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Nov 14, 2013

Indie Pattern Companies and The Power of Branding



Readers, today I want to talk about branding.

You may have heard around the blogosphere that Colette has a few new men's patterns for sale -- a duffle coat called Albion and a bag (that can be a messenger bag, satchel, or backpack) called Cooper.

Let me say right off that the bat that I have no formal relationship with Colette, despite my having chosen their Negroni men's shirt pattern for my men's shirt sew-along a few years ago (and I purchased my copy).  But I want to focus on how expertly Colette is targeting the male sewing audience.

First, they've started a separate label for their men's patterns -- Walden.  Let's face it: a lot of men are squeamish about purchasing anything associated with women, masculinity being the fragile construct that it is.  So creating a separate menswear pattern line is a fantastic idea.

Second, they have great art direction, incorporate video, and use hip looking models. (You can take a look at the site and read more about the patterns here.)

Friends, who would you rather spend an evening (and perhaps the following morning) with?  Him....



Or him...?



Him....  (Wait, that's the same guy.  No matter!)



Or him?  (And what's with that fleece?)



Why must the Big Four pattern company sites look so generic, so nearly identical, so often divorced from fashion?  (And why must every guy be a "dad" or "husband"?  We get it, they're straight.)  These are not rhetorical questions, readers.

Is there a fear that the typical Jo-Ann's customer will be put off by the Pacific Northwest hipster aesthetic of Colette's Walden line?  Or is it just too expensive to update what's probably not a hugely profitable part of the business?

Obviously, a small, independent pattern company is more nimble, so a focused (even quirky) vision is easier to put into place.   There's a reason why the online shopping experience of buying menswear from Sears is different from that of a small, urban, clothing store chain like Steven Alan.   I'm not talking about the merchandise (though there's that) but rather the presentation. 

Readers, three questions:

1) Do you find the more focused, art-directed approach of many of the indie pattern companies to be to your liking, or are you immune to branding and focus solely on the quality of the pattern itself?  (or maybe you're put off by a hipper aesthetic?)

2) Is it merely the smaller size of the indie company that makes their branding so effective, or is it rather the clear vision of a single person, regardless of the size of the company?

3) What do you think the future holds as far as Indie vs. Big Four?  Do the Davids have an edge on the Goliaths?

Jump in!

67 comments:

  1. Being small makes you agile, for sure. I think the indie companies know their target audience a little bit more and they're able to cater to that audience. With the big four pattern companies, they don't know whether their men's pattern shopper is me, fan of well dressed skinny boys and edgy men's fashion, or Grandma Hester looking to make a vest for her grandson before his band recital. They, um, try though. Have you seen the awful styling/photography for the SUEDEsays patterns? Anger! Pube goatees! Purple hair! Ohhhh myyyy! http://www.simplicity.com/p-6621-mens-jackets-suedesays-collection.aspx

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    1. I don't know if I'd buy a menswear pattern from an indie company, however. At least not for something tailored. Menswear is a unique beast and I think there's so much more to drafting, constructing and tailoring sport coats and the like than most people realize.

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    2. Yes, but that IS Suede with the purple hair - I guess that's his look now. And if you saw his last appearance on PR All Stars, he didn't look great.

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    3. OMG the Suede line is the worst! Its like they went to the mall, found a guy with blue hair and made a bunch of uggo patterns for him

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    4. Just a question for HillBill, but what makes you think the pattern designers for the big four have a better idea of the requirements of mens clothing? I can't imagine them having someone specially trained just for their meager menswear collections and they seem to have a lower level of construction and tailoring instructions anyway.

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    5. I know this was for HillBill, but i'm putting my 2c in. As someone who actually does sew for a living, and is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to that, I am totally put off by the shoddy construction by the big-4, mens and women's. It bodes not well if the sample garment on the pattern envelope looks like a 7th grade home-ec project, then how will it look in the hands of the average stitcher? Um. I rambled but I think you know what I'm getting at.

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  2. I don't think people realize what it takes to produce quality patterns. It is much more expensive to have photos of real people on the envelope than line drawings, but line drawings don't always do the design justice.

    Even if a professional model shoot is out of the budget, pictures posted by customers who have made the patterns are a nice addition to a indie pattern website.

