If you make original softies and you want to turn your toys into a business, selling your patterns is probably a good use of your time and effort. Creating a good pattern and getting it ready for sale is a significant investment up front, but once it is made you can sell the pattern in your online shop indefinitely and hopefully make a profit.
Well-written step-by-step instructions with illustrations showing how to make a beautifully constructed toy that can be instantly downloaded as a pdf? Certainly this is going to be an attractive product in your online shop. Allowing buyers to sell the toys they make from the pattern? That’s got to be a value-added feature and it very well may bring you more business!
Softie pattern designers tend to add this feature, known as a cottage industry license, by indicating in the product listing that buyers have the right to sell toys made from the pattern. Usually designers limit those rights so that the toys cannot be mass produced. And some place additional limits on the total number of handcrafted toys that can be sold.
Designers tend to charge for the license either buy raising the cost of each pattern or by selling licenses for a yearly fee. In either case, designers usually require that the seller attribute the pattern to them, some specifying exactly how exactly the designer is to be credited by affixing special hang tags to the toys or at least including a link back to the desingers site if the toys are to be sold online. Some designers require licensees to sign a contract, other use more of an honor code.
For this post I did quite a bit of searching for softie designers that have made the decision to add this allowance. I wanted to ask them how its gone. I wondered what led up to the decision to offer a cottage industry license on their patterns and if they have indeed seen increased sales. Have buyers generally been respectful of the license and the limitations? I wondered if they are happy with the decision.
The first designer that came to my mind when I began thinking about this post was Hillary Lang. In June of 2011 Hillary began offering a cottage industry license for sale on her site for $125. The license allows makers to sew and sell nearly all of her toys. I asked Hillary if she would share how the experience has gone for her thus far. Hillary said she didn’t think she could be of much help, that the licenses were everywhere and people were asking about them so she decided to offer them. She referred me to a few other designers she knew of that also offered licenses.
Another toy maker that came to mind was Pauline from FunkyFriendsFactory. Pauline and I have been chatting and I think I will do a separate post in the coming weeks about our converstaion. We will discuss this topic among others.
I kept searching for a softie designer that was willing to speak freely and share their experiences, for better and worse, with the wider craft community. At Hillary’s recommendation I reached out to Larissa from mmmcrafts and was really excited that she was willing to share with us how offering cottage industry licenses has gone for her. You can visit Larissa’s shop on Etsy here and her pattern shop on Craftsy here.
All images below are of Larissa’s toys and are posted with her permission. Thank you, Larissa!
Here is what Larissa told me in her own words:
“I struggled mightily with this, believe me. I had so many sweet requests from readers to sew and sell my designs and I felt like if they were honest enough to ask then maybe I should make that an option somehow, especially when I am unable to devote the time to make a lot of items and sell them myself these days.
The No Commercial Selling policy just seemed a little too restrictive when some of my customers only wanted to make and sell the items to their friends who didn’t sew. I find that being the Pattern Police is no fun at all. I’d much rather design patterns than spend my time worrying about how home sewers use them.
I did make a very brief foray into selling limited licenses for my sewing patterns. I think it lasted a couple of days. LOL. I had done extensive research around the web on various cottage industry pattern designers to get a feel for what the standard was and then I launched my own version of the limited licenses on my blog. Then maybe two days after that I took the page down and put the whole thing on hold to do more research.
It had come to my attention during that time that there is a lot of conflicting information out there about
1) exactly what copyright is
2) what it applies to and
3) what it does and does not cover in the case of pattern design
I spoke with a lawyer I know and did some extensive reading of US Government copyright law handbooks. I highly recommend those government handbooks if you are having trouble sleeping! I did end up with a much better picture of what copyright law in the US is, and I can be confident that my images, designs, written patterns and illustrations are definitely protected under those laws.
What was not clear was how copyright extends to how a person uses a pattern. I wrote to the US copyright office to ask some specific questions about how copyright applies to patterns and commercial selling. I’m still waiting for an answer. Perhaps I will receive an answer some day as I’m rocking on the porch of my nursing home.
I also contacted the big pattern makers like Simplicity, McCalls and Vogue to ask them about their copyright and how it applies to selling items made from their patterns. Even among those three I received conflicting answers along with suggestions that I contact their legal team with my name and address if I wanted to pursue it.
I concluded that
1) I did not have a clear enough understanding of copyright law as it applies to cottage industry licenses.
2) I cannot afford to retain a bevy of corporate lawyers.
3) Even if I did have enough money to retain the lawyers that I’d much rather spend it on fabric and paper. And frothy coffee.
4) I needed to find a solution that I could feel confident about.
So I started looking for examples of successful pattern designers who have an open policy about cottage industry. There are many, but one in particular that was encouraging to me at the time was Bit Of Whimsy Dolls (http://www.bitofwhimsydolls.com/). I had purchased some patterns from her etsy shop in the past and had noted her open policy about toy selling. She seemed to be enjoying great success not only from her pattern sales but also her own handmade doll sales. It helped to confirm that an open policy was worth a try.
And that is how I arrived at my current cottage industry policy. I don’t want to come off as preachy — There are many designers who have made a great success of both Non Commercial policies and the selling of limited licenses. It’s just not a great fit for me!
A resounding yes! In the end, opening up my policy to welcome cottage industry from my sewing patterns just felt right to me. It was like a huge weight off. It’s just more my style. I know as an enthusiastic indie pattern purchaser myself that I love having that option included by the designer. As a business owner, it also lifts away paperwork and clerical record keeping and I’m able to focus on what I love to do. Create.
Would you recommend it to other toy designers? Any reservations?
I’m not sure I can tell other toy designers what’s right for them. All I know is that it is the best option right now for me personally. My reservations would only be that if you do allow commercial sales that you find some way to be compensated/credited properly for your designs so that your open policy could in turn benefit future business, and that you also make it clear how your copyright protects your brand. Just because folks can sell items made from your patterns does not transfer them the copyright for your designs. It’s two different things.
Not so far! I really believe that the majority of the cottage industry sellers out there have kind intentions and conduct themselves with honesty. Most people who love to sew can understand what goes into a pattern design and so they have an insight to the hard work involved. Every day I receive emails from sweet readers who just want to share their thanks and tell me about their success. It really makes my day.
I don’t actively police the web looking for violations but one thing I did run into randomly was an Etsy seller who was using my pattern to make and sell items without listing a credit for the pattern design. When I contacted her (very nicely) to ask that she include a credit in the listing I found that she was completely unwilling to admit that she was even using my design. I always find that kind of thing very discouraging and completely mystifying. It’s not a lot to ask. Especially since that particular pattern is free.
I read the rules and limitations your set out and wondered if those have worked for you.
They seem to have worked fine so far. I have gotten nothing but encouraging emails about the new policy and my pattern sales are trending up.”
Larissa, thank you! You have to be brave to be willing to share your real experiences with people and I give you so much credit both for offering these licenses and for your willingness to take part in this post.
So what do you think?
If you don’t already offer a cottage industry license, would you consider it? Which model appeals to you – charging up front for a year’s priviledge (and how much do you think that should be worth? Gail Wilson charges just $35 a year) or adding a few dollars to the cost of each pattern?
If you do offer a license already, we would love to hear about your experiences.
And if you’ve bought a license, or a pattern that includes one, was it an attractive feature to you?
Let’s learn from one another and hopefully each of us will be better able to evaluate whether this might the right move for us in our own softie businesses!
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