Indie Business Interview: Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe

Indie Business Interview: Sweet Sheep | knittedbliss.com

This is Alicia of Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe, a shop that features all-natural soaps, lip balms, lotion bars made with lanolin. Lanolin is one of the most effective natural moisturizers out there, and as a customer, I can attest that her products are amazing- her lip balms are easily my favourite on the planet.  Alicia is our featured Indie Business Interview this month!

Why did you decide to start your own shop? 

Starting Sweet Sheep was something of a whim. As someone with an environmental background, I’m interested in using natural and environmentally sustainable body care products. Then one year at Stitches East I bought a lotion bar (that contained mostly just shea butter) and was super impressed with the idea (so moisturizing! so portable!), but didn’t love the texture or intensity of fragrance. I started researching and realized that most recipes were fairly simple, consisting of 1 part wax, 1 part butter, and 1 part oil. I tried that combination and then fell down the rabbit hole of natural soap and lotion-making ingredients. I sent out samples and surveyed volunteers through my blog, tweaking the recipe until I ended up with a great combination of several different oils and butters, including lanolin from sheep’s wool! I figured knitters would love these bars and since my knitting pattern designing efforts weren’t progressing as I had hoped, I opened an Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe instead.

 Is this business your full-time gig, or do you have another job as well?

This is not my full-time gig. I work as a biologist for an environmental consulting firm that specializes in oil spill risk assessments. I analyze data, research model inputs, and help determine what the ecological impacts of spills and other energy development activities might be. I fit Sweet Sheep stuff in usually late at night and on weekends because I really like having a creative project to focus on outside of my job.

Indie Business Interview: Sweet Sheep | knittedbliss.com

 What is the most difficult part of running your own business? 

Honestly, I think the hardest part is just getting started. There’s a learning curve with setting up and running the shop, figuring out packaging and shipping, and pricing and product development. The scariest part (for someone who isn’t depending on the income to live, mind you) is just thinking “Oh my, I hope somebody likes this stuff as much as I do!” Getting the word out isn’t always easy, either, but partnerships with blogs like this are a great way to do it.

 What is the piece of advice you wish you could give yourself when you were just starting out? 

I would tell myself to quit worrying so much! Turns out, people do love this stuff, and I really did know enough to get started. J Sweet Sheep is just over a year old so I still consider myself to be fairly new at this,  but I’ve gotten more confident in my decision-making as the year has progressed. I’m learning to trust my instincts and that helps reduce stress.

 How did you overcome the inevitable setbacks (large or small) that come with the territory of having your own small business? 

I was lucky enough to know a local indie fiber dyer (June Pryce Fiber Arts) with more experience whom I could ask some of my stickier tax-related questions when I was getting started. She’s been a great help in clueing me in to local festivals and was kind enough to bring a box of my lotion bars up to the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show last year when I couldn’t attend myself. Asking questions of people who know better has been my main strategy when I feel stuck, I love how generous most crafters are with their knowledge. I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who supports my crazy ideas. He’s an expert tin-stickerer and ingredient-measurer and is a ton of help at markets. His enthusiasm doesn’t hurt, either, especially on days when I start to doubt myself.

 What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of turning their hobby into a  business? 

My advice would be to do a good bit of research and have a solid idea of what you want to make/sell and why it’s special enough for other people to buy. I think whatever you’re selling has to stand out in some way in order to be viable. Depending on your business, it might be important to over-estimate your startup costs and know that you might not actually make a profit right away. There are a lot of good resources for running a handmade business, the book Etsy-preneurship was particularly helpful for developing good bookkeeping strategies. And please, for the love of all things handmade, learn to price your products appropriately! There are a ton of Etsy articles on the ‘art of pricing’ and while it’s not as simple as it seems, it’s important because so many crafters don’t price sustainably and instead flood the market with undervalued products that hurt everyone in the long run.

Indie Business Interview: Sweet Sheep | knittedbliss.com

 What is the most satisfying part of Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe?

I love so many parts of it, but customer feedback is probably my favorite. There is nothing better than hearing from someone who just so totally loves the thing you made. I read every Etsy review (they’re really helpful!) and the ones where you can tell that the recipient is really psyched completely brighten my day. I also enjoy vending at markets. When I can help people pick out the perfect scent or watch them get excited sniffing each one (“Oh, Lemon Cake! Peaches & Cream! OMG I LOVE THIS!”) it’s a lot of fun. And I really like that I’m making something that’s better for your skin than the petrochemical-laden junk sold in plastic containers at drug stores. (Read No More Dirty Looks if you want a peek into the scary side of cosmetic chemicals.) I also feel like I’m doing my small bit for the planet, one re-usable tin and recyclable package at a time!

 How important is goal setting to you? What sort of goals can you share with us about Sweet Sheep in the coming 6-12 months?

