It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? June is generally a slow time of the year for me, so it is the perfect time for a check-in: the state of the business, the industry, the artist.
Maybe I’ll go backwards on that list. It’s always easiest to talk about myself, for some reason. [perhaps because I’m an extrovert?]
The artist needs a check-in, let me tell you.
Summer is my least favorite season. I hate the heat, everything slows down for me in every way possible – physically, financially, creatively. I have found 2018 so far to be fruitful for me in the creative sense, but monetarily, it has been challenging.
Health-wise, I discovered that my anemia is awful once again and my Vitamin D levels are terrible, too. That made sense to me, as I’ve felt run down and irritable, which is generally not how I operate. I’m currently working to fix that, and hopefully it’ll make a difference. This is something I’ve battled on and off my whole life, and no one seems to know why the anemia keeps coming back. [please no suggestions, it isn’t helpful but thank you]
Mentally-wise, I am pretty well aligned but let me tell you, some energy just does not want to leave. I have been doing a lot of work on my negative patterns – the things that one will repeat until the lesson is learned – and that work is hard. I have shared some of that thinking with you in the past, because I think that being honest about it is both helpful and illuminating. Everything’s related. It is difficult to be successful if one’s mind is not in the right place.
Creativity-wise. I am overflowing with ideas and work! I am currently working on:
- my interpretation of the next element in my Artist In Residence series [Air!]
- putting together the 2018 Tour de Fleece Team Nevermore
- conceptualizing the colorways and theme for this year’s TdF fiber
- some new ideas for teaching opportunities
- new creations for house and home, using my handspun yarn
I have to admit in this check-in, I’ve had some disillusionment concerning my sales and connections with the fiber world. I guess that leads into the next section…
When it comes to talking about the current state of Fiber Arts as a business, I’d like to say up front that I can only talk about what I have experienced or observed. Your mileage may vary, as they say – but I do talk to my fiber artist friends and I don’t think I’m having an isolated experience out here.
That being said, there’s a lot happening right now that I think has changed the fiber arts world and that affects how business is done. A big issue is how people are finding, communicating, and buying from artists has changed and shifted.
The online world has made it easier to find and buy yarn and fiber and tools whenever one wants, while wearing PJs and drinking a tasty beverage if desired. That convenience used to be as great for fiber artists as it is for shoppers – consistent sales! A reduced need to constantly drag our wares everywhere, in every weather! Instantaneous connection to patrons with questions or requests! And with Facebook and Instagram, more chances to get photos of beautiful wares in front of potential buyers!
However, market saturation and domination of Facebook and Instagram over “traditional” online outreach methods has really cut down on our ability to reach customers the way we used to. As more people join these outlets, they’ve decided to try their hand at selling. That’s not so bad, because dyers and spinners who sell are always coming and going,and that’s normal – but between so many new names, changes in algorithms on social media, and the lessening power of traditional website storefronts and online marketplaces like Etsy… well, it’s getting tough out there.
This over-saturation is also affecting the fiber shows and markets [and I feel craft shows as well] – at least from what I’ve seen. People spend less, take cards with the promise “to shop later,” and seem to concentrate more on things that are show-specific like limited colorways. I feel like people might also be more afraid to spend as much because of the economy and political fears and uncertainty, but that’s more speculation than hard data. It is a trend that I’ve noticed since at least the latter part of 2016, though – at least in my observation.
The glut of fiber-related groups on Facebook combined with the restrictive and confusing algorithms across the board have made it more challenging to connect with potential and past customers and followers. When I post something to the Three Ravens Studio page on Facebook, it generally only makes it to about 10% of the people who have CHOSEN to see what I post, and that’s if I’m lucky. Even if I pay for more reach, the traction that each post gets is minimal. The odds of being seen are marginally better on Instagram, but the posts I make there are very different from what I do on FB or here.
Getting noticed, even by people who really want to find you, is increasingly more difficult in these times.
I haven’t even touched on things like increased prices for materials, and shipping – especially a substantial increase in international shipping, which used to be a cornerstone of my biz. Of course, I don’t have to worry about wool prices rising if I can’t get my fiber and yarn to your eyeballs, right?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, and this is the part of my check-in which is going to be surprisingly much more personal and vulnerable than the bit above about me as an artist.
See, as an artist? I’m flourishing. Creativity is free, and I always have more ideas than I can use. My health and mental state are for certain affected by what’s happening in my business, but if I separate that part of the equation out, I am in great shape otherwise.
My bank account, maybe not as much.
Compared to 2017, I am actually doing great. However, if I look back to years previous, the sales aren’t even in the same universe! In part, this is because I am working to recover momentum lost when I broke my leg and had to slow down considerably. But all the factors listed above are really making it tough to regain speed, because I can make and make, but if I can’t get you to see it in order to buy it… yeah.
I have worked hard to try and diversify my income streams, as a responsible business owner in tough times should. I have added more teaching and more small events for selling. I’ve tried to be accessible for answering questions and offering help, hoping that my expertise will leverage into increased sales. I’ve worked to build and maintain community, despite the challenges that have arisen these days to connect. Could I do more? Absolutely. I won’t deny that. I’m sure that I miss opportunities, and there are some paths I’ve chosen to eschew, because they are not ones that light me up. I also don’t use credit cards or loans to boost my business – everything I put into it is what I’ve made, not borrowed.
I could not do this in this manner if I didn’t have some privilege; I share space and life with my mom in her house and she helps me more than I can say. I have tried this living alone and I am very bad at it, because I am bad at being alone. I know that some fiber artists make it work because they live with a spouse who works for someone else – my situation isn’t quite like that, but close enough that I can say that we are more alike than not. I am very envious, proud, and amazed by those who manage to do this without extra support. I know you work HARD!
But it is getting harder out there to do this for a living. It takes a lot of hard work and faith, white knuckles and plate juggling. I love what I do; it gives me purpose, I am good at it, and I feel that there’s important and exciting work to be done in this field to maintain and create traditions and community. But professional fiber artists can’t do it without you – you are much more important than I am!
Without your support, I and those like me cannot keep creating beautiful supplies, teaching what I’ve learned, and helping to connect and inspire others who crave creative community. Fiber farmers won’t be able to keep producing and improving the delightful fleeces and breeds we love.
We need you to buy our products and services, for sure. But just as important? We need you to share our posts and events, and comment and attend them. We need you to tell your friends about your favorite independent suppliers, and tell your LYS too. We need you to come see us face to face, at fiber shows and classes and KIPs and SIPs, and talk to us about fiber arts, and share those conversations with other people who are interested in fiber arts.
It’s not always about the money. Yes, the money pays the bills! But without a strong community, there’s never going to be money to support us, and more importantly, we won’t continue to explore where we can take fiber arts for the future while honoring a rich history.
A Check-in Conclusion:
So that’s where I am in 2018, so far, and what’s been on my mind. I am excited to see where the second half of the year takes me, and all of us.
Is there something you wish I’d covered in this check-in? Have a different experience you’d like to share, or a question to ask? I welcome you to comment here or on the Three Ravens Studio facebook page and let me know.