    I also check out the pattern vendors at the SewExpo because they have samples to examine and maybe even try on. Seeing patterns made up has lightened my wallet more than once. :-)

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  3. I think indy companies do a better job capturing the fantasy then big 4 not just for men but in general. I can't tell you how many kids patterns I've purchased only to find they were nothing special bc the samples were made out of beautiful fabric and photographed well. These new men's patterns fit into that same thing for me. When I look at them I think "Wow I could make that and my husband would look great and be so impressed." vs. "Um seriously who wants to make an ill fitting shirt my husband has enough of those already."

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  4. "Pac NW hipster aesthetic." So true! Maybe it's just because I live in Seattle, but I love it. I thought, "I want to be that guy." Even as a lady, who loves wearing lady clothes, there was just something so appealing about it! So I bought the pattern with the intent of making a coat for my husband - being a bearded northwest pseudo-hipster himself, he was very drawn to the coat and the bag. I've never sewn menswear, and picking up the Negroni still frightens me, but I will try this coat, mostly because I want to make one for myself too. I love Colette Patterns because I can visualize better how it's going to work for me. The fit's good, the models actually look like real people. With the Big 4 I have a lot of trouble seeing a garment in my head. I can't get from the envelope to a finished garment I'd actually want to wear. A lot of people are better at visualizing a finished product than I am. I feel like the indie pattern companies do a better job at actually showing you what it will look like - the fit, the colors, etc.

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  5. With out the risk of sounding political ? Oh, so what.... I will sound political ! This is an Urban Elite vs the average Joe discussion. But hey. I live in the urban North East, consider myself elite, yet buy mainstream patterns because I can get them on sale for 99 cents!

    p.s. actually I have been buying patterns at the thrift stores lately because they sell them for 25 cent.

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    1. I think this is more generational than urban elite vs. average Joe, but I see your point.

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    2. I agree, Peter. Many of the indie companies seem targeted to younger people. Which is great, because then maybe more of them will want to sew. But I've never sewn any of the indie patterns. Often, they don't seem like they would be flattering to my 52 year old body. (There are exceptions, of course.) The indie companies have better marketing, no doubt. Part of the problem is that the clothes in the big 4 pattern books often look too big for the models, and it looks less contemporary. Do they think we would be scared off if they looked too hip?

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    3. I agree, Leigh Ann…. many are targeted for younger people. I'm not saying that is bad, and getting more younger people into sewing is great! But, as a woman (dare I say it…. turning 50!!! next birthday) Colette's patterns and some of the other indies just seem too young. That being said.. I HAVE bought from indies mainly because I want to support them and not have the big 4 be a complete monopoly. You know… a little competition can't hurt.

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    4. Curious the differences in exposure, then--I lurk around Stitcher's Guild and the indie lines discussed there were all aimed at a demographic too old for me. From the more successful indie pattern lines I got the impression that they were as busy as they could be already and that more marketing would just net them business they couldn't yet serve.

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  6. I am profoundly grateful that there is a company that is making new, chic patterns for men. The big companies act as if all men wear are pajamas and hawaiian shirts

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    1. Burda does alright as far as men's patterns, if you're into dating/sewing for twiggy boys. And, the newer Vogue patterns for men aren't half bad either. I actually dated a doppleganger of their newest model, so now all I see when I look at their stuff is a horrible case of narcissism, but I digress.

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    2. Would someone please start a sewing pattern company named "Twiggy boys"?

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    3. Totally, as soon as I figure out how to afford my degree in technical apparel design. Hmmm, maybe I could start the company while I'm in school...

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  7. Terrific post, Peter! You know, I was saying to my fitting friend, who has no use for Colette designs, that the marketing is freakin' GENIUS. Honestly, what that woman isn't (as a designer), she sure as hell is as a marketer. She deserves success for this line, just on principle.

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  8. I am so glad you brought this up! I am soooo psyched about all the new pattern companies etc!
    Could not agree more with everything you said. I cannot relate to the big 4 branding at all. The Kwik sew stuff takes the cake. oh my god, I have never seen so much terrible looking fabric then some of the stuff they come up with!
    The recent Colette releases-coat and bag are the first patterns I really like from that line. That is ok. We don't all have to like the same things.
    I am fine with their targeted audience here, I can certainly relate more to it than then what I see on the big 4. I live in an area where this look quite popular.
    What all that said, I still hold indie companies accountable for a quality product. They should not be immune to honest criticism just because they are a small business. I have seen some people come under fire for making honest reviews of indie patterns. My favorite pattern line right now is grain line studio and style arc.

