The Makehouse Takes a Creative Approach to Business

Jenny Ambrose knows how to develop a business from scratch. In fact, she has turned her love of making things into a successful sewing workshop and retail space called The Makehouse in Victoria.

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Kiriki Press sells its embroidery kits through The Makehouse

As a child growing up in Saskatchewan, Jenny watched her mom sew and repair things for economical reasons. “When mum and dad started having kids, they didn’t have money to buy everything new,” says Jenny. “She knew how to sew, so it was natural that she would make clothes and things for the house.”

Jenny picked up sewing as a hobby in her early twenties and took courses to develop her skills. After moving to England’s Brighton in 1998, she launched Enamore in 2003, an eco-fashion label, at the local flea market. As part of the buzzing eco-fashion movement, Jenny showcased her original pieces during London Fashion Week and met many of the industry’s pioneers. Jenny moved to Bath in 2006 and eventually closed her fashion label to work for the Makery, a crafting space where she taught lingerie-making and sewing classes.

Jenny moved back to Canada in 2011 and settled in Victoria, where she rented a small studio and advertised an underwear-making workshop she was hosting. “Just after I listed my first workshop someone contacted me from the local paper and did a story about the workshop,” says Jenny. “I didn’t even have a single student booked when that feature ran. It was barely a business. But people started calling me and donating materials and equipment.”

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Encouraged by the support of the local community, Jenny approached a landlord to inquire about renting a space on Fort Street, even though she assumed it would be too expensive. But the landlord liked Jenny’s concept of using the former bridal store as a workshop and retail space, and allowed her to pay month to month to get started. Business grew organically via word of mouth and Jenny took a frugal approach to growth. “Working at the Makery when it was a start-up meant I knew how a business like this could operate and I knew I had to do it on a shoestring.”

For the first six months, Jenny only accepted cash in the store and used PayPal for online workshop bookings. But soon, she began using Square to take credit cards for for both purposes. “Square gave me an interface that allowed me to organize my sales a bit more,” she says. Since then The Makehouse has grown. “We’re doing quite a lot of retail trade here and I started investing in some lines of fabric and selling sewing supplies,” says Jenny.

Jenny recently took on an accountant and found it easy to share data with her via Square. The point-of-sale system (POS) has also enabled her to easily explain the platform to part-time workers as she has taken on more staff. “I’m now setting up buttons for workshops and separating tax [both in Square Point of Sale] because workshops have one tax and some of the retail stuff has one or two taxes, so Square has definitely been really good at helping me organize my numbers.”

Square Reader has also enabled Jenny to take more bookings on the go. “People book over the phone, in-store or out at events, so it’s handy to take an iPad with us and we can do business anywhere. We do crafting stations at music festivals and we collaborate with recreational centres, so we’re out and about a lot. We always need flexibility for our business.”

Visit The Makehouse online or stop in to shop and sew at 833 ½ Fort Street in Victoria, BC.

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