Sustainable business, social media and side-hustles with EJ Weeks, owner of Prickle and Stitch.
Here it is, the first interview on Cramblings!
I had the pleasure of talking to EJ Weeks, the owner of Prickle and Stitch, a sustainable children's-wear brand.
Join us as we discuss ‘slow-fashion’ and sustainability, the challenges of starting a sustainable business, the highs and lows of building a brand on social media and the positives of running small business alongside your career.
Oh, and just before we get started, if you like the look of any of the gorgeous products featured in this post, just click on the photo to be taken straight to Etsy.
Welcome to Cramblings EJ! First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! I’m EJ, I am the owner and creator of Prickle and Stitch. Prickle and Stitch is a sustainable, slow-fashion, children's-wear brand based in Wales.
I love the phrase ‘slow-fashion’, could you explain a little more about what that means?
Slow-fashion means we make what is needed, when it’s needed.
Prickle and Stitch doesn’t mass produce clothing, which is what is wrong with fast fashion. The nature of the way we work means we don’t put surplus stock into landfill; we make what is needed so we don’t create as much waste.
By only making to sell, it also means that when you buy from us, you can change things for no extra cost! So, say you’d really want to buy a pair of dungarees, but you would like a contrasting pocket, two pockets, no pockets at all or to change the fabric completely, you can have those alterations with no extra cost because we make to order anyway. It is no trouble to make those changes for you, so instead of paying these premium prices for bespoke clothing, you can make alterations as part of the service we already offer. That is what makes the way you are shopping with us quite special: you have a bit of a say with what you want!
Offering personalisation is such a clever touch, as sustainability seems to have this utilitarian stigma around it, as though something cannot be both sustainable and luxurious, which is just not true.
But you’re giving people something that means they don’t have to compromise!
So, where did the idea for Prickle and Stitch come from?
What led you to here and what were you doing before?
Well, this is such a big question.
I think about this a lot: ‘What has actually led me to here? And why am I doing this?’ You know what, I think this goes back to before university; I think I’ve always wanted to start a business.
Honestly, I’ve wanted to do a lot of things! I started off thinking I wanted to do illustration but then I realised I wasn’t very good at drawing so that was a bad idea. Then, I actually hit on children's-wear for a bit in school but I also felt I wanted to pursue music for a while. Later, I started making pantomime costumes and I combined this love of sewing and performing in the school band, found a degree in Theatre Design and thought ‘Oh, this works right?’
I really enjoyed my degree, I love the work that I have done in the costume industry so far and hope to keep that going! So, at the moment Prickle and Stitch is a bit of a project on the side, but it is exciting to think that maybe one day it will become more and fulfil that dream to make an income selling things I’ve made!
Why did you want to start your own business?
I think it is the range creativity in it, and the challenge too. However big or small Prickle and Stitch becomes, the learning I am doing from starting my own business is amazing. The things I’ve learnt from it, all of the research and even the mistakes, have been so enriching.
The costume industry has been quiet this year, so this was a great time to experiment and venture into something new; something that can run alongside the other work I do in my free time. There really is something so exciting about the idea of building your own job with a small business!
In starting my own business, I’ve found an amazing variety: you design it, you make it, you do the web design, you run the social media, you are a part of everything.
Also, I just wanted to create something that I really like! I love working in the costume industry; I love the variety of it and I can run Prickle and Stitch alongside it which is a win-win situation!
Starting a business is challenging, let alone a sustainable one!
From your experience, are there any added considerations when starting up a sustainable
business, that perhaps a business that isn’t routed in sustainability doesn’t have to think about?
It is everything.
And it is everything, but it costs three times as much and that is what makes starting a sustainable business so difficult.
For example, all of my packaging is plastic-free, recyclable and biodegradable. But plastic tape would cost me around 90p and my sustainable tape costs about £6.00. I am passionate about it so I don’t mind spending more, but I could bulk buy not-so-sustainable packaging for a fraction of the price.
Fabric can also be a really hard one! So far, I have been working with leftover materials from other companies; it has been donated to me because it isn’t being used by them and would have been otherwise thrown away. So, it is sustainable because we are getting as much use out of the resources we already have, rather than buying new fabric. But I am now in a position where I’m saying to myself: ‘Moving forwards, I need to buy more fabrics and I don’t want to buy non-organic fabrics, I want to buy sustainable fabrics.’
I don’t want to do things by half; I want every aspect of Prickle and Stitch to be sustainable and that is the problem with high-street retailers, they might say: ‘Hey! We are committed to sustainability and this top is made from organic cotton!’ but that fabric is still being mass-dyed, mass-produced on the other side of the world and then flown over to our local high street. It is not good enough now to just do a bit and tick the sustainability box, you must do it everywhere.
