Bouncing Back with By Hand London!
It's been a rocky road for many small businesses over the past year or so, but it's great to hear that lots of our favourite companies are thriving. Elisalex reveals what’s next for her pattern house By Hand London
Elisalex de Castro Peake is the designer behind much-loved indie sewing pattern company By Hand London. She writes a monthly column for Love Sewing magazine, which is where this article was originally published. She is our Designer of the Month for August 2021 here on CraftWorld. To celebrate this, CraftWorld Premium members can claim a FREE copy of the By Hand London Tamzin Dress during the month of August 2021.
For many hobbyist business owners, 2020 saw an unexpected boom. Due to the pandemic, more of us were working from home, on furlough, homeschooling the kids, and all of a sudden presented with the perfect conditions to dedicate some quality time to our hobbies: sewing, knitting, baking, gardening – and as a result, things here at BHL have never been busier! But it wasn’t just the pandemic that sent us into overdrive: back in September 2019, I hired Jess, my assistant, and that’s really when the ball started rolling.
If you’ve followed the rollercoaster that has been my business journey since we launched back in 2012, you’ll know that after an initial period of rapid growth (what can I say – right place, right time?), the last handful of years have been somewhat of a gentle plateau. After we discontinued our printed patterns in 2015, our team of three became two, and eventually, two became just me when my partner and co-founder Charlotte moved to Amsterdam with her husband and little boys. Just in case you were wondering, and because I get asked a lot, no, there were absolutely no bad feelings whatsoever, and Charlotte and I (and indeed Victoria, who was our third) are all still firm friends! But life evolves, and people move on to pastures new. With just me running the show, things inevitably slowed to a pace that I could manage solo, and that gentle plateau was absolutely fine for a while. But even if I’ve made a point of starting small, I’ve always dreamed big, and when Jess came aboard, I was finally able to crank things up a notch and put wheels in motion that, unbeknownst to us, would really gain traction just a few short months and one pandemic later.
Since the inclusive sizing conversation first made waves in the sewing community a couple of years ago, we’ve been working really hard to deliver our promise to increase our size range. In July 2020, we re-launched our bestselling Anna dress in our new extended size band UK 16-34. Since then, we released all subsequent patterns in both size ranges and updated some older designs (Hannah and Jackie). We see this development as a constant work in progress as we continue to listen to our community and refine our patterns, and this year after having spoken more with our graders, we have been able to push that grade to its limit and add two more sizes to each size band! Our patterns will henceforth span UK 2-24 and UK 16-38! Updating our existing catalogue of designs with the new sizes will be a slow and methodical process (which we are committed to undertaking in as timely and efficient a manner as possible), but all new patterns, of which there are many in the pipeline, will come in the fully expanded range of sizes as standard.
Printed patterns are back!
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I knew it could only happen when the time was right. That time came at the end of last summer when the lovely folks at John Lewis expressed an interest in carrying our designs. Needless to say, I took that as a big beautiful sign, and we got straight to work to make it happen! Our brand-new printed patterns, complete with a makeover and dual size band, were finally released in February, and I’m happy to report, they have been flying off the shelves ever since!
Another thing I had on my mind (and my vision board!) was a proper workspace that wasn’t my spare room. Working from home has been amazing and comes with a whole list of benefits, but as soon as we sent our patterns off to print, it became blindingly apparent that we would need more than a spare room to house them! We found a great space near Portobello Road in London, 20ish minutes’ walk from my house. I feel so much more focused and productive, not to mention professional! The crazy thing is, we’ve barely been there six months, and it’s already starting to feel like a squeeze – and we’ve got 4,000 new patterns coming back from the printer soon, eek!
One of the few things we loved about lockdown was all the online community action, and we sincerely hope it will continue post-COVID. Being able to virtually hang out with people across the world, learn new skills, and exchange ideas has been nurturing, so we decided to get in on the fun and host some webinars of our own. Every month we offer a little something different, trying things out, seeing what our customers like, and slowly finessing our tech skills one webinar at a time! It’s such a great way to connect with the community and bring the diverse content we try to curate on our blog to a live audience!
What’s on the horizon?
Lots more patterns!
2020 saw the highest volume of pattern releases ever for BHL (eight in total), and 2021 is shaping up to top that! We’re working so hard to update some of your favourite patterns from our existing catalogue with the extended sizes (and perhaps a little makeover while we’re at it), and you know we’ve got some seriously special new designs coming your way too. I can’t wait to be able to reveal all!
Our team is growing!
To stay on top of all the new patterns and master plans, we need more manpower; we’re at the point where there aren’t enough hours in the day or hands on deck to get everything done. Taking the leap to hire someone new is always pretty scary as a small business owner, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the only way forward – Jess is proof of that! We’ve been interviewing candidates this week, and I look forward to introducing the newest member of Team BHL very soon.
In-person classes are back!
As I write, I’m blissfully exhausted after my first weekend teaching my Bodice Fitting Masterclass at New Craft House in person again. Teaching 1-2-1 on Zoom has been lovely, but nothing beats being in a room full of women sewing, learning, chatting and cooing over fabrics. I’m excited to have in-person classes booked all through the summer and just keeping fingers and toes crossed that things stay safe and open from now on!
Elisalex's Final Thoughts
Running your own business can mostly be summarised as endless, overwhelming and downright exhausting at times. However, if the risks and emotional toll can be high, then the rewards and satisfaction levels are somewhere up in the stars, especially in an industry as dynamic, innovative and interactive as the sewing industry! Looking back, taking stock of where we are now and how we got here, all the while planting seeds for the future, fills me with pride and excitement. After all, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts!