On Moving On

Today was a good day. I finally let go of something that was holding me back. 

Let's time travel a little bit. In 2011 I graduated from art school with a degree in fashion design and the thesis in maternity wear. I moved across the country with my then-boyfriend (now husband!) from Boston to Los Angeles to pursue a career in TV and film costuming. When I realized how hard it was to break into that world, I accepted an internship at a footwear company and took on a retail job in order to pay the bills. 

I worked both those positions for over a year.

After doing the seven day a week grind of commuting and hour each way to get to my internship or retail job, I realized that not only could I not stand even one more minute of getting paid basically nothing to sell and promote the work of others, but that I was meant for so much more. 

I decided that I was ready to do my own thing.

I took out the sewing patterns I had drafted for my thesis collection, whipped up a few dresses and started selling them on etsy. I quit my job and internship, took out a loan from the bank of Dad, and set up a sewing studio in the second room of out two bedroom apartment. 

Things we're going fine. I was mostly living off the loan and the kindness of my then-fiancé (now husband!). Expect was bringing in a little smidge of money, but I was spending more than I brought in on supplies, my website, and customer acquisition. As time went on, I became more and more frustrated that no one was buying my shit. Why wasn't everyone just running to my online shop to get the awesome amazing things I made?!

Part of the reason was that the things I was making we're not that awesome, and the other part was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was on a huge learning curve and actually didn't have anyone to learn or take advice from. I was just adrift. 

So I decided rather than improving my existing product, I'd just make a whole bunch of different and new items. I added children's clothing — which seemed to actually go pretty well — and home goods. I found myself buying materials I didn't particularly care for, but seemed like they'd be popular and would sell well. I introduced new product after new product, hoping something would stick. Nothing did. 

I had drifted so far away from who I was as a person, designer, and business owner. The sales were slow, I hated everything I was making, and I was so frightfully alone. 

Around Christmastime in 2014, I signed up for a very expensive craft show. You can read more about my experience here. Suffice to say, it didn't go well. When I left, I cried so hard that a blood vessel in my eye socket popped. I literally gave myself a black eye from crying.

I got home and drank and entire bottle of two buck chuck and threw it up everywhere. 

In that moment, it all came to a head. I realized how deeply, deeply unhappy I was with the state of my life, my business, my marriage, everything. I knew I couldn't keep going on the way I was, but I was also so terrified of stopping doing the only thing I believed could ever make me happy. 

So, I decided to take a break. That break lasted until today.

Today, I decided it was finally over. I took all my left over inventory and donated it to goodwill, I recycled all the left over business cards and paper goods I had relating to Expect, and I let the URL which I haven't paid for in six months go into default. I'm done with Expect and I am on to the next thing. 

The married &a bright shop has been going strong for the past six months, and I only have plans to make it better, get bigger, and be more of a success. All the stupid mistakes I made with Expect, I have learned from. And just in case anyone was wondering what those are, here ya go:

1. Have a plan. You don't have to be alone even if you're a one person business. When I started fresh, I decided to start paying money for more than just supplies. I signed up for business and social media classes, which not only have enriched my business, but also connected me to other business owners and made me feel less alone. Also, those things I payed for helped me set long- and short-term goals and know what to *expect* in the future, rather than being surprised by my failures. 

2. Make my customer service great. With Expect, I was so focused on bringing in money, that I neglected my customer service skills. I'll say it: I was stringy. I set policies which I believed were good for my shop, much to the detriment of customer retention. I stonewalled customers who had issues or questions. I felt incredibly anxious when I would read my emails or checked my etsy reviews. When I opened the married & bright shop, I vowed that I would have the most excellent customer service around. I would set policies to protect myself, and then bend them when necessary. For example, I don't allow returns, exchanges, or refunds of any kind. However, a customer emailed me a few weeks ago saying that the bra she ordered simply does not fit. I had her send me back the bra at her own expense, adjusted the bra for free and sent it back. She was a happy customer and immediately bought another bra, just in the right size this time! I felt really good about the interaction and my anxiety about customers has basically gone away. 

3. Don't buy large quantities of supplies. Unfortunately, I'm still sitting on about a grand worth of fabrics that I bought for my children's wear, that I can't really use for lingerie. I was so obsessed with buying wholesale fabrics that we cheaper, that I basically got suckered into buying huge quantities to meet minimums, which in the end cost me more. Now, I buy small batches of supplies and make everything to order. That way, I'm not sitting on inventory of supplies or products. If I decide to discontinue a product, or, God forbid, go out of business, I won't have to make another trip to goodwill. 

4. Plug my ears. Perhaps this goes against point number one up there, but I now have a huge filter on what kind of advice I take to heart. With Expect, if someone said I should add tutus, or Disney characters to my line, I would — and did! — even if I didn't personally like that idea. I don't do that anymore. I listen to the advice of a select group of people, and listen to myself more closely this time around. I know taking the input of potential customers is a smart way to develop new products, but today I keep it all in perspective. When someone suggested man-thongs, I respectfully declined that idea, although ostensibly there is a market for that. I'm just not the company that makes that kind of thing. 

5. Have a second job that makes me happy!! When I had Expect, I picked up a few jobs that literally made me want to kill myself. Okay, not literally, but I was oh-so miserable at most of them. Now that I'm a wedding planner and lingerie designer, I can confidently say that I am utterly obsessed with both things, and I don't mind working a six or seven day week because work and life is so so fun!

I am writing this because I want everyone out there to know that it's okay to quit something. You do not have to do something that makes you hate your life. There is a life out there that is truly going to blow you away with how happy it makes you. I promise. 

Annika Chaloff1 Comment