My first blog post. I feel like it should be grand, with sparklers and moving cat GIFs and some sort of sound blaring obnoxiously from your speakers, making you scramble for the mute button.
However, I don't want you to close the tab and give up hope on me and my dreams, because that would be extremely counterproductive for a first blog entry, wouldn't it?
Instead I went with a photo of my inspiration for this business: my one and only, my Victoria Jean. This is when she was 10 months old, and the cutest little thing at that. Let's face it. If you or I had no hair, no one would still coo at us and say, "Awww! You're adorable!"
Babies are magical that way.
Here's a note to my muse, a little love letter, if you will, about why I started this whole sewing business thing in the first place.
Dearest Little One,
Did you know in the fabric shops here they require you to purchase a minimum of 1 meter of each and every fabric? Did you? I'm sure you do by the time you can read this, because I am too good at holding a grudge and will probably tell you this every time I see my beautiful wall of fabric. But, this dirty little trap of Dubai's fabric shops is what ultimately started this whole thing. Well, that and you, Baby.
You see, as a nesting pregnant lady, laying on our couch between trips to the toilet, I thought of the things I wanted to carry on from my mother when I raised you. All those wonderful talents, the work ethic, the undeniable love she showed us every day... I wanted to give it all to you. And how should I start? Well... with this:
From this photo you can learn a myriad of things about your mother, but we will focus on two: 1) I was adorable despite those bangs just like you do bald, and 2) my mother made me a sailor dress. You see, one of the greatest things my mother gave my siblings and I was Little Mermaid matching sweats separates and Dalmation puppy Halloween costumes (I'll share that photo later) -- not that my brother got Little Mermaid, but he had equally amazing alligators and Power Rangers and all sorts of boyish characters on his wonderful outfits. My mother did what so few people do these days and sewed clothing, toys, home decor, holiday stuff, and prom dresses (which deserve a mention separate from clothing). She was going to school, working, mothering, driving us around, and she still canned grape juice and sewed doll clothes for me. Together we would create, and though usually the job reserved for my young self was to turn things right-side out, I learned a lot from these times. My mother - your grandmother - sewed with love, to create with her hands, to produce something, and to spend her time learning and growing, always productive. And because it was cheaper in those days. But that's not as warm-fuzzy, so we won't focus on that aspect. And, guess what? Her mother, and her mother's mother also sewed, quilted, and created, passing down a wonderful lineage straight to you.
Now back to me, when not staring down the porcelain throne while pregnant, I started dreaming of using fabric to convince you of my undying love for you in the same way. I want to empower myself and empower you. I want to show you that tangible skills are important, that productivity is important, and that running a business can be a woman's world if you want it to be.
More importantly, I want to show you that you and your father mean everything to me. I could go get a job. I have talents. I have ways I could pursue a career outside the home. But I don't want to, and it's not a sacrifice preventing me from becoming important or intelligent, involved in the world at large or tying me down. In my own way, I want to show you that you can put family first and still find ways to express yourself and learn and grow as your own individual self.
So I bought a second-hand sewing machine, and went to the market just to find I would need to purchase all this extra fabric. What to do, what to do? Well, certainly if I wanted handmade products for you, someone else would too, right? If I couldn't find what I wanted for you and was going to make it myself, surely someone else would want the same for their baby. And thus it began.
My Little One, you are surrounded with so many wonderful examples of women who work hard and accomplish a lot. If you want to run a corporate empire, you can do that. If you want to become the world's greatest tap dancer, you can do that. If you want to be a janitor, you can do that (and I encourage you to start out by helping Mom clean at home). If you want to stay home and sew camels and read stories to a toddler for 4 hours a day, you. can. do. it. And you can do anything you want really, really well.
So, I gave you the first thing I ever sewed all by myself. This quilt was what got me thinking about starting a business run from home so I could stay with you and still afford a two-bedroom apartment. Together, we can make our dreams come true. What really matters most is that you are inspired and get to be yourself. So thank you, and thank your grandma for being my inspiration on my journey to finding my way in this world.
Love, your Mamma
P.S. Don't repeat my mistake with bangs.
I figure this blog is to write about all the joys of this business, in part to document my time and in part to be able to rant about the really tough stuff.
This post falls under the latter - pricing is the epitome of "tough."
I have read and reread dozens of wise crafters offering their opinions on how to price your goods. Two in particular have stood out to me: What's it Worth by Hunter's Design Studio, and especially Quiltonomics, the Real Cost of Quilting by Moore Approved.
I really recommend reading them both if you are making your own goods or if you have sticker shock at my prices or anyone else's.
