Everything you need to know about how to turn your hobby of sewing bags into a business. What to make, how to price it, marketing, where to sell
6 Essential Steps To Sell Your Handcrafted Handbags and Purses Online
If you have a passion for sewing and enjoy making your own handbags, then this is for you.
There are many reasons why people start a business sewing bags to sell online or at markets. Here are a few of the most common:
- I work fulltime in another job and find it good for my mental wellbeing
- I’m a stay-at-home mum. It helps justify my hobby and it's also my creative outlet, and sanity keeper.
- It’s just my hobby at this stage.
- It supports my bag making obsession and gives me some dollars to spoil myself with.
- I am a stay-at-home mum and now both my kids are at school I am pushing hard at my new business, making things and attending markets and trying to sell more online.
But First A Sanity Check:
No, I don’t mean that you must be insane to want to sell bags, just that you want to stay sane and happy. What really matters is that you enjoy the process and what you do.
Work within your comfort zone in every aspect of your business. Carefully think about how much time you have beside your other commitments and grow your bag making business around that.
Remember you don’t need to sell a gazillion bags to be a business. Most likely this will start as a side hustle for you, and you may just begin by making occasional bags as custom orders, and that’s fine.
Step 1. What bags to Make?
When it comes to making and selling purses, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Firstly, you should decide what kind of bags you want to make. There are many different types of purses out there, so here are a few tips:
- Choose a style that you are comfortable making and that your machine can handle.
- Consider where you want to sell them. - If you are mainly going to be selling at markets you might want a more varied style than if you are doing custom orders or selling through a website, where you may need a more cohesive style.
- Do some research and see what sells. If you want to sell at markets, go to a few and talk to those who are already doing it. Check out the online ones.
- Also check out this article about some of our customers who are already selling the bags that they sew. You’ll find it inspiring.
NOTE: Make sure that you give credit to the pattern designer. Easy enough online and at a market, if, for instance you have a selection of Harlequin pouches, put up a little sign by them. e.g. Harlequin Pouch pattern designed by Carted by Leanne.
If it's your own design, make sure people know that too :)
What types of bags sell?
Here are some styles of bag that are proven to sell well, but remember you can make anything work if you target it correctly:
- Mid-sized crossbody bags with straps that detach with D rings and swivel snap hooks
- Glasses Cases
- Shoulder sling bags
- Tote bags are starting to pick up.
- Bucket Bags
Step 2. Decide who you are making the bag for
Once you’ve decided what type of bag/s you want to make, think about who your target customer will be. For instance. If you decide you are going to make backpacks, narrow it down to find a niche. Will they be for back-packers, for bikers or maybe even for young girls aged 11-14?
You don’t have to make every bag for the same target customer, but you should have an idea as you sew as to who might want to buy it.
Ideas from those already selling their hand-crafted bags
- Working moms
- Women 30-50 years old that want functional yet pretty.
- Trendy mommies
- "My main goal is to make people excited and feel understood when they see something that I’ve made that resonates with their interests and preferences. To feel like they've never felt so included and as if it was made just for them and they feel compelled to buy it because that feeling is just so rare when shopping these days."
- "I try to make products that are unique so for instance a beautiful flower wallet sold to one older lady while the next customer bought an avengers wallet. The thing with my products is that I make them affordable for everyone, so everyone is my main/ideal customer!"
- School children. These need to appeal to Mum/Dad as well.
Step 3. What Sets You Apart?
Now you have an idea who your customer/s will be, you can think about branding and what will make you stand out from the crowd.
What is your USP?
One of the most important steps for turning your hobby into a business is to find your unique selling point, (USP). This could be anything from a specific style of bag to a colour. It might be the quality of your sewing, the fabrics or faux leather that you use for your handcrafted bags. The bag hardware that you use or just the simple utilitarian nature of your designs. Work this out and you can use that as your branding and marketing plan.
Once you've chosen your materials, you'll need to select the hardware for your bags. This includes things like handles, zippers, and closures, D rings, rectangular rings, swivel snap hooks, purse clasps, bag locks etc. Again, you'll want to choose high-quality hardware that will last. Metal hardware is often a good choice for durability.