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    1. I agree… the newest releases are my favorites also. I think your thoughts are right on about the indies.

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  9. Presentation may draw customers in but I wonder whether a company can build or expand a customer base on that alone. I've been looking at pattern books for a good long while. I tend to tune out the models and just look at the garments. Props to whoever at Colette published a good straight-on view of this coat--sometimes the poses make it impossible to guess what a garment would actually look like. But, that said, that coat is just a rather generic duffle. I have several patterns like it--a couple dating back to the 1970s--because I was so taken with the photo or the cool illustration on the pattern envelop. I look at these patterns fondly but I sure wouldn't buy anymore just like them.




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  10. Oh and to answer #3. I am going to be hopeful that the future will be bright for indie pattern companies. Brand loyalty is a powerful thing and I think I am not alone in the number of sewists that have no loyalty whatsoever to any of the big 4. The thing the big 4 does have going for them is pricing. They go on sale all the time and people love a deal. Plus, you can get them readily in Joann's etc...

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  11. 1) I focus on how I think the pattern will fit- I have considered buying indie to get some oddball patterns (for sports competitions, etc) only to find that their website didn't give me a chart of the body measurements the patterns were designed for (just said all sizes were included.)

    I care less about the image of the pattern than if the photo or drawing gives me a good idea about how the garment will fit me and how it drapes in a typical fabric. I love it when indie pattern companies show lots of photos of customers wearing their creations.

    1b) I only buy women's patterns, but the pale-white tofu-raised hipster with neck beard is a turn-off.

    2) As Bill Cosby said, there is no secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone. I think Indie pattern designers have greater potential because they don't care if 90% of the pattern-buying audience is repulsed by their styling, patterns, model photo shoots etc. -they concentrate on making the other 10% ecstatically happy.

    Personally I don't like the Colette brand patterns. I'm not their audience. But if I were consulting them on business matters I would tell them to keep doing what they were doing because it clearly works for their audience.

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  12. I don't think I ever could've gotten excited about sewing if I was a guy-- there's a pretty limited range, especially if you're not aware of vintage patterns. So I think it's nice to see a couple of patterns that might appeal to a different group of male sewers (or to women that want to sew things besides buttondowns and barbecue aprons for the dudes in their lives). I sew almost exclusively with indie patterns as they appeal to me and I don't live close to a Jo-Ann, but if big 4 patterns float your boat, then I'm glad they're a good option for some people.

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  13. Well, as I'm (shamed to admit it here, but sadly true) not a sewer, I can't comment on the quality of the patterns, but I do think it rather funny that the design is meant to be (and succeeds at being) hip, youth-oriented, and of-the-moment - when what it looks to me is almost exactly what a pattern envelope made in the UK in about 1946 would have looked like...

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  14. I've been sewing my clothes for over thirty years so I am used to the Big Four patterns. I mostly use Vogue because the patterns generally fit me well and I'm used to how they are sized. I have used some indie patterns but none have really impressed me. I do like idea of supporting a smaller pattern company though. The Colette esthetic is too young for me, I'm 50. Yes, the photography and styling is nice but the designs are pretty basic. I subscribe to Vogue Patterns and the modeled patterns seem sophisticated and polished.

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    1. Anonymous, I agree completely. I'm 49 and the Colette esthetic is just too young for me. This new coat from them is definitely my favorite so far. While Vogue has some bizarre things, they are also more sophisticated and seem to span a broader age range.

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  15. Collette's patterns are MENticing!

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  16. Replies
    1. Yes, I like them, too. In fact, when I consider it, I've been using "indie" patterns for years - Past Patterns, Truly Victorian, etc. - all costume patterns. I wasn't even aware of Collette patterns until I started following blogs.

      Lisa

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  17. I use a mix of patterns from indie designers and the big four. I love Burda for menswear as the trousers fit my husband really well; he does judo so has well developed leg muscles which means most trousers are just too tight for comfort. I liked Kwik Sew for their older patterns, they used to do some really good sweatshirt patterns and they had a good shirt pattern if you could look past the OTT cowboy styling they'd done.

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  18. Personally, I don't buy envelope patterns, so I may not be the right person to comment on this. On the other hand, my opinion may be less 'clouded' by personal experience using the patterns from these brands.

