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All for One and One for All: An Interview with the Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op

by The SpinArtiste on June 3, 2011

Modern Spin's Hand spun super bulky art yarn, Rapunzel

Publisher’s Notes: Shortly after launching Spin Artiste, Beth Lower, founder of the Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op and owner of Blue Mountain Handcrafts, introduced the concept of her group and herself to me.  As you will see from reading the upcoming post, the Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op (“F.I.X.”) members have developed a great model for small, independent fiber artists to leverage their collective strengths and give buyers assurance of quality and service.  In the months to come, you are going to see a number of the fine artists from F.I.X. featured here, but first a post to elaborate on F.I.X. Enjoy!

Spin Artiste (SA): Welcome, F.I.X.! Could you start by describing what the Fiber Indie eXperience (F.I.X.) Co-op is?

Blue Mountain Handcrafts Art Roving Hackle

Beth Lower of F.I.X. (F.I.X.): Fiber Indie eXperience is a cooperative of indie artists who work together for the benefit of the whole by helping, encouraging, and promoting each other. We don’t see ourselves as “competitors in business” but as friends of a like mind with a passion for fiber. Each member has a small business in which they sell their fiber and fiber related handcrafted items concentrating on quality rather than quantity. When you shop with a F.I.X. member you can be sure of receiving a beautifully handcrafted item and all our members’ genuine appreciation for supporting a fellow co-op member.

According to the dictionary, ‘indie’ is an informal version of the word independent. Although this definition is accurate, the word has come to mean more. For many, it has come to symbolize originality and forward-thinking. By this definition, indie is any business or designer that is not associated with a large company.

SA: How did the idea for F.I.X. come about?

Icandyarn Merino Mohair Glitz Hand Combed Nests

F.I.X.: Well, in July of 2010 after discussing with other shop owners in the BMH Ravelry group how difficult it was to get your shop noticed I really started to think about how it would be possible to do that with very little cost to the shop owner as there weren’t any other options for us out there that would fit into our shoe string budgets. After thinking about it for a few days I woke up at 3:00 a.m with the seed of the idea for the co-op. I fleshed it out some and presented it to the shop owners I had been chatting with in the BMH group to see what they thought. It was very exciting and gathered momentum quickly! With the help of other shop owners I “polished” the rules and requirements and came up with events that would entice buyers to shop with co-op members but didn’t cost the shop owners an arm and a leg to participate in. The idea of everyone promoting each other and actually helping each other in their businesses was a completely new concept for most who had only encountered the competitive aspect of business. The purpose of the co-op as described in question #1 was happily embraced by those I spoke to, so in August 2010 I started the Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op Raverly group and we got the ball rolling.

SA: How many artists are involved? Who are they? What are their unique offerings/specialties?
F.I.X.: At present we have 16 co-op members…….15 chix……and Ron from Fancy Kitty, the only rooster in the hen house;) Several of our members maintain more than one shop.
The 16 members and their specialties are:

Blue Mountain Handcrafts –handcrafted combs & hackles and various fiber (Etsy, Artfire and Online shop)

Bumble Bee Acres –farm raised fibers and batts (Online shop)

Camel Shoppe –hand dyed fibers and yarn (Artfire Shop)

Fancy Kitty –handcrafted drum carders and pickers (Etsy and Online shop)

Fiber Jewels – hand made stitch markers and row counters (Etsy)

Herman Hills Knittery –farm raised fibers and batts (Online shop)

Icandyarn – hand dyed fiber and yarn (Etsy; Artfire shops)

Just Ducky – hand spun thread and yarn (Etsy; Online shop)

Knottie Girl Designs – hand dyed fibers and yarn (Artfire shop)

Little Monkey Stitch N Spin – hand made woolies and hand dyed yarn (Etsy shop)

Lylian Mae Fiber Artistry – hand dyed fibers and hand spun yarn (Artfire shop)

Modern Spin – hand dyed fibers and hand spun yarn (Artfire shop)

Prairie Fire Soapworks and Fiber – hand made soap and hand dyed fibers (Etsy; Artfire shops)

Spin To Yarn – undyed fibers and wheels (Online shop)

Stone and String Studio – hand dyed fibers and yarn (Etsy; Artfire shops)

Yarndemon Designs – hand made stitch markers, WPI tools, and orifice hooks (Etsy; Artfire shop)

SA:  I love the variety of offerings from the members!  Are you at the optimal number of members? Is there a limit to the number of members?