Sustainable fabrics cost more, they are harder to source and that’s my biggest hurdle at the moment. When starting a small business, there comes a moment when you think: ‘Right, this is what I need, it is going to cost this much and I just need to invest in it’.
You’ve got to spend money to make money and that’s scary when you’re starting out.
Something I would love to chat to you about is Social Media.
Prickle and Stitch first joined Instagram in April this year and it must be equal parts exciting and frustrating to watch it growing. How do you find trying to grow a following on social media?
Honestly, my account has been going since April and it isn’t as big as I’d hoped, which is really frustrating. But I’ve also just had around fifty new followers in the last month and that’s pretty good, right? So, who knows!
The main thing I struggle with when building my brand on social media is feeling like you are growing one day, and then seeing people unfollow you the next; it can be so demotivating.
I really don’t mean to sound petty or bitter, but that follower number is a marketing tool for me. I need a consistent following to publicise what I am doing and for people to recognise Prickle and Stitch as a reputable name; the more followers I have, the more trust there is and the more reputable my business appears. It is frustrating at times because there is nothing wrong with my products, but I feel like a business is 20% product and 80% marketing and it just takes patience to grow a following.
Of course, you can buy followers but what you really need is organic growth. Simply put, the more followers you have, the more people see your work and the more sales you make.
Despite the frustrations of social media, for a lot of us creatives it can be the only way to get our work seen by so many people, on a global scale. I mean, just imagine trying to start a business without it! So, what are the positives of Social Media for you?
Absolutely! Social Media is great. I like it because it’s very quick: you can post something and almost straight away you will get a reaction or an affirmation from people. You’re not sending someone photos of your products in the post; it is instantaneous so you can really keep track of how your work is being seen by people.
Also, it is really accessible so you can build a community within it. It is really easy to share peoples’ work, send a message or leave a comment and, in doing that, I feel like I have a nice little bubble of people on Instagram at the moment, who are all in varying stages of starting a small business.
There is a little support network of cheerleaders that you find on social media that I don’t feel like I would be able to have without it: a small-town feel on a global scale. Every time someone sends me a message saying ‘Wow! This looks great EJ, well done!’ it is like someone saying that they believe in you and that you can do it. In those moments when you lose faith in what you are doing, someone else has it for you.
In terms of social media, what are the things you think you’ve improved on the most?
And if you could go back and start your social media from scratch,
is there anything you would do differently?
My photography has improved a lot! My written content, captions and my understanding of hashtags has really improved too. But I feel that without going through the process of not doing it very well, I wouldn’t have organically learnt how to do those things better. Mentally, I am now ready to be starting a business more than I was when I started my Instagram back in April; I knew I wanted to do it then but perhaps not quite as sure, whereas now I am a lot more invested. So, I think I needed that time to not worry about it too much, just play around with Prickle and Stitch, without trying to make it perfect and being able to learn from my mistakes.
It can be lovely to look back at when you first started social media, those first posts and seeing how far we have come. We criticise them and know that we can do so much better than that now, but we would not be at this point today without them, so that older content must
have a lot of value within your journey?
Those first posts might not be great as posts, but they have a lot of courage in them. I found it scary to put my work out there because I really care about my work, so its scarier to think that other people might not care about it. But I do think I’ve got past that now and those slightly rubbish posts at the beginning have got me to this point now.
I always like to end these talks on a positive! So, what has been the Prickle and Stitch highlight of the last year?
I think the highlight was probably the first sale.
It came in late at night, it hadn’t popped up on my phone and I panicked because she needed it quickly and I just remember thinking ‘Oh my goodness! What have I done?’ But it was absolutely fine in the end!
I had my products on Etsy for a while and it was the first sign of ‘Oh, someone actually does want to buy my stuff! This might have a point to it.’ Until then it’s not real, but once you get your first sale and there is one person in the world who wants what you’re making, it means there will probably be more. Then, every sale I got after that motivated me and added to that feeling, giving me a little boost!
And finally, where would you like Prickle and Stitch to be in a years’ time?
That’s a tricky one because there is so much that I want to do with my career in costume too!
Of course, it would be exciting for it to grow! I like the idea of having a team of makers and designers but always remaining sustainable and never losing that ‘small business feel’: everything would still be handmade to order, bespoke, hand-packed with hand-written notes.
But, it could just stay as a little business to run alongside costume! I think it is always good to have different things going on, having that variety. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I’ll end up doing but I feel so excited for my future, whether that’s in costume or Prickle and Stitch.
What I am certain of, though, is that whatever Prickle and Stitch looks like in the future, it will always be there in some form, whether as a small business on the side or something bigger!
Thank you so much for joining us EJ!
If you would like to find out more about Prickle and Stitch or EJ’s costume work,
here are some useful links:
Prickle and Stitch: