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Reflecting on my slow-fashion business in 2023! [What worked and what flopped??]


charlie darwin textiles

Ok, I hope this paints a picture for you: 2023 felt like I was put into a jar with a bunch of marbles and glitter and honey and teeth and then shaken really vigorously. It felt loud and bright and sticky and sometimes uncomfortable. Can't picture it? I had AI try to illustrate it for you! 😂


ai images of women in glitter

There was SO MUCH of everything all at once and as I look back, I cannot believe the energy that still continued to pour out of me...


Since becoming a small biz owner, I have started to look forward to the New Year as a time for reflecting on what the hell just happened and planning for everything to come! This year, that sappy self-reflective vibe has TRIPLED in strength because of some big symbolic and physical changes...

1) New Year, New Me ™, ✨

2) I just turned 30 in December! 🎂

3) I moved to Philadelphia a week ago and am sitting in a whole new sewing room, ready to make some new connections here! 🏡



It feels like a lot at once. But seriously... that is how ALL of 2023 felt to me, as I grew my handmade linen clothing business, was a student and teaching assistant in an anthropology PhD program, started a YouTube channel, ran a citizen science research project, and often traveled long-distance to visit my partner on the east coast.


But now I'm here, I'm present. I've simplified. Things are already slower, quieter, and calmer. So while I've got a second to take a breath, I want to share with you what ✅ worked and what ❌ flopped for my handmade clothing business last year!


 

✨ First, let's talk about the intentions that I set, and how well I stuck to them. Then I'll go on to reflect on each of the big projects!


 

🎯THE INTENTIONS PART:


My 2023 word of the year was "DEPTH". The previous year (2022) was all about EXPLORATION for me-- I had tried a lot of new things in my slow fashion business and hadn't dug very deep into any of them. So in 2023, I wanted to go deeper on my already existing products, marketing, and systems. Here's what that looked like...


👖Products: I threw the proverbial spaghetti-at-the-wall back in 2022 by adding 56 (!!) new products to my website... and so things needed some fine-tuning! In 2023, I decided to focus my energy on my BEST SELLERS from the previous year... (linen clothing, broadly, and garments like the CANARY shirt and SWALLOWTAIL pants, more specifically). I felt these designs resonated most with you all, so I wanted to really honor their value instead of just breezing past them and adding 56 more new products. Here's what I did...

  • I created a 'best sellers' tab on my website and promoted these in every email newsletter I sent out

  • I created/sold a digital sewing pattern of that best-selling shirt (CANARY)!




📢 Marketing: Instead of the spray-and-pray tactics I took in previous years, I wanted to focus on casting a net to people who already understand the value of sustainable fashion and love what I'm offering... I'd just be creating EASY PATHWAYS TO SAYING “YES” for them. When finding new customers this year, I leaned away from thinking of marketing as convincing any potential buyers to shop with me, to instead seeking a better-fit audience that requires little to no convincing-- people who are already looking for what I am offering and just making sure that my marketing and website help lead them to it! This meant being more open and clear online about my ethos, voice, intentions, and materials so that my values and creations are more obviously magnetic (and search-able) to like-minded people! I try to do this a lot in my YouTube videos, like this one:



👋 Systems: Thinking about emotional depth, I set the intention that this business needs to be PERSONALLY FULFILLING, intentional, and fun-- the tasks and projects need to “just feel right” to me, or I'm not going to find the energy/time to do them. In line with this intention, my email newsletter became more infused with my voice, I FINALLY got off of Instagram after years of it bringing me anxiety, frustration, and disappointment. I also made up silly projects like the Shirt-to-Dirt experiment where I sent linen to hundreds of people across the country to bury in their backyards, and I had my dad model in my Fall Collection photos with me because it sounded fun. I basically just started doing things the way it felt right to me, instead of using textbook business models and templates. And that paid off, big time.

unisex linen clothing

 

🪡THE PROJECTS PART:

Now I'll talk more specifically about the bigger projects I took on this year, and share which ones worked, and which ones flopped!


Spring Collection 2023

The designs... ❌ FLOPPED

Well, the first clothing collection did not blow anyone out of the water! 😂 Due to the energy it took for me to get acclimated to my Ph.D. program the previous season, I had sort of taken a marketing hiatus for about 6-7 months leading up to this launch, so I am honestly not surprised I didn't see as many sales from this collection. But what is most important is that this project got my creative juices flowing for the year!


This spring collection was the first to feature a new dye color, Cutch pink!