Yarndemon Chili Pepper Stitch Markers

F.I.X.: Optimal? Limit? I would have to honestly say I don’t know that there is an optimal number of members to have. We don’t have a limit to the number of members at this point, but if we gather members who are willing to participate regularly in discussions, brainstorming, promoting and events we would certainly welcome them.

SA:  Great, because we may have some interested fiber artists out there…How does an artist become a member?

Stone & Strong Frosted Feet Gold Sock Yarn, Riley

F.I.X.: We actually have a thread in the F.I.X. Ravelry group with information and links for shop owners interested in becoming co-op members. And, of course, if there are any questions they can just PM me (bluemtnhandcrafts) through Ravelry or post their questions in the thread. I also cannot stress enough how important it is for co-op members to be active and check the F.I.X. Ravelry group at least a couple of times a week.

The specific requirements/criteria are posted with the F.I.X. Ravelry group for potential co-op members and they should also read pages 6, 7, and 8 of the group’s Forum Page to see specific details/rules concerning events and other rules. Potential members can expect to be asked to make a commitment to some promotional requirements including using social media and participating in events such as giveaways. Of course, the bulk of the items sold in the member’s Etsy/Artfire/website shop need to be fiber/fiber-related (handmade and commercial). We are Indie sellers so some items need to be handmade and the quality of all items is very important. There is a minimum requirement that the member’s shop must be open for at least three months and we have established minimum positive feedback from buyers requirements.

Just Ducky Oak Mini Fiber Combs/Hackles

As Head Chic of the co-op, I reserve the right to refuse membership if I think it would not be in the best interst to the co-op as a whole. All new members should be able to stand on their heads and spit quarters at will. I just wanted to see who read this far 😉 I can’t think of anything else.

SA:  Lol…We have a lot of readers who are knitters and/or crocheters so tell us, what are the advantages of buying from a F.I.X. member?

Spin To Yarn Jacob Top, Black

F.I.X.: There are the obvious reason: you’re supporting small business and often families that do this for a living, you get personal service unlike the big stores, if you have questions we’re only an email away, and, of course, every order gets you an entry into the current event. Really though, I think this question is best answered by a customer. Here’s a post from the F.I.X. forum that was left by a friend to all of us Chix that started out as a customer.
“As a customer, It is really nice to see shops actually working together to help each other out. I have lurked and participated in other groups that do supposedly ‘work together to promote indie business’ but they are rather ruthless about telling you what is wrong with other people’s shops that are in their group or telling customers why the other shops’ products are not good quality, etc. I do not have a big fiber budget and I feel like with the other groups that if I don’t purchase obscene amounts of product, I am not important enough for them to bother answering any questions about their products or explaining to me how the product was made ect. FIX is completely opposite, I have never felt like just a customer and my questions are always answered completely, no matter how small or silly they may be. Also, the FIX Co-op has introduced me to new wool types, new experiences with wool (carding, wool prep, etc.) and help me to generally expand my working knowledge of the fibery world. I feel comfortable purchasing from members of this co-op because I know that the products are good quality and each shop is supported by fellow FIX CHIX. I know that when I need something, I always check here first to see if anyone of you offer what I am looking for before I buy elsewhere.”~~~Shannon

 

and my response: “What an awesome post to read early in the morning! Thanks so much for taking the time Shannon, we appreciate it:) You brought tears to my eyes and made me glad I followed through with this crazy idea I had last July. No questions are too small or silly…..we’ve all asked them at one point or another…and you are more than a customer, you’re a friend. It seems to work that way, we get to know our customers and they become people with names and faces (or Ravelry avatars), we remember their favorite colors, their kid’s & DH’s names, their interests. We share projects, our daily lives, we support each other and offer a non-judgmental ear and shoulder to cry on when it’s needed…all this just from chatting on Ravelry…you guys really do become friends and part of our fiber family. Okay, now I need a tissue!”~~~Beth

SA: Aww…Thanks so much for sharing that with us. That kind of response from customers is a great demonstration of the power of operating from integrity and providing great service. It’s also a reflection of the power of working well collectively. Tell us: What types of decisions does a Co-op member participate in making?

