Friday, 21 December 2012

Some advice to newbie indie dyer's

We frequently have people sending us e-mails asking questions for help in regards to starting their own dyeing businesses, most of the questions are innocent enquiries.
And most of the time I am really flattered that people think I know the answer's and like what I do enough to ask my advice.
Some of the questions asked are unknowingly asking for my trade secrets, the questioner's don't realise how long it has taken us to get NDS to the place it is now and that sharing all our knowledge would be a bad thing for NDS.
Success takes a huge amount of luck, skill, determination and dedication.
After 11 years I'm still learning, I still make mistakes.

So I thought I'd write this blog post to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
I'm writing this post in answer to questions from a mythical newbie indie dyer.

Identity and Customer's
I believe that at the moment the indie dyer market is saturated so you will need a product that is something totally new and exciting to gain customer's attentions.
Look at the indies you think you will be competing with and go out of your way to make sure you don't copy them.
Compare them to each other and see the how different they all are to each other, each dyer has their own distinct image and colour palette.
DO NOT copy their colours of sales techniques, it won't help.
The established dyers have very loyal customer bases, most of their customers will stay with them through thick and thin.
NDS is lucky to have customers who have been with us ever since the very early day's on eBay.
Many of our customer's have become friends and its always lovely to see them at shows
You need to understand that knitters and crocheters are an incredibly loyal and caring bunch of people.
Give the customer's something new and you will build a loyal following of your own.

NDS's very first major show was an embroidery show at the NEC in 2004.
At the time I dyed fabric and embroidery threads plus a little bit of yarn. I did some research and decided my competitors were Steph Francis and Oliver Twist's, so I thought that in theory if I undercut them a little bit I would sell loads and loads.
But I was wrong the show was a disaster. The NEC was expensive, we were completely out of our depth, we didn't have a following. It didn't matter how much under cutting we would of done our product, presentation and marketing weren't in the same league as the big names.
We made a huge loss, but I was too stupid or too stubborn to give up and luckily I had a husband who believed in me (although at that time he didn't believe in NDS - little did he know what his future held....)
so NDS carried on to fight another day.

This photo is a mock up of the NEC stand taken in 2004

So I went back to the drawing board and started dyeing wool instead of embroidery threads.
At that time there weren't many indie yarn dyers, the only hand dyer I knew was Colinette and I knew there was no way I was ever going to be them.

Understand your product
Do not be too eager to jump into the market place and start trying to sell.
Work on your identity and your craft, make sure your confident in your product and able to answer any questions that might be asked.
In the very early day's I unknowingly gave the wrong answer to a question, I thought I knew enough to wing it and I was wrong.
Also I didn't fully understood customer service, so rather than offer a full refund I tried to negotiate - bad move!
Since then I have tried to fall over backwards to make all my customers 100% happy, occasionally I don't, but at least I've tried.

If you are dyeing you need to know your yarn and dyes, will they fade, are they safe to wash etc etc
I don't know anything about chemical dyeing, so can only comment on natural dyes.
My dyes are very complex, each one has a character, it takes many months to understand a new dye we are testing.
For example we moved to Exmoor in May and we are still re-learning about the dyes we used in Suffolk.
A lot of newbie natural dyers use hedgerow dyes, which are fine for hobby dyeing.
But if you want to turn your dyeing into a business you need to use consistent and reliable dyes.
For example dandelions, onions, eucalyptus etc etc are great fun to experiment with, but can you guarantee the yarn will be the same colour in a year or even next month?
I recommend you do a lot of research into the dyes and the mordants you use, there are plenty of really good books and the Internet is full of information.
I spent several years experimenting and reading before I started dyeing yarn.
You have a responsibility to your customer's, if they are giving you their hard earned money you need to give them a product that you know intimately and have confidence in.

There is nothing worse than a half built website, it looks really unprofessional.
If you don't have time or money to build a site, open an Etsy or Folksy shop.
My very first site in 1999 was very amateurish, but it had all the essential pages.
I've spent the last 13 years refining my site, and researching what makes a good user friendly site, search engine optimisation, social networking etc etc
I've also spent that time learning and improving my photography, good photographs are essential to any Internet business.
Buy a good camera, I'm afraid point and click camera's just aren't professional enough, I believe you need to invest in a good quality SLR.
We have only had ours for a couple of years, but it makes a enormous difference
Make photo shop your best friend, remember the colours need to be as true as possible or you will end up with disappointed customers.

