Craft Con Success Story: Abby Hersey

abby hersey, fabric designer and illustratorAs we head into our third year of Midwest Craft Con, we love, love, LOVE hearing from Conners who have successfully applied what they’ve learned to their craft business.

We recently heard from Abby Hersey, an illustrator and designer from Columbus, Ohio, who was at the first Midwest Craft Con in 2016 and found Abby Glassenberg‘s keynote talk to be exactly what she needed. Abby G. was kind enough to share this email from Abby H. with us:

I had just begun to take myself seriously as an illustrator and designer. I was creating lots of pretty work, but no one was beating down my door to pay me for that work. I’d post things on Instagram and enter lots of contests, but it wasn’t happening for me. During your talk at Midwest Craft Con, you said that if you want to go on dates, you have to ask people out. You said lots of wonderful and encouraging things there, but this is the concept that stuck with me – my big takeaway from that weekend. I hadn’t been asking anyone to work with me…I just assumed that companies would find me, and I was frustrated when they didn’t. Deep down, I was afraid of rejection, so I never even asked.

In the weeks immediately following the conference, I came up with a plan for submitting my artwork and cover letter to a number of fabric companies. I stuck with that plan, even when it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, remembering your advice. And this month, nearly 18 months later, my first line of fabric for Robert Kaufman is shipping to stores!

This email made us feel so warm and fuzzy inside that we had to share it with you! And we had to get some more details from Abby.

abby hersey, fabric design pillows

Where were you at career-wise when you came to Midwest Craft Con 2016?

I was at the beginning of my career as a designer. I had been working a day job in print and graphics since college but had known for a while that what I really wanted was to design fabric. I reduced my hours at my day job, which gave me more time for design. I had been putting my work on Instagram and my website but was only getting small freelance jobs. I hadn’t approached, or been approached by, any companies for licensing.

How did you make your plan?

I thought about what companies I’d like to work with if my wildest dreams came true and made a spreadsheet of the companies whose fabric seemed like a good fit for my style. I researched each company, through their website and sometimes through calling their offices to see how I could submit artwork. I made up a packet of images of my work and began sending them out to the companies on my list. I kept a record of when and how I contacted them, and I followed up six weeks after my initial contact. I was terrified of rejection, but the positive responses kept me going. Even most of the “thanks, but no thanks” emails I get are gracious and often offer helpful feedback for the future.

Since then, I’ve been adding to my list and expanding the markets where I submit my work. I now reach out to companies in stationery, home goods, publishing and apparel. The list keeps growing, and so do my opportunities! And if a company says that my work isn’t a good fit right now, I make a note to follow up with them in a few months and share some of my new work with them.

abby hersey fabric design

How did working with Robert Kaufman go?

Working with Robert Kaufman was a great first experience in licensing. I learned a lot about the process of licensing and getting your fabric to print — I had no idea how long the process takes! Everyone at Robert Kaufman was pleasant and helpful, which was great for a newbie like me — there were only a couple hiccups that were easily sorted out. I’ve been able to use what I learned during this process when collaborating with other licensing clients.

What’s next for you?

I have more fabric designs in the works, and I have a coloring book coming out later this year. Most importantly, I continue to pursue companies with whom I’d like to work, looking forward to the next exciting opportunity!

You can see more from Abby Hersey on Instagram and Facebook.

Are you ready to upgrade your craft business? Get your ticket for the 2018 Midwest Craft Con now! Early bird tickets are on sale until Aug. 31!


A Q&A with Abby Glassenberg

Abby Glassenberg SewingAbby Glassenberg began her crafty career as a sewing pattern designer, but I’d describe her now as a crafts industry watchdog. Her blog dives deep into the craft industry, calling out bad actors and getting real answers about contracts and money. She and I have played Siskel and Ebert on the Etsy issue this year, and I’m so excited to finally meet her in person when she’s a keynote speaker at Midwest Craft Con!

Grace: Your career includes so many hyphens: What all do you do? 

