My name is Sasha Soukup, and I sell free-spirited vintage clothing in my shop, Astral Boutique. I live in rural Grass Valley, California, with my husband Chris and my very talkative black cat, Mouch.
I am literally of Bohemian descent, and while the word has been appropriated many different ways, I don’t think that it is a total coincidence that “boho” clothing has become my livelihood. When I started my shop on Etsy four years ago, I tried to sell everything to everyone – all styles, all eras – but I noticed that I was getting the biggest response from the items that lit my own fire. Little by little, I found myself creating a customer base of people who were totally on my aesthetic wavelength, and my shop started to feel like an art project with a retail component, instead of the other way around. Now everything I choose and make for the shop is a part of my personal vision of beauty.
One of the first things that people notice about my shop is the photography, which I shoot outdoors out of necessity. My house is 700 square feet, half of which is a practice space for our rock band, so it’s far too small for a photo studio. Luckily our “backyard” is several wild acres on a beautiful sweet pea and fern-covered hill. When I work, I am watching hawks, deer, dragonflies, bluebirds, bees, and sometimes even a fox or a bear. Sometimes I take a field trip to favorite spots in the high Sierra, which allows me to watch the tiger lilies bloom in the summer and the aspens changing colors in the fall.
I shoot all of my shop photos myself, using a camera remote. I work outdoors during all four seasons, which can be intense, as we do get “real” winters here at 3,000 feet (by California standards, anyway). I believe a great photo is an invitation to look closer, but the product has to back it up. I’ve gotten fussier and fussier about the clothes that I carry. I love natural fabrics, flowing lines, and flattering fits. If it hangs weird or the fabric is stiff, it’s not going in my shop. I want to provide my customers with clothes that look pretty and feel good on; things that they will want to wear again and again.
Etsy has been a lifesaver for me. I am one of those square pegs who could never fit into a round hole. I needed a job with flexibility so that I could adventure, play music, and write poetry by mountain streams (the important things in life). I tried pizza delivery, nannying, warehouse work, even being one of Santa’s elves at the mall (I was not adverse to humiliation). Finally I reached a point in my 30s where I decided to compromise with a career as a receptionist and office manager, and that’s when I really went 100%-bat-guano-crazy. I was rattling the bars of my cage and wasting every stolen moment on Facebook, when Etsy appeared out of the blue like a superhero(ine). I jumped ship from my day job with a safety net of $25 and never looked back.
There is a different feeling on Etsy than on other e-commerce sites. Much like in a small town, you want to have really good manners and treat everyone well here. That means having old fashioned, top-quality customer service, and handling every order and every customer with respect. I like to package every order as if it were a gift, using vintage scarves as wrapping, sometimes adding a handmade piece of jewelry to complement the ensemble, and always including a personal note. People here really appreciate when you go the extra mile, and if you put out good energy you get it back many times over. The biggest perk of Etsy’s community is the connections that I’ve made. So many fellow Etsians – both customers and sellers – have become real life, deep down, got-your-back soul friends.
The longer that I am in this business, the more I realize that while fashion can be totally frivolous, clothing can mean a lot to someone. Whether you want to feel like your best, most authentic self at an important celebration, or you need “armor” to help you through a challenging time, the right clothes can really change your mood and your day.
Perfection is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it should have a place of honor in the creative process. I’ve learned that everything is a work in progress – there is no end to creative evolution, and if you are truly trying to push your own envelope, you are going to have some mistakes and some experiments-gone-awry. I’ve had some weird styling ideas and some very experimental hair days, both on Etsy and on my blog, which are now part of the public record forever. But really, these less-than-perfect creative moments have simply weeded out the non-believers and attracted more of the awesome mavericks and free spirits to me. If you are new to Etsy, don’t be afraid to get in there, get messy, and forge your own vision.