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6 Popular Sewing Projects to Sell that Make $45,000/Month!

Here are best selling sewing project ideas that are actually popular. And I have real revenue figures to show you.

I found 6 female founders who started textile businesses from scratch. They earn between $40,000 to $1+ million in annual sales!

I did a lot of research for this article. I want to help you understand why these businesses are succeeding, how they manufacture, and how they find buyers.

I’m excited to share everything that I’ve learned!

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6 popular sewing projects to sell

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Sewing project idea 1: handmade pillows

This idea was inspired by Danielle Oakey. She sells decorative, on-trend pillows. These retail for $45 to $135 each.

danielle oakey website

She revealed in a 2020 interview that her business makes $45,000 per month, with a 2020 sales projection of $550,000!

Danielle works on this business full-time with 3 key people: a seamstress, a virtual assistant, and 1 employee.

Key facts:

  • Company founded: December 2015.
  • Revenue: $45,000 per month (reported Nov 2020).
  • Number of employees/contractors: 3 plus the founder.
  • Instagram followers: 52,800 (as of 30 Jan 2021)

Sources: my info about Danielle comes from 2 interviews she did and her Instagram account.

How she started her pillow business:

She started this business in 2015 as a stay-at-home mom.

She used $1300 from savings and family loans to start the shop. She used the money to:

  • hire a seamstress from Craigslist,
  • buy vintage fabric and zips (sourced from online shops and local flea markets),
  • and buy simple packaging.

She made 24 pillow covers and started selling them on Etsy.

These sold out on the first day thanks to the small social media following she had. She gained this over the 8 years that she was blogging about interior design (before starting the shop).

She then took the profits from her first sales and made more pillows.

For the first few years, Instagram was her main source of marketing. In her 2018 interview, she said: “almost all of my sales come from Instagram marketing”. She had 36,000 followers at the time.

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How she manufactures her products:

Based on her Instagram account, Danielle sources fabric from textile conferences and buys directly from textile designers.

All of her pillows are then handmade by 1 seamstress. This person works from home and ships the products to Danielle.

How she finds buyers:

Instagram

In her 2018 interview, she said: “almost all of my sales come from Instagram marketing.”

These were the tips she gave for selling on Instagram at the time:

  • Post at least once per day.
  • Collaborate with influencers. For example, run giveaways and send free products in exchange for a mention.
  • Post multiple times a day on Instagram stories. Not just product info, but personal behind-the-scenes content too. This allows you to connect with your audience better.

Here’s something she mentioned about collaborating with Instagram influencers:

“Properly understanding the influencers actual reach and what their posts/tags will do for your business is key. Not all collaborations are good for both parties, so doing our due diligence has been extremely helpful.” (source).

“My biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs is to invest your time into social media. You don’t need a perfect website, packaging, or logo, but you do need customers. Spend your time building a following that will help get your name out there and eventually turn into sales.” (source).

Email list

In her 2018 interview, she had an email list with 2500 subscribers.

Ads

In her 2020 interview, she said that she pays a marketing company to run all her Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram ads.

She said that Facebook ads have done really well for her:

“Running ads has been a real game-changer for my business. For example, our yearly ROA average for Facebook ads is $14.31.” (source).

Giving interior designers discounts

She has a trade program that offers discounts to interior designers. As of 2020, she has 500 designers signed up. She says that they’re excellent repeat buyers (source).

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What you can learn from Danielle:

1. She tapped into some of the biggest home decor trends of the moment. Her pillows are perfect for people who want to decorate their home in a modern, ‘farmhouse’, and ‘mid-century modern’ way.

So a big take-away from this is to make on-trend products that are already popular.

2. Her photography is beautiful, so her products really shine.

She used to take the photos herself, but said in 2020 “we now rent beautifully styled houses and have our pillows professionally photographed in them”.

3. Her products are regularly promoted by popular Instagrammers.

This gives her great photos to use, and exposes new people to her brand.

Side note: make sure you have permission to share and run advertising campaigns with other people’s photos. You may run into copyright issues otherwise.

4. She’s very focused on growing her social media following.

She started on Instagram, but has expanded to Pinterest and Facebook.

5. She has a lot of success running ads on social media platforms.


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Idea 2: handmade hair accessories

This idea was inspired by Hillary from Wunderkin Co.

