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Editorial blog

Simplicity - 90 years and still sewing strong

10 Oct 2017
By John Gatimu

This year Simplicity celebrates 90 years of business. Why do you think the company has stood the test of time?

The world has changed significantly since Simplicity’s inception, however the human desire to be creative has not. Naturally, Simplicity’s role within the household has changed throughout the years; from being a domestic necessity making the production of fashionable clothing a possibility to the modern era, where sewing at home is more of a hobby with a focus upon creating unique items. Nevertheless, whilst the world has changed, Simplicity has remained relevant and endured by ensuring it gives the consumer what it has always wanted, the ability to create.

Simplicity’s history is quite a story. Tell us more.

It’s all thanks to American entrepreneur James J. Shapiro, who founded The Simplicity Pattern Company in 1927.

James’ idea to create a business that introduced easy to - use, low priced patterns revolutionised the market, becoming one of the fastest growing pattern companies in the world. His approach allowed home seamstresses to create fashionable clothing during the Great Depression, when family incomes were low and times were hard. Within ten years he had teamed up with the Woolworth Company, to hit a larger mass market and by 1934 Simplicity’s first UK base was formed.

The 80s saw Simplicity acquire New Look Patterns and The English Pattern Company, to expand its range and offer customers a different European style. Fast forward to today, Simplicity patterns are sold in over 60 countries, servicing approximately 8,000 locations worldwide, with Simplicity and New Look continuing to introduce new designs; approximately 250 per year, through its inhouse design team, as well as collaborating with some of the most talented independent pattern designers in the market.

What is the company doing to celebrate this 90th milestone?

Our 90th anniversary has created an opportunity to look back and reflect on the company’s history, re-launching some of the iconic vintage designs, to supporting sewing bloggers and events, as well as looking forward through engagement with our consumers via social media. September marked the official launch of our anniversary, with the new catalogue and patterns featuring the specially created 90th logo, as well as sharing the Simplicity story through the #SimplicityTurn90 campaign and creating awareness of our birthday.

We have also created social media content through two short videos, featuring Simplicity designs, as well as our consumer’s makes viewable from our website and YouTube – showcasing 90 years of inspired sewing. We have also been having some fun with our Throwback Thursday campaign, drawing humorous and interesting comparisons between 1927 and 2017, as well as the return of the popular Simplicity Sewing Challenge – with an all-star judging panel of sewing superstars, such as GBSB’s Lauren Guthrie and Matt Chapple.

How has Simplicity developed as a business over the last 10 years?

I think the truth is, not enough! Whilst the business has been stable and performed well, particularly benefiting from the presence of the Great British Sewing Bee, patterns as a whole and how the company takes them to market has not changed a great deal for 30 plus years. I believe the next five years will see this situation change, as technology becomes increasingly more important and the rate of change accelerates dramatically. In regard to the overall business, the biggest development has seen the Simplicity brand reaching beyond its core sewing pattern business into other areas with its EZ Quilting and Boye knit and crochet brands and also Simplicity being used on an expanding range of trimmings, appliques and related products.

Simplicity has only been operating in the wider craft market for five years and this business continues to grow and establish itself within the UK market. This year we’ve also launched our first gifts collection, with a selection of vintage inspired pieces, designed specially with stitchers in mind. The collection includes limited edition items - from a 12- month sewing planner, to a cosmetics bag, a tote bag featuring one of Simplicity’s retro designs and coasters.

What’s been the biggest challenge for Simplicity to overcome in recent years?

Simplicity, as well as many sewing brands, suffer from a reduction in skill sets of the general population, with a large number of generations lacking the skills to take up sewing. The Great British Sewing Bee has done an amazing job at revitalising some of that interest and introducing new consumers into the market, however as we have seen this year, we cannot rely on a TV programme to educate for us and perhaps competing brands need to work more closely together to educate consumers for the good of the whole market. Other elements affecting our business are the same as those impacting most businesses supplying UK retailers and are not particular to the craft market; currency exchange, decline of the high street and Brexit!

What’s the focus for the future, for Simplicity?

The future is two-fold; firstly, we must maintain our position as the leading global pattern company through great pattern design, great photography and presentation and then deliver through excellent customer service to both our customers and the end consumers.

Working parallel to this I hope to see a development with how technology and our sector combine going forward.

Whilst digital downloads have been hailed as the future of patterns, I personally remain very sceptical and am concerned that customers using this method to engage with sewing patterns may have a negative experience and subsequently shift away from patterns as a whole. Until large format printers become common in the domestic environment, digital downloads and the process of creating a viable pattern from them remain challenging and therefore will not be able to become mainstream.

Technology does, however, have an important role to play and the recently announced collaboration between Cricut and Simplicity in the US is more likely to be a game changer in the way consumers use patterns. Going forward, consumers will be able to download a Simplicity pattern to the recently launched Cricut machine, which will then be able to cut the pattern out of fabric fed into the machine. At the moment, the cutting area remains relatively small, meaning that only certain patterns are eligible - however as this technology progresses and price points reduce, cutting out a pattern may be a process of the past.

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