In 2011, I started a small business selling my artwork on Etsy. That quickly evolved into textile design when I discovered digital fabric printing, and later I began selling handmade soft goods made with my fabrics. Over the years, I’ve grown a full-time wholesale business, selling my products to small shops and boutiques all over the U.S. While I’ve dabbled in hiring sewing help in the past, I now sew everything myself. I really love my work and like working alone (in spite of being a pretty social person), and I love the independence of being my own boss. But the day-to-day, sometimes grueling sewing schedule was really starting to weigh on me. So I put off sewing my own wardrobe for a really long time, even though I’d been scoping out apparel projects and following popular indie pattern designers on Instagram for a couple of years!
I had a fear that I’d start a project and never finish it…that I’d hate sewing for myself because I was so exhausted from sewing in production mode for my business.
But I finally had a little time to work on an anorak jacket, and my entire perspective on sewing for myself shifted—literally—overnight. The slow, intentional process of sewing clothing for myself felt especially indulgent and gratifying. I was hooked. I still am.
I want to back up again, though, and talk a little more about what my business taught me about myself, my creativity, and my desire for shopping in general…and how my renewed passion for sewing has affected me.
For one thing, making things all day, every day, started to make me super aware of how much waste I was creating (and it really wasn’t even that much)! I found it extremely difficult to toss out unusable fabric scraps, for example. And any product prototypes I’d made that didn’t turn into a sellable product haunted me from the bottom of my “unused prototypes bin”. So I got to a point where I fell overwhelmed by the responsibility of adding more things to the world. And when I thought about that on a larger scale, I knew this: There’s no way I’d want to have a larger scale business where my products would be mass produced.
Secondly, there were a lot of things that I tried to design, things that I thought were beautiful and functional, that were essentially un-sellable due to the amount of time that it took me to make them (and for all of those people who would use this moment to cry “BUT YOU HAVE TO CHARGE YOUR WORTH!”…tell me this: would you pay $500 for a canvas tote bag? Because if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell). So I found myself value-engineering my product line into the most streamlined and economical version of itself in order to make my production more efficient and prices more reasonable for the market. And it worked! But then I would be in a store and see a product that I know takes time to manufacture, and think, “Wait, why is this only $20?”. Enter, existential crisis…and the first, gut-wrenching realization that a lot of the things we buy are made by people who work for pennies. Granted, there are a lot of modern technologies that make manufacturing more efficient, but if it takes and hour to make a handbag (even if it takes 15 minutes!) and the manufacturer marks that up, sells it to a distributer who also marks it up and then sometimes sells it to a retailer, who ALSO MARKS IT UP and you get a $20 bag…somebody is making pennies on the manufacturing end.
So, where was I?
Oh, all of this made me hyper-aware of the global impact of making, selling, and buying physical products. And the enormous differences between well-crafted handmade goods, and things that you get at most stores. Not all, but most.
If you’re reading this, if you found me here, maybe you already have some ideas about the cost of fast fashion and our country’s issues with rapid consumerism. We want things. I want things!
But starting my business forced me to think about these things…and when I sewed that jacket, I had the feeling that I might be making all of my clothing in the future. I felt a freedom when making a custom item of clothing for my body. And it was beautiful. And it fit. And I was proud of it. And I made it! And it felt…more responsible.
My sudden journey into wardrobe sewing gave me a huge sense of accomplishment and empowerment. And THAT made me think a little more deeply about how I could share what I am learning along the way (and maybe how I could apply these lessons to my business).
So…I’m not totally sure yet. But I am inspired! I carved out this little corner of the ‘net just in case I stumble on something worth sharing, and just in case it is helpful for someone else.