Essentially, these and a host of other posts battle with the same phenomenon currently in the present world: how do you compete with mass-produced and imported goods when yours will cost significantly more?
My personal approach is to offer what the market does not. I'm not competing with imported toys from China in the same sense, because you cannot find my toys anywhere else. There's a purpose behind my designs in finding a niche market of people who will pay me enough to make this business worth it.
Having said that, less than a week ago, I went to Pottery Barn Kids in Dubai Mall and checked out the pricing for their new baby floor mat (Dhs 400/ $108 USD) and constantly scour the internet for prices of high-end products. Because that's my market. I need to be able to make products that people will buy for the cost I need to sell them without selling myself out. I know that if I cannot make a floor mat that's $100 USD or less, I shouldn't make it. It's settling for less than I'm worth.
Because I'm worth it. And not just for shampoo. And if you make handmade, you are too.
Every minute of the day that I sew, blog, take pictures, design patterns, make digital prints, shop for supplies, or hunt prices, is a minute I am working to create something for someone else. It's a minute away from my spouse, my daughter, the household chores, and a minute I could be earning a wage at an outside company.
Revisiting the posts I mentioned, I don't have professional equipment, and I don't have 20+ years quilting experience. I am starting out. Having said that, I'm a perfectionist and for every pattern I design, the consumer doesn't see the pile of patterns in the trash, the stack of "unsellable" test products taking up storage space in my apartment, or the mountain of fabric I have at the ready. This is time; this is money. And literally, this is money I have invested in my little startup.
I expect to make up all of that money and then some. I want to make money, not just make it up. And that's completely fair. If you worked, you would expect to make more money than just enough to compensate for your uniform, gas money, and lunch costs. And I want to give this time to help others, to give up some of my slice of the pie to someone with no pie at all.
This is energy and hope that I have invested in something outside my world of motherhood to do my part to make the world a better place with more camels, more smiling parents and children and more fair trade in this world -- myself included.
So, how do I price this? Let's take my giant camel. How do I fairly price a giant hassock camel that took me over 40 hours on pattern development alone? As if I knew how many giant hassock camels or patterns will sell in advance to equally distribute the cost...
My ivy league business school grad of a husband doesn't know how to help me. My friend who runs a fabric empire in the US doesn't know how to help me. My father who has a PhD in business and teaches doesn't know how to help me.
For the giant camel and anything else, I first look at material cost and time. Because I'm not going to go below those. Not even for friends and family. This is a business, after all. If I give you something as a gift, you're the exception. I love you enough to gift you my work. Next I look at the development cost, the storage cost, the uniqueness of the item, shipping, and whether or not it was made production-line style. For material cost, I factor in where the materials come from -- for example, some of my fabric is fair trade brought back in a suitcase with me from Sri Lanka. That certainly costs me more than other fabric. As it should. Can I easily replace the materials? What costs am I accruing slowly, such as wear-and-tear on my machine, needles, thread, etc? Materials are certainly a huge factor in pricing.
I also put personal touches on my products. You will get an activity suggestion with the carefully packaged toy, along with a little factoid about the inspiration behind the product you received. This is to give you more bang for your buck, so you can revel in the lavish details of buying handmade, rather than off the shelf from a massive corporation. This is what handmade means - but it does not mean slave labor.
My time is not worth that of someone who has been sewing longer than I have been alive. But it is certainly worth more than minimum wage, especially if something is made-to-order or customized. My type-A self will take longer to sew an item than someone with more experience, so I realize I will start off losing money as I learn and charge a reasonable amount for time.
I'll quote a quote from Sara Lawson on the Quiltonomics post: "People think that a sewist sews to make things in order to save money (quilts, clothing, etc.). Most big box stores (Walmart, Target) sell goods that are far and away much cheaper than anything anyone could ever make. I personally make things for myself because I want my things to be unique, and also, many times, the process of sewing is even more fun than the satisfaction of the finished product." I'll remind you that her handmade bags sell for over $100 USD each.
So there you have it. If you provide the quilting material for a memory quilt, I will make a quilt for you for a fair price. And all of my products have been priced with hours of thought (time not reflected in cost of items), and will be adjusted as my company gets going.
If you read my letter to Victoria, you will know that I'm doing this to teach and inspire my daughter. I am doing her and myself a disfavor if I do not price for what my services and goods are truly worth. And they are indeed worth so much more than a quilt from Pottery Barn or a cheap toy from Walmart.
I love herbs & spices, cats, low brass instruments, international relations, culture, traveling, writing, and most of all, my family.