This summer marks an important milestone for Helen’s Closet; it is our 5 year business anniversary! Back in the summer of 2016 we launched our very first pattern, the Winslow Culottes. I am full to the brim with gratitude as I look back on these 5 years and how far we have come. It’s truly been life-changing to be a part of this community and have the opportunity to create and share my work with you. Thank you so much for following along!
To celebrate this milestone, we are having a summer sale! Grab 25% off most patterns in the shop, with the exception of the new Reynolds Top and Dress and the Sandpiper Swimsuit, which are both 20% off. The sale ends August 23rd at midnight PST!
We have launched four amazing new patterns this year so now is a great time to add them to your sewing queue! Try the Jackson Tee and Pullover, the March Top and Dress, the Reynolds Top and Dress, and the Sandpiper Swimsuit!
I want to take this opportunity to do a bit of reflection on my journey. Six years ago, I discovered the online sewing community. I stumbled upon one sewing blog and then another and another until I was well and truly down a rabbit hole—and it was the most wonderful thing I could have ever imagined! I know that sounds really corny, but it felt very much like stepping into a new world. One that was full of creative people and fun clothes and so much kindness! It felt like coming home in a strange way, and even though I couldn’t see into the future and predict that I would become a pattern designer, I had a strong feeling that this was it. This was where I was supposed to be!
I started my blog, Helen’s Closet, that summer in 2015. I committed to blogging one project a week because I was just so excited to create and share and be a part of this community! I will say, sharing one garment a week was no small feat and was certainly not a requirement to participate in the sewing world. Far from it! It was just a challenge I set for myself because I was interested in blogging, online community, and of course, indie sewing! When I discovered indie patterns, I was hooked. The designs, the instructions, the hashtags—it was just SO MUCH FUN! I re-learned sewing from indie pattern makers and their wonderful designs, and it was the beginning of my love-affair with patterns. Some of my first patterns included Sewaholic, Closet Core, Grainline Studio, True Bias, Megan Nielsen, and Deer and Doe. These designers showed me what was possible with sewing patterns and I will be forever grateful!
You can scroll back in my blog archives to the beginning of Helen’s Closet to see my earlier makes! It’s fun to have this sewing journal to reflect on. Over the past six years, we have published 580 blog posts. Nearly 100 posts per year!! Here are some of my early makes on the blog.
In the summer of 2016 I launched my first pattern, the Winslow Culottes. I often get questions about how I got into pattern design like, “what training did you do to become a pattern designer?” or “what skills does one need to be able to do this work or start a pattern company?” Well, I am self-taught in most areas of pattern design and I do not consider myself to be an expert by any means. In the beginning, I took the Pattern Workshop online course to learn the basics of pattern drafting and creating indie patterns, which was extremely helpful. This is how I created our first pattern, the Winslow Culottes. Since then, I have worked with very talented pattern drafters and graders to develop the rest of our collection. It was clear to me that my strengths lay elsewhere and I should leave the drafting to the pros. I am still very involved in the process from start to finish, especially when it comes to the initial concept, evaluating drafts and tweaking things until we get the right fit and proportions for each design.
As far as what other skills you need to run a business like this, I have some education and professional experience that supports my business immensely. I studied graphic and web design in college and worked as a graphic designer, 3D designer, and front-end web designer/developer prior to starting HCP. I ran a freelance graphic and web design business that helped me gain some entrepreneurial skills, too! This experience allowed me to create a blog and online store and, of course, design the instruction booklets for the patterns (my favourite part!) Aside from that, it’s all been learning as I go! Things like marketing, social media, and accounting were all pretty new to me. The learning curve was STEEP at times but, when I look back, I am so proud of all that I have learned and accomplished over these 5 years and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
I spent two years running Helen’s Closet and working at my day job before the business was at the point where I could make it my full-time-gig. It was challenging to do both, and I worked a lot of evenings and weekends. Thankfully, I felt very motivated by my work and inspired by the community so it always felt worth it! I’m probably looking through rose-coloured glasses because I know there were some tears and struggle. But, for the most part, I think of it as a time of huge growth and exploration. It was so exciting to put our first few patterns out there in the world and see people making them!
In the summer of 2017, the company I was working for was sold to a larger organization and we were going through some big changes. It spurred me to think about working on Helen’s Closet Patterns full-time. The idea actually scared me! I was not at a point financially where I was making enough money to ‘make the leap’, but I wondered if I had more time to put into HCP, maybe the financial success would follow? This is a phase in entrepreneurship that is so hard to nail down. How do you know if you are ‘ready’ to start a business or take your side hustle to the next level? You don’t, really! I am so grateful for my partner, Sam, and my family who encouraged me and offered me the peace of mind that even if it didn’t work out, it would be worth it to try. So I did! That summer, I quit my day job and started working from home running my pattern business full-time.