All these little details will be what sets you apart.
Don’t get too caught up in this or stressed by it but knowing and owning your USP will give you a sense of direction in your business and make the rest of the steps much easier.
Think of it as a mission statement.
“I make giftable items with a unique twist that bring a smile to people’s faces.”
“My bags are practical totes that use traditional Kiwi designs and reflect my heritage”
“I only make bags for custom orders that require durability, so all my fabrics, faux leather and bag hardware are very high quality”
You don't have to make bags for everyone.
A common mistake is to think that you must make bags to appeal to absolutely everyone, you don’t. Just make the bags that you like but think about who you are making them for and who will buy them.
The fabrics you choose, the colours, bag hardware, designs and quality, combined with your target market, will be what sets you apart
Step 4. Where are you Going to Sell your Handcrafted Bags?
There are many places that you can sell your clutches, totes and handbags. You can sell them online, at markets and craft shows, or even in local retail stores.
If you are thinking about selling your handmade bags online, there are a few different options. You can set up your own website, sell on Etsy or a similar site in New Zealand like Felt, or even on eBay. Then of course there is Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Your Own Website
Setting up your own website will take the most time and effort, but it will also give you the most control over your prices and your branding.
It doesn’t need to cost a fortune to get started but bear in mind that there will be monthly overheads.
Shopify and Wix are popular options to set up a craft site on. Both can also integrate with Facebook Shop, meaning customers can browse on Facebook then complete checkout in your store. Shopify even tells you how you can sell your handmade bags: Build a handbag business your customers will love
Shopify also has lots of useful Apps and tools to enhance visitor experience and promote sales, many of which are free.
3rd Party Craft Market Websites
Selling on a third party website is a good option if you don't want to deal with the hassle of setting up your own website. Sites like Etsy, Felt, Trademe, or the new Amazon Handmade Artisan store may be worth checking out.
Remember however that there will be fees attached to listing and/or selling items on sites like Etsy and Amazon. This means that you may have to charge more to sell there than you would at say a market or even on your own website. It is OK to have different prices for similar items. When people are shopping online they are often happy to pay for convenience.
Etsy charges different rates, depending on whether your customer finds you direct or uses one of their marketing links.
Amazon Handmade waives the normal pro fee that it charges sellers on Amazon.com
Felt is an NZ based online market place and feed back suggests that the commission is reasonable and that they help with the marketing by sending out regular emails to their customer base.
Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest
Yes, you can sell through these social media platforms, in fact most people do.
Facebook and Instagram both have shops that you can load your hand-crafted bags into if you have a few to sell. Most people, however, sell through posts on their feed or Facebook page.
Check out the rules though. Facebook for instance prohibits selling anything on a personal profile, so take the time to set up a proper business page.
Markets and Craft fares.
You can also sell your purses at craft shows and markets. This is a good option if you make hand sewn giftable or specialized bags and wallets or if you enjoy meeting your customers in person.
Bear in mind that markets and craft shows can be a lot of work, but they can also be a lot of fun. You will have to think about presentation, set up your stall and take it down at the end of the session.
There is a dedicated Facebook group that is purely for vendors to share ideas on how to set up a stall and display their wares etc. Check out Vendor display inspiration & tips
Finally, you can sell your purses in local stores. This is a good option if you want to reach a wider audience.
You'll need to find stores, that are willing to carry your purses and then negotiate terms with them. Bear in mind that although some retailers may add a small mark-up to your product, most aim for at least a 50% profit margin. This means if they sell a bag for $150, they will be expecting to buy it from you for no more than $100.
This market is therefore generally for higher end bags or depending where you live, bags that appeal to tourists.
Step 5. Pricing
Now you know what bags you are going to make to sell, you'll need to think about pricing. Purses can range in price from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It's important to find a price point that customers will reasonably pay and that will also make you some money.
