CORI PARIS – the full story behind my handmade business
CORI PARIS – THE FULL STORY BEHIND MY HANDMADE BUSINESS
We were all born with a special talent. Perhaps you are a crafty person just like me and have a burning desire to start your own handmade business. But living from your passion or art is not an easy thing. And not too many people do make a living out of it.
I’ve always been in love with fashion, from a very early age. I remember wrapping my bed sheets around me at night and imagining wearing beautiful gowns.
I, however, am not working in the fashion industry today. The passion is still very present and that’s why I decided to start a handmade business. I wanted to try selling my own creations. As I can’t afford to quit my current job, I looked on the internet for possible ways to sell products online as a side hustle.
So here’s the story of how I started this new adventure. I’ve learned a lot selling online for the past few years. Read my story so you can learn from my personal experience. Learn to skip the pitfalls I’ve fallen into and start your online adventure too!
1 | HOW I GOT MY BUSINESS IDEA
My business idea came very occasionally and was highly influenced by my relatives. I had different and more conventional plans in mind on how to build a fashion business but the way my projects turned out, thanks to the influence of people around me, actually proved to be more than interesting and exciting!!
A passion from childhood
As a kid, I was dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. I loved sitting in front of my TV set during the Haute Couture catwalks in Paris and the shows were simply fascinating me. I especially admired the work of Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier.
I started sewing and drawing fashion sketches from the age of 9 or so. My mom taught me the basics of sewing and I had fun creating new clothes for my Barbie dolls. I also experimented with sewing for myself. But let’s be honest… not everything was really wearable at first.
As I did not study fashion at school, I had the plan of learning everything on the topic on my own. I purchased a good collection of books on all the different sub-topics related to fashion and intended to learn everything.
The fashion business I intended to build was very conventional. I only had a complicated and financially unachievable plan in mind. Design at home, produce in China and retail in Europe. To start a side hustle in fashion with this strategy is simply a “No no!!” But no worries… starting an online business is pretty easy nowadays thanks to the internet.
My first business idea – selling Barbie dresses
So my first business idea was to sell Barbie dresses. I had the main issue of having the cost of fabric being a real obstacle to creating and selling fashion items. So I knew that I couldn’t sell real human-size clothes, not even for babies because the cost of the fabric was quite costly even if imported from China.
The initial budget I had to invest in my business was very minimum so I had to find a solution.
The first business idea I got was to sell Barbie dresses. This way, I could experiment with sewing beautiful gowns without spending too much money on fabric. I could also check whether I would be creative enough to imagine new designs over the years.
The cost of the fabric was well-reduced because of the size of the Barbie dolls. So here I was, with this idea in mind, very excited! I could start having fun imagining new and original designs!
I started searching for and collecting various materials to create the gowns. Ribbons, beads, silk petals, even nail art material… the possibilities were endless. I felt like there was no limit to creativity.
That sounded so much fun!!
The initial investment was really minimum and I started creating my first dresses. I named my very first dress “Cadenza”, a gown made from red silk rose petals hand-sewn on a red satin fabric. So my first business idea was slowly taking shape…
The meaning behind my business name
I first thought of names such as Cori Fashion, Coco Fashions, Coco-FB (FB stands for Fashion Barbie)… Coco and Cori being my two nicknames.
While I was brainstorming for possible brand names, it’s actually my mother-in-law who came out with a really great idea!! She thought that including the name Paris to my business name would benefit me. And I couldn’t agree more. Paris evokes ideas such as elegance and refinement, and is known as the capital of fashion. So I finally used one of my two nicknames, Cori, and added Paris to it. So that’s exactly the image and feeling that I wanted to use for my brand. That’s what I was looking for because I was aiming for a stylish and fashionable segment in the Barbie niche.
I originally used a hyphen between Cori and Paris, which I soon after dropped. So my business name was born – it would be Cori Paris.
So here I was! I had my first products ready. Now I had to figure out a way how to sell them. Nowadays, it is wonderful that the internet is giving tons of opportunities to people who have a passion and want to sell their art or craft online. There is no need to produce numerous items and try to sell them in brick and mortar shops. Now you can basically do everything online.
