In a good week, John Bloodworth sells over 1,000 SVG cutting files. His customers use them to make projects with their Cricut, Silhouette, and Brother Scan-n-Cut machines.
Bloodworth had his own ecommerce shop for a few years, but when the UK tax regulations changed requiring independent sellers to collect and remit VAT for digital files, he began looking for a solution. That’s when he found Creative Fabrica. The Amsterdam-based startup offered a marketplace for creative digital file sellers just like him. They took care of VAT and he was intrigued by their other offerings so he signed on.
“Creative Fabrica was a way to save a lot of time and effort and allow me to focus on my design work,” Bloodworth says. He set up a shop on the site in April of 2021 and now has dozens of files for sale there.
The Genesis of Creative Fabrica
Launched in June 2016, Creative Fabrica says it’s now the largest digital platform for crafters with over a million products for sale. The startup raised its first round of venture capital in 2019, and a $7 million Series A in January 2021, for a total of $7.6 million.
Creative Fabrica co-founders Roemie Hillenaar and Anca Stefan.
Prior to launching Creative Fabrica co-founders Anca Stefan and Roemie Hillenaar ran a digital marketing agency where they found themselves frustrated trying to source graphics and fonts for projects. They set out to create a new marketplace that would improve how digital files are discovered and consumed. Although the company is based in the Netherlands, over 60% of Creative Fabrica’s business now comes from the US with another 20% from the UK, Canada, and Australia.
After a strong start with fonts and graphics, Creative Fabrica then expanded into SVG cut files like the type Bloodworth sells, as well as machine embroidery patterns. In 2020, it expanded further into knitting, crochet, sewing, and quilting patterns.
Getting started as a seller
Setting up a shop and listing an item on Creative Fabrica is free. Each listing is vetted by the Creative Fabrica team before it goes live to ensure that there are no intellectual property violations (such as the unlicensed use of a Disney character).
“We always try to process the product queue as quickly as possible, and our policy is to have the products reviewed within one working day,” explains Linnea Holgersson, Lead Product Marketer. “We have a lot of designers on the platform, uploading thousands of products each day, so sometimes we can experience a larger volume of products uploaded, and then it might take longer for us to process. Our product quality assurance team always reviews the request as fast as they can.”
Designers can link to their social media accounts from their profile and can link to their Etsy shop. (There’s no way to link an email newsletter signup and sellers don’t get access to their customer’s email addresses.)
Bloodworth was assigned an onboarding representative with whom he’s worked over the last two years. “You can contact them anytime and they get back to you within 24 hours,” he says. “That human contact is important.”
When Creative Fabrica brings in a new customer who then makes a purchase, the marketplace takes a 50% commission. If the seller makes that referral, Creative Fabrica takes 25%. For crochet designer Julie Desjardins, these fees feel very high. “50%? I mean, people think Ravelry and Etsy are expensive, this is bonkers,” she says. Desjardins turned down Creative Fabrica’s invitation to sell her patterns on the site.
One thing to note is that Creative Fabrica may edit a seller’s listing descriptions. “We have certain guidelines for what can and cannot be included in the listing, and formatting rules to make sure that the titles look consistent,” says Holgersson. “We only make edits to comply with the guidelines and formatting rules, and if further, more in-depth edits are needed we always make sure to align with the designer.”
Creative Fabrica handles all of the customer service questions on behalf of sellers. For several designers we spoke with this was a big advantage over Etsy which encourages buyers to contact sellers directly if a problem arises, and expects sellers to respond within 24 hours.
Beyond a la carte sales, Creative Fabrica also offers a membership plan to its customers. For a set monthly fee, members can download as many files as they’d like. The first month membership is just $1, and it goes up to $19 after that.
Half of the subscription revenue goes to Creative Fabrica and the other half is divvied up among sellers (20% is split over all designs and the other 80% is split based on the number of downloads of their designs that month). According to Bloodworth, the payment for subscription downloads ends up being a few cents each month.
A paper artist from New York we spoke to says she’s concerned about giving away so much of her work to $1 subscribers. “I don’t sell everything with Creative Fabrica, just my low cost templates that aren’t selling well on Etsy,” she says. “That’s my game plan.”
A unique aspect of Creative Fabrica is that every purchase comes with a business license. The single sale license allows customers to create and sell unlimited end products using the file they’ve bought, including creating print-on-demand products. The subscription license is the same, except customers can’t create new products to sell with the files once their subscription has expired. Neither allows customers to resell the files themselves.
