we’re celebrating 10 years of oliver + s!

Wow, ten years already! Today we’re kicking off our big ten year anniversary celebration for Oliver + S. Have you seen the special anniversary homepage for the website yet?

10th Anniversary celebration

Many of you have sewn with us for most, or all, of our ten years. But many others have only joined this sewing community recently. Today, to kick off our anniversary celebration, I thought it would be fun to talk a walk down memory lane and remind (or introduce) you to some of the milestones in our growth and development as a brand and a company.

Thirteen years ago, when S born, I was working as a clothing designer in New York. After graduating from design school at FIT, I started working at Ralph Lauren, then worked a bunch of free-lance jobs (including a exciting stint with Esprit in San Francisco), and then landed at Tommy Hilfiger when I was done sowing my wild oats. I loved my work and my colleagues, but I was also eager to spend time with our new baby.

I’ve told the whole story of my creative journey as a new mom over at The Longest Shortest Time podcast if you ever want to listen to it. But long story short, soon after I left my job the lovely people at Purl SoHo asked if I would teach sewing classes at their new fabric store. It was through teaching those classes that I realized that there was a need for well-designed, professionally-drafted sewing patterns for kids with clear and detailed instructions. And that’s how Oliver + S was born. (My second baby….)

S wearing our very first pattern, the Tea Party Sundress, and our most recent--50th--pattern, the Girl on the Go Dress.
S wearing our very first pattern, the Tea Party Sundress, and our 50th (and most recent) pattern, the Girl on the Go Dress.

While at first I thought this little project was something I could do during my free time during naps and evenings (Todd was traveling four or five days a week, so I had a lot of time alone back then), I quickly realized that this would be a more-than-full-time job.

A year later, Todd left the demanding job that kept him away from home so much, and we made a lifestyle decision that he would join me in growing this company. This decision has given me the freedom to spend the majority of my time developing patterns, writing tutorials and blog posts, and taking on other projects I wouldn’t have had time to do because Todd has taken on the responsibility of running the company and doing all the analysis it takes to keep us going. (We don’t make a lot of money in this business, so our margin for error in decision making is small. We need to be really careful with all our business decisions. We talked about this at length in Creativebug’s Building a Creative Brand class if you’re interested in learning more.)

As a couple, working together has allowed us to take advantage of opportunities I couldn’t have pursued otherwise. I’ve been able to write two books, travel to teach classes and workshops, record on-line and video classes, and design fabric collections. It’s also allowed us to travel and to live abroad!

10 years of nostalgia

During these past ten years our business has also been located in four different locations. At first, like so many businesses, it started on our dining room table. When that quickly became unfeasible, I moved to a rented studio space a few blocks from our New York apartment. A year later we moved to a larger space in Brooklyn, and now we we have a two-floor combined live-work space here in the center of Madrid. I’ll admit I preferred working from our studio in Brooklyn, but I’m learning to adjust to working from home. It’s convenient, at least.

our Brooklyn studio

And in the past 10 years we’ve accomplished quite a bit! Here are a few statistics:

  • Number of Oliver + S patterns we’ve released: 50 (and we’ve turned pieces from several of these into additional Oliver + S Singles patterns)
  • Number of Liesl + Co patterns we’ve released: 20
  • Number of Lisette patterns we’ve released: 22 with Butterick and 15 with Simplicity in our early days
  • Number of Straight Stitch Society patterns we’ve released: nine
  • Number of fabric collections I’ve designed: four with Moda, one with Robert Kaufman, and more than I care to count under the Lisette brand
  • Number of books we’ve written: two (one of which we published ourselves for a little extra challenge!)
  • In addition, we’ve filmed many on-line and video classes: This includes two sewing how-to videos with Interweave, approximately 24 Creativebug classes, and a handful of one-minute tips and tricks videos just for the fun of it.
  • Plus many magazine features, podcast interviews, classes, and workshops. Not to mention all the blog posts, tutorials, sew-alongs, etc. It’s been a busy decade!
  • At last, but certainly not least: number of new friends we’ve made through our business: countless! Not to mention that you live all around the world!

behind the scenes

It’s been fun to look through old photos to see how much S has grown up and to remember some really fun times we’ve had. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might recognize some of these photos.

