How did you originally get into the business of making things?
On some level I’ve always made things. When I was little it was furniture for my dollhouse made from cardboard, empty thread spools and scraps of fabric. In my teenage years I “designed” clothing with crude drawings that I begged my grandmother to interpret into actual wearable clothing. I watched my mother (who still claims she cannot sew from a pattern) create amazing period costumes for my high school theatrical pursuits and my older sister, who can make just about anything. I grew up in a household of women where making was an important part of life.
Tell us about your previous working situation and your path to Etsy.
Before Me and Matilda, I spent many years in veterinary hospital management. Like many people, having a child completely changed my life. I continued to work a demanding day job until it become obvious that we needed a change. Somewhere along the way I rediscovered sewing and developed a passion for creating with fabric — this eventually led me to Etsy.
Did you do anything to prepare for making the full-time transition?
My experience in business management helped a great deal. Truthfully, I did not get a chance to prepare as much as I should have. A series of life interrupting health events and the tremendous difficulty of balancing motherhood and a full-time job pushed me to leave my day job.
Looking back, I spent years researching supply sources and evaluating the market without really knowing what I was going to do with that information. When my son started asking for a tie like daddy’s, I found that there really weren’t very many options for the little guys. At the time there were a handful of big box stores that carried a small line of basic and rather boring neckties for boys. The seed of the idea was firmly planted after my son spilled a big glob of blueberry syrup on his necktie, thus ruining it for further use. I began making ties from fun cotton prints for my son, and I soon had requests from friends for the same. Shortly thereafter, Me and Matilda was born.
- Take good pictures. This is a process that I am constantly tweaking because I am not a photographer. I knew my ability to take great pictures was limited by my simple point-and-shoot camera, so I tried to at least take interesting pictures with a clear representation of my product. It was a great thrill to wake up one morning and find one of my pictures on a national wedding magazine’s blog!
- Listing regularly on Etsy is always a good idea. I try to keep it fresh and add new items often.
- Blogs have been a great support to my business. I’ve been blessed to have my neckties and bowties featured in several blogs and magazines.
- Join a team. I joined the Etsykids Team, the Etsymom Team and the CAST. I am so busy it is hard to participate as actively as I once did, but I do try to tag correctly and make Treasuries featuring other team members whenever possible.
Any less successful ventures?
I mentioned before that I owe a lot to the blogging community. I will add here that I’ve never received much benefit from sending products to bloggers for review. I find that, in most cases, bloggers that like your product are looking for great pictures and interesting content for their readers, and they generally do not request products for review. This is just my experience, and I certainly wouldn’t say that these aren’t worthwhile endeavors for another shop.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
The Big Dot neckties have been a big hit. They were popular from the beginning and found continued success after a few magazine and website features. I’ve since added a few other lines of dotted ties in just about any color you can imagine. People seem to like polka dots a lot.
What’s your most memorable custom request?
I once customized a necktie with the letters TIE embroidered on the front. It was a clever and fun custom order that I’ve duplicated by request many times since. I also do a lot of orders using fabric provided by customers. I remember receiving a package with an avocado green decorator print one day and thinking there was no way it would translate into nice neckties. At the end of the project, I was pleasantly surprised.
I think some of the most touching requests have been for adoption days. I didn’t know until recently that National Adoption Day falls in November. On that day, volunteers work together to finalize thousands of adoptions at no cost. I once made a set for a family of five boys who were adopted together — a true joy.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
It’s all about finding a balance. My day starts at 6:30 in the morning when I put on my mom hat and get my son ready for school. Once I get him safely to school I head home to catch up on e-mails, drink lots of coffee and make a plan for the day’s work. Then I sew for hours, pack orders that are ready to go and head out to the post office.
By late afternoon it is time to pick my son up from school. When we get home I like to spend time chatting about his school day and then we get on with homework. My son is profoundly dyslexic and, though he is quite brilliant, he needs a lot of educational support. It is incredibly challenging to switch gears from working full tilt all morning to finding that zen place that allows me to support my child through homework, then relax and enjoy dinner as a family. Usually the list of things I need to finish is playing in the back of my mind through it all. I generally head back into my studio in the evening for a night shift which often lasts past midnight.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I appreciate the opportunity to be there for my family. I get to attend all of my son’s events and I never have to ask for permission to leave work early if he is sick and needs to come home from school. I love that my success or failure rests in my hands. I can volunteer at the school and make up missed work time by pulling a late shift in the studio.
I miss people and structure. I am a pretty social person, so working alone in my studio all day is a challenge. I am also a bit all over the place, so self-imposed structure does not come naturally. The hardest part has to be all the business details like paperwork and accounting: not my favorite.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path?
I find myself thinking of an old proverb I hear my mom say often: “Trust, but tie your camel.” It is good advice. Remember that you have to take care of yourself and your family. If you don’t have a plan in place for covering your mortgage and putting food on the table, then keep your day job until you do. Everyone is different, so figure out what works for you. My husband still has a day job and there is an underlying sense of security in that. Without his support I am not sure I could have come this far.
Once you have a reasonable plan for taking care of the necessities, take the plunge. You have to believe in your success and work every day toward that goal. There is nothing easy about running a business.
Keep your overhead low. Etsy is such a great place because you really can test the waters before making a huge financial commitment. I think it is best to let your business grow organically. Purchasing super expensive equipment or renting a commercial workspace before you need it can be a recipe for disaster.
Prepare for success. Do the homework, get organized and make a plan. Set goals and make sure that your actions are in line with those goals. Be sure you know what your costs are (and there are lots of hidden costs) and set your price appropriately. What happens when you are so busy you need to hire an assistant to meet demand?
Find your own voice. Inspiration is everywhere, so it is really important to filter all that you see and tap into your own creative place. It seems that most of the really amazing shops on Etsy have their own unique feel. I think customers know when something comes from your soul.
What goals do you have in store for the future of Me and Matilda?
I’ve really been thinking about this question a lot over the past year. I love the personal connections I make when I work with a wedding couple on a special set of neckwear for their important day. I love creating sets for families and absolutely adore watching my repeat customers grow up wearing my products. So many of my customers purchase items for special life events and I try to keep that thought in the front of my mind as I work. The truth is, I am not quite sure what the future holds. I love the idea of growing a sustainable business that could one day employ people in my community and add to our local economy. Striking the balance between growth and keeping it personal it important. Stay tuned.
- My sister’s shop DawnDalto is one to check out. She is one talented girl.
- I love PalomasNest for her simple and elegant style. She was one of my first customers on Etsy which I doubt she remembers but I remember loving her aesthetic back then.
- Another pretty well-known shop that I adore is Rikrak.
- HomeGrownPillows for lovely fabrics and high quality and stylish therapy heat wraps and eye pillows.
- Digitalsoaps is a super fun shop with great holiday stocking stuffers.
- I also love Kittycrossbones for promotional supplies and my friend Anne from Hazelanne makes lovely skirts and dresses for women and girls.
Any additional words of wisdom?
Big thanks to Etsy for being a fabulous business incubator that has allowed a lot of wonderfully creative people find success. Without the venue it would be much harder to bridge the gap between artisan and customer. Thanks Etsy for giving us a place to sing.
Thanks to Tonia for sharing her story. You can see some of her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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