When my son was four weeks old I bought a snap press, so I could make cute snappable baby items for him. I posted a picture of some bibs I had made for him out of flannel receiving blankets, and a few moms I knew reached out wondering if they could pay me to make a few. I love sewing, and the bibs only took a few minutes to make, so I figured why not!? When my son was six weeks old, after lots of accolades and encouragement from friends and family, I opened an Etsy store selling adorable little bibs and other fun sewing projects. My sales took off pretty quickly thanks to my supportive community of mom friends, and soon I was on a first name basis with the gal at the post office, making regular trips to ship my tiny wares. It delighted me to see photos of babies far and wide wearing my creations. And then the first email came:
Hey Jillian! Got my bibdanas today and they are super cute. Sadly, my little guys neck is too fat for them and they won’t snap. Just wanted to let you know so that maybe you could make different sizes or make them longer with extra snaps in the future. I’ve got a good friend who is preg and these will make a great gift for her newborn!! Keep up the good work momma!!!
Hey Jillian. Unfortunately the bibs don’t fit around B’s neck. They snap closed but are far too tight for me to be comfortable with her wearing them.
Everyone was lovely about it, but I was so confused. I used standard sizing from a large-scale bib company, I had tried the bibs on a much older and larger baby, how was the sizing so off? I had to chalk it up to people having different expectations about the fit, but this hurdle definitely took the wind out of my sails with regard to how fun and easy having an Etsy store could be.
I redesigned the bibs to be both reversible and so adjustable they could fit my baby, myself, and even my dog. These sold well too, and all was well again in the land of Etsy sales. As I started to get more invested in selling items I was sewing, I joined a few WAHM (work at home mom) support groups. It was in these groups that I learned about the dreaded C word; compliance. It turned out not only was manufacturing goods for children without going through the federal compliance process illegal, it left me with a very scary level of liability. So, what to do? Give up? Nope: I went through the long and tedious process of becoming a compliant vendor. After registering, ensuring all my fabrics and supplies were from certified vendors and receiving their certificates, and finally the very exciting process of getting my own professional clothing tags made, I was ready to roll again.
Then, the four month sleep regression hit us, and it hit us hard. My son had been sleeping most of the night and napping on his own like a dream, and in the blink of an eye, that was all over. The first day that I found myself feeling annoyed at my son for not sleeping because I had an order I needed to complete, I shut the whole thing down. That might seem extreme to a lot of people, but my greatest responsibility at this point in my life is to be a present and loving caregiver for my son. It’s not like I was supporting our family financially with my Etsy sales; I was just covering the cost of supplies for my sewing hobby. It was clear to me in that moment of frustration that with the ups and downs of raising a tiny person, I couldn’t be both a responsible business owner and a responsive and patient mother. I know many women make this arrangement work, but there is strength in recognizing your limitations, and I had definitely run into one of mine.
Looking back on that time, I realize now that a huge part of why I rushed into the Etsy shop was because I wasn’t comfortable with being just a homemaker yet. That level of confidence in my new existence outside the workforce was still months away. My ideas of self-worth were still tied to my ability to bring in cash, to being productive in a way that directly interacted with the economy.
I still love to sew for my son, and for my friends’ babies, but only as a hobby. So if you make something cute for your child, and it is met with an enthusiastic chorus of “you should open an Etsy store!” remember that what people are really saying is “I am impressed with the professional quality of your work!” and take it as a very nice complement, but look before you leap. As you should with any business opportunity, make a pros and cons list, and really take the time to think about what life will look like with this new responsibility. I hope my story can help you think through whether opening an Etsy shop, and WAHM life in general, is right for you. It takes most people years to establish a significantly profitable Etsy business, so don’t get into it for the money, at least not in the short-term. If you decide to go for it, more power to you; I would probably love to buy your crafts. If you’re not sure you’re ready, maybe consider refocusing on relishing your hobby and your child for now, and feel confident knowing that if being a “just” homemaker is what works for you, you are still absolutely enough.