By Jeanne Klobnak-Ball
For the Bellingham Business Journal
What began in 2007 as perhaps the first handmade lingerie shop on Etsy grew into a brick and mortar design studio and retail boutique last September. Located in Fairhaven’s turn-of-the-century Sycamore Square building, Sandmaiden loungewear reveals owner and designer Amanda Boyd’s talent for creating distinctive feminine attire made with natural and organic fibers.
Until moving to Bellingham late last summer, Boyd worked out of her Seattle home, designing, sewing and selling her Sandmaiden intimate apparel on a made-to-order basis through Etsy, an online marketplace for handcrafted goods. Sandmaiden sales steadily grew since beginning in 2007, as did the need for production space. Serendipitous circumstances led Boyd to her ideal design studio at Sycamore Square, she said.
Boyd’s perfect retail space became available at just the right moment, she said. Her storefront, framed by wood floor and bare brick walls, offers shoppers a glimpse back to Boyd’s design studio, where a rich palette of spooled thread hangs above seamstress Rei Greene’s machine,
“I feel like the location was very meant to be,” Boyd said.
Canadian born, Boyd entered Vancouver B.C.’s fashion industry in 1997 at age 20 as a shipping and receiving clerk. Then a single mom, she designed unique clothing at home, primarily as a retreat into her own personal creative space, she said.
“It’s an escape,” Boyd said. “It’s about getting back to your self.”
Today, Boyd’s new Sandmaiden boutique provides just the creative space she needs to escape to her self and grow her business. But realizing the dream wasn’t easy.
Boyd’s first foray into marketing her own creations began with “Mud Puddlers:” custom handmade baby jackets.
“Business wasn’t realistic at that time,” she said. “I couldn’t make a living at it – I had to support myself and my daughter.”
Boyd got a job as a receptionist at a baby clothing company called Timeke Funktional. Her eye, however, turned to design – fabrics, shapes, colors – and how a certain style flattered a particular form.
Boyd dreamed of designing silk sleepwear as she changed jobs from shipping high-end bridal couture, where she cultivated an affinity for silk and lace, to assistant designer for womens suiting at Vancouver’s JC Studio. Then, in 2007, Boyd said something just clicked. She got married, moved from Vancouver to Seattle, had a baby, and started Sandmaiden.
“I ordered some fabric and made some pj’s,” she said. “I put them on a rack, invited some friends over and had a pj party.”
After the party, Boyd took photos of the pj’s and uploaded them onto eBay and other online marketplaces. Sales were slow, until she discovered Etsy.
Etsy’s huge now, but when I got started it wasn’t very big, and I was the only lingerie shop,” Boyd said. “I started selling right away. It’s like when you go on a first date and it just works. I started selling an item every other day.”
Six months later, Boyd could turn her made-to-order pieces around in three to five days. After sales picked up, she pushed delivery back to two weeks, but the orders kept coming she said. Sandmaiden brought in roughly $15,000 annually during its first two years on Etsy.
Soon Etsy exploded with shoppers and sellers. At first Boyd felt threatened to see competition growing, but then she saw how it drew in more and more customers globally. Suddenly, her sales shot up to around $10,000 per month. That’s when she hired an assistant. By year three, Sandmaiden’s annual sales had skyrocketed to $150,000.
Working from her Seattle home began to feel limiting to Boyd. She wanted to grow and create jobs.
“I feel like we need to get the next generation of people sewing – there are few seamstresses,” she said.
Boyd held back on expanding Sandmaiden, however, because she had her sites set on Bellingham.
Ever since Boyd was a child she would pass through Fairhaven on her way to Seattle from Vancouver and it just always felt right, she said.
“I fell in love with this neighborhood as a teenager,” Boyd said.
So in 2013, Boyd’s family packed up, sold their Seattle home, and moved to Bellingham. Five days after closing on her family’s new Bellingham home, the perfect space opened up in Sycamore Square,” Boyd said.
As a new business owner, Boyd said she has a lot to learn. Established merchants have reached out to her and her family, which she appreciates, she said.
Online sales are still Sandmaiden’s backbone, and Boyd expects that to remain true for the foreseeable future. Three months in, the boutique accounts for only about 20 percent of sales, but it’s worth it for the design space.
The storefront also affords a ready-to-ship inventory that Boyd said has increased online traffic.
“Having ready-to-ship is a risk,” Boyd said. “But it has key growth potential because it’s same day, and that’s a real value in our culture.”