Brand an Online Shop: Create a Cohesive Product Line | Melanie Abrantes | Skillshare

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Brand an Online Shop: Create a Cohesive Product Line

teacher avatar Melanie Abrantes, Designer and Maker

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Project


    • 3.

      Developing Products


    • 4.

      Taking Care of Business


    • 5.

      Crafting Your Story


    • 6.

      Further Developing Brand


    • 7.

      Growing Across Seasons


    • 8.

      Favorite Examples


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Join designer, maker, and Big Cartel shop owner Melanie Abrantes for a 30-minute class on developing cohesive product lines. Perfect for independent makers and creative businesses, you'll learn lessons from her real-world experience — as well as business and merchandising essentials — to grow your shop and brand.

Key lessons cover:

  • questions to ask when developing new products
  • considerations when naming your brand and telling its story
  • best practices for growing your brand through "seasons" and over time

This class will be especially useful for those that already have ideas for products they'd like to create and sell, but even those who are just curious about getting started will discover useful insights. All you need to begin is an open mind!


Big Cartel helps makers, designers, musicians, and other artists build a unique online store and run a creative business. Also be sure to check out Big Cartel's other classes on Skillshare! These classes may be taken on their own or in any order:

Meet Your Teacher

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Melanie Abrantes

Designer and Maker


Melanie Abrantes is a maker and designer.

Melanie Abrantes Designs is a Bay Area-based producer of handcrafted, heirloom objects. Founder Melanie Abrantes believes that in order to create something beautiful, you have to get your hands dirty. She founded her company in 2013 when she realized there was a growing American market for handmade goods. Working with a variety of unique materials, Melanie strives to create products of the highest quality that are equally beautiful and functional. Through the technique of lathing, she turns simple pieces of solid wood and cork into one-of-a-kind bowls, plates, cups and stands. Her passion for woodworking originates from the simple fact that every piece is unique as the material it is made from. Time in the studio is dedicated to researchi... See full profile

