While the scarcity of sanitizers has caught the attention of media outlets, there’s another lesser-known product that has recently been nearly impossible to find on store shelves: sewing machines.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do during the ongoing pandemic, many people have been using their extra time to pick up new hobbies—and some have even turned them into full-blown businesses.
But with people’s curiosity at a high point and manufacturing at a low point, the sewing industry has witnessed what some are calling “the great sewing machine shortage.” The shortage has even affected major companies like Walmart, which CNN Business reports went from a 100-day supply of sewing machines to just five days’ worth in 24 hours.
While some have taken up the hobby to charitably provide masks to people, others have taken it on for fun. And, a large amount of people have also seen it as a chance to earn some cash.
CNN Business says Etsy’s online marketplace has had as many as 110,000 sellers creating a total of 29 million face masks worth $346 million. And Dallas entrepreneur Chris Tock is among the group creating a profitable business out of the hobby, although his talents extend well beyond sewing masks.
Tock, a YouTuber and custom designer, turned his love for sewing into a career. Initially, he was making custom men’s clothes and creative costumes for conventions while balancing a job in the mental health field.
“When that job went away, I just wasn’t done sewing. I just wanted to learn everything I could,” Tock told Dallas Innovates. “And that’s all I did. For the first year or so I was sewing 12 hours a day, every day, teaching myself everything I could just because I loved it so much.”
After mastering a variety of techniques, the self-taught sewer was ready to start his own business. In 2015, he launched Tock Custom, through which he was originally commissioned to create unique clothing for customers internationally. His clients’ overwhelming responses motivated him to put commissions on hold and pursue teaching.
“The advice I was given was to learn everything, take your skills as far as you can, and then share it with people,” Tock says.
Shortly after uploading his first tutorial, Tock began partnering with major companies such as YouTube and Brother USA, one of the most popular sewing machine manufacturers in the country. As a Brother partner, his skills have been showcased in the company’s most recent campaign “The Side Hustle,” which inspires people to pursue creative outlets by shining a light on crafters who have turned their passions into profits.
“The campaign really has empowered a lot of people during COVID,” Ashley Guido, Brother USA’s manager of public relations and influencer marketing, told Dallas Innovates. “Chris’ content on the website features tips and tricks on how to get started and additional gated content for people to learn even more on how to get your business started.”
His partnerships and the ongoing pandemic have especially served as a catalyst for Tock to grow his viewers, excel as an educator, and connect with newcomers to the sewing community.
Within the first week of lockdown, Tock’s viewers had gone up by more than 900 percent. When creating tutorials, he makes sure they are not only easy to understand, but also straight to the point.
Tock says, “I don’t want to just make clothes for people, I want people to learn to make clothes for themselves.” With 70,000 YouTube subscribers and counting, Tock couldn’t believe the amount of feedback and praise his videos have been receiving.
“I get over 100 comments a week on my videos of all kinds of stuff, but I’ve gotten so much feedback about people excited about learning something new for themselves,” Tock says. “People are interested in me teaching them how to start a business and then a lot of parents have reached out that they are working with their kids. A lot of young boys and girls are asking their parents, ‘How do I do this?,’ and then they find my videos and they watch them together and learn how to sew together.”
People’s outpour of excitement towards learning about and loving sewing makes Tock confident that the sewing surge won’t be a temporary occurrence. People have begun to realize that sewing is not just cost effective, but also yields one-of-a-kind, tailored clothing that they can turn into a side hustle or even a business venture.
For those looking to join the industry, Tock’s advice is simple: “Just start.”
“Think about what you’d want to make,” Tock says. “And there’s going to be resources out there to help you learn how to do what you want to do.”
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