Sunday, June 12, 2011

We deserve better

We meaning you and I and every other person that has amassed a large collection of books and DVDs, spent hours on the internet reading tutorials, and spent hundreds of dollars for just a single class all in the name of improving our sewing skills.  We deserve better.  Our skills and years of experience are worth more than just minimum wage.  I'm referring of course to the practice of charging very little for sewing lessons or those that are paid peanuts to teach sewing classes at retail stores.  We deserve better.

I am still unemployed and it makes me a little crazy and a little desperate.  To maintain my sanity, I decided to start teaching some sewing classes.  I love sewing and figured this would be a great way to earn a little extra money and keep me out of trouble while I look for a decent job.  Instead, I've put myself in a very uncomfortable situation and I've got a massive headache.  I applied for an independent contractor position with JoAnn Fabrics.  Independent contractors aren't paid by the store.  The store collects the fees for the sewing classes, maintains a classroom and equipment, and coordinates the registrations for you.  You make a sample and teach the class.  JoAnn supplies the pattern but you supply the fabric and notions. (You do get to keep the sample, you can make it in your size and you can use whatever fabric you like.)  JoAnn's gets 40% of the class fee and you get 60%.  I admit 40% is rather high for the store but I decided it was still worth my time if at least 5 people signed up for the class.  Besides, JoAnn is supplying the machines, irons, ironing board, etc. (per the Education Coordinator).  Each month the store hosts an open house to introduce the instructors to the customers.  The instructors don't get paid for this time but they did give me two "20% off your entire purchase coupons."  Hmm, coupons only have value if you buy something to use the coupon on. 

I showed up for the first open house yesterday and when I walked through the door, I saw the "50% off select classes" sign.  I asked the Education Coordinator, "does that include my classes?" Well of course it does and now I only get 60% of the 50% the customer paid for the class.  So let's do some math:

$55/class, 4 hours total class time = $13.75/hour
Customer paid for the class at an Open House so hourly rate is now $6.88.

Per hour: JoAnn's share is $2.75 and mine is $4.13

According to the other instructors, usually only 2-3 people sign up for a class.
My hourly rate for 2-3 people is $8.26-$12.39

I must pay the self-employment tax quarterly, which is reduced for 2011 only: 10.4% Social Security and 2.9% Medicare. I must pay the federal taxes annually--depends on your total annual income so I'll leave this out of the equation.

Hourly rate for 2-3 people (after taxes):  $7.16 - $10.74/hour

Factor in costs of fabric, notions, and gas to/from store.
This can vary by project but I'll use my cheapest sample as a guide.

Extra costs:
2 yards of knit fabric from stash: $4.00/yard x 2 yards plus sales tax = $8.74
1 yard of 3.25-inch lace trim I had to purchase to make the shirt the way JoAnn's wanted it: $3.99/yard x 10% American Sewing Guild discount plus sales tax = $3.92
Small spool of thread from stash: $1.33 plus tax = $1.45
Gas to travel to store for 2 class sessions and the unpaid Open House = 3.5 miles one-way x 3 round trips x $4.00/gallon with 22 mpg = $3.82
Total extra costs: $17.93
Hourly rate after taxes and extra costs = $2.68 - $6.26/hour
(FYI...U.S. minimum wage is currently $7.25/hour.)

I forgot the best part.  JoAnn's has sewing machines but requests that customers use their own.  They supply ONE iron and a crappy desktop half-size ironing board.  Classes are only conducted during normal store hours so it really doesn't cost the store anything but the credit card charges for accepting customer payments.  For all this, they get 40%.  I bust my hump to meet all their demands, including not getting paid for any JoAnn employees that wish to take my class, and I get get a whopping $2.68-6.26/hour!  Some may call me a snob but I've spent years reading books, watching DVDs, taking classes, learning wherever and whenever I can.  My time is worth more than $6.26 per hour.  I may not be certified or hold a fashion design degree, but my skill set is hardly minimum and therefore worth more than minimum pay.

