Are these good for sewing industry members? Are they good for customers? A professional marketer / developer in the industry (hey, that’s me!) chimes in on subscription sewing pattern plans
Subscription-based models for sewing pattern designers – it’s good for one company, but is it good for the industry (or the customer?)
Subscription-based models that include access to courses, patterns and private discussion boards have become more commonplace in the industry. I will share some pros and cons based on observable current customer feedback and some historical knowledge of other clients who have considered this model.
The concept is simple, if you can get customers to spend an amount per month or year, you have MRR or monthly recurring revenue. The subscription allows you to access content, patterns, a course, or other private areas. If the company releases 12 patterns a year and you like them all, and would have bought them, this might be a good deal, because you would get a pattern for $12 each month ($12×12 = $144) plus bonus content. They work because we forget to cancel subscriptions!
But if you don’t like them all, say you like half, the patterns then cost $24. And if you like ¼, they cost $36 each! And you might not realize you don’t like them all or want to hold out for more that you don’t know about – so you keep it until you find out you only liked three patterns over the course of a year, so your cost is really $48 per pattern – and you haven’t even printed them out yet!
Subscription services also assume that you will be 100% brand loyal – or have a very large sewing budget to buy everyone’s subscription. Now, companies hope you’ll be brand loyal but I’ll share that in my professional expertise, I saw the same customers across many, many sewing pattern brands in my years working with clients in the industry. They’re buying your DESIGNS, not necessarily your brand. If you go into a store (any store), you’ll generally see the same kinds of clothing. If you like Banana Republic, you can get a shirt there – but also at Lands’ end, or Ann Taylor too. This same thing holds true for sewing patterns – we see similar styles across multiple brands. Not exclusively – some patterns really stand out (who hasn’t made the Ogden Cami?) because they were first movers in a pattern that everyone really liked or had universal appeal or fit.
My best example in the sewing industry right now is the quilted coat. They’re everwhere! Megan Nielsen Patterns released the Hovea in 2020, and everyone and their sister has been releasing them since then, including ClosetCore who just got around to theirs this January. They’re even at Target so you know its a trend 😉 So if you wanted a quilted coat – and more – you could have waited for your subscription to have it or buy whomever else has it now. And you can buy it from more than one company.
I’m being completely brand agnostic now because some of the brands that do this subscription model, I buy their individual patterns (and like them). And I’m a marketing and web developer geek with thirty plus years of experience. I’ve built these systems across industries. I’ve done the surveys in this industry and others, I’ve priced, modeled, built, delivered, modified and managed these subscription systems and I do them today.
As a sewist (I’ve been sewing since I was 9 and I’m 53), I love buying new designs. I have probably over 500 sewing patterns, maybe more and I have a huge stash. I still love buying patterns but I’ve got to slow down now, I’ll never sew all that I have. Assuming I live to 100 and continue sewing, that’s 48 more years and 10 patterns per year. Make 9 every year and never repeat and never buy a new one. You get the idea (also this is the first time I’ve ever calculated that and it’s rather sobering!) In the case of some designers, I own their whole line of 60 to 100 patterns! Do I need a subscription? Probably not, and I’m not in the minority here. You have a big stash too. One of my clients once said “I don’t really care if they sew them – I’d like them to, of course – but if they just collect them, that’s fine with me.” Another client said “I really want them to sew them, not just collect them!”
Is sewing subscription good for the customer? Pros – they get content on learn to sew those specific patterns. They get access to specific designs. They get a private area to discuss things with other sewists. But you can find this type of educational content all over the internet – from YouTube to TikTok, and the kinds of communities online from Facebook groups to private discussion boards and Slack channels.
Cons: you have to like all 12 to get your value out of the subscription. No matter how good their lessons are, you can get that for free on YouTube from hundreds, or thousands of people. Or your local fabric store. You get a community – but you can also get that at PatternReview (albeit, their interface is from 1999 and doesn’t appeal to anyone under an Xer.) Some companies tried Slack channels, some did Patreon and their blog comments. Others have private Facebook groups (the only good thing about FB other than events!)
Just a small sampling of the companies doing a subscription:
PatternReview (they’re brand agnostic but you get access to discounts, class purchases, the discussion board and all the other types of content)
Sonia Estep (Patreon, advance purchase of new designs)
I’m sure I’m missing some. Some are Patreon, some are built in other platforms. Some allow you to get the patterns but later, and at a higher price without the subscription.
Is this good for the companies? Yes, individually it is. If you sell, say, four patterns a year to a customer (average $12/pattern) that’s $44, if you sell a subscription, that’s $144! And it’s guaranteed money coming in every month. It pays for the (intense) work of developing new patterns that may or may not sell well.
The more companies that offer this, the more the industry will suffer – not everyone can afford $144 a year, and if they commit, they won’t buy patterns from other companies (assuming they don’t have the budget for multiple subs.) The industry as a whole, then, gets siloed into whether you like one designer over another. This does happen, a little, because if you find a designer that “fits” your body type, you will buy more from them. But what about new designers? They won’t get much airplay because you already have this expensive subscription from one or more companies. There won’t be an incentive to try someone new.
Where does this leave indie fabric stores? Well, if you can’t access the patterns at your local retailer, you might not buy them. They might not sell as many patterns. The symbiosis of offering a fabric paired with a pattern means that they sell more fabric. They make most of their money from sewing machines, but they have to keep the lights on with the extra revenue from fabric and patterns. If those patterns aren’t available, it hurts those businesses too. I’m lucky that I have a local shop, or I’d buy online.
The subscription model works – for the company. I buy a LOT of subscription based things. So do you! From Amazon to Zwift, we have our whole lives built around these little sucks of money out of our bank accounts each year. I buy a ton of them professionally for web development, marketing and spend many thousands of dollars (that I bill back to clients) for development tools, plugins and extensions that add amazing value – including subscription development platforms (ha!)
It’s not that it’s a bad thing – but at some point do you really need Netflix, Starz, Disney Plus, Paramount and Hulu? Nope. Sorry, Outlander, cancelling my Starz subscription! Can you afford more? Is there enough uniqueness between these subscriptions (TV shows, sewing patterns, whatever) that you need them all? Probably not.
The sewing pattern industry has changed a ton – not unlike the brewing industry. You used to have Coors and Bud (McCalls and Butterick for example), and now you have everyone’s brewery, winery, cidery and distillery (but Bud and Coors still dominate, and indie breweries are now owned by Diageo and InBev). Indie patterns have changed the industry for the better. But as the proliferation of designers (and designs) continue, siphoning off groups of customers into subscriptions benefits the first mover players or ones who can produce many designs a year that are truly unique. It does not benefit the customer, or the indie shop owner.
A bit of back story for those not in the industry. This isn’t a massive moneymaking business. Sewing patterns are hugely expensive to design, test, draft, produce, photograph and market. It takes many people. They sell for under $20. The market isn’t millions of patterns (like any other widget you’d buy for $20). It’s a hard business to be in. The content push required (and with AI, whew, it’s gonna be a wild ride) to sustain a business on social media and marketing platforms we have now is HARD work. I’ve done that work; I know.
You decide. Do you want to be pinned into a subscription you might not get value from or do you want to be free to explore?