Allie Olson is the founder of Indiesew.
Photo courtesy of Indiesew.
Allie Olson’s close connection to the resurgence of garment sewing has put her business, Indiesew, at the forefront of a growing movement. Since its launch in 2014, Indiesew has been nimble in responding to the needs of today’s garment makers.
Whether it’s patterns, supplies, or content, Olson has a knack for spotting gaps in the market and supplying a cleanly curated solution to her audience. Her aesthetic and agile business acumen bring fresh energy to the sewing scene.
A Taste for Indie Patterns
After graduating from Portland State University during the recession and job hunting in an unforgiving market, Olson started altering thrifted clothing as a creative outlet. When she moved on to graduate school in Colorado, her interest and involvement in fashion intensified. Olson began exploring indie sewing patterns which she found more aligned with her taste and style.
“The indie patterns were far more on trend with what I was seeing in stores,” she says. “They were more basic, which is what I was looking for. The Big Four pattern makers had too many frills and ruffles.” Olson’s understanding of clothing trends, combined with a personal connection to how millennials search for and choose sewing patterns, set her up with a strong foundation for her future business venture.
Users can upload images and details about the garments they’ve sewn providing a wealth of information for the community.
Planting the Seed for Indiesew
After receiving her MBA from UC Boulder and realizing her garment sewing passion couldn’t be brushed aside, Olson and classmate Steve Herschleb developed the idea for Indiesew in December of 2013. Olson says, “It was initially going to be an app where you could track your fabric stash and your patterns—kind of a planning tool. But it made a lot more sense to create a marketplace where we could still incorporate reviews and user-uploaded photos.” Instead of searching Google for an indie pattern that might fit your needs, then searching Google again for blog posts about how the pattern fit or how well the instructions were written, sewists would be able to view these data points all in one place.
Indiesew.com launched in May of 2014 after just six months in the planning and building stage. Like garment sewing itself, Indiesew has a lot of moving parts that come together to create something inspiring and useful all at once. But before the world could enjoy Olson’s vision, she had to get indie designers on board, too.
Nurturing Relationships with Indie Designers
Olson’s online presence as a sewing blogger gave her credibility when reaching out to the first group of designers featured on Indiesew. But she credits the generous and adventurous attitudes of people like Kelli Ward from True Bias for taking a chance on her brand new venture. The key to getting the first group of designers was clearly her business plan. Olson let designers know that they could walk away at any time if something didn’t feel right. After the first six months, Olson found she didn’t have to reach out to designers—they were coming to her.
Olson has been selling a carefully curated selection of garment fabrics on Indiesew since 2015. They often sell out quickly.
Vetting and Testing
Before a pattern is showcased and sold on Indiesew, Olson and her team put it through a rigorous testing process. 95% of the patterns on Indiesew have been stitched up by Olson or her sample team. Occasionally, a trusted designer’s pattern might get fast-tracked, but the Indiesew team prioritizes quality products over volume.
Once a pattern is accepted to the site, designers have access to a portal where they can see sales in real time. For designers, Indiesew is an additional low-risk, low-investment income stream. Exposure on Indiesew can supplement their revenue and introduce their patterns to people who might not know about their brand but who appreciate the Indiesew experience. This year Olson brought on a team of contributors who help create content for the Indiesew blog, showing off garments they’ve sewn from patterns for sale on the site. She’s also got a team of bloggers who create content for their own sites using patterns from Indiesew. With these new initiatives, designers who sell on the marketplace benefit from exposure to new audiences.
UX for Today’s Garment Stitcher
While Indiesew is an ecommerce site, its roots are in community-contributed information. Olson says the user uploaded creations portal was a requirement from the beginning. “We wanted a place where people could browse the different patterns sewn up in different fabrics and on different body types so people could have a lot more data before they made a decision about which patterns to buy.” This rich database of photos and feedback serves to create a comfortable atmosphere where sewists feel secure in buying patterns or fabric. Olson says most members eventually buy something on Indiesew, although it can take months and several site visits before they convert.
Staying Relevant: A Fast-Paced World and a Slow Market
What keeps people coming back to Indiesew to share creations and buy patterns? After all, Instagram is awash with sewing bloggers and influencers, and it’s easier than ever for anyone to start an online store. Olson thinks Indiesew’s consistent, stable presence has built trust with a passionate segment of garment sewists. She says there’s possibly a rebound effect from social media that leads some makers to keep track of their hobby in a less public space, without all the extra noise of social media.
“Indiesew lets them focus on why they love the hobby.”
Ready-to-wear fashion trends often move much faster than home sewing patterns which presents a challenge for indie designers. While you may see jumpsuits and mini dresses in H&M and Madewell, Olson says it can take a year for a unique, trendy pattern to take off on Indiesew. By recognizing and embracing the long sales cycle, Olson and her team know they will need to create a high volume of supportive, educational content to sell new patterns. Customers want to know they can be successful when trying new things. Olson seems to relish the careful and intentional way her audience interacts with their passions and her platform. She supports a minimalist approach. If Indiesew fits in with a sustainable version of garment sewing that people enjoy for their whole lives, Olson thinks Indiesew will last longer as well.
Finding the Best Fit…In a Business Model
Olson and Indiesew are constantly evolving to meet the consumer where they are. She isn’t afraid to try new things, and she’s not afraid to recognize when something isn’t working. Indiesew has successfully carried and distributed fabric since 2015, and Olson says their collections sell out consistently. The key has been curating fabrics to current trends and making it easy for garment sewists to understand how to use them. The volume of fabric sales even led Olson to justify the cost of an employee to ship fabric after she spent many weeks of eight hour days packing orders herself. On the other hand, Olson tried adding online courses as an income stream, only to realize it wasn’t worth the cost. Her “Sew Your Favorite Jeans” course launched in 2017 and was available on Indiesew for about 18 months before she decided her time and talents would be better used elsewhere. She retired the course and says that Indiesew probably won’t be producing more in the future—although she knows better than to say “never.” It’s not hard to imagine that Olson’s business will continue to thrive. Her resilience and flexibility have served her well as a creator and business owner thus far, even if it can be grueling at times. She says she still comes to work excited and energized each day, and she can’t wait to see where the energy and momentum of the Indiesew community takes her.
Mallory Donohue is one half of the hilarious and informative weekly podcast, Sewing Out Loud. Over at SewHere.com, she and her mother Zede Donohue produce online sewing classes and drafting guides to help people of all sizes, ages and genders make well-fitting clothing. You can hang out and sew with Mallory, Zede, and 20,000 other thoughtful “Sewing Machines” in the engaging, inclusive Self Sewn Wardrobe Facebook Group. Sew Long, and Sew Happy!