Over-arching goals are important for me. Especially since I work full-time, if I have too many discrete Sweet Sheep goals I get anxious about what I’m able to get done with my limited time. One goal is to develop new wholesale accounts with local shops. Earlier in the year I had put out a survey asking what kinds of products besides lotion bars and lip balms people would like to see, so another of my goals has been to add a few more products to my lineup. I’ve added handmade soaps already, and next on my list is a whipped body butter that I’m still in the process of developing. I’m always open to suggestions of things people would like to see, so please get in touch if you have a request!

***Alicia has is also generously offering free International shipping (and domestic too!) until August 7th when using the coupon code SHIPBLISS on all order with a minimum subtotal of $10 (USD). Go forth and shop! I know I will be. ***

Indie Business Interview: Sweet Sheep | knittedbliss.com

Modification Monday: The Sweatercowl

Modification Monday: The Sweatercowl | knittedbliss.com

Original Pattern: Folded 

Knitter Extraordinaire: Joji (Ravelry ID, blog)

Mods: Joji cast on for this bottom-up sweater with every intention of making it, but decided to turn it into a cowl. Details can be found on her project page, here.

What Makes This Awesome: If you have a knit in progress that has been languishing in a pile for years now (!!), then I hope that this fantastic mod will give you a bit of hope. Joji was all set to knit the beautiful Folded sweater,  but stalled while still on the body- she wasn’t loving the yarn and pattern combo. After 4 years of staying a knit in progress, she decided to add more stockinette, and finish up with a ‘hem’ that matched the bottom, and voila- a fabulous squishy cowl was born! This is the kind of ‘why didn’t I think of that?’  sort of awesome that no doubt comes from her years as a clever and talented designer- thinking about what else this knit could be, other than a sweater.  I love her solution!

Modification Monday: The Sweatercowl | knittedbliss.com

Pin Ups and Link Love: My Favourite Things This Week

Would you like to see a little video of baby sloths loving bath time? Of course you would!

I loved this article on being a proud overweight bride: “My Wedding was Perfect- And I was Fat As Hell The Whole Time“. A beautiful essay by a beautiful bride on what really matters.

An interesting essay on how to help support independent stores, with some very thoughtful comments in the thread, as well.

Oh, and Interweave is having a special two-day sale: Take $25 Off Your Purchase of $50 or More at Interweave. It’s from today until the end of the day Sunday, so this weekend is the weekend to snap up any books, magazines, or downloads you’ve been eyeing!

And Madbird has some project bags and needle rolls on sale, too!

Pin Ups and Link Love: Cherry Pie Bars | knittedbliss.com

 Cherry Pie Crumble bars- All the deliciousness of cherry pie, a fraction of the time it takes to make a pie from scratch. Plus, cherries are in season! Pinterest link is here, and the original post is here.

Pin Ups and Link Love: Chickpea Salad | knittedbliss.com

I’m a big fan of recipes that can basically be summed up as ‘chuck everything into a food processor and have at it’. This chickpea salad is just that- easy and super quick to pull together, perfect for sandwiches and high in protein and veggies. Pinterest link is here, and the original post is here.

Pin Ups and Link Love: Peanut Butter & Banana Pops | knittedbliss.com

Keeping with the ‘chuck everything in a food processor and have at it’ theme,  I’m dying to try these peanut butter, banana and yogurt pops! We already know how frozen bananas already taste like ice cream, so I assume the peanut butter and yogurt really put these over the top. Pinterest link is here, and the original post is here.

Pin Ups and Link Love: DIY Animal PIns | knittedbliss.com

This sweet little trio of felt woodland creatures would be perfect for brooches, hair clips, ponytail hair elastics, or rings. I’m amazed at the detail of each one! Pinterest link is here, and the original post is here.

Pin Ups and Link Love: DIY Coconut Oil Handsoap | knittedbliss.com

This all-natural foaming coconut oil hand soap is antibacterial and smells amazing and is awesome for someone like me that is a very frequent hand washer but doesn’t like using harsh chemicals (especially since they dry out my skin so much!). Pinterest link is here, and the original post is here.

Blue Sky Alpacas Royal Babies Kit

If you follow me on Pinterest, you might have noticed  when I pinned an adorable Blue Sky Alpacas kit featuring adorable baby animals of Africa! I loved the Lisette Lion (normally all the lions you see are male and have manes- she is a proper little lady lion!), and first saw it on the Blue Sky Alpacas website. At the time, they weren’t yet launched but they have since been rolled out to several knitting stores and are also now available online here, here, here, and here.   I was fortunate enough to receive a kit. And holy smokes, it’s got to be the most impressively designed kit I’ve seen so far:

Blue Sky Alpacas Lisette Kit | knittedbliss.com

Blue Sky Alpacas Lisette Kit | knittedbliss.com

Blue Sky Alpacas Lisette Kit | knittedbliss.com

There’s a lot to be said for having  toy pattern packaged up as a kit, since whenever I knit toys, they are the things that most require additional materials that you might not have on hand- stuffing, safety eyes, etc. I love knitting toys so at this stage I have a range of safety eyes and stuffing kicking around, but if you don’t normally knit toys, this is a very thorough kit. And the instructions are pretty impressive, too- there directions for both knitting it flat and in the round.

