The first buds of Rebecca Page’s entrepreneurial spirit sprouted when at 10 years old she would put on performances at home and sell tickets around the neighbourhood at 50 cents a pop.
With that kind of intrepid approach, it’s hardly surprising that today, three decades later, she has a team of six fulltime staff and a burgeoning online business selling online patterns around the globe.
Online sewing patterns? You may be forgiven for thinking that sounds like an obscure or niche sector but in fact, as part of the sewing sector with an annual value of USD 50 billion, it is anything but. However, the path Rebecca took to marrying her commercial bent with what she previously had considered a mere hobby, was a winding one.
Rebecca set up her first business at age 19 whilst at Auckland University when she noticed queues of people wanting to get their assignments typed and spotted an opportunity. She didn’t actually own a computer so went out and purchased one, thus chalking up her first business expense. She put up a sign offering her services for typing up assignments, which she squeezed in between classes and in so doing, paid her way through university.
Psychology degree (with a side of computer science) gained, she spent a couple of years doing various part-time jobs whilst she kept her eyes and ears out for the right opportunity which would enable her to learn how to run a “real” business, as she put it. Her criteria were clear: minimal stock, low risk exposure, easy market entry and it had to allow her to learn all facets of a commercial concern, right down to such basic conundrums as how to find staff and how to pay them. She found the answers in a small gift and florist shop located in the National Woman’s Hospital. It may have measured just 12 square feet but it ticked all the boxes and was a great experience, developing to the stage where it was fully staffed, meaning she was free to pursue other opportunities.
The first of those was a small beauty salon, with an expired lease meaning it was a relative bargain. Rebecca found a vacant building directly across the road, convinced the landlord to kit it out and suddenly the small beauty salon transformed into a day spa. Not being a trained beautician, and having enough staff to ensure she didn’t need to be one herself, she nevertheless wanted to at least understand some of the nuances of the business. She went to short, free courses offered by suppliers and as such learnt some of the basics such as manicures. Again, she was managing to build a business with minimal outlay.
When she sold it, the UK chapter of her life began, with a one-way ticket but no intention to stay permanently. For a few years she worked in various jobs such as recruitment and managing beauty salons but, as she put it, got “fed up” with working for others and started dabbling in website design and salon brand consultancy but she never felt that these were “proper” business propositions.
A friend of a friend who had a struggling salon approached her out of the blue. She bought it, turned it around, bought another and then another, repeating the success. Hair and beauty weren’t her passions but she was honing her business skills. However, she really wanted to enjoy the core of the business, rather than just fall into sectors.
By this stage, Rebecca had married Englishman Doug and had two children. She had always enjoyed sewing but now found herself doing much more of it. She applied to appear on the Great British Sewing Bee and made it through to become the standby contestant, which meant she was doing all the challenges behind the scenes. Sadly, nobody dropped out of the show. In the midst of her devastation that she wouldn’t be competing, came the lightening flash, or what Rebecca calls the “DUH moment”, that sewing was what she loved. It begged the question why on earth she had never done anything about trying to make a business from it.
And sew ...
She designed a dress for her daughter and, drawing on what she had discovered during the Great British Sewing Bee process, she set about creating a pdf pattern, filling in any holes in her knowledge with the help of YouTube tutorials. Essentially, it comprises designing a grid of various pieces which can be printed out and then taped together with the advantage over tissue that the paper they are printed on is much less likely to tear. She was, quite literally, gobsmacked to discover a whole new world of pdf pattern designs and designers and thought “Oh, this is interesting, I’ll give it a try”.
She put that first pattern on Etsy and lo and behold, a couple of days later, someone purchased it and went on to post both a glowing review and, more importantly, a picture of a cute little child wearing the dress.
Fired with enthusiasm, Rebecca started producing patterns and then started getting testers, known within the industry as sewistas, involved. For the first couple of years she pottered along, but after the birth of her third child, decided it was the moment to transform it from a hobby into a serious business model. She worked on branding, hired a part-time PA and set about creating a Facebook community which allowed members to post patterns, share ideas and ask for advice.
She now has six fulltime and various part-time team members, all working from home. Based in the Philippines, the US, Mexico, the UK, South Africa and Russia, their roles vary from sewing up every pattern, designing the pdfs and making tutorials to looking after the IT side of things and running admin.
Rebecca is quick to acknowledge that key to making it into a “real” business was the involvement of her mentor, Janine Manning, a member of the NZBNW mentoring group, who helped take her through the process of creating a structure which would provide growth and encompass social media, critical to the success Rebecca has enjoyed. In fact, her Pinterest page alone now receives almost 400,000 unique views each month, whilst the Facebook page, a closed group, has almost 30,000 active members.
Janine went on to invest in the brand and is now its finance director. The brand has since moved on from only offering patterns for children’s clothes to clothes for all women including popular Plus Size, maternity and vintage categories and there are plans afoot to develop the product offering further.
Sewing is something which creates a real sense of community, meaning customers are delighted to promote and share photos of the clothes they make from Rebecca’s patterns, which is of course extremely helpful in terms of the marketing budget. In fact, Rebecca receives so many requests from people wanting to act as testers for her patterns that she created a network of Brand Ambassadors who willingly try out the patterns and post them on social media around the world. Including novices and advanced sewers, expert photographers, size 8s and size 20s, they are vital to creating global exposure across social media platforms.
Minimal start-up costs (that would be the £8 spent on buying the domain name), free marketing, low overheads (Rebecca doesn’t even have a study, but works from her laptop in the dining room of her Hertfordshire home) and earning a living from something which you thought might ever only be a hobby. In terms of a business model, it truly sounds like a winning pattern (sorry!) for success.
Find out more > rebecca-page.com