Sales & Marketing

Is ecommerce the future of work for creative women, or just a side-hustle?

5 min read

05 March 2019

Women are leading the way in turning the side hustle into the future of work, earning and learning while they grow.

The future of work is already here and it started out as a side hustle. This isn’t about women setting up ecommerce companies, with all the risk and funding that entails. This is about them being canny and using existing ecommerce platforms. Creative women are tapping into the global trend for self-expression, launching themselves as creators and generating revenue at the same time.

This trend has exploded because women are using platforms to promote, share and sell their creativity. Print-on-demand makes self-expression and design wearable, and then technology makes it immediate.

Women can turn an idea into a design. They can post this as a design for others to use, or make it wearable by putting it on t-shirt, hoody or mug and selling it in an online shop.

Using someone else’s platform to do this means they take care of the technology, the printing, delivery, returns and paying commission. Savvy designers know this leaves them to focus on what they do best. So with clever ideas and judicious marketing, creative women can earn money from their originality.

We’ve seen this trend develop at Spreadshirt over the last five years as women become top earners. In 2018 women ran seven of the 20 top-earning creators, up from only one in the top 20 in 2013.

“These creative businesses often do start out as a side hustle.”

Overall, the commission women earn at Spreadshirt has risen 157% in five years, whereas growth at shops owned by men has only risen 19% in that time. Indeed last year, two women were in the top five commission earners, in a year when Spreadshirt produced its first commission millionaire.

Designers who earn high commission often do so by finding ideas that speak to their tribe or go viral. The women who are monetizing their creativity are responding to world events, co-opting trending memes or just marketing stunning designs, like Russel Rhino or Mademoiselle Kiki. They come up with new ideas and use technology to make sure they are instantly shared, printed and worn.

These creative businesses often do start out as a side hustle. Women with day jobs elsewhere take a tentative step onto an ecommerce platform, to test the reaction and validate themselves as creators; if someone buys your design, you’re a designer.

An online platform also gives them analytics, so they can see who buys what, which designs are most popular and respond to that feedback quickly and easily.

This shrewd use of platforms means monetising creativity can go from being an add-on, to a revenue-earning business in itself. This can be a useful form of revenue for female-led businesses, which have traditionally struggled to secure VC or other funding.

Using ecommerce like this is about investing talent and time rather than having significant financial backing.

Last year slogans were a big trend in self-expression online and offline. Dior’s showed We Should All Be Feminists and London label, Blouse, launched Just Harried t-shirts on the back of the Royal Wedding. Perennial bestsellers online also include beautiful animal designs, elegant poster artwork or chirpy symbols on mugs.

So is this the future of work or will it stay a side hustle? Both. For those earning high commission, this is clearly no longer just a hobby. They have seen their side gigs turn into entrepreneurial opportunities and lucrative businesses. For those who are enjoying the hustle, it can remain a sideline and grow at a pace they can manage.

What makes it the future of work is the low cost-of-entry coupled with the ability to scale. Designers can test out designs at little financial risk. They can communicate with their followers and respond to customer feedback. Combining the best of social media with design, they can live test their products and bring revenue into the business at the same time.

For many women, this is a largely risk-free way to grow a business on revenue rather than funding.

Women are leading the way in turning the side hustle into the future of work, earning and learning while they grow.