Flawed Design and Gracious Recovery: How Colette Patterns Fixed Their Oversight

Everybody makes mistakes. The real lesson reflects in how you deal with yours, and what you do to help yourself and anyone else affected by them. For this article, we’re touching on what happened after one business  realized that one particular product they’d already  shipped out had issues.

Colette Patterns is a popular website among dressmakers and sewists in the DIY crafts and hobbyist market.

The business, established by Sarai Mitnick in 2009, sells dressmaking patterns — and among their many relationship-building activities, hold sew-alongs with their followers,  doing the sorts of active communication you would expect of a company whose market is composed of people who like working with their hands — mainly DIY-enthusiasts, ranging fron beginners to expert sewists.

By giving their customers a chance to show off their work, talk to their peers about their processes, share and commiserate over their sewing flubs, and by providing an open platform for discussion, critique, and exploration, Colette has established a very good customer base.

They also do solid cross-promotion with their various partners, affiliates, and brick-and-mortar crafts stores, as evidenced by the many articles in their blog and in their online magazine, Seamwork.

Like proud parents with their children’s drawings and a big refrigerator door, Colette also has  galleries where subscribers can send pictures of their finished works, and host sewing challenges as well as having “featured seamstressess” pieces showing the many varied people who used Colette patterns.

They let people take an an inside look at their workings and see how things get done in the Colette Studio.

They also keep updating their tips on building a personal wardrobe.

They also solicit input and stories from their readers, conducting “Sew-alongs” whenever new patterns go out so people can follow step-by-step and see how it’s supposed to be done.

All these areas of sharing and interaction with their market has resulted in a vibrant community for Colette. They have 15,000 followers on Twitter,  16,000 on Pinterest, over 40,000 on  Facebook, and 55,500 on Instagram. Colette Patterns built a solid  support system in their niche with their  fans, followers, and customers  from all their consistent hard work.

A while back they posted an announcement to their website regarding a mistake in a new pattern that had already been selling for a few weeks, in response to feedback about the results of the patters from sewists who used it.

The post in question: Rue updates, mistakes, and a new sort of growth (Mistakes, regrets… and how we’re putting them to use.)

Something like that could’ve been a big blow to their reputation, but what stopped it from snowballing was how professionally they handled it.

The people at Colette made a mistake and sought to address in in their blog.They acknowledged that there was a mistake in their newest pattern,  they took responsibility for it and made sincere apologies.

Mitnick said: “I want to be clear: this was our mistake. No, actually… it was a series of mistakes, and I want to start by taking responsibility for that. I’m really sorry.  As terrible as I feel about it (and we all feel pretty bad about these issues), I want to do more for you than fix the immediate problem and express my regret.

[…] So today, I want to discuss the pieces we are putting in place (or have already put in place) to face these problems. In other words, this is what we are doing with our regret.

Because regret is a very useful thing, but not all on its own. Regret has to be turned into action.

They explained what happened (Transparency).
They explained how they were fixing it (Repair).

They laid out five  specific changes they were making to their system. And you should take a look at how these five shifts could apply to your own processes, because they’re good, they’re tactical, and are easily applicable to your own business once you think of your own strategies to support them.

“Change #1: Overhauling processes.”
Things change over time. When you start out small you have different process that you add onto when you move into the growth phase. Growing pains are real, and it makes a difference when you track your changes and keep a close eye on how any new thing you implement fits with the system.

It’s easy to forget if you don’t keep good records and procedures. Even with good ones,  when you assume that since things are running smoothly you managed to scale up with no problem, that doesn’t mean your processes are up to the additional demands.

“Change #2: A better fitting process – with help.”
One stimulus to success is knowing how much you don’t know. Mitnick called for insight and perspectives from  industry experts outside the company to help guide and advise Colette’s team in how to break down their design processes and update the production flow.

“Change #3: Updating our blocks.”
Just like any forward thinking planner, businesses have to shift and adjust with the changes their customers experience. What your market needed five years ago may not be what they want now.  Old customers develop different tastes,  new customers mature, and it’s up to you to get the new information you need to serve both kinds with the kind of quality service or product they expect from you.

“Change #4: Better understanding of feedback.”
Targeted feedback can be a lot more helpful that general complaints. While no one really likes hearing negative feedback, the insight you can reap from them can be much more helpful in pinpointing things you missed, or needs you may have not seen, in your market.

“Change #5: Look on the not-so-bright side.”
Be more pro-actively pessimistic. Don’t just plan for the worst, don’t just discuss what you plans are, but actively work to improve.

On a more somber not, this is what Colette did to make up for  customers who already bought the pattern:

  • They gave several options for the affected customers to get refunds or updated patterns. (Reparation)
  • They gave a bigger weight to getting feedback and improving their internal systems so the mistake won’t be repeated. (Going forward.)


When businesses makes mistakes.
Beneath the letterhead, behind the website, are real people. When people make mistakes, feeling get hurt as well as expectations. When businesses make mistakes, well, the stakes are higher. You’re expected to be professional, know your stuff, be perfect. Your customers expect it of you, and so does the market.

And you are a person. You make mistakes. The magnitude of the mistake is  determined by who is affected and by how much. The backlash from the mistake will fall on you, no matter the cause, because it’s your business, and you’re expected to know. Mitnick knew this, and this is how she laid it out:

Going forward: This is a straightforward glimpse into my thought process and what I think went wrong and how I want to fix it. I really do want to apologize for the mistakes.

And I want you to know how seriously we take them, too. That’s why we took Rue and revised it over the last few weeks, and that’s why we’re dedicated to turning this into major improvements.

But I don’t want this to be a band-aid, either. I want to continue the conversation by writing more in the coming weeks and months about our processes, our lessons learned, and what we’re working on as we continue going through these changes.

I see this as the next real stage of growth for us… not a growth in people or projects, but a growth in maturity. I hope you’ll follow along, because it’ll be a fascinating journey.

Straightforward, humble, and yet firm. “We messed up, we’re really sorry. Here’s how we’ll fix it for you, and this is what we’ll do so it won’t happen again.” And then they invite their customers to stay with them on the way. Nice, right? No hiding, no blaming, just a clear and sincere message.  Give their blog post a once-over or two, and think about how you can learn from their mistakes.

Follow-up on their progress:
Process diary: Bodies and blocks
How we’re using data (large and small) to create a better fit.

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