Lylian Mae Fiber Artistry, Rambouillet, Oak Evolution

F.I.X.: Members are encouraged to come up with new ideas to promote the Co-op as a whole. When a new idea is presented we all toss in our 2 cents. It’s a great thing to have a group of people who can discuss the aspects of an idea and even disagree on some of them in an atmosphere where it is understood that it’s okay to disagree but it’s not okay to get nasty or personal about it. We’re adults and we discuss important things as adults with an open mind and if it’s an issue that affects the rules of the co-op we generally vote on it after discussing it for a few days. After all the serious stuff is taken care of we revert back to our nutty fiber lovin’ selves.SA:

So, as a result of being involved in the Co-op, how have members seen their businesses grow as a result of participating?
F.I.X.: I have personally seen an increase in sales and traffic to my shops since launching the first F.I.X. event back in September. Customers love the idea of their orders making them eligible to win a prize:)

Here are some responses from other Co-op members:

Camel Shoppe Batt #528 in Lime, Green, and Pink

from Diane of Camel Shoppe
“My business is fairly new. I started it a little over a year ago. At first I had few sales and I felt lost in a sea of other fiber artists trying to get noticed. I tried joining other groups but they weren’t a good fit and for various reasons didn’t help me improve my business nor increase my sales. Then I found the FIX Group. It was a totally different experience. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful right from the start. My business has been growing since I joined. It still has a ways to go , but I can see that I’m making some headway to reaching my goals. I know with the FIX Group I will reach them.”

Prairie Fire Soapworks and Fiber Goats Cream Handmade Cold Processed Soap

from Lydia of Prairie Fire Soapworks and Fiber
“I have seen some more sales online when I wasn’t getting many sales before. I think FIX has given me more exposure that way. I have also found that I use some of the shopping cart tools more than I did before; like the treasuries and collections because I enjoy showing off how creative everyone is.”

SA: And, how have members become better at running their businesses as a result of participating?
F.I.X.: In the group I’ve seen people help each other with technical issues, photo problems, ideas about how best to list things, and shop banners to name a few. We have done shop critiques for those who asked pointing out the good things and the things that could use possible improvements.
Here are some responses from other Co-op members:

Bumble Bee Acres Batt, Midnight in Paris

from Clarissa of Bumblebee Acres Farm
“One of the requirements of membership is that you seek out to advertise your goods in conjunction with FIX information in as many possible avenues as possible. Doing this on a monthly and sometimes weekly or daily basis brings new customers to our stores. This requirement helps us to remain active, to be forced to come up with new merchandise and new fresh ideas. Self employment can oftentimes create a stagnant atmosphere; this requirement is like a kick in the pants to help us achieve business goals we may have set for ourselves.”

Little Monkey Stitch N Spin, Hand spun, Under the Sea

from Dena of Little Monkey Stitch N Spin
“The main area where FIX has helped me is in figuring out where to spend my advertising budget to get the most hits. It’s also been great to have other artists in the same field to be able to get advice.”

SA:  What plans does the Co-op have for the future? Where would you like to be in 2 years from now?

Knottie Girl Hand spun yarn, Roller Derby Chix

F.I.X.:  I have a few ideas up my sleeve for taking the co-op to a new level and gaining more exposure for the members and the group as a whole. Other members also present ideas and things tend to progress on their own. We’re still somewhat in the “infant” stages of the co-op right now and our focus is mainly on getting the word out about our events and what we do. In two years? I would like for F.I.X. to have its own website where we could have fiber oriented educational and instructional videos and articles done by co-op members, sales, events, and forums allowing interaction between members and customers. And, of course, it would be a great place to promote everyone’s shops!

SA:  As you know, one of the goals of Spin Artiste is to get more people into recognizing how great it is to work with handcrafted fibers and yarns.  How does the Co-op develop interest in the craft community to use more handcrafted fiber and yarns?

Fiber Jewels Row Counter, Cranberry Red

F.I.X.:  Several of us have fiber oriented instructional videos on You Tube and some participate in festivals, fairs, farmers markets, and even give classes. These offline events in particular allow people to see the difference between hand crafted and mass produced items. I think many people like the idea of handcrafted items made by a real person they can contact if necessary versus a mass produced item and the impersonal customer service that usually goes along with that. We all stress the quality of handcrafted products, their uniqueness as most are one of a kind or made in very small batches, and most of all the personal service you get when purchasing directly from the crafter.

SA:  I agree with you — it makes all the difference in the world to actually work with something made by an artisan.  But, marketing is not something that comes naturally to some artists.  How do you promote the Co-op?