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1. Introduction: However, I kept this people proud by creating a product. Yeah. My name is Melanie Abrantes. I am a designer and maker, living in Oakland, California. I make artisanal home goods mostly out of wood and cork. I do what I do because I love products. There's something really amazing to know that something you make might be lasting generations. I really like the idea that someone purchases your product knowing that they love and really enjoy what you do. Today, I will be teaching the big cartel branding and merchandising product class. So, I'll be showing you guys how to be able to brand your products, create your products, and also have a cohesive line with the story. It is really hard to sometimes get a grasp of what you need to do to start. So, I'm hoping that this will be able to explain it better, and you can have a better understanding on what it entails to have a successful shop. Pending on the journey of where you are and the starting of the shop, it's either for brand new shop owners that really just need that extra help, or for for people that already have a shop and just need a better understanding of how to create products and branding. The class and skills are important to learn because it will create a longer lasting relationships with your customers and be able to have a cohesive brand. 2. Your Project: Your assignment is to create a branded product line for your Big Cartel shop. I want to see at least three products that are captivating in their storytelling and are able to work cohesively with your brand. The project is really trying to help the longevity of your store or product or brand. The idea is that this is something that you really considered and you're really enjoying and it's something that you actually took an initiative to think A, this is what I want to do and B, this is something that I'm happy to represent and I'm really willing to have as my brand. If you're doing for instance, skateboarding clothes or anything like that, you want to be continuing with skateboarding. You don't want to be adding aprons to that because that wouldn't make sense. So, just really think clearly about how and what you want to be making and producing. So honestly, all you really need is a paper, a pencil or a pen, some source of inspiration. For instance, design books or even Pinterest. Just something to get your hands on and for you to always feel inspired. For me personally, when I started my Big Cartel shop, it took a year for me to feel comfortable and happy with what I actually created. There's always some new changes and different iterations for when you began because you're not sure what's going on. So, for someone that obviously he's had an idea and had products that they already know, then it will probably maybe be couple weeks to a month. But for someone that's really just starting in the beginning, I'd expect it to be almost as long as a year, but it'll be better that way. Because you'll be able to understand what you are doing and you'll have a better idea of what your brand is at the end of the project. Keep in mind that you're in the ideation phase. Which means that these products don't have to be perfect. There's going to be a lot of wrong ones. There's going to be a lot of great ones, but the idea is that you're able to really grasp an idea of a product and you really think that's going fit and stick and you can expand on that. Keep it live, fun, and imaginative. The hardest part or the trickiest part about this whole entire experience is just creative blocks. Not being able to think about what a new product or a good product would be. How I end up breaking out of that and getting a clear head is just by taking breaks. Going through those inspirations that I mentioned before and seeing what's on the internet, what's in magazines, and just really keeping it current. It might help or it should help create an easy way to get back into it. A great way to think about if you're going the right path towards your product is to ask yourself questions such as am I being authentic? Am I being who I should be with my brands? Just knowing your values and the intentions of what you want. So, if you look at a canister that you made and you really feel like this doesn't represent you, then move on. You don't need to be doing something like that. So, when you're creating your product you really want to be able to think about who is going to be buying these brands or your brand and you want to be able to think about the customers. So, that entitles what they want, what they think is a great product, and who they are. Being able to ask those complicated questions will make you have a better product line. So, an okay project is when you're able to create the product line and the brand story. An amazing project is when you're able to really have a cohesive line where people know who the brand is and they can clearly see it and say this is so and so. For instance, this is Melanie Rogers designs. Because it works with cork and wood and you're using super interesting materials and everything that you're excited about. That makes you stand out, out of the rest of them. So, I'm really excited to see what you guys have created. A part of that is just the ideation phase. So, I want to be able to see sketches and videos and even what your inspiration photos are. Of course, at the very end, I want to be able to see what your Big Cartel shop looks like. So, the parts that you created knowing that it's a brand that has a clear story and seeing that what you are about is obvious in the products you made. 3. Developing Products: So, for the product development part of the section, I'm going to go through and show you guys how I create my own products. I know that everyone's going to be having different product lines, and for instance, from T-Shirts to ceramics, so I'm just going to do a very broad approach to it. So, a couple of the questions I want you to ask yourself when you're creating this project is, why are you creating this object or product? What exactly are you trying to create? What is your background for making this product? Are you an expert? If you obviously have been working in the kitchen and creating all these recipes in making products and your new line is obviously doing kitchen products, then tell that story, make sure that that's part of your line. Huge part of your brand is being able to be authentic as possible to your customer. That being said, you really want to be able to create a product that really is able to make sense on why you're creating it. So, for instance, I