The Tuesday Tips series by staff writer Hannah Thiessen
One of the biggest challenges any new yarn company faces is the issue of patterns, or rather, pattern support. Patterns are an important aspect of a yarn company’s marketing campaign: they help knitters and crocheters visualize, through a finished object, the unique and varied qualities of their yarns. Having spent time hiring designers for books, magazine features, and commissions, I hope some of my tips and direction will help new yarn companies navigate what can be a wonderful and rewarding aspect of their business.
Evaluate Your Market & Brand
Before you ever started your business, you probably knew what your branding and marketing plan would be — often, this is directly influenced by your aesthetic as an artist and dyer and how that translates to the yarn you create. Are your yarns light, airy, and romantic, bright and bouncy, workhorse and wooly? Your patterns should reflect this tone and message. Consider what your overall goal for communication is before you contract your first designer. This serves two purposes:
- It allows you to choose designers who have portfolios similar in feel to your brand’s direction. If you’re able to work with a designer who has a similar style, voice, or branding to your own, the process will be more seamless, with fewer design edits and modifications along the way.
- It allows you to guide the designs you need for designers you have hired by evaluating the best garment styles to show off your product. If you come into the relationship knowing that you need to show off the stitch definition of a yarn as opposed to its drape, you can give the designer an idea of what you’re looking for before they invest design time into the project.
Small Patterns, Big Rewards
Accessories are an easy way to dip your toe into providing great pattern support. They provide the most bang for your buck; a little piece, well planned, photographed, and backed with good marketing can go really far! In fact, if you search Ravelry for the most popular (read, most made) designs of all time, most of them are scarves, shawls, cowls, and socks. Not only that, but accessory patterns cost less time for the designer and technical editor, and less money for you. At the time this article was published, Freelance designer rates for accessory patterns via Who Pays Knitters were between $40-$700, averaging $246, and often do not include costs for technical editing, photography, and layout.
Valuing the Designers
Knitwear designers possess a set of specialized skills. Using your yarn as the inspiration, they take a sketch and a swatch and turn it into written technical directions that result in a beautiful finished object. A well designed, well written knitting pattern inspires knitters and crocheters to purchase your yarn, resulting in a boost to your bottom line. Knitwear designers are professionals and deserve a professional rate of pay.
The True Cost of Design
When working with a designer, it’s important to establish contractual obligations up front about rights, expenses, and presentation.
There are a few options when it comes to rights. As the yarn company, you can own all the rights, partial (or temporary) rights, or you can allow the designer to keep all the rights. Here are some notes on each option:
Full Rights: it’s becoming rarer and rarer for yarn companies to ask for or pay for full rights. First, it’s more expensive, especially since these rights should also cover the costs of purchasing the sample, managing the digital sales as well as the physical printing and distribution of the patterns, and providing pattern support to customers. This can create stress on sole proprietorships. The positives of this arrangement are that if the design goes big, you receive all of the profit.
Partial Rights: there are numerous ways in which yarn companies and designers arrange partial rights for designs. Some companies pay a flat fee for a period of exclusivity (typically between 6 – 12 months), where the designer has all rights to pattern sales after a specific date. This allows the yarn company to capitalize on the freshness of a new design, but not on long-term sales if the design is popular. Other arrangements allow the designer to concurrently self-publish the design, splitting the percentage of sales made by the yarn company through their website and distribution channels, over time, similar to an advance (in which your original payment to the designer is pre-payment for anticipated sales), with royalties (a percentage of residual sales, managed and paid out by the yarn company.) Some designers may have suggestions or systems that they prefer from past arrangements, and it can be worth it to ask.
Yarn Support: in this instance, the yarn company simply acts as yarn support for the design process and does not receive residuals on pattern sales. Typically, the designer will cover all of the other pattern expenses. It’s not uncommon to ask that the designer list your yarn as the only recommended yarn for the pattern.
In all instances, be sure to write up an agreement shared and signed between you and the designer. A written contract protects you and the designer and helps correct any misunderstanding that may have occurred during the negotiation and discussions leading up to the design process. Make sure costs, payment, rights, responsibilities (such as who is responsible for tech editing, photography, layout, pattern support), a nullification clause, and deadlines are fully laid out, and be sure to include (after discussing with your designer) any mutual marketing or advertising plans you expect.
Choose Mutually Beneficial Collaborations
While many yarn companies big and small dream of having their yarns featured in patterns designed by top names, often you have a better chance of working with someone at your level or with a slightly bigger following than your brand. Many of the top-name designers are inundated with yarn requests and are given free yarn at most shows they attend — this means that unless they are instantly able to fit it into their schedule, your yarns could sit for years without being used. Remember that every skein of yarn you give away should be included in your budget and business expenses as potential advertising or marketing — treat it as such and set deadlines for designs to come back to you. I know it’s tempting, but try not to give away lots of yarn for free in the hopes that somebody might use it — that’s a good way to lose out on inventory you could sell instead.
In the same way that you wouldn’t want your work overlooked in favor of one of the ‘bigger brands’, you should consider who you hire in the same way. There are so many talented designers at all levels of their businesses. Those starting out are a great fit for small yarn companies doing the same — together, you can both attract more attention to your brands. If you’re willing to reach a little higher, look at designers who are consistent at publishing, either independently or through an established publisher, and have a good following of their own.
Evaluate your Expectations
When hiring designers for a project, there are a few things you can do to evaluate if they will be a good fit (designers, listen up!) First, look them up on Ravelry and open the page for their personal website and any other business accounts they have on social media. See how many of your social media sources match up and mesh with theirs — are you both extremely active on Instagram? Do you or the designer have Ravelry groups that are fairly busy?
Ravelry portfolios are a wonderful way to see how a designer handles photography and where they publish. Designers who have many self-published patterns are often used to working on their own or developing their own systems — make sure you discuss with them how they like working and see if they can fit your deadlines and requirements. Designers used to publishing in books and magazines should be able to meet deadlines, but might not be set up to handle their own photography. If you like their design aesthetic, but are unsure of their process, ability to meet deadlines, photography skills, or otherwise, contact them and ask.
Make sure you know what your own strengths and weaknesses are and look for designers who compliment and assist your business through their own strengths. In the end, this will help you create good relationships and beneficial partnerships as you develop your yarn company. Eventually, designers who are excited about your product will start approaching you, knowing that you’re professional to work with and know what you want.
About the Author: A staff writer at Who Pays Knitters, Hannah Thiessen has worked in the yarn industry since 2009 in various capacities, bringing her perspective to brands like Malabrigo Yarn, Premier Yarns, Willow Yarns, Shibui Knits, Zen Yarn Garden, Knit-Purl, Yarnbox, and The Sheep’s Stockings. She is currently working on her first book with STC Craft, to be released in Fall 2017. You can read more from her at www.handmadebyhannahbelle.com, find her on Ravelry as Hannahbelle, or follow on Instagram as Hannahbelleknits.