    1. I think it takes quite a bit of sewing experience to be able to judge a pattern from a picture and a line drawing. So, especially when ordering from a particular brand for the first time, most people will be influenced by the artwork as well. And Colette is doing that very well.
    I think the big 4 haven't updated the pictures on their menswear since the early 90's.
    And the customer they target seems to be the mother or wife sewing for the men in her life, rather than the man himself.

    2. I think it's funny to speak of indie pattern companies in general, using Colette as the only example. Colette is not the only but definitely the most successful indie pattern maker. Attractive branding is without a doubt one of the forces behind that success. On the other hand, the market placement of these new men's patterns wouldn't be possible for a truly tiny company (say, one or two people, on a small budget).
    That said, Colette and other indie companies tend to offer a range of pattern which form a recognizable collection.
    By contrast, the big 4 have spent many years making patterns for everyone. They have so many different lines it's impossible to tell what the company's 'own look' is.

    3. It's always hard to predict the future but I'm pretty sure we'll see more indie companies trying to get a slice of the sewing pie in years to come. And some of them will thrive. On the other hand, the big 4, and all the resources they command will start looking for ways to fight that. You can already see that with Gertie's line for Simplicity (or was it Butterick? I don't remember). Recognizable styles and 'poster girl' (yes, I know she designs and makes samples herself, I'm talking about this from a branding point of view here), with 4 big drafting and grading and production and distribution.

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  19. I must say that I have this preconcieved idea that if you rely a lot on pictures and prettyness, it's because the quality of the pattern itself must not be enough to sell it (it's obviously not true, but I always have a strong bad a priori when I meet a company with a too polished visual marketing).

    In the special case of Colette, I also often find that the made-up garments in the pictures look a bit homemade (case in point : in your post, the close-up picture. This tab, ugh) and that is a big turn-off. For another similar company, I remember that one of the made-up dress for advertisment had a horrible Becky Home-ecky zipper at the back and I just couldn't overlook this.

    However, I am clearly in the minority, and this minority is not where the money is. It's obivous that the future belong to the kind of marketing where you sell a lifestyle, not a product (see also : Apple).

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  20. There are so many more indie pattern lines that pre-date Colette patterns; the difference is that they are a bit more deconstructed/modern and with a looser fit than Colette patterns, whose audience goes in for more of a vintage vibe and fit. The Sewing Workshop, Birch Street Clothing, Park Bench Patterns are some of those. Both Textile Studio patterns and Loes Hinse Design patterns are very simple, almost streamlined designs that stand the test of time; I can remember seeing some of these patterns in the mid- to late- 1990's. They are silhouettes that showcase a good fabric. La Fred Patterns fall into that category, too. And then there are the indie pattern designers whose patterns are really for quilted or wearable art-type of garments, like Lorraine Torrance or Linda Kubik. Those tend to be simpler, boxier silhouettes, imho, and I think that the newer indie pattern companies like Colette, Megan Nielsen or Sewaholic have had to do something different to distinguish themselves from the wearable-art type of pattern. Maybe this is where the personal vision part comes in?
    For a more modern European pattern, I have a few women's patterns from Farbenmix, a company primarily known for its great kids patterns. Right now I have a shirt cut out from this pattern: http://www.farbenmix.de/shop/Patterns/Tops/BERTINA-Schnittmuster::8939.html I'm hoping I'll be able to sew it up this weekend. What I love about Farbenmix is that you can go to the gallery on their website and see tons of different examples of the patterns made up by people who have purchased the pattern, in all kinds of fabrics and with all kinds of embellishments. Also, Farbenmix is a collective of designers so there's more than once design vision, although they have similar aesthetics. Ottobre kind of falls into the indie category, since you have to get the magazine to get the patterns and their distribution in the States is limited in comparison to some indie pattern companies. They tend to be well-drafted, too. And I like Hot Patterns, though I was disappointed when they switched from their original sizing to the current sizing. However, they've started doing some men's patterns as well, and recently came out with a men's coat pattern - a kind of hooded windbreaker. Maybe you should try a Hot Patterns pattern, Peter!