So many memories.

You know I’m always very honest with you, so I won’t stop now. Financially our best year was 2014, and our business has trended downwards every year since then. Last year was not profitable for us (even though we managed to cut our expenses considerably by leaving New York), and this year is also looking like it will be a real challenge. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why that is, and we see it as being due to a combination of factors. The major one of which is that the overall market for sewing is contracting. Everyone in the business–from manufacturers to distributors to retailers–is feeling the pinch. It’s a constant struggle to keep this business going, and we do it because we love it and because we enjoy running a small business. So we hope we can continue, and we appreciate your support.

What can you do to help? Honestly, word of mouth is most important for helping us to grow. And, of course, continuing to buy patterns. Happy customers who tell their friends, teach someone else to sew, and spread the word about the quality of our patterns and their inherent value are better than any advertising we can do. Of course we’d love to be here for another 10 years (or more!), and we’ll need your help if we’re going to accomplish that goal.

I’ll be back on Wednesday to talk more about you and what you’ve accomplished these past ten years while you’ve been sewing with us. It’s been amazing, and I’ve had so much fun looking through your photos as well as reading what you’ve had to say.

So here’s to the past ten years, and hopefully to more. Thanks for coming along on this journey, and let’s see where it leads us next!

Make sure to visit the blog tomorrow. We’ve got a special anniversary treat for you.

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31 Comments

  1. Congratulations on leaving the world of fashion and building a company that includes your family! I have only started sewing with your patterns about two years ago, but they have helped me to become a much better seamstres. I love your detailed and clever sewing tricks, like how to make the yoke on the classic shirt. Like you ,I also went to fashion school
    ,but in LA. I was never very good at the details of sewing back then, and then I quit to be a stay at home mom. And I also lived in Europe for awhile, but in France near Montpellier where we had a small village house from the 1600’s for five years when my older kids were little. Madrid is such a vibrant city, right? So alive and intense. I for one, willl recommend your patterns to everyone I know!

    1. That’s a lot of similarities, Justine! I hope we get to meet someday. Thanks for your kind words. xo

  2. Lesley

    I love your patterns! I have most of the Oliver+S patterns in paper, all the Liesl and Co, most of the Butterick/Simplicity, and 2 straight stitch. I love making the wallet. The directions are so clear and easy to follow. I end up with a fantastic wallet every time. My daughter grew up wearing your patterns. However, she has been out of the size for a few years. So I am so excited that you have a new tween/teen pattern! Thank you for all your hard work!

    1. Thanks so much for your support, Lesley. I’m glad you’re happy with the patterns!

  3. Thank you for your transparency on the business side. My small pattern business was barely profitable this year. Sometimes I wonder why I keep working on it. Then I remember why I started making patterns in the first place…I love this community and I love helping people to succeed in making something they love. I’m sure you have similar reasons. I hope you find ways to grow your business this year!

    1. Being a small business owner is an extremely challenging and sometimes stressful and demoralizing job, isn’t it? But it can also be very rewarding. I hope it will be successful for you. Every day is a new opportunity! xo

  4. Mirjam

    Congratulations! I found you a long time ago in the Disdressed days, it’s been a real joy to follow you and Todd and S over the years. Love your style and your clear patterns are a pleasure to work with. Really hope we, as in: the collective Liesl fanclub, can support you enough to keep it going. All the best and good luck for the future!

    1. Thanks for coming along on this lengthy journey, Mirjam! xo

  5. Happy anniversary! What beautiful pictures and memories! I love the peek behind the scenes and love your patterns!

    1. That’s sweet, Emily, thanks!

  6. liz n.