It was also the first time I had my sister as my photographer and I invited a friend to be in the photos with me-- while these factors may not have increased sales, they strongly increased my morale with the photoshoot process!


womens linen romper with ruffles

 

Biz planning: Notion (software),

Wandering Aimfully (business coaches),

& giant whiteboards (the things you write on)

✅ WORKED - BIG TIME

About a month later, I did a deep dive into all of the free online resources provided by Caroline and Jason Zook, who do coaching for creative businesses via Wandering Aimfully (their podcast and email newsletter have shaped a lot of my business intentions and approaches this year). I wasn't ready to commit to their business coaching program, but I was able to snag their business planning template for Notion and it has been LIFE CHANGING (and I don't say that lightly). Notion as a standalone software is great to use as a hub for organizing projects / taking notes, and the template I got from Wandering Aimfully is basically now the digital brain of Charlie Darwin. I feel so much more clarity around my goals and I genuinely think this is how I kept up with so many projects this year without completely unraveling in my metaphorical jar of glitter and honey and teeth.


But the computer often feels a little bit too small and intangible for me, and I've always craved just exploding my ideas all over the walls. So, around this time, I also got 3 giant whiteboards (well, technically just one of these for $20 at home depot, cut into thirds) and I literally towed them around the apartment with me wherever I wanted to think big.



 

Shirt-to-Dirt citizen science project

✅ WORKED!

I've been yapping for a couple of years about how linen is so eco-friendly and biodegradable-- but I didn't have any proof... yet. First I thought "I should bury some fabric and see how long it takes to decompose", and then I thought.... "I should invite everyone around the country to do it with me". Artist and previous customer of my linen fabric scraps, Emma Freeman, was already using my scraps to make embroidered fabric "books" that she buried underground in a therapeutic way (how cool and bizarre is that?!) So in April, I reached out to Emma to collaborate on what came to be the Shirt-to-Dirt citizen science project! I've already written plenty about it this year, so for brevity in this post, I'll just say that Shirt-to-Dirt was a big success. We had almost 200 participants and created the first online visual database of linen biodegradation! This also helped me learn more about soil science and linen, I had such a fun time connecting with Emma on the project (we shared lots of laughs over some long Zoom calls), and it introduced me/Charlie Darwin to lots of cool people who signed up to participate. (I was also able to double-dip, and am using the project for a school thesis paper, too!)



 

YouTube

✅ WORKED!

I never knew I had a little YouTuber living inside of me. And it was not easy to coax her out-- but now that I have, I am absolutely loving YouTube. I made a couple of videos for the shirt-to-dirt project over the summer and realized how good it felt to just talk in long-form to the camera. No more bullshit of 20-second videos on IG Reels that barely convey any information at all to people who are barely paying attention. This Fall, I set up my smartphone, plugged in a mic, and wrote some YouTube video outlines. The level and depth of connection that I can make with people is SO much better than on Instagram, and I seem to be drawing much more well-fitting customers to my products.


Between the shirt-to-dirt citizen science project and the creation of my YouTube channel, my email list has more than doubled and my sales have been more steady.


My most popular YouTube video got over 36k views! And my channel qualified to get monetized just 3 days before the new year (about 4 months and 14 videos after I started really posting on there) 😊



Fall Collection 2023

✅ KIND OF WORKED

I designed the WREN shirt and ORCHID pants as a spin-off of my two best sellers (the CANARY shirt and the SWALLOWTAIL pants). I'd say this collection kind of worked because it saw medium sales, but it fully worked in that I LOVE the photos from it. My sister was the photographer again, and this time I invited my dad (who I call "Pookie") to co-model with me. He NAILED IT and so did my sister.


I've found it wise to adjust my expectations around collection "launches" for Charlie Darwin clothing-- If I base my expectations around how many of a new design sells in the first day or week, I am always very disappointed. Sometimes, I've even had designs not sell much for the first several months, but then all of a sudden become a best seller (even up to a year later)! This is why I typically keep all designs available on my website for up to a year at least.


charlie darwin textiles

 

CANARY digital sewing pattern

✅ WORKED!

I actually told myself at the beginning of the year that making a digital sewing pattern was not a good idea-- rather it would be a distraction from other things I should be doing. Well... I said F-it and did it anyway! I really wanted to test out if it was a viable product for my brand and my audience. And YES it was such a great decision! I kept expectations low for its launch because I wasn't sure if it would do well-- I had never sold a digital product, and it is also at such a low price point compared to my other products. But I sold over 70 copies of the CANARY pattern and I got great feedback from the makers! This gave me the momentum I needed to get serious about the earning potential of digital sewing patterns for my biz.



 

Holiday Craft Market

✅ WORKED!

After many bad past experiences with in-person markets, I now reserve myself for just one (well-vetted) in-person market per year. I returned to the Handmade Arcade market in Pittsburgh and while it was a very long and socially exhausting day, I met lots of cool new people and made about $2.5k in sales! Plus I was able to use my leftover inventory to run an online holiday sale after the event, and bumped up that income another $1k! It felt good to end the year on a high note!



What else worked in 2023?



Thanks for following along with my slow fashion business journey in 2023!


 

Charlie Darwin's word of the year for 2024?

 ~ROOTING~


 

Get more updates on new products, business growth, and (the rare) discounts by signing up for the Charlie Darwin email newsletter!




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