Indie business owner Barbara Morris of Antique Ribbon is fascinated by the gorgeous old ribbons used to adorn vintage clothing and loves sharing that fascination with her customers. She recently spoke with IndieMade about her love for ribbons of the past and finding the right online home for her one-of-a-kind vintage business.
What made you decide to start selling these beautiful old ribbons?
I started out collecting antique clothing, from Victorian era through the ’30s, and I began both buying and selling. The one thing that is pretty ultimate with older clothing is the ribbon used on it as sashes, trims and ribbon flowers. The color is like nothing I have ever seen today. In older clothing, much of the ribbon had shattered and had condition issues, so collecting ribbon to fix what I had was my new love. Before you know it, the clothing wasn’t nearly as important to me as the ribbon of those eras, and hence, my business was born.
What advice would you give someone starting a vintage indie business?
Most important is to know your niche. Do your research and know the ins and outs of dating textiles and clothing. You are, for the most part, dealing with collectors and museum people and restoration people, so you have to be in the know.
How did you start selling your old ribbons online?
Many years ago, I had a brick and mortar shop that wasn’t doing well. I had to sell a lot of my Victorian clothing to keep the shop afloat, but that was in the early days of eBay — a fun place to do business then. I rarely sell there now because eBay is no longer friendly to the small seller.
Besides your website, where do you sell your stuff?
Pretty much I only sell on the web. I also sell directly to local collectors and restoration people that need ribbon. They make an appointment and we match ribbons and colors.
Why did you decide to expand your indie business beyond Etsy?
I keep a presence there because many creative people are there and they see value in old ribbons. My decision to expand off Etsy was when they changed the search. It really hurt my business as I wasn’t getting found, and it seemed as though they were saying to optimize your titles for Google. Well, for the listing fees and final value fees that I pay, I think they could do better than that! If I now must advertise an Etsy store on blogs, Pinterest, and the like, I would rather be promoting my site instead.
How are you promoting your business online?
I am only beginning to promote online. I have been working on building inventory to this point. Social media is an interesting way to promote, but I find it builds an awareness of your product more than it leads to actual sales. I am still working on turning that awareness into sales. Very specific Google adwords work, but don’t go for the general terms — you really have to tailor it if you are going to do that.
Why did you decide to try IndieMade?
By the time I arrived at IndieMade, I had done trials at several “top rated” ecommerce sites. I couldn’t make heads or tails of putting a simple site out there. In the vintage business, everything is one-of-a-kind, so for me, the inventory tracking these sites offer is not necessary. Although other sites promote that you can do it yourself and be live in an hour, that is not possible unless you are an IT professional. I gave IndieMade a try and wow, I had a beautiful site up and running with enough design choices to make it my own.
What's on the horizon for your indie business?
I want to pursue a larger customer base. Ribbon is so incredibly special. Most of my ribbons were made in France before World War II, and were perhaps the most interesting textiles in the world at that time. I want to share that with more people and expand business in that direction.
Do you have any tips for new users of IndieMade?
You don’t grow a beautiful garden in a day. It takes time, and over the course of a year, your website will shine if you work on it every day. And when there’s a block, contact Axel at IndieMade. He’s the best!
What question should I have asked, but didn't?
Am I involved with other IndieMade projects? Yes! I am collaborating with my daughter, Heather, on shabbybabe vintage here on IndieMade. It is a vintage clothing store featuring clothing from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. We keep growing every day, but it takes time to grow into something great. I believe we have set down roots in a good place. Nothing is worse than having to move your site!