create quirk products because I'm half Portuguese. So,when I was growing up, me and my family would go to and from Portugal and be able to see all of these quirk products. Obviously here in America, the only kind of quirk products that you see around are quirk pots or even for most exciting part would be a quirk turbot. So, I really want to create products that I was seeing, that were 3D actually made and really being able to explore a material that wasn't very common here in the US. When you're creating these products, you will not be able to know how to make them. I personally create and make all of my own products. It's a lot of work and it's really time constraining, but especially starting a business, it's the best way to go about because that's less overhead and you're really able to have a hand on every process. Of course in the future, you really do want to imagine what you are going to do, for instance, a huge brand is able to put an order for 300 pieces. It would take me maybe three or four months to make that. So, I have already lined up different turners and people that I know that we'll be able to help me with that process. You the same, if you have T-shirts that you silkscreen yourself, make sure to know who other silk screeners around town that you can have help you with that process. Of course in the end, it's better to outsource it because that will give you time to actually do other things that the business will entail. When you are creating the product for the customer, you want to see and you want to be able to make the product unique and individual as possible, and the whole point is because it's going through your eyesight. So, the fact that you're envisioning it and you're sharing it to the world is what makes us so different. So, really try to make that as unique as possible. Like I mentioned before, having cohesive brand is a huge part of your product line. That will really be able to make it better because it will really have a clear way of seeing what you're about. So, making sure that every product makes sense together is a huge part of that. So, when you're creating your products, you really want to know that you love what you're doing. You can spend the time after work, creating these things that you know is really passion driven and able to succeed mostly because you enjoy it so much. When you do that most of the time, people can see it. Because you're excited about talking about it, others will get excited about talking about it and you'll be able to sell the products that you love as well. When you really feel like you're about to launch a product and you're really excited about it, ask some people around. Make sure that you feel like the product is really solid and that there's nothing else that you can do to improve it. It doesn't hurt to put something out especially if you're not sure, because obviously getting real feedback is a huge part of how to make a business. A lot of the times, I personally use Instagram. So, I will be able to have real-time stories and products that I'm interested in and I kind of just put it out there. What do people think? What do you guys want? A lot of the time, I think my Instagram followers and everything are a huge part of my customer base. So, it's really great to get immediate feedback and really be able to see what people think and want in what I make. 4. Taking Care of Business: So taking care of business. This is obviously not as fun as the rest of the class, but it always needs to be said and done. Yes you're being a designer, but it's still a business. It was something that took me a while to grasp and to be able to be a part of just the finances of it, being able to understand how much money you're spending on materials, how to slow down and make sure that your products are great, what production entails. So, I really try hard to be able to create new products on as low as they can be. Obviously, my products are more particular level which means that I am creating artisanal object that I'm hand making. So, that being said, it will take a lot more money and time. That being said, it will be more money because of my time. You really need to decide what makes your products better, unique, and different. You really want to be able to set yourself apart from all the other services out there, or all the other bonus for that matter. If you're trying to do illustration, what kind of illustration would you be making that would make you different? Asking yourself these questions are a huge part of creating a successful business because that will be able to create people to come into your shop and see that you yourself are making them and you as an integral person are helping that being made. You want to be able to set prices that obviously makes sense. A huge thing that people do is that they price is way too low. You want to know exactly how much material cost, how much it takes you to make it, how much time it does to design it, and obviously, if you're interested in doing wholesale, you'll have to double that cost. So, a lot of people end up not doing wholesale for a while, and they end up having a very low cost but that's unfair to other people that are in the same market and are making the same products. It's always smart if you're creating a product to actually go through and see what else everyone's making. You can see their price points, you can see how they make it and you can be able to compare and contrast how you can make yours better. Another thing about it is being able to have competitive price. You really want to be able to see your product and create a product that is based completely on how much it cost. So, obviously, if you're working with expensive materials the product will be more expensive, but you [inaudible] that's a huge part of your business. Being able to make a business plan or a goal is a great way to motivate you to continue on starting your business. It's really hard to begin sometimes, that's the hardest part. So, if you've had these ideas for a while and you're really trying to get it out there, maybe sign up for a market. There's great markets all around the US and you can be able to do. For instance, Renegade has a great one, Unique Allay, I love here in the Bay Area, West Coast craft but that was how I began my own business. Is being able to sign up. Because if I didn't, then I would never have a product line and I never would have been able to have anything to show people. A lot of that could just always end up just being in your head. So, merchandising your products for a photo shoot is really great because you're able to really have unique look on what your product should look like. A huge part of what I do is having a minimal photo shoot. So, I was able to actually work with a friend and hire a photographer that was able to give me professional shots. Because that means I would be able to get professional photos, and it really elevated my brand and elevator the way that my website looked as well as my big cartel shop. That way when people actually looked through the shop, they're really able to see that it's all the same thing. At the end of it, you really want to just begin. Starting a business can just be that. So, look through what products you want to make, how much it is going to cost and how at the end you're going to photograph everything. Remember that the whole part of the idea has a cohesive brand story. 