    Personally, I've always had a love for indie patterns, ever since I used the Folkwear Blonde Bombshell pattern for my senior prom dress. I think that part of the appeal of indie patterns is that they tend to be better drafted than the majority of the Big 4 patterns and often fit better, since the amount of ease on most Big 4 patterns is ridiculous! I'm not blindly loyal to specific companies, though. I like many of the Colette patterns, but not all of them. For me it's really the style of the garment that attracts me and whether or not I can easily integrate it into my wardrobe when it comes to separates. The other part is the fit and that's why I tend to learn toward the better-drafted indie patterns.

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  21. Must I choose only one guy to spend an evening (and perhaps the following morning) with?? Lol. Jk. Anyhow, the only men's pattern I ever bought was a generic men's vest pattern about thirteen years ago for a high school fashion show I was a designer in.
    I usually do not like the designs in commercial patterns whether they be from the big four or a small hipper company. Since I went to a fashion school and took a few tailoring classes, I learned how to make patterns. So, what I have done is just make a pattern from a basic design and fit it to my body. I then copy the basic pant/shirt sloper onto butcher paper and make a different style with it.

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  22. "Let's face it: a lot of men are squeamish about purchasing anything associated with women, masculinity being the fragile construct that it is." Completely agree with you on that. Did you know that DIY and Crafts Trade Show that is taking place these days in Paris is dedicated to women only? In big letters on the billboards? Way to go Paris...
    You can read my post here:
    http://en.inthemoodforcouture.com/diy-craft-trade-show-paris/

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  23. The packaging and modeling are an improvement but even though they've re-branded and given a masculine edge I suspect the majority of buyers will be women and the packaging is targeting them. Anyone making a gift for a possibly disinterested recipient wants some assurance that it is current and maybe hip. They've released these patterns in Nov. this isn't prime time for making oneself a coat, but when one might be looking for a blockbuster sewing project for some hard to please guy(female seamstress implied).

    Perhaps this is the heyday of indie pattern designers but if you scroll through the list of pattern companies on pattern review, there are many indie companies from the past, too. KwikSew was indie once and I can only assume the horrible sweatshirts patterns in their early catalog were once appealing. Likewise, Stretch&Sew patterns, that eighties line art was slick once.

    Personally, I appreciate a modeled shot as proof the garment can be constructed and fitted to a human but I go straight to the line drawings. If those are boxy or don't depict the details accurately I don't trust the company with my time.

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  24. I have never sewn menswear, since I haven't really even gotten the hang of sewing clothes for myself yet. But I will have to say when I saw those colette patterns, my heart leaped. My first thought was "My husband would love that (the bearded outdoor fellow he is) and I have made a colette pattern, I think I could do that." had I had the money at the time I would have purchased it before I came to my senses and realized I am probably not ready to tackle that at this point. I need more experience before creating goods for someone else.

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  25. I still consider myself a relative beginner and I really like how indie patterns can give better instruction and have websites that expand on techniques. Colette's ebook/supplement type thing is genius. Their aesthetic just isn't mine. As with so many indie patterns, they are retro influenced. With many of the indie patterns I often shake my head thinking they look so dowdy! Or, you have to be a size 4 to pull it off. Maybe I'm now at the age that 'retro' looks costume-y or mumsy. I thought the branding on the Colette menswear line was great. I may try the women's version of the coat down the road. I wish more companies would make basic patterns with a stylish edge to them. grainline archer and salme are some I'd like to try. I've made 3 sewaholic patterns and loved them all.

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  26. I agree with the commenter who wrote that these patterns are not targeted towards male sewers, but female sewers who want to make something for the men in their life. Even with the changes to the packaging, I still see the patterns as geared towards women. The illustrations, the vintage-y fee, the kraft paper... And it's working on me. I didn't by Negroni the first time around, but i see one in my husband's future. Or maybe it's that male model that's swayed me.

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  27. One thing about the independent companies is that they market and strive to reach a more narrow piece of the market. Many only have women's patterns, like Colette until now. Tasia, from Sewaholic, focuses on patterns designed to fit pear-shaped women, and others focus on larger women/kids/etc. If you are a part of their focus group, the patterns can be a wonderful addition.

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  28. As a new sewer, I am learning to look past the awfulness that is the Big 4 pattern envelope and instead I ended up spending crap-tons of hours reading patter reviews, searching blogs, etc for some flattering aspect of patterns.

    As stated already, Indie pattern designers tend to fill a niche, which is brilliant. When you're small, you cannot please all of the people, all of the time, so you have to focus. I am not a Colette fan; it's not my aesthetic, but the following for the company is impressive and I do enjoy seeing the garments that are made from people who DO like that aesthetic.