Fancy Kitty Drum Carder in action

F.I.X.:  We have several ways we promote the co-op as well as individual shops and are always coming up with new ideas to try. Our current promoting methods are:
1. A drawing every month. Prize Box drawings are held Sept, Nov, Jan, March, May, and July and FIX$ Gift Certificate drawings are held Oct, Dec, Feb, April, June, and Aug.
2. FLAVOR OF THE DAY goes on during the drawings. A shop participating in the current event is drawn at random and all orders placed with that shop on the day they are drawn are eligible for 2 entries in the current drawing.
3. Many of our members swap business cards to put in with their orders. We are swapping with so many other FIX Chix each of us has started putting together their own business card packets that contain the swapped business cards as well as a small F.I.X. flyer with general information about the Co-op on it and where customers can find us on the Internet.
4. And thanks to Jenn of Knottie Girl Designs we are signed up for Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece as Team FIX Chix. Those that sign up and participate in the FIX team can win prizes donated by Co-op members.
5. Several of the Co-op members also run Ravelry ads.  Anita of Yarndemon Designs creates a F.I.X banner and graphics for us every month that each member can plug their shop info into, and several of us blog, tweet, and facebook F.I.X. events.

SA:  Those are great techniques!  You’ve accomplished so much in a short time.  Let’s talk about the creative synergies involved in the Co-op — In what ways do the members inspire one another artistically?

Herman Hills Knittery Hand Dyed Wensleydale Locks

from Tina of Herman Hills Knittery
“The FIX group is a very diverse group of individuals. We have members who are full-time indie artists to shepherds and everything in between. Everyone is unique. Knowing the people “behind the scenes” and how they approach their “indie art” time is very inspiring to me.”

Prairie Fire Soapworks and Fiber Mariposa Lily Punta Combed Top

from Lydia of Prairie Fire Soapworks and Fiber
“I think we get inspired by looking at each others’ items and thinking of how we could do something similar, but uniquely our own. Sometimes a person just gets in a rut, but when you see something new someone has done it gives you some inspiration to try something again.”

SA:  What has been the biggest surprise to come out of being a member?
F.I.X.:  After the initial shock of realizing that people were willing to go along with my crazy scheme I’d have to say the ever growing number of friendships both with Co-op members and with customers. It really is an amazing and wonderful thing! F.I.X. has been a great catalyst in bringing many people together, all of whom have a love of fiber, and from there friendships blossom and grow creating a “fiber family and virtual support system” for each of us where we can just be ourselves, crazy as that might be sometimes, and know we are among friends. This is truly priceless and if nothing else ever comes out of F.I.X. it will have been worth it for this alone.

Camel Shoppe, Roving #805, Rainbow Fantasy

from Diane of Camel Shoppe
“I think the biggest surprise is how well we all get along and care about each other. I’ve become friends with the other members of the group and have even met some of them in person. And I know that if I need help with something someone in the group will help in any way they can.”

Herman Hills Knittery Batt, Coral Reef

from Tina of Herman Hills Knittery
“The biggest surprise from being a FIX member would have to be that it has really helped me to be more organized with my shop. Being a FIX member does require commitment, but that commitment comes with lots of rewards…”

Bumble Bee Acres, Hand spun yarn, Everlasting Gobstopper

from Carissa of Bumblebee Acres Farm
“By far I have been most surprised by the overwhelming support and friendship of fellow members. Everyone genuinely cares about each other. We all want each others fiber business to be a great success.”

Little Monkey Stitch N Spin Batt, Fireworks

from Dena of Little Monkey Stitch N Spin
“The biggest surprise, other than that a group of artists selling items in the same categories can work together so well to help each other with their business, is the friendship within the group. Even being a new member of FIX, I was immediately welcomed in, and I feel like I have already made some new friends. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone in FIX better.”

SA:  Thanks F.I.X. for sharing your thoughts and allowing us to peek into how the Co-op works.  It’s so inspirational to see a group of people with such a positive purpose and commitment to each other and their customers.

Dear Readers, F.I.X. wants you to enjoy their work and in addition to all the great promotional events they hold, they are holding a special giveaway for Spin Artiste readers!  The prize package includes 3 mini batts, 2 sample stitch markers, sheep wraps per inch tool, border leicester locks, and some hand pulled roving.  Details to be announced this coming Sunday night.

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