Elizabeth Caven Provides a (Digital) Pattern for Success at Startup Stories
"I've got a big vision for the company. We are going into some exciting places, and it is really all about connecting with the consumer where they already are," Elizabeth Caven proclaimed, with an air of excitement and energy consistent with that which has propelled her one-woman startup to claiming clients in all 50 states and 80 countries around the world in just its first 11 months of operation.
Caven, Founder and Owner of UpCraft Club, appeared before a capacity crowd at the November iteration of Startup Stories, a production of Square One DSM. Under questioning from Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Square One DSM, as well as members of the audience, Caven told the story of how a failed attempt to sew bloomers for her first child led to the founding of a unique and highly successful venture.
Personal Experience Leads to Startup Idea
With only the precursory familiarity with sewing garnered in the requisite home economics class of her youth, Caven had purchased a traditional printed pattern for a set of bloomers and attempted to produce them with disastrous results. Traditional patterns, she discovered, assume a skill level and familiarity with technical terms and procedures beyond the beginner level.
"Shortly thereafter I discovered the world of digital sewing patterns, and I made a dress, and I did it without any help," Caven said, explaining that digital patterns involve printing a PDF pattern at home and come complete with digital photography, and embedded videos that demonstrate and educate the consumer at whatever skill level the operate. One can literally sew with their iPad sitting next to the sewing machine, playing demonstration videos of each step in the process. "This was clearly a game changer," Caven observed of the emerging digital pattern industry.
Digital patterns further allowed independent designers to create and market patterns online, without the previous necessity to get their patterns printed and then distributed into brick and mortar sewing and fabric stores where they could be purchased. This led to the proliferation of independent designers building online retail sites for their patterns. Good for the designer in that their margin was higher, but bad in that they lacked distribution. Good for the consumer in that they were more instructional, but bad in that there were not quality standards that they could reference nor a single go-to for patterns.
Jumping into the Blogosphere
Subsequently Caven also became aware of the growing number of sewing blogs and, a blogger herself, began to make contributions to the online conversations, slowly embedding herself in the community. This community is actually growing (by seven-and-a-half percent per year since 2008, and with more than 30 million sewing machines projected to be sold world-wide per year by 2020) with people who self identify as sewists, the more modern term for those formerly known as seamstresses.
As she submerged herself in this growing world, the entrepreneurial spirit, which had engaged her before, took over and she began to see opportunity to connect designers with sewists and further to incorporate rather than eliminate the brick and mortar stores. UpCraft Club was born. An online curated pattern shop, UpCraft Club offers a one-stop shop for digital patterns serving as a distributor for the independent designers as well as a supportive and trusted source of patterns and information for the customers. Those customers can also purchase a subscription, which reduces their costs and provides them with patterns monthly. UpCraft Club has established quality standards for the patterns and certifies them, providing the consumer a money back guarantee in terms of quality.
While all this might seem to make UpCraft Club a competitor for the traditional brick and mortar stores, Caven, a winner of countless pitch competitions, has actually spun a win-win relationship there as well. Reaching out to the stores to serve as a gateway to UpCraft Club, she has created a process whereby the stores can display UpCraft Club patterns on small cards that show a picture of the finished product, the materials list, and the URL where the pattern can be purchased. The cards are co-branded, entitle the stores to earn a percentage of the pattern sale, and of course encourage the consumer to make the materials purchase from the store at the time they pick out the pattern.
"Some companies are trying to replace the store, but we want to add value to the store so we can build a win for everybody: the sewist, the store and the designer. UpCraft Club is really living in the in-between space between brick and mortar and the designers own website," she explained of the unique value proposition she has created for all involved.
"She is not creating barriers in the marketplace," Colwell added. "She is taking them out for everyone, which is why I am obviously so very high on this concept." He was clearly not alone as people lined up to chat with Caven even as the hour-long session ended.