When setting prices, you'll also need to factor in the cost of materials and labour. Make sure to calculate these costs before setting your prices. You don't want to end up losing money on each sale.
It's also important to remember that prices may need to be adjusted based on the location where the purses are being sold. For example, purses sold in high-end boutiques or online, will typically be priced higher than purses at markets.
You may need to build in a margin for negotiation at a market, whereas the up-scalers who design their own bags and then sell them on Amazon will often charge more to absorb the fees. Because people like the fact that they can order a product and get it in a few days they are willing to pay a bit extra.
Do your research.
Make sure to do your research and set prices that are both affordable for your customers and allow you to make a profit.
Things to consider when pricing:
- Cost of Materials
- Your time
- Packaging and shipping
Cost of Materials
Once you've chosen your fabric, you'll need to select the hardware for your bags that require it. This includes things like handles, zippers, and closures. Again, you'll want to choose high-quality hardware that will last. Metal hardware is often a good choice for durability.
Remember that you will be paying a lot more for your fabric etc. than a large bag producing company would, but your customer doesn’t think about this when they look at the price of your bag. Of course your bag will be so awesome that they won't even care. 😊
Come up with constructive ways to make things more cost effective.
- Buy in bulk when there’s a sale
- If you’re making a larger bag, find a smaller pouch pattern that will use up the odd bits left around the cut-outs, not only will you get another bag, you’ll get one that matches 😊
Be reasonable with this it should just be hands on time, not rectifying mistakes etc.
Website, Etsy fees, travel to the market and stall fees, internet and stationery, business cards etc. You might like to tackle this by adding between 50c to $5 to the cost price of your bag.
Packaging and shipping
You may not provide a bag for the bag at the market, but if you sell online it has to be shipped, you will need packaging.
Shipping fees should generally be passed on to the customer, although if you are making a custom bag for someone, consider building the cost in and let them know that there is no additional cost for shipping.
Do your research.
Wherever you choose to sell, do your research. Visit markets, check out Etsy for bags like the ones you want to make and see how much they sell for and how quickly, they sell.
You also need to make sure that your prices are competitive. If your prices are too high, people will be less likely to buy from you. However, if your prices are too low, you won't make much profit. Figure out what other bag makers are charging for their products and set your prices accordingly. With a little bit of effort, you can successfully sell purses and make a profit! Never undervalue your worth!
Here’s some ideas from those already selling bags as to how they finalise their price.
- “Once the bag is made I decide what to charge, I know and understand my worth as a hand maker”.
- “I usually aim for 100% mark-up, depending on how long the bag takes to sew”. (e.g. Materials and time cost $50 a bag to make, retail is $100).
- “I have fixed prices for the different kinds of bags that I make. Wallets, messenger bags, pouches, pockets etc.”
- “I aim for 40-50% profit margin, but I average out my time, so if something takes longer than another similar item, I don't charge the extra time, I try to set a price and only deviate from that if the materials cost extra, (for example if one item had a chain strap adapters, but the others didn't, I'd charge more to cover that, but not if I had to spend an hour unpicking a mistake).”
Step 6. Market to Your Target Customer
Lastly, you need to come up with a marketing strategy that will help you reach your target market. There are many ways to market your purses, so you need to find the one that works best for you.
Once you have a solid marketing plan in place, you can start promoting your purses.
Use your website
You can do this by setting up a website or blog and writing about your bags.
You can also use social media to reach potential customers. Facebook and Instagram are both great for word of mouth marketing, referrals and reviews. It's free so maximise it.
Be sure to post pictures of your totes, wallets, backpacks etc. and include links to where they can be purchased. Make use of stories and reels on Facebook and Instagram.
Tap into friends, family and work colleagues
Finally - The Top Stitching
Making purses to sell is a bit more complicated than just sewing a few pieces of fabric together. But if you take the time to find out who your customers are and the best place to sell to them and then choose the right materials and bag hardware, you can create beautiful and stylish purses that will be popular with your customers.
Read about Kiwi Bagineers customers who are already selling their handmade bags online and at markets
There is literally money in the bag 😊