    I can't say there's an Indie company that has pulled me in completely with their branding...but I do think they are more likely to have an "ear to the ground" so to speak and can readily tweak their business to appeal to their customer base (vs. the Big 4 who keeps churning out the same, slightly altered pattern over and over and over again).

    ALSO as a new sewer, It's hard to move past the appeal of the $.99-$4.99 patterns and buy a $15 pattern over a $1 pattern when you're not 100% confident in what you're doing.

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  29. I think Indie patterns are the future, many sewers ( the ones I know) are tired of the big 4. I find the quality of the patterns (like butterick) have declined, instructions are becoming more vague etc. Kwik Sew which i used to love is now printed on flimsy tissue instead of the more durable paper. Indie patterns designs offer the home sewer a chance to look amazing. Always a great compliment when people want to know where you got that skirt etc.

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  30. I think Colette Patterns knocked it out of the park with the marketing and branding on these 3 patterns. This was the first time I saw any of their new patterns and said "wow." They created an outdoorsy coat, and a versatile bag, put it on a ruggedly handsome model, and shot photos in the rugged outdoors. It's selling the whole environment not just the patterns.

    Big 4 menswear patterns are bland and boring at best. The generic models and studio lit white backgrounds are so uninteresting, I'm already so bored it's hard to even give the patterns a chance.

    I think the Indie designers have the edge in marketing because they are more intimately in control of both their product and the image they wish to project. While I don't buy too many Indie patterns, I am willing to support small businesses and I'm happy to see them succeed.

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  31. What a great post Peter! HillBill really nailed it. Indie pattern marketing/branding is brilliant, but it has to be very expensive. We're targeting a demographic more interested in fit and classic styling details. This may be a teeny tiny demographic but that's okay with us.

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  32. What would we all be buying if models were not part of the equation and all we have were profession line drawings and perfect measurements of the finished garment. Ditch fancy lighting, clothes clamped at the back to make them more fitted (yes they do that) and anorexic 6 ft tall models and what do you get....reality and a better start than the fantasy and crap they are selling. I agree that one must be a pretty good sewer to judge whether a photograph will make up into a great garment and young newbies can be swayed by the glamor that is presented. Seeing "the gallery" when readers share their own results can be quite horrifying!

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  33. The customer base and marketing for indie patterns seems to be primarily internet based. So yes, they would tend to cater to a younger crowd involved in social media.
    I am old enough to have been involved in the "craft show " market place movement that developed in the 70's . I think these start up independent pattern companies spring from that same spirit.

    Many seem to have their studios in the rehabilitated factories buildings that are now rented artists (painters, potters, etc. ) studios.

    So when you buy indie patterns I believe you are buying in that mystic.

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  34. I have to agree with the commentary and blog. Although I have yet to buy a Colette pattern, I am considering a Walden. My twiggy boy husband can likely wear something in that line, whereas my ample curves will likely not fit in a Colette. (Although I considered their Laurel, thinking it might be easy to widen for me since it is virtually shapeless in the first place.)

    The PNW (Pacific North West) vibe is a bit too affected for me, although I'm about as Pacific North West as it gets (was flying over the Bering Sea yesterday).

    I think this is a great post and very thoughtful commentary both by Peter and his readers.

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    1. Depends on how ample your curves are. I wear a size 16-18 in RTW but I've found that I often can wear a 14 in Colette, plus she grades for a C-cup bust, as opposed to the B-cup in the Big 4. There are plenty of curvy women who sew with Colette patterns and you can find their creations on Flickr if you want to see how things might look in your size.

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    2. Thanks, Jen. I will look into this more closely.

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  35. Haha I laughed out loud at the comparison between the Colette model and Mr. 80s Boxy Shirt Dad. Even if we put the sexy model in that Simplicity shirt, he'd look awful because the style lines are so outdated.

    I personally think they nailed the aesthetic. I'm more drawn to the rugged hipster look than I am the delicate pastel vintage look that Colette has typically done for their women's patterns. I was happy to see these patterns because they really aren't something that already exists out there -- I made my boyfriend a Nigel Cabourn "cameraman jacket" -inspired coat last year, and I had to completely alter the design lines of a Vogue pattern that was intended to be constructed in nylon and Velcro. If this Walden coat had been around then, it would have made the project much easier probably.