The  photo's below show my development, they were all dyed with madder

Don't run before you walk
Take it slowly, let your business grow organically, remember we are still in a recession and its just not sensible to invest lots of money in something you might not make work.
Wait until you are established before making major financial decisions, such as renting business premises.
You will need to dye and sell a minimum of 15 to 20 kgs a week just to pay the bills.
If you want a business like NDS you will need to dedicate your whole life to it, that means money and every waking minute.

And finally love it and have fun, if you don't love it and don't enjoy it, its time to move on and find something you do love.
Life is just too short.....


  1. Thank you I so needed to read this.
    My media is Ceramics, but I had almost been dazzled to do a big and very costly show, but thinking about it, I'm not ready.

    Better to wait a year, get my work sorted, and then do the big expensive show.

  2. Excellant and well thought out advice!

  3. Amanda the Awesome!!!
    I agree with everything you have said... especially the copying part :P
    Having pattern support for your yarns is also an added bonus...

    ♥ ♥ ♥ Much love to you and Homer ♥ ♥ ♥

    S xXx

  4. If I had told you 10 years ago that you'd be writing a blog post about business in such a commanding and confident way you would have laughed at me. You've come so far in such a short time, and having spend 25 years in business, at all levels, in both small companies and corporate, there is little I can add.
    So proud of you xxxxxxxx

  5. Hi Amanda
    Happy New Year!

    I first came across this blog only a few days before Christmas and have been thinking it a lot ever since. The advice you give is really tremendously helpful, telling it how it is which is not always what people want to hear, constructive and insightful.

    On the topic of secrets, trade secrets and what you have learned I can sympathise as it's something which I too had to grapple with. Then I had an epiphany in a workshop led by Kim Robertson at the Edinburgh Harp Festival when someone asked her how she did a particular riff. She replied like this: we harpists love to share our secrets because in giving them away we inspire someone else to pick up the harp, but no matter how much they practise it will never sound exactly the way I play it, and then they learn that the magic is not in the technique nor in the notes but in their heart and then they go and find their own secret to work on, which is what makes them individual, and then one day someone will ask them for their secret, and so it goes on, and that's how you continue to progress both as a person and as a community.
    I recently had a problem with making cream cheese at home, and got in touch with a cheese maker in Kent receiving back by the end of the day not only guidance to how to solve the problem, but also his "secret" recipe for his version of cream cheese. Of course, when it came to it, I couldn't follow his recipe exactly, and still you could identify which one was mine and which was his. My sister used to be a translator at the Ritz Cookery School in Paris where she observed that even if the top chefs did demonstrate in front of students exactly how they did their "secret" dishes, somehow the notes handed out and taken by the students often didn't catch the nuances which made it their signature dish. It's a bit like magic: you know there's a trick but you can't see it.
    That you see that you make mistakes is proof to me at least that you are well on the road to mastery not only of yourself but also your chosen creative outlet. That's what makes you such an outstanding individual who allows her rich tapestry of life experience to fill every centimetre of yarn with vitality.
    Until I read on this blog I didn't totally understand the complexity of dying with natural dyes which you have mastered, tapping into, and updating, a tradition of colour. From reading the book about Perkins who discovered synthetic dyes in Shadwell only just over a century ago I didn't realise that natural dyes are able to give you the full panorama of a rainbow round the periperhal colours. That's incredible that you've achieved that! Why don't you let us know more about that, not in commercially sensitive detail of course? And what of the beauty of the names - Madder and Eucalyptus aren't they just so evocative?
    The way you are combining patterns, colours and yarns is what sets you apart. Someone may be able to copy one of those, but not all three and who you are. When I designed for our now closed couture clothing business I realised that there had to be one thing which simply could not be copied because the effort involved would be too much. It took ages to get right but finally all our buttons, even the ones not visible, were hand embroidered, they were the most expensive part of the garment too. But it was that which made it so special that customers wanted more and more of what we were doing because it showed that we cared above and beyond. I don't know how you translate that into your business more than you are already doing, but that's why you stand out from the crowd - because you, yes you Amanda, are outstanding and have created from the apparent chaos your life went through. Congratulations on inspiring the world and keep up during 2013 and beyond.
    with love, blessings, gratitude
    Guru Kaur

  6. I am posting a link to this blog to post in Ravelry. I think you give very sage advice and are far more eloquent than I am!

    1. Fantastic, I'm glad to be a help.
      Can you send me pm me the link of ravelry as I'd love to have a read.