Researching the internet back in 2014, I found a French marketplace named A Little Market, also called ALM. The website doesn’t exist anymore as it has *unfortunately* been purchased by the owners of Etsy.
ALM was giving a great opportunity for people to sell their handmade items. The interface was user-friendly and very easy to start with. There were no fees for publishing new products. As a seller, you were charged with fees only when you had sold a product. I decided to give it a try and opened my first boutique.
I was very happy and excited to finally show my own creations to the world! After registering on ALM, I had to make the first photoshoot of my Barbie dresses so I could publish them on the internet.
The first photoshoots of my items
The general feeling I wanted for my brand was of luxury and glamour. So I made a backdrop before my photoshoot. It looked like the backdrops seen behind celebrities during music or movie awards ceremonies. I simply used a large cardboard box which I cut partly. I covered the inside with a few pages with my brand named printed on them in large fonts. I also purchased some doll mannequins to display my dresses.
I was ready to make my first attempt at product photography. I knew that I needed some good natural light so I placed my backdrop in front of my glass door in the living room. I took a few pictures from different angles, making sure my shadow would not be visible *this part was kinda tricky!!*.
The final result was decent… but not looking professional! But I had made my first step in product photography. My pictures were not perfect but at least I had some photos to publish my first listings online. I had started learning product photography and perfecting my pictures would simply be a matter of time and trial and error.
My first steps selling online with no knowledge of SEO practices
I wrote my listing titles and descriptions with no knowledge of SEO practices. A real walk in total darkness…
This was probably one of the main lessons that I learned from selling online.
Indeed, if you do things out of intuition, high chances you will go the wrong way. Selling on the internet is not that intuitive. You need to have some basic knowledge of how to do things the right way.
Back in 2014, I knew nothing about SEO. I didn’t even know the term existed! So basically, when I first tried selling online, I named my first Barbie dress “Cadenza” because I found that this was a specific type of red rose and it corresponded to the color of my dress. I thought the idea was so cool and that it sounded very stylish.
But here was the problem – no one was finding and viewing my dress because no one was typing such a keyword. So my idea that sounded so cool was actually soooo stupid!
On the internet, you should always call a spade a spade if you want to get found!
When I started writing the descriptions for my dresses, I tried to be as descriptive as possible but I didn’t do any keyword research on the internet. I just used words that crossed my mind. And that was a big mistake.
My first business idea was a total fail
As a result of my lack of knowledge of how to sell online, my first shop was a total fail. Traffic wasn’t there, my listings weren’t converting… Originally I was very proud of my dresses. I thought they would easily get sold because they were of good quality. I imagined they would sell like crazy!
The quality of my dresses was definitely either equal or better than a good portion of the Barbie dresses being sold on A Little Market at that time. But other sellers were having more traffic to their shops so they were making more sales.
My traffic was close to zero. Yes, my dresses looked good but the thing is that on the internet if no one sees what you are doing, you will not sell anything even though the quality of your products is good.
So definitely you should learn the basics of SEO.
The other problem was that, just a few weeks or months after I published my first dresses, a new seller appeared on ALM and she was creating very beautiful Barbie dresses. She was publishing new designs consistently. And her prices were so ridiculously low that this girl started selling hundreds, and soon after thousands of dresses, and she simply crushed the Barbie dress niche. Other sellers were left with the crumbs.
I decided not to drop my prices dramatically since I would then make little to no profit. I refused to be paid cents for my work. The competition had become way too high. So I decided to look for a better niche market.
3 | MY SECOND BUSINESS IDEA IN THE BABY NICHE
Looking at a cute pacifier clip from the USA
When I got my first daughter, my mother-in-law sent me lots of baby items from the United States, including a couple of cute-looking and original pacifier clips. They were unlike any pacifier clips I had seen in shops in France.
One day I realized that creating such pacifier clips would be pretty easy. I knew how to sew and I could already imagine designs I would be able to create.
The concept was simple – I just needed a few pieces of ribbon and a few snaps. I could easily buy ribbon supplies from China. Lots of different designs and colors were available on the Aliexpress website. I could get really creative with this idea. With ribbons and felt, I could make super cute bows or flowers. Creating for babies is a lot of fun!