    I think their branding definitely works for them, but it's also their whole strategy with the sew-alongs and prize-packed contests that get people buying their patterns immediately and sharing their creations like mad. Simplicity's New Look has, what, 18,000 shift dress patterns that look just like the Laurel, but Colette got people to buy the Laurel because of the branding as well as the social media hype.

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  36. I think the branding makes such a difference. I probably have an equal number of indie and big 4 patterns. But whenever it comes to making something, I gravitate toward the indies. It's hard to get excited about making something that looks that terrible on the envelope, even if I know the finished product will look totally different in my size/shape and in my fabric choices.

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  37. I'm limited by my young-ish age, but I'm loving this post so I'm going to mercilessly inflict some opinions on you. I think you're on the right track in considering the gap between the currently hip indie pattern companies and the old-stand-by Big 4 as a generational gap. I would also add that there is a lot going on in the sewing pattern economy that mirrors the general fashion economy. Using the larger fashion economy as a yard-stick, I would compare the Big 4 to big box stores. Like your Sears vs. Steven Allen comment, you're not going to find hip, sexy outfits, especially for men, at stores like Costco or Wal-Mart, but you probably will find low prices. Oddly, I don't remember Big 4 patterns going on sale for a dollar a piece in the 1990's, unless it was related to a sewing/fabric store closure, of which there were many given that sewing was not a cool thing in the '90's. Big box stores and even their aesthetics were cool though. The generic look and feel of the Big 4 branding made the Big 4 patterns look and feel like "real patterns", something indie companies and their photocopied instructions on 8 1/2" x 11" paper in a ziploc bag really didn't do well back then. Even the comments you've got going from people in this post mirror a lot of the reasons that people give for buying fast fashion items. They are cheap and easily available. They are known brands, even if the quality isn't spectacular, they won't be disappointed because they know what they are getting into.
    On the other hand, the indie patterns might be partially doing well because they are able to market to a smaller, but loyal sector, but they also might be benefiting from an overall generational trend that sees the Big 4 as representing just another big business. It becomes not only about the product and marketing, but about wanting to be different from the generation of just a few years before that believed that businesses and banks could be "too big to fail". Comments all over the web really seem to promote that idea that indie pattern companies are run by "nicer" people than anyone who would work for a large corporation. Not that indie pattern designers aren't nice people. The ones I've met or otherwise interacted with recently seem quite nice, but I don't exactly have any interactions with someone from a Big 4 corporation to compare them to.
    As far as the question about why the wretched styling and pattern offerings from Big 4 menswear, I'd have to say that probably comes down to economics as well. If the men's patterns quit selling well, there's no reason to put a lot of resources into producing them. They've done a few token offerings, apparently targeting the grandparent sector. That's left a gap in the market that newer companies like the Walden line from Colette or Thread Theory are able to take advantage of. Would the Big 4 have survived lack of interest in home sewing in the '90's and the economic downturns of the 2000's if they'd put more effort into men's pattern offerings? It could just as well have stretched their resources too thin and put them under completely.
    The future of indie vs. Big 4 could go a lot of directions. As far as the future of a line that focuses on the Pacific NW aesthetic, that might depend a lot on whether they can continue to successfully come up with products and marketing after someone deems Portland horrifically un-cool and hipsters out-of-date. NW fashion hasn't changed a lot in the 30-some years I've lived here; how the rest of the world views it swings wildly.

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  38. I love, love, love that Colette Patterns has introduced the Walden line. For a woman who enjoys sewing men's clothing, there has been a dirth of decent patterns for men. The Big Four's offerings are a joke and the Indy patterns are the only ones with any style. (I keep wishing that Urban Don would make patterns for sale for his stuff - but, I know, he's more of a designer).

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  39. I notice the Vogue men's trench coat pattern, v8720, has been moved to out-of-print. Perhaps they did a very small run but it only came out in 2011. There are only three reviews on patternreview so it probably didn't generate a lot of makes. But, I suspect they did a very good business selling to aspirational sewers (including myself, mine is untouched). Even if they were all purchased at sale price which is more like $4 for Vogues, they may have netted much more than the Albion will at $16.

