Tell us about you and your work
I live and work about an hour from Santa Fe, New Mexico. My home and studio are located in a rural area, close to the Pecos River. I dye fabrics with natural plant dyes, and make a variety of sewn goods, from totes and clutches to pillows and quilts. My career background is in custom home interior sewing, so the skills that I learned in that field inform my current collection of original designs. Everything is designed and made with close attention to function, durability, and of course beauty.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Mostly, my inspiration comes from nature. I know that sounds so vague! But honestly, the high desert and mountains that I am surrounded by are quite a powerful landscape. They have a big impact on my aesthetic, and the muted hues of the soil, grasses, stone and rocks can really only be matched with all natural dyes.
The fact that I live so closely with my natural surroundings has a huge influence on my work. All of the dyeing that I do takes place outdoors, so the schedule of my work flow is directly tied to the seasons. Warm months are for dyeing, cold months are for stitching indoors. I love this ebb and flow of work, and honestly, I’m usually sad to see winter ending! As life gets busier, I find myself cherishing the quiet, darker months that are so conducive to the hand-stitching that I love so much.
Also, living and working far from town means that there is no room for waste, and planning is essential. Living out in the country requires simplicity, directness, and attention to function and efficiency. All of these qualities have inspired my designs, as well.
How did you get started?
Once I felt that I had a good-sized collection, I simply built a website and started posting on Instagram to get the word out. Oh, and of course the boring parts happened, too, like setting up the tax side of everything, and making it all official!
As I already mentioned, I’d been working as a seamstress for many years. So I really had all the technical skills I needed to fabricate my original designs. I look at everything else I’m learning along the way, like all that tax and admin stuff, as valuable new skills that will always be useful in whatever the future holds.
What were you doing before this?
In recent years, I’d been working in the interior design industry, fabricating other people’s designs at a workroom in Santa Fe. While I was honored to participate in some stunning projects with talented designers, I really wanted to start focusing more on my own creative work. I couldn’t keep doing both, because of the toll it was taking on my body (sewing can be tough on your hands, neck, shoulders, etc.) as well as the need for the creative space to develop my own work.
How long did it take for you to get in the groove for your business? What did you struggle with in the beginning?
I feel like I’m still getting in the groove! I think I have the design and fabrication end of things down pretty good, but I’m definitely still on a learning curve as far as admin, promotion, bookkeeping, and the like. I’m trying not to let this learning process overshadow, or take the joy out of, the creative work.
Also, I did definitely struggle at first with how quickly and easily this little business could spread out and take over every part of my life, if I let it. I think I’ve kind of reined it in a little, by setting some plain and simple boundaries around my schedule and my space. For example, I keep all of the admin side of things in the house in an office. This way, my studio remains dedicated to creating and making – and thus still feels like a special refuge from busy life.
Where have you found the most success in selling your work?
I consider craft shows the most successful, not just based on dollars alone. It is really satisfying and fulfilling to connect with people in person and hear how they respond to my work. I especially love talking with people about natural dyes; everyone seems to light up on this topic. In all honesty, this, to me, is as valuable as the actual sales.
What do you think your biggest challenge has been so far with your business?
Well, like I mentioned, containing “the spread” into every aspect of my life was an early challenge. Right now, a big challenge is learning to go with the flow of a less-than-steady income. I am learning to keep the faith that with hard work and patience — and well-made goods – I will hit a steady pace.
If you could give one piece of advice to other business owners, what would that be?
Be clear with yourself about your intentions, and what you want from your work. It’s an amazing feeling to earn a living doing what you love and what you’re good at, but it’s also important to stay grounded when your momentum picks up, and not lose sight of your intentions.
Also, I think it’s worth repeating, I find it immensely helpful to create some physical boundaries that separate the creative work from the admin side of things.
Do you have a business philosophy that you believe in?
Do not cut corners. (Yes, I meant that to be in bold print!) Not with the quality of your product, and not with the integrity you maintain with clients, colleagues, vendors and the public. I kind of think it’s a waste of time to do things half-way, and why go to all the tremendous effort of running a small business if you’re not going to do it right?
Also, always give credit where credit is due. When you have others help you out, you really need to acknowledge it. I think we all know what it feels like to not get recognition for your hard work, so by all means, if you have employees or part time assistants of any kind, give them their due credit!
What’s your favorite podcast or blog?
Oh my gosh! Where to begin?? I listen to podcasts all the time while I’m working, so I’ll try really hard to pick a favorite, or a few. (And I’ll leave This American Life out of the contest, since it’s pretty much in a league of its own!)
For some business motivation, I always go to How I Built This.
Really, I could keep going on here, but I’ll leave it at that!
Thank you for sharing your inspiring words and work with us Colleen! And thanks for all the tips on podcasts! I’m excited to listen to a few of these I’ve never heard of before!