The business license created some confusion for one of machine embroidery designer Luci Ayyat’s customers. “She contacted me saying she loved my gnome design. It was selling very well for her. Will I have any more patterns of gnomes in the future?,” Ayyat recalls. “It took me a while to realize she’d just downloaded my pattern and was reselling it, using my photos, my pattern. She changed nothing. She started an Etsy shop it was selling quite well. She thought that it was okay because Creative Fabrica says unlimited commercial use on everything.” After Ayyat explained the details of the license, her customer took the file down.
“That’s why I ignored Creative Fabrica’s email invitation (to become a seller) in the beginning,” says Ayyat. “I wasn’t comfortable with the unlimited commercial use.” Eventually, she reevaluated. “I thought, well, maybe I can just put the more generic stuff on there.”
As the company expands into knitting, crochet, sewing, and quilting patterns, some designers we spoke with raised questions about whether the business license terms that work for fonts and graphics would work for pattern designers. “Knitting and sewing patterns have historically been personal use only,” Bloodworth explains. “I’m not sure if this community would be comfortable with the rights being given away.”
Desjardins says the business license raises red flags for her. “Even for cut files, I don’t think it’s fair to those designers either, though I’m not familiar enough with that model to have a say. When you apply the model to knitting and crochet, it’s just so bad,” she says. “Subscribers can have all the patterns they can download in x amount of time for almost no money – with no way to prevent them from using them after. I really think it was an odd choice for Creative Fabrica to get into yarn crafts.”
Right now, the knitting, crochet, sewing, and quilting patterns are listed under “graphics” on the Creative Fabrica homepage (rather than “crafts”) which could make them hard for consumers to find.
Creative Fabrica has an especially generous affiliate program that allows sellers to use their affiliate links when promoting their own products. (The Etsy affiliate program, on the other hand, prohibits this.) Affiliates earn 25% of every order they refer. They also earn 20% of every subscription they refer for every month that the customer is subscribed. The link has a 90-day cookie (versus Etsy’s 30 days). Becoming an affiliate has been a profitable avenue for Bloodworth who has referred over 10,000 new customers to Creative Fabrica to date.
A unique feature of Creative Fabrica is its fans site which operates similar to Patreon. Designers can create a fan page that subscribers can join for an additional monthly fee the designer sets. Bloodworth’s Gentleman Crafter fan site costs $5/month and he currently has 118 fans who receive exclusive SVG files. “It’s not huge at the moment,” he says. “I was debating setting up a Patreon or using the Creative Fabrica fan site and it was easier to do it all in one place.” Although he thinks it has promise, he says the fan site itself is not very easy for customers to find yet and doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
In addition to a digital file marketplace and designer fans site, Creative Fabrica also offers video classes focused on various craft projects. Designers film the class videos themselves. They’re paid upfront and don’t earn any additional royalties. Ayyat has created several already, but she’s still unsure if it was the right decision due to the newness of the platform. “I don’t know. I was on the fence. I’m like, well, I may as well do it, because it can’t hurt and it hasn’t hurt me yet. I just wonder like five years from now, am I going to regret doing it?” she says.
All of the sellers we spoke with mentioned some level of disappointment with Creative Fabrica’s analytics dashboard. It’s difficult to understand exactly where the income is coming from because a la carte file sales and subscription revenue aren’t broken out into separate categories.
What the future holds
Creative Fabrica aims to become the go-to place for digital craft files globally. While digital file marketplace Creative Market also sells fonts and graphics, Creative Fabrica’s audience is different.
“Creative Fabrica is where hobbyists go to get their graphics,” says Bloodworth. “Creative Market is where professionals go.”
Creative Fabrica is a newer player among online craft marketplaces and it operates differently from its competitors. “I do think that they’re still growing, I think that they’re going to work through a lot of growing pains,” Ayyat says. “And I have gotten sales. I mean, I’m making money. It’s still less than $100 a month, but honestly that’s more than the designs on my website or bringing in right now.”
Bloodworth acknowledges that there have been some hiccups, too, but says Creative Fabrica is already a household name among crafters in the UK. “I’m a bit worried they’re trying to run before they walk,” he says, but then wonders whether this description is truly apt. “They can walk already.”
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.