5. Crafting Your Story: So, here we are at the story. This is why people come to your shop, why they visit your website. What makes you stand out from the rest. A huge part of my story is my cultural background. I really like to involve my own personal story as being a part of that. I believe that because I learned at Otis, I was really able to see what products I want to make and export it in that way. My cultural background is huge private as well because I really like the idea that I'm creating products that are based out of both my Portuguese heritage and being here in America. So, that is how I created my cork and wood line, is because I knew that wood isn't enforceable in Europe and I wanted to have a different look and approach to how products are made with cork. When you're creating your story, you really want to go deep into what you're about. So, ask yourself the questions of, how do you do work? What do you find inspiring? What makes you happy? What doesn't make you happy? Knowing the negatives it poses a huge part of that. Because that way, when you go back and you see that the negatives aren't something that you're into and you see that later on in your pack line, mix it out, you don't need it there. When you define your story, try to be as precise as possible. People want to know who you are, what you do and how you do it. So, if you're able to hit all those lines, you're really able to have a great story. The unique parts of your story are about the ones that are personal. The cultural background is something that I find that makes my story unique, and obviously the fact that I'm making all these pieces. Another thing is the fact that I'm a woman and a woodworker. Most woodworkers are older men that probably do it as a hobby. So, the fact that I'm taking this and making into a business is both inspiring and different to other people. When you're making your products and you really want them to stand out, you really should think of them as a cohesive story. One that obviously lines up with your own story. So for instance, if you're going to do a bathing suit line, you can do three bathing suits that would be great, but you really want to be able to have people come back to your store. So, if you're creating a swimsuit line, create flip-flops, create beach towel and create a swimsuit that need comes in three different colors. That way when people obviously buy the swimsuit, they're like, ''Oh, those shoes are really cute and I love that beach towel and I'll keep coming in buying more.'' So, you really want to be able to expand your business and expand your line by thinking it in that way. So, having a story behind each product and having it as a cohesive with those three products, would be super helpful. When you're creating your products, you really want to think of your brand story being a part of those products. There's a lot of great websites that you can go to as well that go another way, for instance I think Eminem made a body wash, things like that. You know that it doesn't make sense and you really want to be able to have your background to match your products. So, if I was a botanist and I really felt like there was great things that could happen with plants, that you knew personally because you are an expert, then I will create a line of custom hand tools that were great for the gardern, or planters that you felt like were perfect for planting objects. So, flatering or a new material or work with the services that can make that really unique for your customer. The name for your business is super important, obviously, your logo is as well. This is the first thing people look at, this is the first thing people see. My name is Melanie Abrantes designs, I want to name my business that because I want people know that it was me that was creating it. But for instance, a lot of great names that are out there are fun, a little bit quirky, and a little bit interesting and unique. So, a great name that I really love is Schoolhouse Electric. You know exactly what they're about based on the name itself. Their products are based with the Schoolhouse design, so the things that you saw in the early 1950s that kind of aesthetic that was very industrial, where you would find in schoolhouses, and they also do lighting. So, that name for me personally really explains what the story's about and what the parts they will have on their shop. When you're creating the name, you really want to be able to have it expand more than just what you do. So if you create it, caps only, then you can only create caps. So, try to think of a name that obviously won't restrain you and will be able to continue creating as you create your lifestyle. You want to make it as clear as possible to your customers on what your brand and story is. Another way to do that is by including video, having photographers come and see you work, or even sharing personal things like your studio and office. Remember when you're creating the story, that it really ties back to the product. A huge part of that is being able to have a cohesive look in line. So, this is just something that your customers can see and be able to understand about yourself. 