Artist Dana Duncan sells this design, entitled “Dangerous Floral in Amythst,” in the Spoonflower marketplace. Duncan has some concerns about what the acquisition might bring but is also hopeful about the company’s future.
Photo courtesy of Dana Duncan.
Disclosure: Craft Industry Alliance is working with Spoonflower on two content-focused projects in 2021.
Spoonflower, the print-on-demand fabric company, announced yesterday that it will be acquired by Shutterfly for $225 million. The deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, will give Shutterfly access to a new assortment of products including fabric and wallpaper in addition to their current assortment of print-on-demand products which includes canvas prints, coasters, notecards, puzzles, and playing cards among others. Spoonflower also has a marketplace of artist-created designs, with approximately 4,000 new designs uploaded each day.
Artists who use Spoonflower to create fabrics and to sell through the site’s marketplace expressed mixed feelings about the announcement. Leah Fowler is a stationery designer with clients in the wedding industry who has designs on Spoonflower. “I’m going to be honest, I think the quality of some of Shutterfly’s products is super cheap,” she says, noting that some of her clients have come to her for invitations after ordering from Shutterfly and being disappointed. “I also get annoyed with the tremendous amount of codes and sales,” she says. At the same time, Fowler is hopeful about what Shutterfly might bring to Spoonflower. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and great improvements will come from this,” she says.
Once the acquisition closes later this year, Spoonflower will retain its distinct brand and team structure. Michael Jones, who became Spoonflower’s CEO in February 2020 and led the company through massive growth fueled by the pandemic, will continue to stay on and report to Hilary Schneider, CEO of Shutterfly.
Spoonflower may benefit from the sheer size and technical power of Shutterfly, as well as from the deeper pockets of Shutterfly’s owner, Apollo Global Management. Currently, Spoonflower has 3.3 million users, in comparison to Shutterfly’s 21 million. “Not only will Spoonflower now enable Shutterfly consumers to buy artists’ customized design creations in addition to personalizing their own,” Jones said, “But we will also unlock the ability to reach new audiences and scale the small businesses of our incredible creative community thanks to Shutterfly’s manufacturing expertise and expansive customer reach. We’re simply thrilled to be joining the Shutterfly family.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Shutterfly was looking to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The SPAC valued Shutterfly at between $4 and $5 billion. The Spoonflower acquisition grows Shutterfly’s value and market access.
Spoonflower seller Dana Duncan expressed both hope and reservations about what this acquisition might mean. “I am nervous because when Etsy got sold, it totally changed the dynamic of everything,” she says. “All of the seller fees increased dramatically. So of course I am worried about a very commercial site buying Spoonflower. I also have concerns in terms of copyright and royalty fees. I will have to wait and see what happens in the next few months as they transition. Who knows, maybe all of those website functionality things we have been wanting can finally happen?”
Spoonflower will be conducting an artist and maker conversation on Thursday, June 17 at 2:00 pm EST to discuss the impact of this news.
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.
I think the most important part of this story is that Spoonflower will now be owned by a private equity group. Private equity exists to “flip” companies for a profit. That means in most cases ruthlessly trimming costs (e.g. staff and investment in future projects) and inflating revenue (raising fees, allowing shady buyers/products into the marketplace) just long enough to sell the company for more than they bought it for. Not to be a Debbie Downer but that’s rarely a recipe for improved quality or longevity. Designers might see their sales go up temporarily but I predict an overall decline in quality similar to what happened at Etsy.
Shutterfly has no option but to make Spoonflower even better. There’s a ton of POD fabric companies that share similar values about sustainability and ethical workplaces, fair pay etc… it is an exciting time and we all have some good options to move on and use other fabric printers if Spoonflower disappoints after the acquisition. I’m feeling confident it will be great, because of its not, they will fail. Neither Shutterfly or Spoonflower come across as businesses who would accept failure.
That being said, last night I started having some anxious feelings with regard to employees. I think a lot of us who have used Spoonflower since the beginning feel like we have gotten to know some of the staff via the blog posts and social media. Through the years they’ve shared projects, ideas, responses to social issues, snippets of their lives and have come to care about them and their personal success. I personally had a very difficult time when one of my favorites at Spoonflower left a few years ago and almost moved on myself – I don’t want to see that happen again. Last night it sunk in that all these people I’ve come to care about will be experiencing the type of employment anxiety that comes with an acquisition and it could linger for months. I’ve been through it twice and it was so hard. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that my response is going to be determined by how Shutterfly treats the current Spoonflower employees (generous compensation if cut, raises if they stay) and whether or not they retain the leadership at their current level of responsibility or higher. There are also some previous employees I hope to see return if new opportunities open up. It’s an amazing feat when staff of a company can make its customers feel like friends even though we’ve never met, but that is what Spoonflower has achieved, it’s one of their best assets. I hope Shutterfly recognizes who these people are and does everything in their power to retain them.
I am not optimistic though, realistically, there is nothing I can do but wait to see how it all pans out. Being an artist since the start there, I have seen a lot of changes but this was no where on my radar. It came as a total shock especially after the big move to the new facility and hiring more employees.
Spoonflower is a regional business since they are in NC and I am in Tennessee. At least I look at it that way. An Accountant friend of mine in that area has admonished me to keep an open mind, that it might be a good move. But she is looking at it from the outside with no ties to the companies involved.