Her company sells handmade bows and hair clips for children. Their prices range from $5 for 1 clip, to $30 for a set.

wunderkin website

Key facts:

  • Company founded: 2014.
  • Revenue: $1 million in 2017.
  • Number of employees/contractors: unknown. But she said that her payroll costs in November 2019 were $95k, so she has many employees (source: 16 Jan 2021 Instagram story).
  • Instagram followers: about 140,000 (as of 25 Jan 2021)
  • Pinterest reach: 6.3 million views (as of 29 Jan 2021)

Sources: my info comes from the company website and Instagram account.

How she started her business:

She said “I used to make each bow from my kitchen table…” in 2014. She was a new mom when she started.

Her company “grew quickly”.

It took 3 years for it to go from 0 to “making 4000 bows a week and hit the million dollar/year sales mark. This was 2017” (source: 16 Jan 2021 Instagram story).

Up until 2019, the company was self-funded with no debt and “very healthy margins”. After this, she took out business loans for growth (source: 16 Jan 2021 Instagram story).

How she manufactures her products:

On her company website, she said “I used to make each bow from my kitchen table, but we now work with 40+ seamstresses all around the United States.

These women are mothers, college students and women that can sew from home, and be with their children.”

These seamstresses are contractors, not employees.

How she finds buyers:

Based on my observations, she puts a lot of focus on Instagram and Pinterest.

She has about 140,000 followers on Instagram. She’s very active on Instagram Stories.

She also posts a lot on Pinterest. As of 29 January 2021, Pinterest shared her images 6.3 million times per month to users on the platform. That’s a lot of exposure.

Another strategy of hers is to collaborate with brands that have a similar customer base.

This involves working with them to create custom products. Then both brands work together to promote it.

For example, here she created a custom scrunchie with a children’s swimwear brand:

I’m not sure if a revenue share happens in these situations. Maybe?

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What you can learn from Hillary:

  1. She invests in creating incredible product photos.
  2. She uses social media well to find buyers, specifically Instagram and Pinterest.

In an Instagram Story, she gave her own advice for growing a small business:

  • Collaborate with businesses that have a similar customer base.
  • Create a monthly list of “how to blow my customer’s mind’s” and do those things.
  • Keep learning, reading books, and attending conferences.

Idea 3: handmade leather bags

In Blue Handmade sells leather bags, wallets, and other goods. The company was started by Mary Lynn Schroeder.

Her bags sell for $50 to $200 each.

People can customize their purchases. For an extra fee, you can have specific straps or larger pockets on your bag.

And a few years ago, you could get a leather book from them with your name on it.

Mary said: “we get a lot of feedback on how cool it is that this had your favorite quote on it or your kid’s name on it. That’s cool. I think that’s what’s selling them.” (source: 2015 interview).

in blue handmade etsy shop

Key facts:

  • Company founded: 2008.
  • Revenue: in 2014 she made “$750,000-ish”. (source)
  • Number of employees/contractors: 7 plus the founder (source: 14 April 2020 announcement message on her Etsy shop)
  • Number of etsy sales: 82,502 sales (as of 29 January 2021). When I first drafted this post, I noted down 80,670 sales on 24 December 2020. So in about a month, she made 1832 sales.
  • Instagram followers: 31,000 (as of 29 January 2021)

Sources: all of my info is from the founder’s interview with Mixergy and her Etsy shop.

How she manufactures her products:

It looks like, initially, she made them herself.

She said in her Etsy store ‘About’ section:

“In Blue started in 2008, after a relocation from bustling Chicago to a small farm in Southern Illinois. I bought a sewing machine on the way down, learned how to work it, and never looked back.”

Her company now has a team and a warehouse studio.

“Together we make each piece by hand every day. We start with top grain cowhides, trace and cut our pattern pieces, sew ’em up, assemble them, and ship them to your door.” (source).

They don’t produce made-to-order. They keep 200 of many items in stock at all times.

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How she finds buyers:

Getting found through Etsy search

“I think that keeping up to date on everything to do with the way that Etsy’s search system works or any marketplace. That’s really important.”

“Well now just putting journal down isn’t necessarily a good enough search.

