Interview with… Penny from Dresses & Me!

Penny is the wonderful woman behind Dresses & Me – an online store dedicated to stocking and supporting independent designers. Dresses & Me is also one of the sponsors of Indie Pattern Month, donating prizes for both the Dresses and Franken-Indie sewing contests.

And not only that, Penny is our guest judge for all four sewing contests!

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Penny a bit through organising Indie Pattern Month, and got to ask her a few questions about her business and her passion. Want to know more about her and how she started her business? Read on!

Hi Penny! It’s great to have you along, telling us all about yourself and Dresses & Me. 🙂 First of all, tell us all a bit about your business. How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
I run an indie pattern store called Dresses & Me. It’s a boutique ecommerce site that provides sewing patterns to a predominantly Kiwi and Australian audience. The site’s aesthetic is very simple and clean to make it as easy as possible for the customer to find what they’re looking for.

Penny wearing her By Hand London Charlotte skirt

Penny wearing her By Hand London Charlotte skirt

How did your come up with the name for your business?
Haha actually my partner did! When I started sewing my mum suggested I blog about it as well (she’s pretty tech-savvy) and the three of us liked the sound of Dresses & Me. As it turned out it’s pretty fitting because more than half of what I make are dresses and I ended up talking a fair bit about my personal life in my monthly round up posts too.

We’d love to know the story behind your business. What inspired you to create a store and sell patterns? How did it all start?
It’s quite simple really – I wanted to buy indie patterns. There wasn’t anyone in New Zealand offering this online so I though”I could do that”. The benefits of having Dresses & Me in NZ are that I can offer free postage on sales over $40 and that your patterns will arrive a lot quicker than if they’re coming all the way from Aussie. The store has been going for a year now and I’m really enjoying the learning experience.

Doin' some sewin'

Doin’ some sewin’

And looking forwards, where would you like your business to be in five years time?
Gosh that is a tough question! I think just about every sewing blogger out there dreams about opening their own brick and mortar store with bunting in the windows, rustic furniture, lovely customers and cheerful staff – OH and rolls and rolls of gorgeous plush fabrics! However, I’m pretty content running my site and writing my blog. Hopefully the store will continue to grow. I enjoy what I do and for now that’s enough 🙂

Sewing corner

Sewing corner

How do you decide what to stock?
I choose which patterns I’ll order by their popularity – how often I see them on instagram and blogs. And the number of email requests I get to stock them! Initially I stocked three brands – Sewaholic, Cake and Victory Patterns – because I knew that they were all popular with New Zealand sewing bloggers. As the store as grown in popularity and sales I’ve been able to bring in By Hand London, Colette and Simple Sews. I encourage customers to email me if there’s something they’d like for me to stock.

Pretty indie patterns waiting to be bought and sent to loving new homes

Pretty indie patterns waiting to be bought and sent to loving new homes

What do you find is most popular with your customers?
My customers are a great mix of practical and pretty. As a category dresses are certainly the most popular thing that I sell – the Cambie is the most popular, followed by the Colette’s Hawthorn and By Hand London’s Anna dress. However the single most popular pattern in the store is undoubtedly Sewaholic’s Renfrew. I was initially surprised by this but after making it myself I totally get why – it’s super easy to put together and you’ll wear it approximately 5,000 times.

And what is your favourite of everything in your store?
That is really hard to say! Because we’re heading into winter here I’ve been eyeing up the coats recently. I think the Anise jacket is very cute and I could totally justify making an Albion if I made it for Shayne haha! I made the Minoru last year and have been waiting to pull it out of winter storage. At heart I’m quite a dress-y type of gal. I love everyday dresses like the Laurel – it’s incredibly simple but I know if I sewed it up I’d get a huge amount of wear of it. Oh and my By Hand London Georgia dress! I absolutely love it!

Penny's Georgia dress

Penny’s Georgia dress

Where do you do all your work? Reckon you can share a photo or two with us, so we can have a sneak peek at your workspace? 😉
Sure thing! I work at home in our apartment at the dining room table and my sewing desk. I always listen to the radio or podcasts when I’m sewing. My favourite podcast is the Moth (real life stories told live in front of an audience), Radio New Zealand’s Nine til Noon and the BBC’s Women’s Hour (much more interesting and less naff than it sounds).

Teacups and sewing books - a great combination!

Teacups and sewing books – a great combination!

Who or what inspires you with your business?
My number one inspiration is Instagram! I love too see everyone’s creations – fabric choices, alterations, additions… I also love to read sewing blogs. I like to see what’s hot right now and see what feedback sewists are giving on certain patterns.

What tips or advice would you give to someone who was wanting to start their own small business?
The three best tips I can give are to do lots of research, have a contingency and have faith in yourself. Research the viability of your venture, who your competition is and who your audience really is (don’t make assumptions about who you think they are!). In terms of a contingency – have a limit on how much you’d like to spend but and then add 10%. Setting up cost a whole lot more than I first thought. Lastly, if you’ve done the first two things and it seems viable then your business idea is probably a good one. Have faith in yourself and do it!

Fabric stash

Fabric stash

Thank you so much for talking with us Penny! I found it really interesting hearing more about your business and what inspired you to start it. 🙂

Penny has offered all of our Monthly Stitch readers a discount on patterns in the Dresses & Me store until the end of June. Use the code IPM2014 to get 15% off.

3 thoughts on “Interview with… Penny from Dresses & Me!

    • Gah! All fixed now – thanks for letting me know! (They were showing fine on my laptop, so I had no idea anything was wrong!! 😦 )


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