I figured out that there was a gap in this baby market. And this is what you need to find when you want to start a business – a gap in a specific market so you can try to fill it.
So I decided to create very cute-looking baby items with a little fashion touch. I wanted to make good-quality and stylish pacifier clips. So it was time to work on business idea #2!!
Working on a more professional product photography
After designing and producing my first pacifier clips, I had to make a little photoshoot again. The first pictures were decent but definitely still not looking professional enough.
I used my dining table as a backdrop. I had a pretty looking tablecloth with some shiny plastic on it. At first, I was glad about my pictures but I later realized that the backdrop looked too busy. My products were not eye-catchy enough.
My pictures still needed to look more professional. The process of trial and error wasn’t over just yet. If you sell online, you need to master product photography!
Meet the team
Later I also realized that I needed to show my products on a model. Lifestyle pictures allow people to imagine themselves with a product. For such photos, I needed little models… So my two young daughters became my little brand models. And they were actually having fun being taken pictures of!
I always make sure that my daughters are not recognizable in my pictures. It’s important to protect their privacy so I do not show their eyes or I shoot them under a certain angle so only part of their faces is visible.
After trying to sell on a marketplace I thought that I needed a place of my own so I first built a free website with Jimdo. It is still online so feel free to have a look at it.
It was a good first step. I must admit – I liked Jimdo! The platform was pretty easy to use as a beginner. It gave me a first sense of how it feels to work on website design.
The very first design of my website was… terrible. And I am so glad that I soon crushed it. My husband was very helpful and insightful at that stage because he gave me some really good tips on how a website should look like.
I was going in the wrong direction. I originally wrote too much text on my homepage and my website was very unfriendly-looking. I had to learn everything about website design, starting from zero.
Starting a website for free with Jimdo
As I used the free version of Jimdo, there was no possibility to duplicate pages. Each time I was creating a new product page, I had to start my page from scratch. It was a lot of work! So this is definitely not what I would recommend if you need a complete e-commerce website.
If you need a free simple website for an association or a personal little blog, you can give the free version of Jimdo a try. It should satisfy your needs. But if you want to be serious and start a real business, I would not recommend building a free website. All professional bloggers and e-commerce sellers would tell you the same – if you want to be serious with your business, you must invest in your own hosted website.
How I built my own website from scratch with WordPress
Having your own website involves a bit of personal investment but it is more than worth it in the long run.
You do not own the marketplace you are using to sell your products, and you do you own your social media accounts either. This means that you can potentially get kicked from these platforms one day or that the rules may change over time. You have no control over how these platforms will evolve or whether they will continue to exist in the future. But no one can change or cancel your website unless you do something really bad.
So I registered an account with Siteground and created my website with WordPress. It has a lot of functionalities so it can seem overwhelming at first. You simply need to watch videos from YouTubers who mastered WordPress, follow their step-by-step tutorials and you’ll be good to go.
Yes, you will face some issues. Yes, you will have to find solutions to some problems on the way but it is worth it. You will learn and become more and more professional at it.
It took me two months and a half for my website to be ready. I was working on it for just a few hours each evening. The main issue I encountered was to make my website bilingual. It was not that simple to find plugins that were compatible to have a website in two languages, with a blog and an e-commerce shop.
Remember the essential!
I started my adventure online by publishing pretty random pictures and descriptions for my products. The result – I was making pretty much no sales and I had very little traffic to my online shop. My poor results made me realize that I could not sell online unless I would learn how to do it properly. I had to learn how to become more professional. The quality of my pictures improved over time and I then wrote more keyword-rich descriptions for my products. I stopped working from simple intuition. But the process of correcting all the mistakes I had done proved to be quite time-consuming!
If you are also planning to start a side hustle, I would recommend you to learn some basics before taking action. Knowing how selling online works will help you do things the right way from the very beginning. Do not waste your time correcting past mistakes. Better spend some time learning before taking action!
Good luck with building your own business!
WORK HARD, DREAM BIG, NEVER GIVE UP!