Leather journal, something as simple as that, just putting the words “leather journal” in keywords, that’s one of our most searched terms, “leather tote bag,” these three words have brought up $80,000 in sales this year. Just from that search term.” (source).

Ads

“I think at the end of the day, you have to pick out what the most popular thing that’s happening is, put your most advertising, put your most money into those things and just keep watching.

I think a lot of people forget to look every other day at their analytics. I think that has to be a habit.” (source).

Traditional media (tv, print)

Initially, traditional media brought in sales.

Here’s what she said in an interview: “I was selling one to two bags a day.” “When I released my first journal, it was in late November of 2009. Through Etsy, it was featured on “The Martha Stewart Show.”

…I woke up and it was December 2nd, 2009, and I had 80 orders overnight and got another 100 that day. It was huge.”.

On her Etsy page, she says that In Blue Handmade has been featured in “British Vogue magazine, Bicycling magazine, MSN, Mountain Xpress, Try Handmade, Southern Lady, Southern Living, Outside, and many, many more press outlets.”

Side note: her feature on Martha Stewart was in 2009. It’s worth investigating whether mentions in print/tv are that powerful today (for generating sales).

Selling wholesale

In 2015, she said she had 300 wholesale accounts.

Here’s how she chose her wholesale price: “so we tend to aim for 50% of wholesale cost being 50% of what it would cost to buy online including shipping.” (source).

What you can learn from her:

1. Make products that are already popular. Use keyword research to figure this out. So when people search for a popular term, like “leather tote bag”, your product will show up.

2. Offer customization and personalization options for your products.

For example, In Blue Handmade customers can choose whether they want their bag to have a snap closure or a zipper closure. Or cross body or shoulder straps. In the past, they could also get their name on products.

Here’s Mary’s advice:

“You can make it your career if you have the right products, if you have the right photography, if you do the right research on how to place your items on Etsy, what categories.” (source).


Idea 4: selling zipper pouches

Jen Fox, from Foxly Handmade, sells handmade pouches.

She digitally prints artists’ work onto fabric, and sews them into zipper pouches. Each design is unique and exclusive to her store. They sell for about $34 each.

She earns $3500 per month (source: July 2020 interview). The artists receive a share of each sale.

She’s a great example of someone who’s at an earlier stage of business.

As she says on her About page: “This business is a one-woman shop – so that means I’m the person behind all of the sewing, packing, emailing, and schlepping.”

She said that this business does not provide her with a full-time income just yet. So she also has a part-time job.

Key facts:

  • Company founded: August 2016.
  • Revenue: $3500 per month (reported July 2020).
  • Number of employees/contractors: 0.
  • Instagram followers: under 2000 (as of 29 January 2021)
  • Email list: under 1000 subscribers (reported July 2020)

Sources: all of my info about Foxly Handmade is from Jen’s interview with Starter Story and her company website.

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How she finds buyers:

Here’s what she said in a ‘2020 review’ blog post:

“In previous years, I depended on in-person markets and events for 80% of my sales, and on wholesale accounts with brick and mortar retail shops for the other 20%.

I made a sale here and there on my website, but it was not my focus.

This year, I had already committed to focusing on shifting my sales over to my website so I didn’t have to rely on markets, and OH MAN, was that the best decision I made this year!!”

Here’s how she started her transition online using Instagram:

“When I did launch my website, I chose Black Friday weekend in 2019.

I teamed up with other small makers for an Instagram giveaway, which resulted in tons of traffic in a short period of time to my website and tons of sales.

I sold over $1,500 that first weekend on my new site…” (source)

Social media

She runs periodic giveaways on Instagram, where she has under 2000 followers (as of 29 January 2021). And she runs some ads.

Email list

She’s focused on building an email list. It’s currently under 1000 subscribers (reported on July 2020).

She sends out weekly emails and consistently gets 40% of her sales from it.

What you can learn from her:

In an interview, she shared that she initially had about 20 different bag styles. This was difficult to handle.

It pushed her overhead costs up, her production process was more complicated, and she became burned out trying to make that much inventory.

So she went over her sales and found which product sold best. It was simple zipper pouches.

She dropped all her other product lines and focused on making her best selling style. This pushed up profits and massively reduced her stress.

I thought this was a great lesson about keeping things simple.