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  40. My two cents worth is that Colette Patterns should be a university case study in marketing on the internet. first of all, the product is thoughtful and evokes an aesthetic that would appeal to the Gen Yér who sews. As others have said, some of their patterns are pretty basic, but the branding is everything. Then they employ the internet to promote their product to their target market. Its a classic case of product and promotion merging to make the whole.
    The Big 4 haven't in the past had to target the younger market, because sewing is one of those things that a lot of people did. I think their pattern offerings, especially in the men's department, reflect the strategy of being all things to a lot of different people. These days sewing is more of a niche pursuit, it opens the door to companies like Colette to speak to this niche market. The Big 4 don't do this as well, but perhaps they don't need to. Around the internet I see people still sewing Big 4 patterns.
    As for the Walden patterns - again, a case of product and promotion merging to appeal to that hipster demographic. I'm sure it will go well. The branding is so good I'm almost wanting to buy these patterns myself for the men in my life, but seriously, a duffle coat would only get worn perhaps two days a year around here. So I am going to resist

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  41. The Indie companies Sewaholic and Colette do a better job of writing instructions than the big 4. In addition the sew alongs and downloadable companion books are wonderful for learning. The photos posted of other customers' projects help generate ideas for the next project.

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  42. My two cents is that I frequently use, and enjoy, patterns from the Big 4. I especially appreciate Vogue's ongoing relationships with designers. This is itself a niche market that indie companies can't touch, so, hey, remember that the Big 4 have their own specialties to bring to the table!

    Also, will different/arguably better styling actually result in substantially more pattern sales for the Big 4? I question whether this is the case as the availability and pricing of Big 4 patterns makes them the most accessible of any patterns. Which raises the question of why the Big 4 should spend more money on location photo shoots for patterns that they may only have on the market for a year?

    Plus, if I recall, it was one of the sewing bloggers who mentioned that they would find it helpful if the Big 4 included front/back/side photos of their designs, and BMV obliged, so they are obviously reading blogs and responding to what they see, if there is constructive criticism provided (as opposed to snarking). So the question is whether anyone's pattern buying habits have changed since BMV started providing simple front/back/side photography to their pattern information?

    I am fairly certain that if BMV selected long-haired, bearded male models for their next dozen or so male pattern releases, there would be criticism leveled against them by someone who did not care for that look.

    And, ultimately, while the cover art is certainly a large part of the marketing for a pattern, it is the technical drawing and technical description that I rely upon in making the decision to purchase a pattern.

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  43. 1) Do you find the more focused, art-directed approach of many of the indie pattern companies to be to your liking, or are you immune to branding and focus solely on the quality of the pattern itself? (or maybe you're put off by a hipper aesthetic?)

    While I like pretty things (and men) as much as the next person :-), I'm pretty much immune to marketing tactics and more analytical about what I'm actually buying. And that indies generally cost $15 per and up (for mostly basic offerings from the newer ones) only helps me to slow down.

    2) Is it merely the smaller size of the indie company that makes their branding so effective, or is it rather the clear vision of a single person, regardless of the size of the company?

    Not all indies have effective branding. So, I guess that answers that question for me.

    3) What do you think the future holds as far as Indie vs. Big Four? Do the Davids have an edge on the Goliaths?

    I think a few Davids will rise above the heap, but many more have a long way to go and may never get there. I like that there are options but not so much being a guinea pig. I think you've seen my "Open Letter to Indies" post? http://stitchesandseams.blogspot.com/2013/10/an-open-letter-to-indies.html

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    1. Debbie, I hear you're now known as "The Scourge of the Indies." LOL

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  44. As others have mentioned, the linkages with social media really add to the sucess of some of the indepedents. Colette is a superb example, and the blog and sewalongs really add value to the patterns. Another indie is By Hand of London. I've nearly completed the Anna dress, read through the relevant blog entries. Gen Y aesthetic? Perhaps, but the design is actually very flattering on a mid 50s physique.

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  45. That model made me want the pattern despite being single with no mans to sew for so obviusly IT'S WORKING. I'm a designer by trade, so branding and graphics has a huge impact on me. I am much more likely to write an indie off if I don't like their packaging and merchandising (hence why I've never been keen on Cake?)

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  46. Do ready-made patterns sit well with the requirements of the sempster? They probably should as a starting point because drafting patterns is not easy.
    I have a feeling that men who get into sewing soon get to like the idea of drafting patterns themselves (based on the idea of: its like technical/architectural drawing, I can do this, I'm a guy!).

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