6. Further Developing Brand: Other things that you need to think about for your brand is the small things on the side. So, for instance packaging is a huge part of that. You want to be able to have a clear message when these people see this box. So, for me personally I use very simple packaging. Mostly brown boxes. I always try to have tissue papers so when people obviously open it they feel like they're getting a present. It's wrapped with an eco-friendly material because I worked with cork and I find sustainability important to my brand and my business., and I also include postcards stickers to close it that has my logo on it as well as maybe a little bit more about myself. Having a material that makes you stand out can be a huge plus for your business because you're really able to be unique and innovative with that material. People love to see different things and you'll be able also to help in the future with press. Personally for me, I really find that social media is a huge help to my brand. I'm able to really show my customers and the people that follow me what I do on a daily basis and sometimes all that is is just creating a lifestyle. Half of the images on my Instagram are products and the other is my lifestyle. So, it could be from anything from my studio to obviously what I do on a regular basis. People really want to know what you're up to, have this personal connection and Instagram and social media is a huge part of that. Another platform that I love to use is my blog. I'm able to really go more in-depth into the story of what I'm talking about and discussing. So, if it's a new product and I show an image I say click the link into the my profile and you'll learn more on my blog. That way you're really able to explain what you're trying to say and people can have a better understanding. Plus it's just a fun way to obviously create a larger branded image of what you want people to imagine your lifestyle to be that's directly linked to your brand. If you're feeling bored and you really are getting stuck on what to do next, a huge and fun part of having a business is doing collaborations. So, if that means working with other woodworkers like myself or even being able to have another designer come in and help you out. Collaboration is a great way to network and be able to create a community of creatives. Like I mentioned before, you really want to be able to keep people in the loop. A great way to do that is a newsletter. That is really able to give people an up-to-date version of what you're doing. It also is able to kind of have a huge list of the people that you know are actually interested in your products that way you can update them from time to time on, a new story on a blog, a new product or where you're going to be in the next event you're going to have. Newsletters are a great way of doing that and also it's a great way to catalog who your customers are. So, in the long run you really want to be able to continuously build the brands. So by creating an overall experience for your customer you're really able to do that. Like I mentioned I use Instagram, my blog, newsletters, having a really unique material and the packaging experience. So, hopefully you can do something like that as well. 7. Growing Across Seasons: So, as your business grows, you will have to continue creating new products. Most industries have the set time of when they actually debut new products. Personally for me, for product design, I create new products twice a year. Once in the winter and once in the spring, but it's actually for the following. So, if I am designing in the winter, it's for the summer and if I'm designing in the summer, it's actually for the winter. You really want to be on top of that. Mostly for the press and also so that you're ready for when the actual season comes around. Most press maybe take up to six months in advance. They really want to be able to have the photos, to have for their magazines, for instance, in December. For me, that's a huge part of my brand, being able to get really great press. So, I'm always sitting on top of what the seasons are and how to create the products for each season. Make sure to have your products be consistent and always look like they're coming from the same brand. You want to be able to have a customer go to your website and know that they're coming from you. So, keeping your products consistent might come from materials, the genre of your products, or how you actually create your products through production. When you're growing your business with the season, you really want to think of photography. During Christmas, you should probably keep it a little bit darker with winter tones, being able to have it in the same spot in the frame, especially on the opening page of your shop, styling it with things that are of the season. So, for instance, the wintertime would have squash, ever green leaves, things like that can really be able to get people in the mood and in the season. For springtime, obviously, think more of what springtime would entail or even springtime summer, so a little bit lighter in the colors, a lot more white, a lot more brighter colors. You really wanted to be able to have a clear view of what the season is for the product of that time. So, as you grow with your brand, things will change, and you'll always have to be thinking of what the customer will want next. For me personally, I was really able to expand my line and expand my business after a year, after reflecting on what I knew and thought that customers would want. A lot of my planchers that I had that were made out of cork, were really small. I really want to obviously get a more standard size and go a lot bigger. I want people to have planchers in their home that could fit fiddly trees, or ferns, or something that could not fit in the smaller planchers I made. It was a natural organic process, and it just takes time and understanding who your customer is to go through and expand your business that way. When you're growing your business, you really want to know all the options that you have for yourself. So, if that means outsourcing, creating a wholesale account, or even just expanding in a different genre, you really want to be able to know that it still works with your brand and your still being true to yourself and your identity. Growing your business can be a really scary thing. It's just a matter of being able to take it one step at a time and knowing that you're still staying true to your own brand. A great way for me to continue growing is being able to put down goals on the calendar and knowing where I want to be in five years from now or even for that matter, 10 years from now. If I'm able to hit those small goals on the way, then I know that I'm growing in the way that I want to because sometimes growing too fast can also be bad for your business. You want to always be able to afford what you can do and being able to take on the amount of work that it takes with growing your business. 