Coincidentally, that summer also marked another milestone in my journey. I was at the celebration dinner for the sale of my former employer’s company and I got a text from my friend Caroline. “Hey, not sure if this would interest you, but would you want to start a sewing podcast with me?” I immediately replied “YES!!!!!” and Love to Sew was born. Well, not quite that simple, but you get the idea. Then followed months of planning and coordination, but thankfully I had the time to do it since I had just quit my job! Sometimes the timing is just perfect.
The next two years are a bit of a blur. Learning how to be productive while working from home in our one-bedroom apartment. Designing patterns and figuring out how to market them and build my customer base. Recording a podcast every week with Caroline and navigating running a business with her. My partner, Sam, left his day-job to work for the podcast and then also for Helen’s Closet, so we were living and working from home together! Countless accounting questions, marketing fumbles, pattern mistakes, and meltdowns. That’s the honest truth. Five years feels like such a short time when you look back and, in hindsight, I was overthinking a lot of the time. It’s hard to take a step back sometimes when you run a business and everything feels monumental. It took me a couple years to get my feet under me and relax into it. If I could go back in time and talk to myself during this time I would have simply said “you don’t need to do it all”!
It was when I realized I needed help that my business really began to grow. I got an office space and an employee to help me. It was another leap of faith and I’m so glad I took it because it created a much-needed separation between “me as a person” and “me as a business owner”. There was physical distance because my living space wasn’t also my office, and it helped me to get more comfortable letting other people do things. I’ll always be so thankful for my first assistant, Chloe, and our lovely office space in Vancouver!
As some of you may know, Sam and I have since moved from our home in Vancouver to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. This was a huge move for us personally and it also meant another move for Helen’s Closet. This time I was moving the business back into my home space. I was apprehensive, but we found a house with a great big garage that I could turn into my studio. I’m currently there, sitting at my desk writing this article! Moving meant working alone in my space once more but I didn’t want that to mean taking on all the work myself again. I decided to try hiring freelancers to help me with various things and it has been SO great. I now have 5 freelancers who help me each week with everything that goes into running Helen’s Closet Patterns. Drafting, grading, sample sewing, graphic design, marketing, social media, editing, customer support, and more! I still dabble in all areas and ‘keep the wheels on’. Each day is different and I really enjoy having so many talented sewists contributing to the business! Sam is still working for Helen’s Closet as our customer support expert and photographer. He’s also always there to talk things through or be a shoulder to cry on. Thank you, Sam!
In the past five years we have released 18 patterns and 2 pattern expansions, published 580 blog posts, released 184 episodes of the Love to Sew Podcast, and we are nearing 100k followers on Instagram! I could never have predicted this is where we would be in 5 years and I am so proud of what we have accomplished so far. It still feels like the beginning! I can’t wait to continue with our pattern line and whatever else we decide to tackle in the future. My love for sewing has only gotten stronger and I have loads of ideas for future projects. My top priority moving forward? To have fun! These past 5 years have taught me so much and made me realize that if you are enjoying yourself, others will want to join in. Is that the secret to a successful business? Maybe!
One thing that I am really proud of with my business is our efforts to donate a portion of our revenue to charity. We donate to various organizations that support people who need housing, food, and help with substance abuse. We have gone from donating 1% of our HCP revenue to 5% over the years as well as donating 20% of our podcast revenue. It has been so amazing to be able to give back financially and make a difference through selling our sewing patterns!
Before I wrap up I want to say thanks!
- Thanks to YOU for reading this blog and being a part of my journey
- Thanks to my parents for always encouraging me in my creative endeavors
- Thanks to my partner, Sam, and my family and friends for the endless support
- Thanks to all my pattern testers, particularly those who helped me in the very beginning before I even had a business to speak of
- Thanks to Caroline for making Love to Sew with me and being the best business partner a girl could hope for
- Thanks to all the freelancers and employees who have helped me along the way
- Thanks to all the listeners of Love to Sew
- Thanks to my fellow pattern designers for lifting me up and encouraging me
- Thanks to the whole sewing community for being so freaking awesome!
The list goes on and on and if you are still reading this, thank you again. It truly means so much to me that you take the time to support me and Helen’s Closet. Cheers to the next five years!
Remember, to celebrate this milestone we are having a summer sale! Grab 25% off most patterns in the shop, with the exception of the new Reynolds Top and Dress and the Sandpiper Swimsuit, which are both 20% off. The sale ends August 23rd at midnight PST!