If you’ve been knitting or sewing in the last five years and you don’t live under a rock or in the farthest reaches of Siberia, you’ve probably heard of Soak. A presence at the last few Quilt Markets and at the MQG Sewdowns, Soak is the company that produces Soak fiber wash (a glorious detergent for hand-washing knits and delicates), Flatter smoothing spray for fabrics (finally, a pressing spray that won’t fry your lungs!), Handmaid hand cream, yarn, fun nail polish, and more. Soak is the creation of “Director of Possibilities” Jacqueline Sava, who studied Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design and then earned her MBA in Strategic Management and Marketing from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Eight years after first launching Soak in 2006, Jacqueline is an inspiring model for those of us who aspire to transform a love of craft into a successful business.
The really special thing about Jacqueline, though, is how she’s committed to using her education and experience to teach others about the craft business. She leads a series of workshops called “From Maker to Making a Living,” helping artists learn how to succeed financially while doing what they love. Jacqueline was kind enough to take time between business trips to chat with me about the success she’s gained and the lessons she’s learned.
You have a strong background in business. How did craft factor into your early career choices, and what did your early experiences in business teach you?
I’ve always been crafty, but it all really began when I had to choose a topic to study for six months in high school. I wanted to choose something that I really could stick with, and so I decided to research how to start a small business. I found that the best way to learn was to experience it myself, and so I began a craft business where I made decorated hatboxes and other stuff (it was the 80’s!).
From my early experiences in business [including Jacq’s Hats, a knit accessories business that inspired Soak], I learned firsthand that business is hard. You learn so much more about operating a business from actually doing it, rather than just learning about it in school. There’s this debate going on right now about whether entrepreneurs are born or made, and I think that there are some elements of risk and positivity that are inherent in those who start their own businesses. I’ve also learned that all businesses, large or small, have common but proportionate issues. Even one person making items for a craft fair has to think about production issues, investment in time and resources, logistics, and all that.
It seems like Soak has really expanded and grown into a huge business. Have there been challenges in dealing with your success?
Yes. When we first launched Soak, it became popular quickly because it was new to the market and no one had seen anything like it. We’re now coming up on a year since we launched Flatter, and it’s different this time around. Because of who we are, everyone already expects that the product will be excellent [ed: which it is!] and has high expectations for us saturating the market right away. We’ve gotten a great response, especially from the modern crowd and people who are open to trying new things. We’re doing really well, but I have to remind people that it takes time to permeate.
You lead workshops on helping people transition “from maker to making a living.” Where is a good place to start?
My objective in leading these workshops is to help each person create a successful path for their craft, based on a sound and complete understanding and alignment of their dreams, needs, product offering and customers. In getting there, there is just so much at the beginning. A couple of issues, though… First of all, need. Is there a need for your product? Is it viable? Is it something people will pay you for? Another one is time. Sometimes I get clients who figure out that they’re selling their items for less than the investment in materials and time, and that’s not a sustainable business model. Something needs to change, whether it’s the materials or the process or the pricing. There’s just a lack of knowledge that I’m trying to address in the workshops, both in maker and consumer. Both need to understand the entire process and what goes into it.
What about pricing? There’s been a bit of conversation in the industry lately (ahem) about determining the worth of handmade goods and materials. Where do you weigh in?
Well, the maker needs to think about his or her objective. If you don’t need to buy groceries with what you make, you can set your price as low as you want. If you do need to buy groceries, you need to make a living. There’s this example of some yarn-dyers in the U.K. who were setting their prices way too low to be profitable, and their prices even included the 20% VAT. It wasn’t working for them, and it wasn’t working for their competitors either. Industry standards are there for a reason, but it is a matter of free will as to whether people decide to follow them or not.
Hobby shops should be financially sound, though — otherwise, you’d be better off donating your products to charity! Even non-profits need to be fiscally responsible. I say that I work either for a lot of money or for beer. I’m happy to donate my time to worthy causes when I want to give it, but I don’t work for cheap. And again, the best way to help is to educate people about the process.
When you’re not running your business or giving workshops, do you have any time left for sewing?
I do. I make time. I do a weekend cottage sewing retreat with friends twice a year, and I went to Camp Stitch-a-Lot this summer. I’ll be doing paper-piecing in the car this weekend on the way to a trade show! I have to go out of my way to make sure I have time to do what I want.
What’s next for Soak?
Gallons for everyone! Gallons of Soak and Flatter; we’re working on it!
Jacqueline and our friends at Soak have generously donated four bottles of Flatter (with matching Soak and Handmaid) for a Right Sides Together giveaway: one collection each to four lucky winners! They’re awesome like that. To enter, leave a comment below before Sunday at midnight ET with what you’ll use them for, and check us out on Instagram for a second chance to win. Also, be sure to follow Soak on Instagram and Facebook, and Jacqueline herself on Instagram!