    I do recommend your patterns to anyone I meet who sews or who happens to comment on something my grandkids or I are wearing.

    I think one thing that’s hurting the sewing industry–patterns in particular–is that there are so many free patterns available (and not necessarily even well-written or well-designed ones) that folks get used to and expect to pay little-to-nothing for patterns.

    I also hear people grumble over the cost of patterns, whether yours or others’. To that end, I’m of the opinion that a good design and its accompanying well-written pattern are worth the expense. Oliver + S and Liesl + Co patterns in particular are invaluable to me because they are easy to modify if I want to change a neckline or add pintucks or do any number of things with them. (I can’t tell you how much fun I had with the Secret Agent Trench and the Chai Tee, and I’m playing around with another version of the Classic Shirt.)

    So I’m cheering you on and letting you know that your loyal customers are loyal because we can count on you and Todd and the rest of the crew to create excellent patterns in designs that we and our children (or, for some of us, grandchildren) will actually wear.

    Happy 10th, and here’s to decades more!

    End of longer-than-I’d-planned comment!

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. This industry, like so many, is always changing. It’s a challenge to keep up with it, and I try to be as open about it as possible because I think there is often a perspective that we’re making loads of money.

  7. Pamela

    Happy anniversary! You are a very brave, generous (I still remember that you donated a kidney to your friend, am I right?) and honest person, you deserve all the success and more. Good luck!

    1. Thanks so much, Pamela.

  8. Addie

    Congratulations! Oliver and S. is one of the first independent patterns I ever purchased and still my favorite (including all the brands). I have enjoyed seeing how you have developed and grown your creative business. The standard of your sewing patterns will forever be the mark against which I measure all others. I have learned so many techniques and improved my sewing through using your patterns. I am surprised that the business is not growing. But I have noticed that there is not as much excitement in the general sewing “blogisphere”, when a new pattern debuts. I am surprised when there are home sewers (kids and adults) who aren’t familiar with your brands. I am always quick to recommend your patterns, especially to new sewers. I have just recently tried some other highly regarded independent patterns and found their instructions and attention to detail just not as good as yours. I hope that you find a way to continue. I will continue to support the Oliver and S. family as long as you do.

    1. Thank you, Addie!

  9. Barbara Kugler

    I am so grateful that you decided to start Oliver & S ten years ago. Your patterns inspired me to start a small business making custom clothes for children, exclusively using your patterns, and I did that for several years. The business was not profitable, due partly to my lack of marketing acumen, but also due to the high cost of quality fabric and the time involved in sewing. Now I sew for myself and love your patterns for adults. Yours are the patterns that I end up making many times because they are so well designed and have such clear instructions and are so attractive. I too hope that you are able to continue and I will continue to recommend your patterns as much as I can, and continue to purchase them for myself. I am still holding onto the 20+ Oliver & S patterns I own in the hope that I will have a grandchild to sew for sometime soon.

  10. Congratulations! I love your patterns and it was amazing to meet you and your family in Madrid in 2015. It was a priceless experience that I will never forget. I understand how hard running a small business could be, but I hope to sew more of your patterns in the future. I think it’s a good idea to develop patterns for teens and tweens as is an unexplored market!
    Besos y a por otros diez años más.

  11. Yay! Happy birthday Oliver + S! Your patterns were instrumental in teaching me new skills, upping my sewing game, and really, just helping me to realize that I could tackle more advanced patterns and learn new things and have it turn out well! And I still love to sew your patterns and hope you’ll release more kids’ styles. THANK YOU!

  12. Thank you for your transparency and especially for all the great patterns and top notch instructions you’ve produced. I’ve always had amazing experiences with your patterns. I hope you all will continue and succeed and as I’ve just begun to teach sewing classes I’ll keep your patterns in mind when teaching students.

