When Brydie Stewart decided to step back from her visual arts teaching career and spend time creating her own fibre art, she had no idea she’d inspire a ‘macrame movement’ – a fast-growing community of crafters. Based on the NSW South Coast, Brydie’s business Mary Maker Studio provides stunning raw materials for makers around the world.
Mary Maker Studio is known globally for its Luxe Fibre yarn, as well as recycled silk and merino yarns. But when Brydie started creating her own wall hangings five years ago, all she had to work with was what she describes as “nautical ropes and mop heads” in a limited colour palette.
“There was such a gap in the market for premium product. It simply didn’t exist,” Brydie says. “So I created a range of fibre with manufacturers and now get it all dyed in my own dye house in India. This allows me to create beautiful shades you just won’t find anywhere else, colours that let your personality come through.”
At the time, Brydie’s own artworks were selling out online “in seconds” to a worldwide market, as a global maker movement took hold and eCommerce platforms like Etsy made it easy to reach a broader audience.1
Mary Maker Studio steadily grew a community of weavers, knitters and macrame mavens. But things really took off when COVID-19 triggered a surge in the number of people crafting at home.
The rise of stay-at-home crafting
While the global pandemic triggered uncertainty, it also allowed some people to pause their busy life. “I think COVID gave people space to do something for themselves,” says Brydie. In the process, many of her customers realised the hands-on nature and rhythm of crafting can be quite meditative and calming. There is also evidence that knitting, crochet and sewing can help people feel less anxious during a crisis.2
Typically, Mary Maker Studio received a 40-foot container of yarns every three months. However, Brydie sold three months-worth of stock in just 12 days when COVID-19 restrictions first impacted Australia in March.
Although she temporarily closed her physical workshops during the lockdown, Brydie reached a wider community through her online patterns and videos. “I’d say we’ve seen a five or six-fold increase in pattern downloads,” she says. Her database of future makers had grown by over 5,000 by November 2020, and she receives 50 Instagram messages a day from newly-inspired yarn enthusiasts who love her Instagram video tips.
Drawing on 14 years of art teaching experience, Brydie understands how to help people develop skills and confidence – in person at her workshops, or via YouTube.
At The Australian E-Commerce Summit in October, Brydie described this as “modern day marketing.”
“I am part of a beautiful, creative community, and a big part of my site is user-generated content.”
Brydie’s customers tag Mary Maker when they share their finished work on social media. “I’m having my customers send warm eyes back to my site, and I then share their work on my page,” she explains.
She also openly promotes the work her community creates, linking to their Etsy store so they can in turn build their own small crafting business.
And Mary Maker’s social media community is also a testing ground for new product ideas. “If I’ve ever been nervous about an idea, I’ve asked their advice. Giving them that sense of connection to my product has not only enabled me to have confidence in it, it’s given them pride in the product,” she said at the E-Commerce Summit.
After seeing a growing interest in more conscious yarn choices, Brydie developed a range of fully-recycled luxe cotton and is now working with artisans in India and Nepal to create metallic yarns, as well as bespoke tie-dyed yarns that add texture and depth to her colour palettes.
She says she would usually be “over there” managing that process, “but instead I develop new ranges over WhatsApp. If something needs to be done, there is always a way.”
Dedicated delivery support
Supply chain complications were a less-welcome impact of COVID-19. “I deal with a lot of manufacturers overseas, and getting stock was stressful initially. But people have been very understanding, and I’ve been able to use this time to develop new products,” she says.
Towards the end of 2020, Brydie bought her own 300sqm commercial warehouse, to contain nearly 80 tonnes of recently imported stock. She has also taken on four staff to support packing and fulfilment – all dedicated makers who have a close connection to the Mary Maker community.
She says there is no doubt in her mind Australia Post has enabled her “to grow with confidence, with daily or twice-daily pick-ups” from her Kiama-based warehouse. In the past, she had been let down by other carriers who may have underestimated the number of parcels her regional business was ready to deliver.
“There is just no comparison in terms of reliability and service – I’m in touch with my Australia Post Account Manager all the time and the support has been incredible,” she says.
Brydie believes delivery is an integral part of her business. “I can do all the social media and marketing, I can have the best products, but if I can’t deliver them to people I don’t have a business.” Syncing her system with eParcel made a significant difference – doubling the number of orders she could despatch in a day.
A maker movement with momentum
As its community prepares for the holiday season – crafting for Christmas markets or making teacher gifts – Mary Maker is sending up to 180 parcels out a day, with some weighing 20kg.
But for Brydie, this year has been about so much more than revenue growth.
“It’s been an incredible year. I think COVID allowed everyone to pause and evaluate what matters in their life. To spend some time doing something they love. And so many people have continued to create. They’ve shared their work, found a spirit of camaraderie and community. And that has been so beautiful and humbling for me.”
She says 2021 is the year she returns to teaching, with workshops already booked around Australia – including interest from corporates who can see the meditative benefits of a collaborative ‘craft-along’.
A series of ‘maker business meet-ups’ could also be on the horizon. “Our online community is so strong, and it would be great to connect them with ideas on how to grow their business, and make craft a valid career choice.”
Ultimately, she says her vision is to help everyone explore themselves creatively. “I can’t wait to see all my makers in person again, that’s why I started this business.”