I can only wait and see how it will affect my artist/designer friends and myself. I am on other venues and can use all my designs elsewhere if it goes sour. Thank you for getting the word out.
Denise, it has just occurred to me that when Spoonflower stopped selling gift wrap how disappointed people were. Overnight I lost a lot of sales and I never did find another place that was good to sell giftwrap, so I am hopeful that Shutterfly may fill this gap.
I am apprehensive, but I want to be positive and it’s good to keep an open mind. Some other POD’s do pay more commission and I have to admit that although I promoted fabric and wallpaper loads, I didn’t really promote the décor items at Spoonflower because I’d earn more selling the items at another POD.
Thanks for sharing this information Abby.
Above all I know that change is always hard at first even if its for the best or inevitable. I hope for the ability to be able to withdraw products that I don’t feel my design is suited to. I wish for everything to stay the same, but as that’s sadly not possible I hope for the same commissions or even better, perhaps in line with other POD’s.
I love and appreciate Spoonflower for everything it has been- the wonderful staff members and fabulous quality eco friendly fabric and wallpaper that I have been proud to promote, the inspiration, the community and opportunities. I hope the spirit of Spoonflower that we know and love, lives on and thrives. Kind regards and deep thanks to all employees for all your assistance over the years. I have always been so thrilled to sell at Spoonflower and hope that I feel the same after the changes.
I have been at Spoonflower since near the beginning. It has been a learning experience since I didn’t know the first thing about digital files and had done little art in 30 years. The friends I have made over the years have helped me grow as an artist. I know it is really not a small community now, but it still feels that way in the FB groups and I wish it could stay that way.
I don’t have any personal experience with Shutterfly.
Hopefully, but I am not holding my breath, Shutterfly can learn something about providing quality products and cherishing their workers from Spoonflower. Spoonflower probably could benefit from the bigger company’s larger technical force to help with their site. Designers have been hoping for some changes for a long time. Like control of what products designs are shown on, an easy way to list designs at different scales, and more control of what our shops look like. But will the bigger company care?
It must have been great being with Spoonflower from the beginning Kathy. I wish I’d known about it way back then, but even now in England many people don’t understand about Spoonflower. I always hoped we would have a British office and production, to advertise in the sewing magazines here and get the word out. British sewing magazines are full of adverts, but I’ve never seen a Spoonflower advert. I think if Spoonflower was featured in a sewing magazine that it would build new customers. British fabric is not anything as good as Spoonflower, most is generic at best.
In 2013 I discovered this amazing company called Spoonflower while I was browsing the internet wanting a cat fabric that I could not find in the shops. I realized that I could design one and made it for sale, not really expecting anything, but was hooked in 2014 because it was featured on Colette Patterns blog https://blog.colettehq.com/projects/cat-themed-activewear?fbclid=IwAR0sfnaUZkGxf8ZJEi1jS-rhYKKgHIBEVKzwDyt1OHElOj9Mnk-xd4ebP1E I will always be grateful to Sarai of Colette Patterns for buying my fabric and making me realize I could design AND sell. I have appreciated the opportunity to work from home and loved the creativity and community of Spoonflower.
I imagine the server space needed must be immense, having so many designs uploaded every day (I heard someone say 4000 designs a day!) and I am sure that the extra technical expertise can only be a good thing as you say, Kathy. Let’s hope the bigger company do invest in their staff and the designers who have all contributed to Spoonflower being what it is today.
I am more than willing and hoping we look back and say this was a great move for everybody!
Definitely, Denise! Me too.
I think it could be a good move for both companies as their businesses compliment each other. Now, you should be able to get fabric and coordinating accessories. Think about it, for artists not only can their designs go onto fabric, but now canvas prints or other items. It potentially opens up more opportunity for artists. For the creators, staying private is probably better than the original plan of an IPO. Once a company is responsible to shareholders, everything changes. Look what happened to Etsy. From a B corporation to publicly traded. No longer are ethics and the focus on true artisans the concern. It became all about the balance sheet and how much money they can bring in. If Spoonflower can remain somewhat true to its roots and offer a larger product base, that could be very cool!
Thank you for your comment, Lynda. I do think Shutterfly intends to go public. Here is a link to the May 4 Wall Street Journal article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/shutterfly-in-talks-to-go-public-through-spac-merger-11614917960 Of course, it’s not 100%, but if they do then Spoonflower will be rolled up in that.
There’s so few good options now. There used to be classic art like the venus and Saturn devouring his son. Now there’s just ugly safe designs that are way overpriced. I’m so sad that shutterfly took over.
Thanks Abby. I am still hopeful that this will turn out well for the artists. It has the potential to be huge, one of the rare occassions that a merger and IPO is good for the company, artists and consumers. But, they have to keep the business model of being able to tap into that huge resource of freelance designers and artists. If they lose that, they will be just another print-on-demand company that happens to offer DTG (Direct to Garment) printing as one of their options. Stay positive!
Making a personalized book with Shutterfly is very complicated and time consuming. The software is not user friendly. I always wait for specials because the regular prices are quite high. But the quality of the books is great. Let’s see what they do to Spoonflower which I really loved.