Idea 5: selling handmade clothing

AYM is a British fashion label famous for bodycon dresses and glam stretch clothes.

The founder, Alie Mackintosh, started by making and selling clothes after graduating from college (aka. university).

In her own words, “AYM is for trend-led 16-25 year-olds who go out partying every weekend and who are into body contouring.” (source).

She also focuses heavily on ethical production, sustainability, and being British-made.

Her clothes sell for £20 – £190 each ($28 – $260). The dresses cost on average £80 ($110) each. There’s also a made-to-measure option for an extra fee.

Her dresses are often worn by big celebrities like the Kardashians.

Key facts:

  • Company founded: 2012.
  • Revenue: $1 million annual sales (reported 2018).
  • Number of employees: 14 (reported 2018).
  • Instagram followers: 287,000 (as of 29 January 2021)

Sources: my information comes from the founder’s Instagram account, and her interview with Locate East Sussex.

How she started her business:

She said in an Instagram story (28 November 2020) that she bought a box of fabric for £14 from a charity shop, borrowed a domestic sewing machine from her sister, and made a small collection of dresses and accessories.

When these sold, she reinvested the money to keep making more clothes.

She then hired in-house seamstresses to take over the sewing. They work from a studio in England.

A few years after starting, she received a business grant of £8000 ($11,000) to buy machinery. And a £10,000 ($14,000) grant to fit out her studio (source).

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How she manufactures her products:

Today, 80% of AYM products are made-to-order in the studio. But the best sellers are outsourced to a bigger factory in London (source).

All new product releases are sold without any stock.

So they only produce clothes where there is a demand. This avoids any waste and saves money. I thought this was a great strategy for smaller businesses.

How she finds buyers:

Celebrity’s wear her clothes

The Kardashian family (famous reality TV stars) and other celebrities are often photographed wearing AYM. This gives the brand a lot of press and exposure.

When Kim Kardashian first wore an AYM dress on reality TV, US sales exploded. The US now accounts for 40% of their total sales (reported in 2018).

Social media

AYM has 287,000 followers on Instagram. Her team posts daily on there.

What you can learn from her:

One of my favorite lessons from Alie is that she doesn’t make products until customers have pre-ordered them. (Pre-order means placing an order for something before it’s in stock).

This way, she doesn’t have hundreds or thousands of items in stock before there’s proof that people want the product.


Idea 6: sewing & selling dresses

Pyne & Smith sells linen dresses made in California. It was founded by Joanna McCartney in 2014 (source).

They launch 2 collections a year in small batches which sell out quickly – often on the launch day.

Key facts:

  • Company founded: 2014.
  • Revenue: unknown.
  • Number of employees: 2 plus the founder.
  • Instagram followers: 56,500 (as of 29 January 2021).

How she manufactures her products:

Sewing

Initially, Joanna made the dresses herself for the first 18 months (source). She was “entirely self taught” (source).

She then outsourced the sewing to an L.A. business.

Here’s the story in her own words:

“…Lots of self teaching, experimenting, practicing and googling, and a year later I had a small gang of dresses that I’d made myself and took up to a market in Los Angeles to sell at @artistsandfleas 😍

along the way, I decided to document my journey here on the ol’ insta-grammm and then I thought HEY!

How about I try selling some things on Etsy 🧐 and then I build my website 😎and HERE WE ARE!” (source)

Here’s what the process of making clothes is like:

“It takes around 4 months from start to finish for a P&S dress to be made.

Once the linen had been woven in Europe to our specs, it is shipped here to California where it’s cut.

Then, to the seamstresses to be sewn.

Once they are sewn, we inspect them and prepare them for shipping, and then they are ready for their new home.” (source).

Custom fabric production

“We design our linens ourselves, so our linen designs are unique to Pyne & Smith. We work with a linen mill in Europe who weaves our linen designs in small batches…” (source).

How she finds buyers:

Based on my observations, Instagram is a big focus for her. She has 56,000 followers and posts multiple times a week.

She also regularly encourages people to join her email newsletter.

Initially, she was selling through Etsy, but nothing has been added to that store since 2018.


Challenges with sewing & selling clothes:

  • Making clothes is quite complex. Pattern-making and getting fit right is tricky.
  • Higher cost of production.
  • Clothing bought online is often returned, which is costly for the business.

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