There are some small shops that when you first see their work, you are astounded. You’re in love. You immediately follow, you like as many pictures as you can, and you start saving everything you want to buy. For me, that was my experience when I found @TheSewDoughCo!
Lucy, the one-woman show behind The Sew Dough Co, makes beautiful hand-sewn mouse shaped doughnut ears, keychains, and pillows! If you didn’t think doughnuts were an obsession before, Lucy has taken it to the next level and I could not be more blown away by her work. Although she does all the work of sewing herself, she does entrust her husband to help with the postage labels occasionally. And the story of her getting to this point in her success is actually really wild! “In June 2017, I completed my PhD in behavioural ecology, whilst I was writing up papers and applying for grants my sister started a Disney blog, and she asked me to edit her work. With the extra time I had on my hands I took over her Instagram account, learning how to grow it naturally. We had a trip booked to Disneyland Paris in October and with my new exposure to a lot of Disney Instagrammers I noticed a lot of people making and selling handmade ears and decided to make some for us. The ears got so many compliments over the duration of our trip that it gave me the confidence to open a shop. I decided what little income it generated would keep me afloat and meant that I could work hours of my choosing and continue searching for a job in academia. Looking back the ears are absolutely dreadful, but I’ve kept them as a mark of how far I’ve come!“
With a start like that, it’s actually incredible to see how far Lucy has come and even more incredible to see the continual progress she has had with her products. But at the time of her starting, her future with this career path wasn’t always so optimistic. At the time, she was still balancing her science-based work with Sew Dough Co work. A lot of times she would find herself responding to questions from potential customers letting them know that it was possible she wouldn’t be making products for very much longer. She was still in the mindset of viewing Sew Dough as more of a hobby and looked optimistically towards her work in science.
But her outlook on Sew Dough started to change with the help of all the amazing friends she made along the way and the people who looked at her work and believed in the talent that she had! Slowly she changed her attitude on the so called “small shop life” by looking at other small shop owners living and working from home and sharing similar success and struggle stories. Soon Lucy started being proud of the unique skillset she had instead of embarrassed about working from home and making “stuff from sequins”. “For once in my life I am comfortable with my choices and actually proud of what I’ve managed to achieve – even if this wasn’t the path I set out on 13 years ago when I started university!“
And Lucy has a lot to be proud of. It started with a simple trip to her local fabric store to buy some Jack Skellington fabric so that she could make a pair of ears for her sister that she would like. She also purchased shirts off of Primark to make into ears. Soon she had an Etsy shop, making everything made-to-order with a 2-day turn around. She figured that the faster she could get orders out, the better chance she would have to make an impression in such a saturated environment. The other thing she wanted to do to stand out was to have a niche, so after a week long binge of watching DisneyFoodBlog, she created a pair of ears that were half hamburger and half doughnut. But she also quickly found that these were poorly received by her followers. After Lucy reached out to her followers for feedback, she found that an important thing for them was to produce something that was symmetrical – and so the doughnut ears were born! “They had slowly been gaining popularity and I had to increase my dispatch times to keep up with demand. The real change in the way I operated my shop was when I released the decorative plush pumpkins, demand was so high I had to switch to monthly openings over a matter of weeks. This is how I have kept my shop since then, it’s a concept a lot of people struggle with, but I think if you’re a successful business that wants to keep a certain level of quality, you have to cap orders somehow to allow yourself the time to make items and also keep evolving and trying new things.“
Although this was her driving force of inspiration, Lucy also gets inspirations from movies, Pinterest, Instagram, but most importantly her friends that also own magical businesses! Specifically Karina from Chasing Childhood that I had the opportunity to interview last week has given her a lot of direction when it comes to an opinion on how to execute a new product or to give her an extra boost of confidence when she feels below average.
But it seems to me that she continually does above average after every opening! And it’s been a pleasure to continue to follow her with success after success. In fact, one of the biggest highlights of her shop was when she first reopened her shop for pumpkin orders after closing due to high demand. The number of orders she received blew her away! “It made me feel like I was good at something again. I can’t state enough how hard it was trying to find a place for myself in the academic world – and failing. This shop really has shown me that as long as you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t matter that your life plan has taken a different tangent.“
But that wasn’t always her outlook on her current career path. It actually took her awhile to get over the fact that this shop was her life now and she needed to embrace it and give it her all to succeed. “It definitely wasn’t what I set out to do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the success or can achieve it.“
And now Lucy has a thriving full time job as a small shop owner! However, she still holds a place in her heart for her love of science and will often dabble in it during slower months. In fact, this past month she took time off from Sew Dough to get some data analysis done because science has now become her “hobby” instead of sewing! Which is weird for Lucy to think about since two years ago it was actually the opposite!
Through it all though, Lucy has remained all the more positive. Even now with dealing with a quarantined lifestyle, she is still trying to find her own balance to continue to remain positive. She has found that regular exercise has helped to clear her mind as well as help her sleep better and get her daily dose of endorphins! Although she does admit that “90% is just me dancing about my living room like a madwoman – but if that’s what I need to get me through the day then so be it.” Even before lock-down, her and her family would always have weekend gatherings. Now that they can’t do that, they still have a routine for scheduling catch-ups with one another over the internet. “Even when no one had any news it was just good to see everyone’s faces and we talk about what we’ve been doing to pass the time, be it baking or jigsaws! Keeping connected to family and close friends has really helped me feel much less isolated.“
Since I have been following Lucy for what seems like forever, it seems almost weird to think that I started following her when she had less followers than what she has now. To me she has always been a raging success! So I wanted to ask her what advice she had for others who might be interested in opening their own small shop. Lucy said, “Find your niche, if you search for an item that you make, do 20 other shops pop up with extremely similar items? Don’t try to undercut others to get the sale, try to think outside the box and create something that is uniquely you. Success doesn’t happen overnight, I’m coming up to three years of owning my own business and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without working in some respect – be it making or just being on Instagram and engaging with customers. Make sure you have a good sounding board around you, if you have a table full of ‘yes men’, you’ll continue to coast along creating product that are uninspired or fall short in some respect. Being told ‘no, that’s not good enough’ is good for your business!“
So if you want to follow Lucy and all the creative and amazing products at The Sew Dough Co, her Instagram handle is @TheSewDoughCo (she has up-to-date information about sales in her bio and a sale countdown on her stories), and her website is www.thesewdoughco.co.uk (be sure to subscribe for the latest information on shop openings!). But keep an eye out because Lucy is having a Ready to Ship Sale that will take place on July 31st at 19:30 British Summer Time (2:30pm ET / 11:30am PT). And the following day, Saturday August 1st, she will open her order book and have the items listed that day dispatched in 4-6 weeks! And honestly, I can’t WAIT to place my first order with Lucy!!
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