The seductive trap - of cowls and fingerless gloves  


People who are newly starting a small business run a real risk of thinking, "What can I make?" rather than, "What's really wanted?".

The overwhelming number of cowls and fingerless gloves on Etsy provides a wonderful example. When did you last, honestly, wear a cowl? When have you found fingerless gloves preferable to ordinary gloves with fingers?

The reason for this stuff is that it's far, far quicker to make than full-sized scarves and conventional gloves. It uses less yarn too. So you can sell it for a much lower price - within more people's budget. AND it can look spectacular in a photograph. Seductive for a maker, no?

But... it's a trap not to fall into. Ultimately, these products are - in person rather than in a flattering picture - not all that practical or desirable. Okay, make them beautifully and photograph them well and you may well sell a few. But do you honestly expect to sell many? Do you think there will be repeat customers for something as quirky and niche (and maybe not in a good way) as this?

When you are planning your products, ask yourself first and foremost what customers really want. If it's something you can't make to realistic timescales or budgets, consider if there is another way - maybe you can use some ready-made components? Perhaps you can get lower-cost (please not lower quality) supplies? If there is no way - move on and think again.

In the end, you can't compete by offering people something they don't really want. You CAN compete by offering your own beautiful, unique or better version of something that there is a real demand for.
Small disclaimer. This is not aimed at any particular Etsy sellers, including those shown in the screen shot. It's intended just as a general observation and comment.

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2 comments: to “ The seductive trap - of cowls and fingerless gloves

  • 10:23 PM, December 02, 2008  

    I agree with your point, but I've seen many sellers make hundreds of sales on both of those items, so they are selling more than just a few. One seller I saw just sold neckwarmers/cowls and had over one thousand sales...

  • 10:39 PM, December 02, 2008  

    Yes, but in one sense Etsy is still a niche market. It would be awfully hard to grow a business based on these kind of items more widely. I don't mean cowls and fingerless gloves per se - but more generally the kind of thing based on "what can I make at a good price?" rather than, "How can I make what people want and produce it at the right price?"

    In a way, in a small Etsy world these things can look trendy for a while, especially when they are nicely done and well presented. But I would argue that they just won't fly in the bigger world. And in the end, as we all know, you need to sell in the bigger world to actually make a living doing creative work.

    Thanks for commenting!