Inspirational Series: Liz Smith + giveaway

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the-stitchsmith

Be inspired by the contemporary needlework designs of Kiwi designer Liz Smith.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lovely Liz Smith, aka The Stitchsmith, has been stitching and crafting forever. But it’s only recently, after years of travelling and a career in the corporate world, that Liz began stitching professionally and selling her beautiful designs in kitset form.

We talked to Liz about her thriving new business, The Stitchsmith, her highs and lows, and her best tips for budding entrepreneurs in the craft business (or any business, for that matter).

Plus, Liz is giving Sweet Living readers the chance to win one of her beautiful embroidery kits (see giveaway details below).

What sparked your business idea?

I was brought up in a crafty family – my mother taught my sisters and me how to sew, knit and stitch. After years of travelling and working, I quit my corporate marketing job and found myself with a bit of time on my hands and the opportunity to get back in touch with my creative side. I started looking around for New Zealand designs to embroider but at that time there was nothing on the market except a few cross stitch kits. In my naivety I thought it couldn’t be that hard to design and produce something a bit more contemporary with a New Zealand focus!

How did your idea become a reality?

pohutukawa_clearcut2The business just grew organically to start with. I did everything you are not supposed to do – no business plan, no structure, no research. I just launched into it. I did spend a lot of time sourcing supplies, which was the most difficult part, but once I had those things in place it was just a question of contacting some retailers and going from there. The fact that they accepted my products so quickly showed that there was a real gap in the market for authentic, contemporary New Zealand needlework design, so despite my lack of research it turned out okay!

I’m forever grateful to my mother for introducing me to craft at an early age. Despite some truly awful knitted sweaters and some very suspect homemade outfits from back in the day, having some basic skills definitely gave me some confidence to get involved in a craft-based business.

How did you get your products from the kitchen table to buyers?

tui-clear-cutOnce I had stitched up my first needlepoint cushion samples, I personally visited all the shops in Auckland I could think of. There are several flourishing needlework shops locally so I started there. All the stores placed an order with me, which was a great boost. I then contacted stores around New Zealand and my products are now stocked from Christchurch to Auckland.

I also contacted a company in Los Angeles, which has become my distributor in the USA. When I initially phoned them I was very surprised to hear a Kiwi accent on the end of the phone. Turns out Brenda and Cheryl from needlepoint-for-fun.com are expat Kiwis – and Brenda and I even have a friend in common. Talk about six degrees of separation!

KQ_hibiscus_300I also sell direct through my website thestitchsmith.co.nz. As a small business obviously I don’t have much of a marketing budget so companies that provide an all-in-one website/shopping cart service are a godsend. I use smallfish.co.nz, which offers a platform for uploading your own content, but they provide site management and a shopping cart. It’s incredibly easy for a non-tech person like me!

Social media offers tremendous benefits for small businesses like mine which don’t have the funds for traditional marketing channels. Being able to get directly in touch with your customers via Facebook, Flickr and Instagram is fantastic – and free. There are also a lot of free online services available, which make keeping in touch with customers easy and affordable. Mailchimp for example, offers a free e-letter service.

What was your biggest challenge?

fantailSourcing supplies was quite daunting initially. You would think that a country like New Zealand that has six million sheep would be able to supply tapestry wool. In fact, I have to import wool from the UK, which is frustrating as I would dearly love to use a New Zealand product. Shipping costs continue to be a real handbrake to growth.

What were your five best decisions?

  1. Taking small steps so that I didn’t start out with a debt burden.
  2. Following my gut instinct to do what felt right, rather than following a trend.
  3. Listening to customer feedback and if something isn’t selling, don’t waste any more time on it.
  4. Investing time in learning how to use technology – including social media, my camera and graphic design packages (I still have a long way to go!)
  5. Asking for help. Friends, family and online communities in your industry have a wealth of information to offer.

Best tip/tips for start-ups?

  • owl_crewelJust start. If I had spent a lot of time researching and writing a business plan I would have been put off before I even started. I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but these have really helped to shape the business.
  • Ignore the above – you should probably at least find out if someone out there is at all interested in what you have to offer!
  • Be aware from the get go that you are unlikely to become rich owning a craft business, so it’s important to be honest with yourself and work out what your motivation is. You must enjoy and have a passion for what you do. This will get you through the tough times.
  • Be realistic about time frames and how much time you have to put into a new venture. If you are still working full time, have children or other commitments, you may not have the time needed to devote to setting up shop.
  • bee_meets_fantail-roundTake advantage of all the free stuff on the internet – graphics programs, e-letter services, photo-editing software – you will need all these and more.
  • Get at least a little familiar with your camera. If you are using your phone, find out exactly what it can and can’t do (see above re photo-editing software). Good photos are essential for a blog or website.

