I worked as a regional merchandiser for a major retailer and loved when they sent the upcoming season’s internal catalog/lookbook. It was for employees’ eyes only and it shared the inspiration behind the collections they curated and how each piece of clothing and accessory fit into a collection.
Their collections were always named after a popular movie, phrase, song, type of person, etc.
For example, “Ladies Who Lunch” was the name of a past collection.
Before even seeing the items in a collection, or reading the description, you had a clear idea of the look they were going for.
Collections were built around a theme.
This ensured that every piece within a collection worked together and that others would understand the vision without a lot of explaining.
How collections can benefit your handmade business
There are many perks to building collections (as opposed to making products one at a time that don’t share commonalities). Below are a few benefits.
- Create cohesion within your shop or craft show booth
- Tell a story and make a bold statement
- Simplify your process (instead of letting your imagination run wild with all the things you can make and all the options you can offer, you have a clear vision)
- Increase perceived value (a group of products that work together and look good next to each other seem more expensive than products that are all over the map)
- Create a marketing opportunity (the launch of your Valentine’s Day collection is something people pay attention to. “Here’s one new product I made” isn’t as “news-worthy”)
- Increase sales per transaction (customers are more likely to buy multiple items because the products within a collection work together)
- Help you sell wholesale to retailers (a well-curated collection makes your operation look more professional to retail buyers. It also gives them multiple items to purchase so they can create a full and comprehensive display in their store that speaks to shoppers).
The following are steps you can take to create a cohesive collection that attracts more shoppers and helps you sell more products.
Step 1: Start with a theme
When you build a collection, you want it to resonate and connect with others. So it’s important to choose a well-known or common theme.
An easy way to choose a theme is to draw inspiration from:
- A movie or TV show
- A destination/location
- An event
- An occasion
- An era
- A season
The theme you choose should be simple and widely known (at least to your target market).
- Movie/TV Show – I Love Lucy
- Destination – Paris
- Event – Oktoberfest
- Occasion – Wedding
- Era – the 70’s
- Season – Spring
You can draw inspiration from someone else’s theme (e.g. a movie), but don’t break copyright laws.
Define a theme to design your product collection around.
Step 2: List theme elements
Once you have a theme, define what is commonly associated with that theme.
Again, consider the masses; not your personal experience.
For example, my wedding was small and indoors at a local botanical garden, so I may associate tropical plants and a humid atmosphere with “wedding”. However, most people would not make the same association.
You also want to consider your target market.
For example, the colors, patterns, symbols, etc. one associates with a wedding will vary depending on that person’s style, culture, religion, and other demographics.
Based on your chosen theme, define associated:
I’ve listed several elements for each example theme below.
Theme: I Love Lucy
- red and white
- polka dots
- black and white television/photos
- Eiffel tower
- wine and cheese
- croissants/french bread
- Tyrolean/Alpine hat
- red & white gingham
- Bavarian blue & white diamond pattern
- braided pigtails/crown
Theme: A wedding
- something blue
- bride and groom
- “I do”
You may find it beneficial to create a digital or physical mood board.
Search the web and save images to a document or create a board on Pinterest full of inspiration.
For example, I may gather images, patterns, and colors for a digital wedding mood board.
Step 3: Apply theme elements to your products
Not every theme element will apply to your products, so select a few key elements to work with.
For example, patterns/prints are easily applied to bags but not to candles. Scents, color, keywords, and fonts are good elements to apply to candles and their labels.
It’s also important to keep your collection simple. Trying to incorporate too many elements may confuse your collection’s story
Choose 1 – 5 key elements to apply to your products.
For example, if I’m making bags and want to create a wedding-themed collection, I may choose fabrics that incorporate feminine elements such as: floral and polka dot prints, and pink, white, and gold colors. I could also print keywords on my bags in a feminine script font (e.g. “bride”, “I do”, or “bridesmaids”).
Step 4: Create on-theme products
Within a collection, every piece must work together.
Each product should relate to your theme, incorporate one or more of your key elements, and follow a purchasing theme.
By “purchasing theme”, I mean items that are commonly purchased together.
For example, although I could make bags, heating pads, and pajamas out of my chosen material, there isn’t a purchasing theme among those products.
Consumers might purchase a set of cosmetic bags together, but they’re unlikely to purchase a bag and a heating pad together.
Consider price points too.
If the products within a collection are varying price points, more shoppers will be able to find something that fits their budget.
Plan, design, and create 1 – 5 products that work together and are commonly purchased together.
- Theme: Wedding
- Key elements: pink, white, gold, blue, flowers, keywords: “bride”, “bridesmaid”, “I do”, etc.
- Purchasing theme: cosmetic bags
- Large makeup bag
- Small makeup bag
- Makeup brush bag
- Scrunchie (to put hair back while doing makeup)
I would create each of these products in the fabrics I selected to build a full collection.
- Pink floral large makeup bag
- Pink floral small makeup bag
- Pink floral makeup brush bag
- Pink floral scrunchie
- White polka dot large makeup bag
- Whitle polka dot small makeup bag
- White polka dot makeup brush bag
- White polka dot scrunchie
If I wanted to create a bigger collection, I could add another product or two, or add a few more fabric options that compliment the floral and polka dot material.
Step 5: Apply the theme to your presentation
To help communicate the inspiration behind your theme, incorporate theme elements into your product presentation as well.
Take the key elements you listed, and determine if/how they can be applied to different areas of your sales channel(s).
For Etsy or your website, you may incorporate key elements into:
- product backdrop
- photography props
- collection name (don’t break copyright laws)
- listing titles / descriptions
Also, be sure to add a photo to each listing that shows some, or all, of the items within a collection together. Otherwise, if shoppers land directly on a listing, and don’t visit your shop/browse your website, they won’t know there are matching items they can also buy.
At a craft show, you may incorporate key elements into:
- tablecloth color/texture
- display fixtures
- your attire/outfit
- music playing in your booth
- signs and keywords used
- sales pitches and how you describe your pieces/explain your inspiration to shoppers
- scents (e.g. the scent of fresh flowers can communicate romance/love; try not to use strong or synthetic fragrances)
For example, I may add a bridal bouquet to my photos and keep my background white.
At a craft show, I could place a couple of bridal bouquets in vases and use them as props. I may layer white lace on top of a white tablecloth and use accents of gold throughout. I may even dress as a bride (as an introvert, that’s not something I would feel comfortable doing 😉 However, I might dress in a white top and white pants).
I hope this article helps inspire your next collection!
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!