Digital patterns have become an established part of the sewing scene over the past few years. Without the upfront cost of printing patterns and the distribution costs of getting those pattern into stores, the barrier to entry to becoming a designer is lower than it’s ever been and hundreds of new designers have flooded the market. Pattern designers who were working before PDFs became prevalent have now added a digital option for customers who want to order and download a pattern immediately to print at home. Even McCalls has digital patterns now.
The online sewing community has long lacked a centralized place to search for, read about, and bookmark patterns of interest. Without a sewing equivalent to a site like Ravelry, we find out about patterns from a scattered set of sources, everything from blog posts to Facebook groups to Instagram photos. New designers and veteran designers alike find it difficult to get seen amidst the sea of available options.
This challenge has led to some creative marketing solutions, one of which is to work collaboratively with other designers. Several designers come together to create a bundle of patterns around a similar theme and put it for sale at a discounted price for a limited time. Each designer works to promote the bundle and together they boost sales for everyone while growing their own audiences.
From a consumer perspective pattern bundles are an attractive product. When you buy a bundle you’re likely to discover designers you might like while also getting patterns by designers you’re already familiar with, and you get a big savings as well. “I buy a bundle if there are a couple of things I would have bought anyway,” says sewist and blogger Sara Curtis. “I love that I have a chance to try patterns I may never have considered otherwise.”
Until recently sewing pattern bundle sales have been organized and run by designers and bloggers who are already established in the online sewing community. The SewFab bundle was run by blogger Jenny Yarbrough of The Southern Institute, the BundleUp bundle is run by Robin Hill of Pattern Revolution, and Perfect Pattern Parcel by Jill Dorsey of Made by Moxie.
The logistics of organizing, marketing, and selling pattern bundles can be intense. Curating a selection of patterns that will appeal to a wide audience is itself a complex task. “We work three months out and start each Parcel by thinking about what our customer will be wanting to make during the time the sale is set to launch,” explained Jill Dorsey. “Is she getting read for summer and warm weather? Is it back to school and the holidays are approaching?” Robin Hill approaches it this way, “Things we look for are fashion forward designs that can be mixed and matched through the bundle to make a complete wardrobe. We also make sure to include both knits and wovens and a large range of sizes.”
Once the organizer has identified designers and patterns, some bundle organizers send out contracts and W-9 forms to the designers they’re working with. “We sign contracts with our designers,” Jill explains. “It covers ownership, confidentiality, how everyone is paid, and how the sale is run. Our goal is to have everything 100% clear and in black and white. Designers send us tax forms, as well as images and the pattern files.”
Once the patterns have been chosen, the work is just beginning. “Hundreds of hours go into a Perfect Pattern Parcel even before a collection goes public,” Jill says. “During a sale there are servers to keep eyes on, PayPal errors to stay on top of, customer questions to answer, blog tours to be run, and social media avenues to share everything through. The two weeks that a Pattern Parcel sale is on are hectic and stressful. There are times we ask ourselves why are we doing this?”
Pattern bundles were a hot topic online this past week as we saw a new bundle come onto the scene from a company that had been previously unknown to the craft community. The DIY Bundle went on sale on January 21 for five days. It was the largest bundle yet, with 76 digital files, and had the greatest discount at just $34.95 for $1,200 worth of product. In addition, the DIY Bundle came with four corporate sponsors, including Craftsy, and included access to your choice of one of Craftsy’s most popular classes.
The reaction among pattern consumers was mixed. One sewist who has bought pattern bundles in past told me she had mixed feelings about this one. “I’m all for sales, and I will admit to waiting until patterns are on sale before I buy,” she said, “but at what point are we cheapening the value and promoting the values of ‘more more more’?”
“It just seemed cheap to me,” another said, describing the website and promotional materials as “like an as seen on tv product.”
“If I’m going to be in a bundle I would rather it was one organized by a group of like-minded pattern designers than someone commercial who just thinks of our hard work as ‘widgets’,” another quipped. “Makes me wonder what’s the catch?”
Others felt it was an amazing deal. “I got mine the first day also and LOVE it! So much stuff for a crafty person. Just the free sewing patterns alone are worth triple that!” said one. “I purchased one the first day it went on sale and I LOVE it – so many great things! I absolutely got my money’s worth!” another agreed.
Ultimate Bundles is run by a married couple, Stephanie and Ryan Langford. The Langfords foray into internet business began seven years ago when Stephanie’s started a natural living blog with a Christan theme called Keeper of the Home. Ryan brought his background in sales and marketing to the blog, optimizing it for ad revenue, and it began to make money. Stephanie still has the blog, although it is managed by a team of administrators and contributors now.
The Langfords are a homeschooling family with four children. They have several other online businesses including EntreFamily, about their homeschooling and entrepreneurial lifestyle.
I asked Ryan Langford to tell me about the history of Ultimate Bundles. “We started with the initial concept in September of 2012, as a promotion on Stephanie’s blog. When the promotion proved successful, we partnered with Erin Odom to open a new niche, which was also a huge success for us. Since then, we’ve launched 6 more promotions (5 more bundles), and have been ramping up to 6 per year in a variety of niches.”
It turns out bundling digital goods is good business. Ultimate Bundles has created the Christian Living Bundle, the Homeschooling Bundle, and the Healthy Living Bundle among others. The DIY Bundle was their latest release and seems to have been highly profitable for the designers involved, and perhaps for the Langfords as well. Each contributing author earned a 75% commission on bundles they sold through their affiliate links during the five days of the sale. Authors also earn a bonus based on affiliate sales of non-author affiliates. One participating author told me, “It would have taken a loooooong time to make this much from the patterns I contributed! Maybe my expectations were too low, but as of right now, I’m $200 over my personal sales goal. I’m a happy girl.”
Working with Ultimate Bundles is certainly less stressful for designers than organizing a pattern bundle themselves. “We’ve had number of folks who’ve run bundles before join our team of authors and affiliates,” Ryan told me. “Several of them have told us that they can actually make more money and eliminate a whole lot of stress by selling our bundles. We invest a huge amount of time and money to do them right. It takes a team of about 5 of us 3 months of intense work to put together one of these bundles, and we can spend as much as $70K-$80K before we ever sell a single bundle.”
Selling digital products is a solid way to make money online. With a single upfront investment of time and resources to create the document and set up the shop listing, you can earn passive income from a digital file indefinitely with no inventory and no shipping costs. And in a community like ours that lacks a central hub, having a third-party curate a set of patterns and digital products, bundle them together, and offer them at a steep discount is an attractive product. And for designers and authors, working together to build momentum for a launch is smart marketing.
Ryan Langford put it this way, “Our core philosophy is that everybody needs to win: The customer, the authors, the affiliates, our bonus partners, and – in the end – us.”