Tuesday, June 9, 2015

So you want to sell (or buy) fabric on Instagram: a guide for the perplexed

I mentioned on a recent post that I occasionally buy and sell fabric through Instagram, the photo sharing phone app. I also noted that certain fabrics, such as out-of-print Tula Pink, can sell for absurdly high prices. This may have made some of you think to yourselves, "Hey, I have fabric. And I like sweet, sweet cash. Maybe I could sell some of my stash on Instagram." I recently saw someone do her first sale on IG—she posted little text pics letting everyone know it was coming and that it was her first sale and she was a bit nervous. She posted all her stuff—fabric and patterns and a couple sewn items—and...nothing. No sales. Not one bite. And that made me think that perhaps some of the things I've learned from observing, as well as from buying and selling, could be useful to those who want to give it a shot but aren't sure how it works or whether their stuff will sell. If nothing else, you'll learn that people are total nutburgers about certain designers and this may not be particularly healthy.

How It Works

First, you have to have the Instagram app and an account. Yes, it is a phone app, not a computer program or a website (there is a website, but it doesn't have the full functionality of the app). This may not seem fair, but there it is. 

You see other people's photos on IG by following them, or by doing searches for people or for hashtags. Hashtags allow you to see lots of photos of one subject, such as #narwhals or #recreationaldishwasherrepair. Groups who organize activities, such as swaps, through IG can use hashtags to allow group participants to see what others in the group are posting without having to follow every single person in the group. And the hashtag #thegreatfabricdestash is the one that is used for all the people selling fabric, generally quilting fabric. To look at all the pictures of fabric for sale, you do a search for that hashtag. To add your picture to the listings, use that hashtag in your photo caption.

You post a picture of the fabric you wish to sell. Either in the pic itself (written on a post-it or card, or added graphically) or in your caption, you say what the fabric is, how much of it there is, and the cost. Most people say "plus shipping" after the price, and so you know shipping charges will be added. Sometimes you'll see something like "$25 shipped" and this means shipping is included in the price.

If you wish to purchase the item, you must be the first person to comment and leave your Paypal email address and sometimes also your zip code. If you just sold the item, you then send your buyer an invoice through Paypal. Once it's paid, you ship the item.

Sometimes, certain things are sold auction-style. This is often done for highly sought-after fabrics, with the pretense of giving more people a chance to get it. There may or may not be a reserve price or a starting bid, but bids are made in the comments and you will often be asked to tag the person you just outbid. Auction ends whenever the seller says it does and the highest bidder gets the item.

Those are the essentials, but there's actually a few more things you should know.

1. Not everything sells. For whatever reason, hardly anyone seems to buy the more traditional style fabrics or batiks. It does happen sometimes, but for the most part, people are looking for more modern lines. 

2. Fabric by these designers sells best:
Tula Pink
Anna Maria Horner
Lizzy House
Bonnie and Camille
Melody Miller (especially the Kokka)

3. Out-of-print fabric from these designers can go for a lot more than the current average retail price of $10 a yard. Last year I bought a little over a yard of Melody Miller typewriters for $60. Yes, $60. I really wanted those typewriters. I recently sold a half yard of Tula Pink squirrels for $35. Which brings me to number 4:

4. Just because a fabric is out of print doesn't mean it isn't readily available for reasonable prices elsewhere. Because older Tula Pinks are so dear, people routinely try to sell Tula fabrics from more recent lines, such as Acacia and Fox Field, for similarly inflated prices, even though these can be found in various online shops for normal or even sometimes sale prices. (Yes, the Acacia raccoons sell for more because that particular print is actually harder to find. Most of the other prints from that collection, however, can still be found.) Before you shell out $15 for a fat quarter, do a quick Google search. Hit up some of the big online retailers such as Hawthorne Threads, and make sure you absolutely can't get that fabric cheaper elsewhere before you fund someone's next Disney vacation.

5. If you are buying fabric, read the sellers instructions completely and do what they ask. Some sellers will only ship flat rate but others will ship smaller items first class so they will ask you to include your zip code when you claim the item. You should probably make a habit of including it anyway. No, you will not get your home invaded because somebody saw your zip code on Instagram. Probably. You can always ask to have it deleted after you've paid.

6. Pay as soon as you can and ship as soon as you can. If you have time to be farting around on IG, you have time to honor your commitments.

7. If you know the designer and manufacturer of the fabric, say so. If you don't, say so. Don't try to hide the fact that it's from the bargain bin at Questionable Fabrics R Us by saying nothing.

8. Upselling is considered rude. Upselling is when you buy a highly sought-after fabric on IG and then turn around and re-sell it for more. My Melody Miller typewriters were sold to me with the condition that I not resell them. And no, there's no way anybody could police that, but it illustrates that people really hate it. And I agree. Because of number 9.

9. The spirit of selling fabric on IG is destashing, not retail sales. We all buy too much fabric and sometimes we realize we have things we're never going to use. Sometimes we just need some extra cash for something that's come up. That's what #thegreatfabricdestash on IG is for, not for retailers to expand their reach. They do it anyway, and there's no way to police it, but they are poopyheads. 

10. Just because you paid full retail for it doesn't mean you should get full retail for it. Unless we are talking about the really coveted stuff, or maybe less coveted but still popular lines that have only recently become hard to find, you should consider pricing it less than full retail. And you should definitely price it less than full retail if you have prewashed it, or you smoke, or you have farm animals that roll around on it.

11. If it doesn't sell, re-list. There are so many listings, things get lost. Re-listing increases the chance that someone who wants what you are selling will see it. (Just be sure to delete your original listing.) And if it still doesn't sell, re-list and lower the price.

12. If you insist on selling something at an insanely inflated price, be prepared for people to get pissy. Seriously, just deal with it. You know $100 for a yard of fabric is ridiculous. Somebody is bound to tell you so. Suck it up. (I know some people will think that I should say just be silent if you don't like the price of something, and I do think that's worthy advice. But I also think that if you're going to try to take advantage of people's mania for certain designers, you kind of deserve a little burn for it and should have a thick enough skin to take it when it comes.)

13. Be aware that there are people who apparently do nothing else besides buy fabric on IG. It can be hard to grab the good stuff because someone always seems to grab it first, and a lot of the same usernames crop up again and again. Just feel sorry for them that they have nothing better to do than refresh their IG feeds while you are out having a life with experiences and relationships. 

14. And if you really can't get even a square of something you are dying to own, try doing an ISO (In Search Of) post. Post a pic of the fabric you are looking for and tag it #isofabric (and even put the letters on the pic if you have the app for that). If it's not one from the list of most popular designers above, try tagging the designer as well. I fell in love with Jessica Levitt's collection Kingdom from 2011 after I discovered her recent line, Cascade. I put out a call and was able to get lots of the line, some from Jessica herself. Sometimes you can even do this with the highly coveted stuff and someone will help you out.

15. The majority of sales on IG are on the up and up. However, there have been occasions where a buyer pays and then never sees the package and can never reach the seller again, but from what I have seen these are rare in comparison with the vast number that go through without a hitch. What can you do if this happens to you? Basically, next to nothing. Call out the seller on IG, and file a dispute with Paypal, after all attempts to reach the seller have failed.

If you've been buying and selling fabric on Instagram, and you have more tips, please share in the comments.

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