suitable rental, I realized that I did want to rebuild my space. This would require more sales than I was currently getting.
I also knew that the website I was using at that time was dated but I did not have the mental energy to build a new website and I did not want to hire someone to create a website that I could not maintain.
The Reasons for Building an Online Store with Etsy
CN: Umm, two very valid points for not getting a new website created.
AB: Yes. So, I then began considering many of the alternatives. I wanted a website
- with an existing track record that would give me access to more customers.
- that would be relatively easy to use and intuitive.
- that would have the possibility of making money with it.
I checked out lots of sites and asked my artist friends. I was in a unique situation since I not only make a selection of art quilts but I am also known for my collection of more affordable items that I count on for sales.
Initially, I was leery about using Etsy thinking that much of the work was not of the quality that I might like. On the other hand, the fee arrangement was good.
Finally, a friend of mine whose work I respect said that he had an Etsy shop and did quite well with it. After doing more investigating I found that there a number of people I knew on Etsy. At that point, Etsy was more of a community than it is now which also helped.
Is Etsy the Ideal Place to Sell Textile Art?
CN: I find recommendations from people who’re already using a service very valuable. That’s one of the reasons when I do interviews I ask people to recommend their five favorite things. Back to your reasons for choosing Etsy, what is their fee arrangement? Do you mind sharing?
AB: While I don’t know the precise fee structure, basically I pay $.20 per listing and 3-4% of the purchase price when an item is sold.
The listings are live for 3 months and then if an item does not sell, it can be renewed for an additional 3 month periods as often as necessary. The fees do add up if you have sales but that is high-class worries.
CN: Would you say Etsy is an ideal place to sell textile art when buyers cannot clearly see the colors and especially feel the textures of your work?
AB: It is always hard when buyers cannot see your work in person. Of course, it is necessary to have good images and to work with buyers who have questions about colors or textures.
Etsy does allow you to have images of your work. In addition, I use Etsy for the buyers who see my quilts at one of the fine craft shows I do throughout the year. These buyers already know my work.
The Importance of Images on Etsy
CN: How would you characterize the importance of images in one’s success on Etsy?
AB: Etsy wants five pictures of your work. This is one good way to attract interest in your work.
Try to make sure you have clear images that illustrate the questions people will have of your work.
Pretend they are looking at it in person. Do you have great detail work? What is the back of your work look like? Although I tell people that the back of my glass cases is black, I have found that an image that illustrates the back is helpful.
Look at the images of others and find the ones that capture your attention.
CN: Some artists have expressed frustration at not getting enough activity on their artwork in their Etsy stores. What have you done differently to make your work more visible?
AB: Although Etsy keeps changing its format, it is actually good about providing insights to help sellers get more viewers I put a fair amount of work into maintaining my shop.
Branding is very important. I suggest looking at a number of shops to see how others are doing it and then figuring out what works for you. It also helps to bring customers in from other locations—I include my Etsy address on both my hard copy and my social media while trying not to be spammy.
CN: In your experience, have you noticed that there’s only a limited price range of work that sells on Etsy? Are you able to sell high-priced artwork on Etsy?
AB: I am constantly amazed at the amount of high-end work I sell through Etsy. I know that when I am purchasing something I frequently like to browse and get ideas. I believe Etsy lets my customers do just that.
Opening and Maintaining an Etsy Shop
CN: For someone who wants to sell on Etsy. What is involved in opening and maintaining an Etsy store?
AB: First, you have to decide what you are selling and if Etsy is indeed an appropriate market. If your aim is to work with art galleries, interior decorators or to get teaching assignments, Etsy is not for you.
The basic process is fairly simple. Make sure you have a bio section and have determined your terms. I suggest starting and committing to working on it regularly since there is work involved and a learning curve. I try to do one task every day so I don’t feel overwhelmed.
As you work on your shop, it is important to think of what your “brand” is.
- What are you selling?
- How do you want images to look consistent so that if someone sees an image of your work, they know it is you?
- What is your market?
- What do you want the look of your shop to be?
Since this is true for any method of selling, it is a great exercise.
There are forums where you can post your site and get feedback. Reading the comments about both your site and those of others will also help you refine your shop.
After you are satisfied that the shop is moving in the right direction, then you need to start publicizing your shop.
- Link it to your website,
- Include it on your postcards or other literature,
- Cross post on social media.
Obviously, you don’t want to overdo it so use your discretion.
People do not like being “sold” to but they like to buy from a person.
Many people do not have many sales during the first six months or so. Keep at it and keep updating your shop.
Effective Business Strategies on Etsy
CN: In addition to all you’ve said, what are some of the most effective business strategies that have helped you to grow your business on Etsy?
AB: All of my above answers. Also, I suggest figuring out how to ship your work in a timely fashion. I use USPS Priority Mail for all but my largest works. I’ve got a stock of free boxes from the Post Office and tissue paper to wrap the work. I try to ship in a timely fashion.
Ann’s Tips for Successfully Creating and Selling Textile Art on Etsy
- Keep your shop stocked. The more items you have, the more customers will come to your shop.
- Learn SEO. I use Etsy’s SEO Ranking (EtsyRank.com) to give me hints of the tags which work best for my items. Switch them up since you never know who will find you using which tag.
- Cross post. You want to bring in your own customers.
- Don’t give up. Any marketing technique takes time and persistence.
- Work on your site. Do you need to reorganize it? Work on your statement? Rewrite your descriptions? What is selling? Listen to the marketplace.
Finally, Etsy is not for everyone. Figure out if it might work for you and then try it but also keep an eye on what is happening in the general market for quilts.
That’s a lot of good information on Etsy to unpack. Let’s take a break here and come back later with part 2 of this interview. In part 2, Ann and I will talk about craft shows, how she left a stable professional career to start her own business in textiles, and society’s perceptions about what a worthy career path is. I wouldn’t miss part 2 and you shouldn’t either.
In the meantime, here are the highlights of today’s interview.
Interview Quotes and Takeaways
- Every experience in your life (small or big) has value in helping you accomplish big things
- Figure out how to ship your work in a timely fashion
- Don’t give up. Any marketing technique takes time and persistence.
- Many people do not have many sales during the first six months or so on Etsy. Keep at it and keep updating your shop.
Do you have any questions about Etsy which have not been answered in this interview? Let’s talk about them in the comments section.
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Also published on Medium.