Greatest achievement?

Seeing the smiles on students’ faces in one of my classes as they learn how to embroider. I love teaching – I get such a buzz out of seeing people discover the joys of embroidery and needlework. I aim to get the world stitching – one embroidery class at a time!

Liz Smith
Visit The Stitchsmith website here.

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** GIVEAWAY!!

bee_meets_fantail-roundLiz Smith is giving Sweet Living readers the chance to win this beautiful Bee Meets Fantail embroidery kit. The kit includes:

  • 100% beige linen printed with the design
  • Needle
  • Colour and stitch guide

The design is great for cushions or wall art. Design size: 15 cm x 12 cm

To ENTER THE DRAW, simply post a comment below. You could just say ‘hello’, or tell us who you think this kit would be good for (yourself, or as a gift to a friend).

COMPETITION CLOSES MIDNIGHT ON 21ST DECEMBER, 2014, NZ TIME.

Comments

  1. Great giveaway! I’d love to give embroidery a try!

  2. I would love to win this as I used to embroider as a child but I haven’t really done any thing for a good 33 years! Lately I have been thinking that I would like to start doing some again, this would a great spur to start!

  3. Hi thanks for the chance to win one of your beautiful kits xxx

  4. This is a great design. It would be lovely to stitch.

  5. Lesley McIntosh says:

    What lovely work Liz does I would love to win this to teach my grandchildren how to embroider

  6. I remember watching my Nana do embroidery and ever since then I have always wanted to give it a try.

  7. Alison Cresswell says:

    Looks like a good hobby to try

  8. Fiona Lanyon says:

    Gorgeous design – great mix of kiwi-ness and stitching – just what I need to re-inspire me back to crafting 🙂

  9. Just getting started with embroidery – would love this beautiful kit to make something special!

  10. Lisa Taggart says:

    It is really nice to see some kits that are a little different but truly beautiful. I would really love to win one.

  11. Its been a while since I’ve done much embroidery, but these designs are seriously tempting!

  12. Always wondered how created those marvellous NZ designs. Well done

  13. Debbie Snell says:

    Ive done embroidery since I was a young girl and hope my grand daughters might be interested too 🙂

  14. Just in case your willing to send international, I really love to embroider. It is soothing.

  15. Judith Anne Aldridge says:

    Amazing !! I have a garden chair where a cushion like that would look fantastic!!

  16. What lovely designs. I really enjoy doing hand stitching and would love to stitch Bee meets Fantail for my Dutch friend who had just spent a week with us in New Zealand. She was very taken with our native birds so would make an ideal present for her.

  17. Katrina Lendich says:

    Do love embroidery and would love to win this as the Fantail is my favourite bird. Thanks for the opportunity to enter.

  18. I love the designs and want to gift one to my special friend Gillian who does the most beautiful needlework. She does a wonderful job of teaching young people the craft, so it will not be a lost art.

  19. These designs are so inspiring – NZs are ready for all things kiwi. Right product right time.

  20. What an awesome story, to do something you love, and teach others how to embroider. That little bird is one of my favourites, it would look awsome as a cushion in my bedroom.

  21. Nerena Lavine says:

    I think I would really enjoy this, I was always doing some sort of craft as a child and teen, not so much once I had children but I have missed it. I would love the chance to give this a go.

  22. linda lyden says:

    SPRING FORWARD….love the happy birdie design welcoming springs first buzzy bee! Thanks…Linda

  23. What a truly lovely little pattern. I would love to stitch this up for my daughter.

  24. Viv Merrett says:

    Love the embroidery and would love the chance of winning one Viv

  25. Hello. Do keep up the good work. You have been giving us some fantastic crafts to do. Also i would love to win this for my sister to do for one of her grandchildren

  26. Angela Baker says:

    This is beautiful! I would love to make this for myself, or maybe for my MiL who adores fantails.

  27. Great giveaway! You create wonderful things.

  28. Gill Jackson says:

    This is something I am trying to teach myself, so would love to make it and I would keep it all for me! 🙂

  29. Leigh Grady says:

    I’ve just subscribed to your newsletter. Wow, I love this! Guess what I want for Christmas now?

  30. Really love the design on this – very keen to have a go!

  31. Ange Beaumont says:

    Oh wow this is beautiful!!

  32. Wow, such gorgeous work and the design for this kit is stunning. I’d probably turn into a cushion and then give it to my daughter.

  33. Love this!

  34. Kris van de Water says:

    Love it!

  35. I would love to give this to my 12 yo daughter

  36. Looks amazing! Would love to have a go 🙂

  37. This would be fun to try!

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