Blue Sky Alpacas Lisette Kit | knittedbliss.com

I’m crazy in love with the royal alpaca yarn, though. I’m actually a little disappointed I’m knitting a toy with such glorious softness, when really I want to knit myself a full bodysuit from this yarn and then finally be warm all throughout winter. But then I wouldn’t get to play with it in the summer, like I am now. So I suppose knitting an adorable little lion with it is also pretty damn wonderful.

I bet you are wondering what these little critters will look like, all knitted up. The full Royal Petites Menagerie is here:

Blue Sky Alpacas Lisette Kit | knittedbliss.com

Top row, from left to right: Marcel the monkey, Emilie the elephant, and Lisette the lion.

Bottom row, from left to right: Georgitte the giraffe, Rene the Rhino, and Hector the hippo.

I’m almost done making my little lion, soon she’ll be all stuffed and ready for her photo shoot! I’m super excited, and so is Lila- she’s taken a real interest in my yarn and knitting lately, and I think she only needs to be a little bit older before I can teach her to knit and then enslave her into my knitting world have a little knitting buddy! I think next year when she turns 4 she might be ready. Has anyone had any success teaching a 4-year-old to knit?

Review- Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design

Quince & Co Review- Top Down: Reimagining Set In Sleeve Design | knittedbliss.com

Quince & Co‘s latest offering in Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design by Elizabeth Doherty is both a mini collection and resource for thoroughly understanding and knitting top down set in sleeves, a construction technique that is featured in all 6 of the patterns. In the information section, there are several diagrams and illustrations to help provide additional clarification for those of us who are visual learners, along with clear information on sleeve cap mechanics, fitting the cap to the body, cap depth and sleeve fit, and step-by-step instructions for how to work a top down set in sleeve. These resources will come in handy if this is your first time knitting a top down set in sleeve, or if you are thinking of designing knits with top down set in sleeves.  Considering how fantastic a good set in sleeve looks, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone that wouldn’t find this appealing- unless you aren’t a big fan of knitting sweaters!

This is also quite a beginner-friendly collection.  There are lots of great little extras that help explain techniques and include links to videos, if you prefer seeing the technique executed in motion (which I always need!). If a knitter has some experience with other patterns but hasn’t knit a sweater yet, this collection would be a great way to ease into sweater knitting.

All 6 designs have very simple silhouettes  and small, thoughtful details. But there is clearly a lot of encouragement for knitters to customize these for themselves. And you know how much  I support knitters customizing their patterns! Here are my top 3 faves from the collection:

Quince & Co Review- Top Down: Reimagining Set In Sleeve Design | knittedbliss.com

Sans Serif

Sans serif is a simple worsted weight stockinette cardigan with hidden pockets that are knit in fingering weight (to reduce bulk). It’s companion cardigan is  Serif, and they share many of the same elements, you could easily switch in and out a few details from either to customize it.

You Should Totally Knit This If:  You love a classic goes-with-everything cardigan, knits with pockets (hooray!) and you actually button up your cardigans when you wear them.

You Should Definitely Not Knit This If: the idea of a knit that is pretty much entirely ribbing and stockinette fills you with dread, no matter how nicely the sleeves fit.

Quince & Co Review- Top Down: Reimagining Set In Sleeve Design | knittedbliss.com

Meris

Meris is one of the more curve-forgiving knits in this collection, with a great A-line shape and lovely geometric lace details (lace has both written and charted directions). Hems and neckline are i-cord.

You Should Totally Knit This If:  You love A-line knits and lace. This would pretty much be exactly what you are looking for.

You Should Definitely Not Knit This If: The idea of a cardigan that only buttons across the bust would drive you crazy, or if you prefer to wear your cardi’s open- the wrong side of lace just doesn’t look as good as the right side. Also, if you are allergic to i-cord edgings or bind offs.

Quince & Co Review- Top Down: Reimagining Set In Sleeve Design | knittedbliss.com

Copperplate

The most modern of the collection, featuring gentle waist shaping and a traveling rib front band that is  knitted separately. Provisional cast ons are used, and the neckband is seamed on. The traveling rib fronts are both charted and have written instructions. More adventurous knitters could swap out the traveling rib design for cables, lace, or anything you want!

You Should Totally Knit This If: You love a wear-with-everything cardigan that you can throw on at a moment’s notice, and you don’t mind some seaming.

You Should Definitely Not Knit This If: drapey, worn-open cardigans aren’t your thing or if you hate seaming and i-cord edgings.

Those are my 3 picks from the mini collection, but it’s worth checking them all out! If you have questions about the others, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments.