These posts and discussions got me thinking about my own opinions around pattern testing, which in turn, got me thinking a bit about indie patterns in general and some of the things that many of the indies could do a little better to improve their product.
I don't want to armchair quarterback here. I know that as the head of an indie pattern company, you have to wear many hats:
- Fashion designer: You have to come up with attractive designs that people will want to sew and wear.
- Pattern drafter: You have to either draft the pattern yourself or outsource to a reliable pattern drafter.
- Technical writer: You have to write the instructions for your pattern. This process includes sewing up samples and illustrating or photographing the steps. You need to evaluate your target customer and make decisions about how much or how little detail to include in your instructions. Writing clear, usable instructions is an art form; it's also why I have a job.
- Production coordinator: For companies that offer printed patterns, you have to coordinate the printing and packaging of your product.
- Web Master/Marketing/social media manager: Maintain (or have someone maintain) your web site and maintain your social media presence so that people are actually aware of your patterns and want to buy them.
With that in mind, I've created a wish list of things that I like to see from a pattern company that will generally make me more inclined to spend money on that company's patterns. I've noticed these things either completely missing or poorly executed from at least a handful of pattern companies and generally shouldn't be a whole lot of extra work to implement.
(Note that I'm not mentioning anything about expanding size ranges, since I discussed that in a previous post, and I don't want to harp on it.)
Here's my wish list:
- Include a technical drawing in the listing for all of your patterns.
The drawing could be as simple as a fashion sketch, although it should be an accurate reflection of the actual pattern. Fashion photos are pretty, but sometimes the obscure details of the pattern.
- On a related note, photograph your sample garments on a real person, so that we can see what the pattern looks like when it's made up.
I'd love to see the photo shoot include models of different shapes and sizes so that we can tell how the garment looks on different body types. Barring that, add a photo gallery or link to an online photo sharing group so that your customers can at least share their finished garments. That works, too (sometimes even better than a very-stylized photo shoot).
- Make your size chart easy to find, and tell us what bust cup size your patterns are drafted for.
I shouldn't have to hunt through your web site, or even worse, type "size chart" into a search field to see the size range for your pattern line. Ideally, include a "Size chart" or "Sizing" tab in the navigation bar of your web site. At the very least, include your size chart as an image for the individual pattern listing on your online store.
Some European companies will just list the European size range in the pattern description ("Drafted for sizes 34-44"), which is better than nothing, but if I don't have those sizes memorized and am on the border of your size range, I still have to go searching externally to see if I fit your pattern range.
Along with your size chart, list the cup sizes that you draft for somewhere on your web site. Very few companies mention cup size, but this parameter is really important for most women (not just the large busted) in determining what pattern size we should start with.
- Include a "figure flattery" key for each pattern, like Vogue does.
This seems like a no-brainer, but Vogue seems to be the only pattern company that does this, and I find it immensely helpful in choosing designs that will flatter my body type.
If you draft for a specific body type, please state that somewhere and be up front about it. I will probably never sew a Sewaholic pattern because I couldn't be any further from the body type that Tasia drafts for, BUT I love that she drafts specifically for a pear body shape and embodies this in both her sizing and styles. Outside of Sewholic, SBCC (who drafts for regular and plus sized petites), and a handful of others, few pattern designers mention a specific body type or size as their target. If you're drafting for a specific body type, embrace that, and I bet your customers will, too.
- Make PDF versions of your patterns available, at least for basic things like tops and simple skirts.
I know, I know. Not everyone likes PDF patterns. But some people do, and they make your patterns accessible to a much larger audience. I'm not naive enough to think that this doesn't involve a lot of work, but I would guess that it's probably a good investment of your time.
For the indie pattern makers who blog and who offer both PDF and paper options, I'd be really curious to see what the breakdown is for your percentage of sales for one vs. the other.
- If you do offer PDF download patterns, make sure that you provide some sort of guide for lining up and taping pages.
If you've sewn a variety of PDF patterns, you've probably experienced this: You've excitedly printed out a pattern that you just downloaded, are ready to dive in, spread out the printed papers and...scratch your head. The pattern includes no key or guides for lining up and taping, and assembling the pattern itself becomes akin to working on a jigsaw puzzle. Or, maybe you had no problem figuring out which pieces go where, but when you try to line them up, there are gaps/misalignments. Instant frustration and irritation.
If you're looking for help getting your PDFs in shape, Melissa Mora of Melly Sews/Blank Slate patterns offers an online class for this. I can't vouch for the course, but I can vouch for the fact that Melissa does an excellent job of creating extremely user-friendly PDF patterns that are well-tiled, clearly printed, and efficiently use paper without excess taping. (I'm not affiliated with Melissa beyond being a fan of her children's PDF patterns.)
- Don't assume that someone will print your PDF pattern in color.
Don't color code the different size lines on your patterns. Dashes, dots, and other line textures work better. Also don't assume that a sewist will be working from a color printout of your instructions. When you sew the samples used in your instruction photographs, keep it boring and use black thread on white fabric or other high contrast color schemes that photograph well and will be visible in a black-and-white printout.
- Have a basic freebie pattern available for download so that we can check fit, drafting, etc, before we spend $10-$20 for a pattern.
Look at a freebie pattern as a marketing tool, preferably something basic like a t-shirt or a shell. It helps get your patterns into the hands of people who are interested in trying them but want to see your instructions and check the the fit of your drafting block before spending money. Quite a few indies do offer these freebies in some form, so this "wish" is pretty low down on my list.
- Release patterns on a somewhat reliable schedule. (This helps keep your
customers interested and gives your fans something to look forward to.)
I'm a dork. I look forward to new pattern releases. I totally eat up all of the teasers that get posted in social media and elsewhere. I stalk pattern web sites to make sure there isn't a new release that I've missed, and I continually hit the "refresh" button my browser on the last day of every month looking for the new monthly StyleArc releases. Feed my illness, please.
- If you're doing a blog tour for a new pattern release, consider using bloggers of a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages.
The Curvy Collective tour for the latest Colette releases was the first time that I could recall seeing more than a single token curvy or plus sized on a pattern release blog tour. That either seems to be changing with the Curvy Collective (several of their blogs are on the tour for the new BGD skirt pattern), and I hope that the trend continues.
I know that most bloggers tend to be on the younger side, but I think it would be great to include a wider variety of ages on these tours, as well. A criticism that I've seen of some indies is that "Company X's target demographic is much younger than I am", and in some cases, that's probably true. In other cases, the bones of the pattern are a good basic that many women can wear, but the pattern/garment has been styled "younger" via fabric choice or accessories.
- As a customer, I want to know if your pattern will work on me. Detailed sizing information and photographs on a variety of figures will help me figure this out. Not everyone who is interested in your pattern will be a US size 4 with a slight hourglass figure.
- Offer a PDF download option for people who prefer that format, and make sure that your downloaded PDFs are user-friendly.