Seamstress Sui Generis - Designer Amy Doan (aka Shrinkle)
Amy Doan (aka Shrinkle) is a designer and entreprenuer whose work I came across quite by accident. Amy's been selling her fashionable creations on eBay for over six years. Her self-described "Trashy Clothes for Classy Hos" have accrued a cult following all over the world. A mixture of unique fabrics, thrift-store finds, and lots and lots of ribbon, Amy's punky-girly-gothy threads are so unique that even an old fogey like me can appreciate her artistry and keen eye for detail.
Amy is one of those women who can wear brilliant purple eyeshadow, glued-on feather eyelashes, and bright pink Manic-Panicked hair and still manage to look like a million bucks. I'm floored by her creativity, vitality, and innovative nature. Since she's an eBay aficionado, like our own Amy, I asked Doan to tell us a bit about her business, her plans for the future, and her attitude towards money.
Why do you sell your clothes on eBay? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have your own web site and sell your clothes that way?
I'm actually in the process of setting up a store on my website to sell my clothes! It should be up within the next month.
One of the pros of selling on eBay is that I have a lot of trouble setting my prices. But with eBay, the customer gets to set their own price by bidding however much they are willing to pay. So it takes a lot of the burden off me! It is also really great for exposure, because everyone and their mom is on eBay.
Do you sell anything else, besides your own clothes?
I started selling Kryolan makeup after I started wearing their eyeshadows in my auction pics and was bombarded with emails begging me to share what colors/products I was using. At the time, Kryolan was a practically unknown company that did very little advertising, so no one had heard of them, and their products were a pain in the ass to find. That's when a light bulb went off in my head and I decided to become a dealer for them.
Besides that, I also sell vintage/punk/goth clothes not made by me. Being a total shopaholic and master thrift shopper, I acquire a LOT of stuff.
Have you ever been screwed over on an eBay sale?
Yes. But I'd rather not talk about it because it's depressing!
Is the clothing industry easy to break into? Do you have any advice for other aspiring designers? Should people go the eBay route? Is it possible to start a business with a $90.00 sewing machine and a dream?
I always find these types of questions very difficult to answer, because I don't consider myself successful yet. I've made a decent living designing clothes, but I constantly strive to do more, so there is never a point where I feel like "I've made it" or that "I've broken into it" yet. Does that sound overly self-conscious? I am just being honest... I don't feel like I'm in a position to dispense advice on how to make it, as I'm still trying to figure that out.
But yes, I think eBay is a fun way to get your name out there in a low-pressure setting. Especially if you're like me and you don't know how to build websites!
How do you track your finances, as an eBay seller? Do you wrack up a large amount of debt that needs to be paid off every month?
I am horrible at keeping financial records, but for some reason I'm rarely ever in debt. I'm awesome at paying off my credit cards. I'll order $2,000 of fabric and charge it to my card, and then pay it off by next week.
What are profit margins like for clothing designers such as yourself? Are clothes expensive to produce?
Since I sew my own stuff, I'm mostly just spending money on materials and eBay fees. It's not bad. On average, most of the dresses I make sell for about $200, and the supplies/fees probably cost me less than $20. But before you think I'm a total machine, also remember that time is money, and I put a lot of time into making these things too!
Would you ever want to have your own mass-produced line of clothing, where you make millions of dollars and your creations are banged out in Indonesian sweatshops?
I want to hire a few seamstresses to help me sew my designs, but only enough so that I can sell in multiple quantities to local boutiques. I don't want to have so much of my stuff out there that I turn into the Gap or something. I want people to feel special and unique wearing my clothes.
Do you consider yourself financially savvy?
I hope so! I've been doing this for about five years now, so it would be sad if I wasn't.
You’re based in the Silicon Valley, not exactly known as a fashion hotspot. Why not move somewhere like New York or Los Angeles, or even London?
I love visiting NY and LA, but I could never live there. I like that San Jose is mellow enough for me to get work done without distractions, but big enough to have good places to eat and fun things to do. And it's close enough to San Francisco so I can party whenever I feel like it. I've seen too many people move to big cities to live out their dream, but then party their lives away. It's easy to forget what your priorities are when the booze is a-flowin' and you're surrounded by drama. I like that San Jose is still a major city, but without all the fame-hungry crazy people.
Sometimes I feel like I could be tired of San Jose, but I've lived in the SF Bay Area all my life and have made some lifelong friends that I would miss too much! People spend their whole lives searching for fulfilling relationships that make them feel complete and happy, and I'm lucky to have so many of them. I can't leave and start over. I wish I was more daring and spontaneous, but I'm pretty old-fashioned!
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