Now some of you are probably saying, "It serves her right. She should have asked questions."  I did ask questions. I asked lots of questions.  I was told half-truths.  I feel that the Education Coordinator deceived me by leaving out crucial details, such as "your classes are offered half off once a month, which means you get only half the pay we promised you," or "we don't really supply machines and your ironing board is barely bigger than a postage stamp." 

Needless to say, I'm headed to JoAnn's today to tell them to take a hike.  This lousy deal isn't store policy either; it's a corporate policy.  I'm so disgusted that I am seriously considering never shopping at JoAnn's again.  I don't buy fabric there anyway.  I just shop the pattern and notion sales.  I'd rather give that money to someone else.  Someone who isn't trying to screw the little guy. 

So in conclusion, next time someone says they'll pay you to teach a sewing class, consider your skills, experience, and added costs before you agree to it.  Chances are they are receiving a much better deal than you are.  Your skills are worth something and if you don't insist on proper compensation, the person receiving your services won't place any real value on your services.  You are worth more.



  1. That sucks. :-( Maybe you could just give one-on-one sewing classes at home?

    Good luck on whatever you decide to do! :-)

  2. Irma Tchamourian-ZamoraMay 23, 2012 at 2:51 AM

    WOW I wish I had seen your post in April, when I first started as an "instructor" with JoAnns... I am still waiting to get paid my FIRST check!!?! And the best part of the whole "deal" is that the manager at the store where I teach keeps evading the question when I ask her how much the students have paid for the classes. So far I've taught 13 students, 5 classes and NO PAY. WTH. I quit. I've contacted Corporate, too and their "customer service" dept, so-called accounts payable person, Jean, didn't even bother to give me a return call - I had to leave her a vm because the store where I teach is not doing a damned thing to get me my pay. Ugh. Where do I turn?

  3. I recommend keeping a notepad file on both your computer and cell phone when you have an idea about some craft or sewing idea. Think of unique ideas or niche markets or items that aren't readily available. Write down everything you think of as it comes to you, and evaluate later to decide whether is is salable (either inexpensive to make for you and could have a high markup for you, or is something so awesome or niche-market that it would be time consumer but could sell for a premium to the right buyer). It's so hard to make money from any sort of needlework; you really have to strategize.

    As for teaching sewing classes, you'll probably have better luck at a local sewing store... even if they have enough people on staff, they make take you on intermittently (because of a special project you may offer, or if someone is going on vacation of pregnancy leave).

    Keep in mind Halloween is coming up... almost all women's costumes in the big stores are of the "slutty cowgirl, slutty policewoman, slutty nurse etc." variety. They are made of material barely considered fabric, and sell for ridiculous prices ($50!). Consider making something nicer, sell it at a premium, and advertise in more affluent areas of town.

  4. How interesting. I am in the process of becoming a teacher at my local store.... I was thinking of charging on a per student rate of say AU$15 each with a minimum take home of say $60. (I am still robbing myself as I earn $50 ph tutoring English to individual kids) The shop would have to pay me $60 even if only 2 students turn up. However if I teach a class with 10 students then I get 10 x $12.50 for that class. The store can charge say $35 per class for the 3 hours with 6 students and $30 ph for 10 students. They would then get $20 per student which would drive them to get more students. They supply the facilities and have to pay their bills so deserve a greater slice. What do you think?

  5. just interviewed and was not necessarily impressed except with a bright classroom.

  6. Just found this post. I am a part-time team member at Joann's who only teaches. I get paid 10.83 per hour regardless of how many students take the class. The thing that bugs me is that I am asked to teach certain classes but am expected to supply materials and make the sample on my own time, OR buy the materials out my own funds at the store. The student buys her materials of course, but I think they should at least supply you with fabric for the sample. They certainly aren't paying you for,your time!


Just my opinion....

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