Okay, so I got an ask about plush making as a full time job. Plush making as a full time job is A) Time consuming B) Expensive, and C) 100% harder than it sounds.
I’m going to be using my love ness monster as an example. I’ve talked a bit about the cost of plush making before, but the cost of turning it into a business is even higher. Please pardon any math errors. I’m doing a lot of rounding and generalizing, but I hope the general idea still gets across.
Let’s assume you’re starting with nothing in terms of equipment and you want to build a plush making business. You’re going to start by making a love ness monster.
Before you even doing anything, you’re going to need a pattern. You’ll have to make one yourself or purchase one. Let’s assume you’ll make one to save money.
You’re going to need to have paper, pens, tape. We’ll assume you have that already. You’re going to need to spend maybe 5 hours total to draw the pattern, test it, and refine it. You’re going to need cheap fabric, stuffing, fabric scissors, paper scissors.
For your actual plush you will also need good fabric, stuffing, safety eyes, sewing machine, thread, pins, needles, bobbin, fabric glue (Or iron on interfacing, iron, and ironing board. We’ll assume you use glue), thread. You may also want a pin cushion, seam ripper, hemostats, thimble, wire cutters for the safety eye posts, and other embellishments like bows or gems.
Here’s about what I spent
Sewing Machine: $400
Bobbins: $7 for a pack
Thread: $1.10 a spool
Stuffing: $9 for a bag that will make 1 love ness
Fabric: $2-5 for remnant fabric for patterning, $7-14 a yard for fleece (depending on regular, anti-pill, or micro fleece)
Good Quality Fabric Scissor: $50
Cheap paper Scissors: Free with fabric purchase at my fabric store
Pin Cushion: $4
Sewing Machine Needles: $4
Hand Sewing Needles: $2
Seam Ripper: $4
Fabric Glue: $6
Leather Thimble (my favorite): $6
Safety Eyes: $2 for 2 Pairs
We’ll assume you spend 2 hours at the store gathering all these things and travel time.
If you’re counting, you’re now up to 7 hours on patterning and supplies and we’ll say $520 in cost (I picked some midway numbers).
With this you’ll make one love ness monster. It will take you 1 hour to make it.
You will need to take pictures and list them online. The bare minimum you’ll need is a cell phone camera. But this is a real business you’re going to start here, so you’ll want to get some quality supplies to take good photos. You’re going to need lights, light bulbs, a light tent, a good quality camera, some sort of back drop, a tripod.
Here is about what I spent:
3 clamp lamps: $21 at $7 a piece
3 CFL light bulbs: $15 at $5 each
Magic Studio Backdrop: $218
We’ll say you aren’t me. You choose to use poster board as a backdrop and buy a $50 tripod to cut costs. We’ll assume you spent about an hour at the camera store buying all these things rather than spending more in shipping.
We’re now up to 9 hours and $1,086.
To edit these photos you’re going to need photo editing software and a computer capable of running it. We’ll assume you already have the computer since you are here. I use a combination of Bridge and Photoshop to manage and edit photos. You can get Adobe’s photographers bundle (Photoshop CC + Ligthroom) for $10 a month. We’ll assume you already used the 60 day trial, so you’ll have to pay for that.
CC access: $10
It will take you an hour to take the photos and edit them, bringing you up to 10 hours and $1,096.
Now you need to put them online. Let’s go with Etsy! They are quick to set up, relatively cheap, and well known. You’re going to spend an hour to make your shop and list your first item. You’ll need to pay .20c to list the item. You will price your love ness at $55 +$5 shipping.
But wait! You can’t just have a blank shop. No one is going to buy from that. You’re going to need to make up shop policies, have a logo, banner, avatar, and fill out your about page so people know who you are and so you can establish your brand. You can pay someone to do the graphic design work, but let’s assume you’re good enough with photoshop and design you’re going to do it yourself.
You’ll spend around 5 more hours making these graphics, doing your research, and typing up your stuff. Whew. Now you look like a real store.
You’re 16 hours in and you have spent $1,096 and 20 cents!
Okay, now your love ness monster is listed, your shop looks good, and you can relax. Right? Wrong. Now you need to let people actually know about your shop! We’ll assume you already have social media accounts for your business, so you don’t need to set those up. But you will need to post on them. You post photos and links on Tumblr, Facebook, and Deviantart. It takes another hour.
People are interested! You spend another hour responding to comments, thanking people for spreading the word, and answering questions.
Finally! Your love ness sells! You make $60 total! Right? Wrong again.
First Etsy will take 3.5%. Next your payment processor will take a cut. We’ll assume they used Etsy direct checkout which is one of the cheapest options. They’ll take 3% + .25c if you are in the US.
