Welcome to the Near Me Entrepreneurs in the Marketplace series. I look forward to connecting with up and coming freelancers who have been positively impacted by technology and peer-to-peer marketplaces. My first guest is Sandy Barnes, a fashion designer from Fayetteville, North Carolina, now creating one of a kind handbags out of San Francisco. We recently had a chat to discover insights on how to become a freelance designer, and why an online marketplace like Etsy is such an asset.
Hi Sandy. Thanks for joining me. First off, how and why did you become a freelance fashion designer?
I've always loved drawing as long as I can remember. At a very young age (around 7 or 8) I began drawing fashion figures. Over time, my passion for drawing and art grew as did my skill at illustration. I get my drawing ability from my dad, who was a great artist himself (he received a scholarship at 18 to Chicago's Art Institute) but went on to a 25 year career in the Army. A childhood spent traveling and all of the different people and places we went shaped my view of the world. That combined with my complete fascination with "the fashion world"... (Vogue, Bazaar, Manhattan, Milan, Paris, etc.) led me to pursue a career in Fashion Design.
I attended and graduated from Bauder College after high school with a degree in Fashion Design. Out of college, I was unable to afford the move to NYC so I returned home to NC and worked as an Assistant Costume Designer at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre. But for the past 20 years I've primarily supported myself as a waitress. I continued illustrating and designing and overtime evolved into a designer of handbags. I think I began designing handbags instead of clothing because handbags don't have a size they have to follow and one can be more adventurous in a handbag because it's just an accent to one’s wardrobe. At various times throughout the years, I have done the occasional street fair, consignment, or holiday festival. However, it wasn't until this past year that I've really dedicated myself to creating my own full time business.
Right now is such a great time for artists to flourish. I attribute my ability to run my own business to technology. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, online marketplaces like Etsy and all of the incredible apps available with just a few clicks, anyone can have their own business. I recently became part of the Street Artists Program in San Francisco. It's a wonderful program, run by San Francisco's Arts Commission, that grants licenses to Artisans to sell their work in certain designated areas of the city. I tried this years ago without much success, but thanks to apps like PayPal and especially Square, I can take secured forms of payment. Having the ability to accept credit cards has really opened up another world for entrepreneurs just starting out.
How great that technology is helping artists like yourself and many others have a wider reach. Recently, your one of a kind, floral print bag sold out on Etsy! How has the online marketplace helped you grow your business?
That was such an amazing experience! I was so excited to sell out my new Totes so quickly. I promoted my new collection of totes on my Facebook Page (Charo Cassandra Handbags) and Instagram (@charocassandra) with links to my Etsy page, by giving sneak peeks but holding back sales until August 1st. Within 3 days they were gone. Before Etsy, I did a bit of consignment and the occasional street fair, but I could never reach enough people on a regular basis to sustain and grow my business. Etsy has enabled me to offer my work to the world 24 hours a day... and they do this while only charging 20 cents to list an item and a 3.5% commission. When I did consignment with local San Francisco boutiques they wanted 50%. And most street fairs and festivals have such expensive table/vendor fees ($150-500) on average that most vendors don't even break even with the very best day of sales. Etsy comes with it's own shoppers. So, not only can I refer my friends, family, and clients to my Etsy page, but also through my product photos and manipulating my product description searches, (SEO: search engine optimization) I can access shoppers from all over the world.
In addition to designing bags you sell greeting cards, fashion prints and cute coin purses on your Etsy marketplace storefront. What tips do you have for designers looking to showcase on Etsy?
Make sure that your product title is what someone would type in find your product and use the entire space allotted. (Example: Large Floral Tote Bag, Large Floral Handbag, Pink and Yellow Tote Bag, Tote Bag with Pink Flowers, etc.) Use every variation you can think of, and follow this up by using all of your Tags and Materials slots within your product listing. All of these combined will help pull new customers to you.
Also, choose a couple of social media platforms to promote your business and really focus on them. I have Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and a business Facebook Page, but I pretty much just focus on Instagram and my Facebook page which I update daily. I love Instagram because I'm such a visual person and I enjoy showing my Handbags and Illustrations. It's also a great way to get people to check out my Etsy page. Be sure to link your accounts to cross promote and use those hashtags.
My biggest tip is to release your new items on your Etsy page in collections / product lines. I've found that putting out items 10-20 pieces at a time will draw more attention than just adding them randomly here and there. I chose to release my new product lines on the first of each month. All month I can show people my creative process, peeks at new items, and slowly build to the next exciting reveal. This makes each new collection an event and something people will start to look forward to look for. By the way, my new collection is called Luxe Colours by Charo Cassandra. It will be a combination of Tote Bags, Handbags and 2 new styles, Cross Body Bags and Wristlets.
I will look out for them. When it comes to designing, what is your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moments are when people who've purchased an item send me a picture of it in use. Most recently, a high school classmate of mine purchased one of my Retro Print Floral Totes as a gift to his goddaughter. He sent me a picture of her holding it and said she loved the Vintage look and can't wait to carry it when she goes back to school in NYC. How cool is that!
Very Cool! What do you like most about being a freelance designer?
I love the freedom to do whatever comes to mind. I love that I have full creative control of my designs and there are no limits to what I can sell. I also really love working on packaging and product photography and even marketing. I find every aspect of my business fascinating.
What is the biggest challenge of being an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge is not letting the need to earn money rob me of the joy of creating. This is my passion in life and I love it. But, it is a business and I have to pay bills like anyone else. I want to see my business flourish so I have to be aware of new trends and what people want to buy. Supporting oneself through art can take a toll on people. I try and keep a balance in my life and my business. So far... I'm doing ok.
Where can people find you?
Facebook: Charo Cassandra Handbags
Thank you for joining me, Sandy, and sharing your tips with our audience. It was interesting to learn about your creative process and how technology is opening up doors for freelance designers. We will certainly keep an eye out for your new styles and wish you the best for your marketplace!