  13. I love your patterns! Oliver + s is by far my favorite pattern company. I ran across some at a local craft shop not long after I started sewing clothes for my baby (now 6), and through them I learned how to create heirloom quality handmade clothes. I wouldn’t be as good of a sewist without the sewing lessons contained in the clearly written instructions of each of your patterns. You are brilliant at designing patterns and writing instructions. Thank you!

  14. Joyce Montgomery

    Love this post. Thanks for all you do. I appreciate having your patterns in my collection. They came at a time when I’d given up on the big 4. They are always professional and guaranteed to make a succesful garment. So non of my time is a waste…. My grandchildren all have garments made from your patterns.
    I personally think there’s so many indie companies making patterns, it’s a bit of a minefield now. And not many are any good at drafting. I wish you all the best and really hope you make it through.

  15. Melani

    Congratulations on 10 years! I have been part of the O+S community for 9 years, and I have learned everything I know about garment sewing from your patterns! My skills and confidence have developed and grown because of you. I always have and will continue to recommend your patterns as worth more than every penny I’ve ever spent! I look forward to seeing what the future of O+S looks like!

  16. Congratulations on reaching an amazing milestone! I love sewing with your pattern brands; I always learn something new from each one, so I often find myself recommending them to other sewists – and on one occasion, to a fabric shop! Best wishes for 2018, and for the next ten years.

  17. I was gifted a sewing machine for my 30th birthday in 2009 and quickly began sewing baby clothes for friends and family – your patterns were the first ones I used and still my favorites for chic and timeless kid clothes (especially for woven fabrics). I took a bit of a derailment from sewing after having my 2 boys (who knew it was SO much work keeping tiny humans alive! lol), but I’ve recently found my way back to sewing in a major way. Your patterns got me comfortable with making buttonholes, with basic tailoring and making my first welt pocket. So thank you for all that you have put out in the sewing world. Congratulations on 10 years and I hope that you continue to stick around as I think you are a fresh and welcome voice in the sewing community. xoxo

  18. Kim

    Congratulations Liesl! I’ve loved seeing your patterns ever since I was a stay at home mum 10yrs ago. You’ve brought me happiness when I completed a garment I’ve sewn for my girls. I loved how easy the Lazy Days skirt was and I have your book Little Things to Sew. I remember being up at 1am sewing up the Red Riding Hood cape for a school parade. It turned out so lovely she still wears it on cold days. Haa haa. All the best and keep up with it. I know, the struggle is real and we’re all behind you. I pray that things get better for you in the future. It might be just a good time to brew up a new way forward. xox

  19. Lyndsey Stanfill

    Congratulations on 10 years! That is amazing. I have always found Oliver + S patterns THE gold standard for children’s patterns. So much so that I don’t even look at other children’s patterns anymore! Here’s to another 10 years!

  20. Jenny

    Hey everyone, we can help spread the word! With such a generous 10-for-$50 offer out, what a great opportunity to “introduce” 10 lucky friends to the brand that has helped so many of us to look like super sewists!!

    Congratulations, Liesl and Todd and S! That stats list is truly mind-blowing.

  21. Congratulations on your 10th Anniversary! This post was a fantastic read and I loved learning a little more about your history and the journey to your present. I look forward to seeing the future of your company and will be happy to continue to support.

  22. Kathy Eastwood

    Congratulations on your accomplishments and your wonderful daughter! I have only recently started sewing again, and have bought several of the patterns for my grandchildren. Will try to spread the word as much as possible, although I don’t have much of a local sewing community myself. Let us know what else we can do to help.

  23. Interesting timing as far as word of mouth as I just recently went to 2 churches for charity dress sewing sessions. I brought a few of my Popover Sundress creations as well as some of the printed out pattern pieces. We’re sewing up dresses for a mission trip to Nigeria in May. I just learned that the girls need dresses that cover their shoulders for church on Sundays, so we’ll also be sewing up some Roller Skate dresses.

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