Abby: I want creative people, and creative women in particular, to have the tools and information they need to succeed in the craft and sewing industry. That’s my mission statement and I use it to guide me as I make choices about which projects to take on.

I began in the crafts industry as a sewing pattern designer and blogger. I’ve written several craft books, but the one that I hold dearest is called Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction. My goal with that book was to help home sewists to design their own patterns for dolls and toys, patterns that they could then use to start small businesses or to make unique things for family and friends.

On my blog, While She Naps, I write about entrepreneurship from the perspective of someone who has a creative business right now. I share income reports, productivity tips, legal issues that affect crafters, and more. I try to shine a light in dark corners and explain how big companies work so that independent artists can make good decisions based on full information.

My podcast is also focused on this same mission. I talk with people from all sectors of the craft industry about how they built their businesses. Sharing their experiences in an audio format is another way for crafters to learn how the parts of industry work and make the best choices for themselves going forward.

I also teach sewing and write a popular newsletter. Whew! That’s a lot of things, but really I’ve found that keeping my mission at the center helps all of the seemingly disparate pieces come together.

Social media is a huge part of your business. Did it take time to get so good at it or did you find it comes naturally?

I have a different relationship with each of the social media channels and some definitely took more time to learn to love. I’ve been a blogger for a decade now and in a way blogging was the first form of social media so I think I was primed to like it!

I really loved Twitter right from the start because for me Twitter serves two important purposes: a way to connect with colleagues and a way to keep on top of industry news. I love the fast pace and water cooler like atmosphere on Twitter. Facebook for business has never been my passion although I’m there interacting every day. I do really value Facebook groups and having one for my business has been excellent. As Instagram has become increasingly important for businesses, especially businesses with art or craft or other visually-focused content, I have focused more energies there. Although I will admit to being a late adopter, now I love it.

No matter what the social media channel, I try to enjoy it and use it for my business in a way that feeds my creativity and curiosity so that it’s not a chore. I see it as a way to develop relationships, get inspired, and have fun.

Have you been to the Midwest? What do you think of it and the makers who live there?

My father grew up in Chicago and much of his family still lives in the Midwest. We spent several summers when I was a child visiting my great aunt, Becky, who lived on Lake Michigan and used to run a resort for Jewish families who summered there. Aunt Becky taught me how to make a four-legged animal out of a single lump of clay, a skill I now use to impress my own children. She also made an incredible beef stroganoff.

I think when makers anywhere gather all kinds of fantastic connections and collaborations are formed. I’m so excited about the rebirth of Midwest Craft Con so that there’s a new and vibrant place to gather!

What are you looking forward to most about Midwest Craft Con? 

I’m looking forward to learning, laughing and feeling supported and uplifted, and hopefully doing my part to teach and uplift a bit as well while I’m there. Most of us work alone, often in our home studios, and it can feel a bit isolating. Coming together to hear each others voices and see one another’s faces and learn together is the absolute best!

Can you give us a little preview of your keynote talk? 

Oh geez, the pressure is on! I plan to talk about the importance of following your own interests as though it was your job. When I first started out in 2005 I had been a middle school social studies teacher. Building a craft business had never crossed my mind. I knew that I love to sew dolls and toys and that I loved to write and read and research and so I began doing all of those things, but not in a casual sorta way. In a committed way. In a “this is my job” sorta way.

By designing and writing every day as though it were my job it became my job! I really feel like this idea can apply to whatever you’re interested in. If you pursue it with discipline and you’re not afraid to share it, even in it’s raw and early stages, you can make the thing you love doing most into a career. That’s what I’m going to explore in my talk.

What three books would you recommend to makers who need some business inspiration?

For an inspiring memoir of a maker, I loved Heather Ross’ book How to Catch a Frog. For true business advice, I like Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. And for a mix of the two, I recommend Tony Hsieh’s book about starting Zappos, Delivering Happiness.

You can meet Abby and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2016 — tickets are on sale now!