*Edit 9/11/15: CEO of Craftsy, John Levisay, wrote an open letter in response to this post. You can find that here.
On June 17 Craftsy’s parent company, Sympoz, Inc., registered two new trademarks that appear to be for their own fabric and yarn lines. The fabric line will be called Boundless Fabrics and the yarn line will be Cloudborn Fibers.
Sympoz, Inc. created Craftsy as an online teaching platform in 2010 and has raised $106 million in venture capital since then. Craftsy has over 5 million users and offers more than 550 classes in sewing, quilting, knitting, crochet, painting, and cake decorating.
The site also offers an indie pattern marketplace and has long sold supplies to supplement the online class offerings. CEO and co-founder John Levisay, who came to Sympoz from eBay, told Forbes, ““People like to have good products and recommendations.” Customers can buy everything from watercolor pencils to fondant icing, fat quarter bundles of premium quilting cottons, and Cascade yarns. Craftsy also offers a growing array of kits for knitting, quilting and sewing.
With over 8 million members 43,000 blog subscribers, and 1.2 million fans combined on their Facebook pages, Craftsy has a huge customer base which allows them to negotiate deals with fabric suppliers that are 10-20% below wholesale (although I know this to be the case with fabric, I was not able to find a reliable source to confirm or deny that it is the case with yarn). The supplies for sale on Craftsy are then listed at below manufactured suggested retail price – a great deal for customers but a cause of anger and frustration for independently owned yarn and quilt shops.
A Raverly member who works at a local yarn shop in St. Louis, Missouri, explains, “We’ve called our reps and even the honchos at several of the above companies [Cascade, Plymouth, Berroco, Crystal Palace, and Rowan] and the party line is that once one has fallen, they all have to allow Craftsy to offer deeply discounted current lines. Why would my customer buy Cascade Ultra Pima from me for suggested retail of $9.50 when he or she can get it from Craftsy for $5.70? 27 colors of the stuff, not just discontinued colors…this is a small-business-killing move.”
A quilt shop owner I spoke with in the Boston area agrees. “This is a business model that’s intended to smash an industry. People see that when Amazon does it, but not when Craftsy does it…They have so much power and there really is no fighting them. We’ve created a gorilla in our midst.”
Over the summer Craftsy began reaching out to independent sewing pattern designers who offer print patterns asking if they’d be interested in having patterns be part of kits sold on the site. The only catch? Designers have to sell the patterns to Craftsy at 30% off wholesale. This is 5% more than designers offer to other distributors. The designer I spoke with about this told me, “I’m afraid they’re trying to be the Amazon of patterns. They are going to control the market. This could be a disruption that has long-term effects for all of us.”
Now, it looks as though Craftsy is not only selling supplies at below retail price, they’re likely going to be producing those supplies themselves. Boundless Fabrics is, right now, just a trademark and domain owned by Sympoz, Inc. so it’s still unknown how that business model will look. Cloudborn Fibers also only exists as a trademark and domain of Sympoz, although today they sent out letters to indie knitwear designers asking them to create patterns with their new yarns.
The letter says:
We here at Cloudborn Fibers have been searching long and hard for beautiful patterns — and naturally, we found you! As a top pattern shop owner and unique designer, we think you’re a perfect choice to help us launch our new yarn line, sold exclusively through Craftsy.
Carefully crafted by our yarnistas, we offer sumptuous, high-quality wools, alpacas and blends, ethically sourced and available in any weight. There’s so much possibility! That’s why we teamed up with Craftsy to create a limited number of slots for independent designers like you to show off your creativity, showcase our yarns and get some amazing exposure.
Wondering how it all works? We’ll provide you with one project’s worth of highland wool, superwash merino or alpaca yarn. We’re asking that you use this yarn and your one-of-a-kind design talents to dream up and post a free, original pattern by November 15. We’ll pick out the exact fiber and color for your project based on which perform best, but please use the attached form to describe your idea in detail. That way, we can get you the yarn that fits your beautiful project best.
Then, it’s time to get your name out there! Your pattern will get posting priority on Craftsy’s social media outlets, blog and pattern marketplace. With over 8 million members, 43,000 blog subscribers and 1.2 million combined fans on the Craftsy Knitting Club and Crochet Club (Facebook), there’s no shortage of opportunity for leveraging your lovely work. They get over 2 million pattern downloads a month!
Your design will be free for at least a year, but we don’t mind if you want to post it to Ravelry, PatternFish or any other pattern sites. It’s not a problem if pattern descriptions or photos get leaked early either, but please don’t post the pattern itself anywhere before November 15. We’ll debut all of these designs at the same time. We’ll also send you some helpful marketing materials, so you can spread the word about Cloudborn and your new pattern on social media, Ravelry, blogs and more.
While we know these deadlines are tight, we didn’t want you to miss out on a promising opportunity to reach millions with your designs and knit with amazing fiber. If you’re interested, simply add your name to this Google Form by September 8th. We’ll be in touch by September 10th with all the info you need. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with any questions to email@example.com.
We’re wooly looking forward to working with you!
Our best to you,
I contacted Craftsy for comment on the new fabric and yarn lines, but was told, “Thanks, but Craftsy has no comment on ventures we may or may not decide to pursue in the future.”
Several designers were angered by the offer of exposure as pay. One on Twitter stated, “Please, designers, check the parent co. of the “new” yarn co. that’s offering exposure w/o payment. They can afford to pay, they just won’t.” Another stated, “I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Craftsy in the past, but this complete disregard for my profession makes me want to take my patterns off your site and never go back. ‘Wooly’ looking forward to professional respect.”
I asked Casey Forbes, co-founder of Ravelry, whether Ravelry would ever get into the yarn business. “Designers do yarn, but I don’t think our brand would mean a lot in that context,” he said, “and we would be competing with friends of Ravelry. For venture-backed tech companies [like Craftsy] exploring 100 different avenues seems compulsory these days.”