On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast we’re talking about creating a sewing business with my guest Jess Barrera of Sallie Tomato.

Jessica is an author, designer, educator, and entrepreneur who has been creatively sewing and crafting since the age of five. She studied entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and now operates her own sewing pattern and supply company, Sallie Tomato. Her innovative designs and products aim to attract the next generations of sewing enthusiasts while appealing to current makers. Aside from running a business, she’s a mom of two boys, loves coffee, home decorating, boutique shopping, traveling, yoga, being outdoors, and is a fan of classic, black and white movies.

This episode is sponsored by The Handmade Book Club.

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Get the Sallie Tomato Stadium Bag kit right here.

We begin this conversation with Jess talking about her childhood and college years. Sallie Tomato was started in Jess’ college dorm room. Jess’ first product was a dog bed with built-in blanket flaps. When her mom noticed that the dog bed was popular, she suggested that Jess create a pattern rather than continue to try to fulfill orders for the handmade beds. That was the beginning of Jess’ pattern business.

An early connection with a buyer at Nancy’s Notions (the company was local to her) really helped Jess establish her business and learn about the crafts and sewing industry. Attending Quilt Market was an important early step.

Sally Tomato specializes in patterned cork fabric. Get the Lucky Penny wallet pattern right here.

Next, Jess talks about moving from her college dorm room to an apartment and continuing to run and grow the business from there, then getting married and moving into a house. Jess says that her business took over the basement and garage and other rooms and eventually they moved to a larger house after having children. Still, her business was growing and needed a separate physical space. Jess talks about building a warehouse and moving Sallie Tomato there and the mental shift that happened once the business had a separate physical home.

We talk about which patterns are best sellers and why (including the Ferris Fanny Pack) and why Sallie Tomato doesn’t retire patterns, just refreshes them. Jess shares about the company’s Instagram strategy. She also talks about growing the company to include over 20 employees and shifting into the CEO role.

Sallie Tomato sources many of its own products including fabrics and hardware for bag sewing. Jess talks about the steps that go into sourcing, including sourcing cork fabric, and why it has become a valuable part of the business.

And, of course, I ask Jess to recommend great stuff she’s enjoying right now. jess recommends:

  • webbing for purse straps
  • working with faux leather
  • painting landscapes

Keep up with Sallie Tomato on the website, Instagram, and Facebook. Also, follow Sallie Tomato on YouTube.