You may know Twinkie Chan as a crochet designer, author, blogger, YouTuber, and Creativebug instructor known for her colorful, food-themed accessories like cupcake scarves, hamburger mitts, and slushee cup purses.
She also happens to be one of our 2020 keynote speakers joining us at the 4th installment of Midwest Craft Con! We found a minute to chat over the phone to discuss her unexpected start and her proudest moment in craft.
What was it like when you first launched Twinkie Chan?
It all started kind of slowly and accidentally. I launched a website which had only 12 Paypal buttons on it. I’m not a web person so I didn’t know how to update it and Etsy wasn’t yet a thing that everybody was doing. A lot of DIY fashion people were using eBay which was really easy to set up and you could watch everyone bid on things. I was list something for $0.99 and for some reason a bidding frenzy would mean that somebody would buy a cupcake scarf for like $300! I never would have priced my work at that high of a price but it all created a word-of-mouth for my business. There was also a negative response from people, who would get upset, as if I was creating false accounts and raising the prices on my own but that’s not what I was doing.
eBay was really its own unique experience but then I started to sell on Etsy, and I liked the idea of more than one person being offered the chance to buy my items and giving customers more options. At first I had a woman in France who bought multiple items– She was buying everything!
Craft shows for me just didn’t work with crocheted products but it served as great marketing and I viewed the expense as advertising.
Most recently you’ve segmented your business into a download format where people can buy patterns from you. When did you identify that pattern design would be an additional revenue stream for you?
In the beginning I never thought I would share the patterns because I thought it was a secret, but in no way is that true. I thought that if I released the pattern that people would go to make that item and sell it in their own shop and I would be creating an army of competition against myself.
I would release some patterns on Etsy, but I never really put a lot of time into it like I could’ve. I have a YouTube channel, classes at Creativebug, and advertising revenue from the blogging, but there wasn’t really a turning point for me sewing patterns when people started demanding it.
I initially launched Twinkie Chan it in the fall of 2005. I was doing it full time from 2009-2017, and now I work as a social media manager and digital marketing for a small clothing and gift company.
I’m an English major and worked in publishing as a literary agent for a while. I learned how to turn art into a commodity, which sounds sad, but we are here to make a living. Thinking of it from that mentality helped me with my Twinkie Chan brand. I picked up the skills as my own brand grew and while marketing is not a passion of mine— my love is designing— but when you’re promoting your own work you really need to learn how to market yourself. You really have to be a one women show.
Did the literary job help you in launching your books?
It definitely helped. With the whole process. You don’t just write a book and pitch it. You write a proposal, and pitch that before you start writing the actual book. So I was very familiar with what goes into a proposal and what makes it appealing. For my second book, I wrote my own pitch letter and had a friend who helped pitch the book. I created my own list of editors to seek out.
Then there’s the process for after you write the book. I think a lot of first time authors think the publisher is going to help handle a lot of it— but it’s really on you.
Publishers don’t have the money, the resources or the manpower to market the book, so you really have to find a way to self market after it’s been published yourself.
My job was really just to help creatives make money through their art, but my book deal really didn’t come from any of those connections at all. My goal in the beginning for my crochet work was to mass-produce the finished designs and have a licensing agent for that. For various reasons it was difficult to break into licensing agreements for my scarves. My first licensing deal was for the books, which was organized by my licensing agent who handles it and not through any of my own contacts.
What is the one either product or experience that you’re the most proud of?
I promised with my first book that I would have my book signing at my local yarn shop, and I didn’t know that my parents were going to show up. It wasn’t as much as they were there, but it was kind of the first time that they understood that this is what I was doing and saw tangible representation of my work. It was actually a thing I was just super proud of! It makes you feel good when your parents understand what you’re about and I don’t think they understood until that point.
What do you enjoy about conferences?
I’m a fairly introverted person, so any idea of attending or speaking is very intimidating, but I think it’s like summer camp: you’re really stressed out inside with anxiety, but once you start to meet the other people that are there and you all have a common love or common skill, you start to make really good friends. I never assume that it’s going to happen but it always does, especially if you keep in touch with social media. Meeting people that you’ve only really met on social media and making personal connections with people that love doing things that you love doing is so worth it.
What has your creative adventure been like?
Unexpected and unplanned, with an emphasis on creativity!
I never thought of myself as a business person. I started my crochet website and designed because I loved it. I had all these ideas and I wanted to share them. I ended up doing it full time for a small period and went through a licensing adventure in the apparel industry. I’ve published books and had a lot of things happen that I never could have imagined! It definitely wasn’t smooth or easy and there have been a lot of downs that have gone up with the up. You learn things and that it’s okay to fail.
Don’t forget to RSVP for Midwest Craft Con and get ready for grab your early bird ticket on September 1st!