8. Favorite Examples: So, now I'm going to show you guys a list of different websites that I pulled that are my favorite through Big Cartel. These companies clearly showed a very strong and very simple approach to their brand, and they obviously had one product or one line and they're able to expand it successfully, as well as create a really wonderful story behind them. So, to start, I want to go with Saana Ja Olli and I believe, I'm not sure if they're saying their correct name but they're Finnish and they have a really wonderful line just full of prints, and pillows, and bags. I really feel like this is a great way to reiterate on keeping focus on one thing. Clearly, their focus is illustration. They really love to do the illustrations, the patterns, everything, and they're able to implement it into many different products. So, they have tea towels, and mittens, and everything, but because it is only one print or maybe a couple prints everything looks very cohesive and very clean. They also in their photos all have a very similar feeling and style, and they include lifestyle images that show how they live their life in Finland, which is something I'm actually interested in. Their About page is back on their website, but you can learn more about them and what they do and they just seem like a really fun couple. So, I really like their Big Cartel site. So, all the sites I'm going to show you today will be on the references in the class so you can go back and check them out yourself as well. The next one that I want to show you was Paper Collective, and they have a really clear brand. They are very minimal, very design-based. They mostly do posters, but I really love how every single image has the same background and everything looks like it should be in the same shop. So, they do a bunch of different things based off of what they do as graphic designers, but it's really cool design. I really like their wood frames and they come in different colors, but all very thought out, very clear, and only a small couple of changes. But they have tons of different prints. So, they're really able to expand their line by going through and creating different prints for their products. So, next one I'm going to show you guys is Eshelman Pottery. I believe that this pottery line has really gorgeous photos. They're really able to capture the essence and what their products are about. It's a great website, but I think they can design it more. I want to show you a website that actually pretty much completely uses the templates but did a really great job. Each product is clearly photographed to show the design and how they're used. There's really interesting ways that they styled it and they merchandise everything. I just really think that their products are great. What they did obviously is they stuck to ceramics. They have a core group of colors being white, orange, blue and, red, and they inter-mix, obviously, green and the neutrals of white and black, but they have a really good product line. You can learn more about them in their About page, and you can see a photo of him and his wife obviously in their studio. So, you get to learn about them, you get to learn about what they do, and they really have a great story involved. The next one that I want to show you is more of a shop. So, these guys have everything. This is something that you guys can strive for or you can obviously become, straight off the bat, but they actually source other people's products and they're able to put it together. But as you can see, it's a really gorgeous website, really gorgeous images, and they all had very similar aesthetic, white backgrounds, just minimal styling, very little to be done. But you can imagine if you want their lifestyle, you can imagine yourself in that situation. That's what I like about having white backgrounds. But yeah, they have a really wonderful site, a really great storytelling based on visuals alone and you can go through and you can see what they do. Also it seems like they have a simple approach to the products they choose to be on their site. So, you don't have to be making these websites. You don't have to be making all the products on the site. You can be in other situations such as this where they clearly said they want wood, they want linen fabric, and they also want copper. That seems to be most of what they have on their site. A lot of natural materials, a lot of really beautiful ceramics. Then they also have What We're About. So, every site has this and it tells you what they're inspired by, who they are, and what they like to do. My last one is more fun and for kids, but also, I want to show it because of its really simple layout and really simple design. They clearly show shoes for a little girls and boys, and they have a cute story. They have a lot to explain about it, and they also talk about the Care and the About and why they obviously started making these shoes. So, these five different stores are my favorites so far, and I just want you to look at these examples, see what you can find through them that can help you out with your store. I try to choose a very collective amount because I knew that a lot of you are going to go out there and you're going to create different products other than just home design. So, help yourselves. 9. Final Thoughts: Now the class is over. I really want to see what you guys end up doing for your projects. I love to be able to have all the images shared on the project gallery. Just to reiterate, I want to make sure that you guys have everything. Number 1, being able to have three products that work together in a line. Number 2, having a brand story that's compelling and able to explain what you do and how you do it. And number 3, working together with both of them so that everything works cohesively so your customer knows exactly what you do and what you sell. So, me personally, what I want to be able to see in your products is a cohesive story with your product as well as a great brand. I'm really interested in what you personally can add to your story. So, if that means what your background is, where you came from, or where you went to school, I want that added in. I'm expecting also to see really great images. A lot of what we do, is very visual and so images are a huge part of your brand. So, being able to have great images that work well together, is something that I'm really excited to see. When you're getting feedback to fellow students, I want to make sure that you're giving a really honest approach to how you feel about their product as well as being positive. No one really wants to hear a negative naysay raining down on their parade. So, make sure to always have a great feedback that they can understand and that you can work off of as well. Thank you so much for taking my big cartel merchandising and pottery class. I'm really excited seeing you guys do and how you make all these products amazing.