Today, June 24th, marks Seamly.co’s 2nd ANNIVERSARY! But really, it feels like it should be 3rd or 5th. I can’t believe how much has happened in the last few years!
Since a lot of you are new here, I wanted to share a little bit about how this all came to life. From the early days. Inspired by a recent trip to New Orleans, where the story really begins…
Five years ago, I was a bartender in New Orleans. I’d stay up ‘til 3AM, sleep in late, and go to my favorite coffee shop to brainstorm ideas for what to do with my life. On repeat.
I was making lots of money. On a reallllly good night, I could pay my entire rent for the month. I was stashing cash and had no real responsibilities.
I was miserable.
Legitimately depressed, lost, miserable.
And that’s where this story begins.
Those coffeeshop brainstorms for “what to do with my life?” included…
… writing a blog for “what do to/where to go in New Orleans”
… starting an indie movie theater (think warehouse with old flicks and snacks)
… or an outdoor movie theater (even better!)
… OR a rooftop movie theater (obviously I like movies and snacks)
Then, I made the best decision of my life. I Facebook messaged Shannon Whitehead (back when you actually responded to Facebook messages) and told her about my predicament. We started brainstorming business ideas together.
While paying the bills with bartending and odd jobs (I was basically a janitor at a conference center, a freelance photographer, and a SEO article writer for a sleazy multi-level-marketing company) we fleshed out ideas. We landed on this: travel apparel, responsibly made.
We spent almost two years looking for fabrics, learning about production, coming up with designs, making mistakes, and finally, Kickstarting our idea. An MBA could never compare with what I learned in those few years. And it was the hardest thing I’d ever done — I remember crying on my front porch one day because I was (beyond) broke, and I’d never felt that before. I worked morning ‘til night. The work never ended, and I had no idea what I was doing.
After finding success on Kickstarter (in Kickstarter’s early days), we ran the business for another year. And then a painful and wonderful thing happened: we burned out. We’d had enough of the whole project, and one day in November 2013, we decided to let it go and move on.
It was a scary moment. We had achieved something so rare and special — in our first “real” year of business, we had surpassed $100,000 in sales, and we were profitable. That never happens. Especially with two 25-year-olds with no experience in the physical goods industry at the helm. We had put every single thing we had into the business – our entire lives’ savings (nothing crazy, but I was raking in cash at my bartending job), our time, our tears, our dreams. And even though it felt like the right move, leaving it all was scary.
By this time, New Orleans was in my past. I’d relocated to Boulder, Colorado, which is the best place on Earth for people in transition. It’s crunchy and thoughtful and supportive. I took time off to think about my next steps.
I really tried to give up the whole clothing/fashion/manufacturing thing. Making sewn products is hard work, can be fickle, and is the opposite of lucrative. Why torture myself?
(…and yes, I still ask myself this some days!)
I suppose I figured that I’d amassed all of this knowledge about apparel production, and somehow had a responsibility to use it. The world doesn’t need more clothes, really, but customers do need better options for their clothes.
Having already set up a website, blog, social media, etc. once before, building out Seamly.co was actually fairly easy from an online perspective. I spent five months putting together our first designs (a super simple tank, dress, and leggings). Everything was budget — I even sewed most of the first production run myself. It was rough, but it was something.
I can confidently say that I learned just as much the second time around, with Seamly.co. I learned more about patterning, and made my first pattern ever (the most simple midi dress, mostly copied from the bodice of our tank top patterned by CoSewn). I learned how to use an industrial sewing machine. I bought an electric rotary cutter and cut out fabric panels in my living room.
It was all painfully high-touch.
For example: the night before launching the a batch of 5-ways Maxi Dresses, I enlisted my boyfriend’s friends to thread elastic through the hems of the dresses and attach toggles. The toggles were too heavy for the fabric, but I didn’t realize it until after we shipped them all out the next day. (I e-mailed everyone who purchased an apology and a discount code, feeling completely ashamed of my oversight.)
In the beginning, I shipped from my bedroom, in a house I shared with three guys. I didn’t have a car, so I put everything in my bike basket and rode to the post office. Months later, I “graduated” to my first out-of-the-house storage — my boyfriend’s empty shed (below). Hangtags were printed by my trusty HP. I met our first model in a coffee shop and approached her creepily with a “Heyyyy, have you ever modeled?” proposition. (It’s OK, we’re friends now and she turned out to be completely awesome.)
That was all merely two years ago. Little by little, things evolve, and the process gets easier all the time (though I still cry, more than I’d care to admit, and it’s still very budget, always).
I wandered around New Orleans a few weeks ago, in my old stomping grounds when ideas were just that. I knew there was something else out there, for me. Some creative, unforged path that filled all of my “buckets” of things I like and am good at. I felt grateful for the place that gave me space to dream, and forced me to step up, out, and into the unknown.
I can’t say I know ANYTHING about the what’s coming next, for me or for Seamly.co. It’s literally day by day, project by project. But I can say, for certain, that this insane, beautiful, excruciating experience is constantly teaching me what I need to know, about business, about life, about myself.
And none of that could be happening without you.
I know that my devastatingly lost, uncertain, twenty-something self, looking for purpose and a creative life and her own voice, was hoping you’d be here — but she couldn’t have imagined how awesomely kind, supportive, and encouraging you’d be.
Thank you, thank you, for gracing me with your presence these last two years. It’s everything.