So you made around $55.92. Except, not quite. Because now you need to ship it.
You will need a shipping scale to weigh it, something to package it in (let’s assume a polyer mailing bag), and a self adhesive shipping label. You will need a printer and ink to print that label. You should probably also package it nicely since a good impression is important. Wrap it in tissue paper, tie it with a string, and include a business card for future business! You have a business card, right? Oh no, better spend another hour designing and ordering them. We’ll assume you don’t purchase insurance or signature confirmation and nothing goes wrong with your package.
Here’s those costs:
Ink: $25 for just black
Shipping Label: $35 for 200
Polymer bag: $14 for 100
Tissue Paper: $2 for a pack of 8
Curling Ribbon: $2
Actual Label Cost: $3.40 for First Class
Business Card: $10 from vistaprint
And yet another hour spent packaging your love ness, writing a thank you note, weighing it, printing the label, and taking it to the post office. Let’s hope you don’t have to wait in line. We’ll assume you spent purchasing supplies.
You’re now made $55.92 and spent around $1,287.60. You’ve put 21 hours into this.
Oh wait, we forgot about Uncle Sam! He wants his cut, too. Assume 30% of what you make will go to self employment and income taxes. So we’ll just deduct that from your earnings and say you’ve made $39.14. You’ll want to set this 30% aside into a savings account and use it to pay the taxes quarterly or at the end of the year.
So $39.14 earned and around $1,287.60 spent for 21 hours of work. Congrats! You opened your own business.
Okay, so how much until you’ve paid off your initial investment? We’ll assume you don’t need to buy any more equipment and you can just spend $15 each plush to buy new materials and $5 each in shipping labels and supplies. So you make around $19.14 in pure, delicious, profit. Quark would be proud of you. We’ll say to create, package, and ship each plush you’ll spend 2 hours.
To pay off that initial $1,287.60 you will need to make 68 love ness monsters and spend 136 hours working. Assuming 8 hours of work a day, that’s a full 17 days of nothing but making love ness monsters. You’ll probably want to set aside another few hours a day for social media networking/advertising, answering questions, handling complaints, developing new products, and shopping for supplies. So get ready for 10-14 hour work days where you are only getting paid for 8 hours of work.
Meanwhile you’ve also had to pay rent, heat, gas, electric, water, insurance, pay your student loans, phone bill, and internet bill. You had to buy food and gas. Did you go out with your friends to the movies or dinner to celebrate your first sale? And let’s hope that you haven’t needed to go to the doctors or hospital and you have no major credit card debt you’re supposed to be paying off.
I have worked, and continue to work, very hard to make my dream a reality. If you read all this and you still think, “Yeah, I could make that work. I’d be willing to figure out a way to do this,” then do it! If this is what you love, you can make a living off it. But you don’t start a handmade business because of those sweet sweet dollar signs. You do it because at the end of the day, you can’t see yourself happy doing anything else.
I’ve been doing this for 3 years. But for an entire year, I didn’t make any money at all. Every cent went into taxes or back into the business to buy new equipment.
You will spend less money buying in bulk in the long run, but you will need to spend more up front. You will also spend less money if you use coupons or shop for deals, but you will need to spend the time to find those. If you order online, you will spend more on shipping, but spend less time on traveling to and from the store. You will have to decide which trade off is best for you. In the beginning, spending less is worth it, even if it takes you more time. But as you get more successful, you will find that time is a hot commodity and you will be willing to pay more money to do less work.
You can look for small business loans or grants that will help jump start things. Better equipment will let you work more efficiently. Practice will make you faster. Working on multiple orders at once like an assembly line will let you get more done per time spent. You can fold fabric in half and cut out two things at a time, or even 4. You can sell patterns, tutorials, prints of stuffed animals, and leftover supplies to help make more money. You can save your receipts and deduct your expenses and mileage to reduce the cost of your taxes. Using more expensive fabric and embellishments will cost more, but you can charge more as well.
As you get to be more well known, demand for your work will go up. As demand increases, you can raise your prices and begin to make more per hour. You may even be able to use crowdsourcing to jumpstart a production line to keep up with demand. If you make enough, you can look into hiring helpers to cut fabric, package orders, and answer emails, giving you more time to create.
I hope this write up helps people understand the more sobering reality of plush making as a full time job. I suspect some people think I just flounce in, post a picture of a stuffed animal, and flounce out with all this cash. One time I made over $5,000 at a 4 day convention. I put all the cash on the bed, rolled in it, and my friends took pictures. People got completely pissed off at me for “Making all that money to sit on my ass for 4 days.” The reality was I had over $1,000 in expenses and it took a month of 10 hour work days to prep for that convention. I made maybe $12 an hour, if that.