From Interviews

Make It Happen: 9 Stories from Working Women of the World

International Working Women's Day | Oh My! Handmade

It isn’t common knowledge that International Women’s Day began as International Working Women’s Day as a response to the working conditions in garment factories where so many laboured. Intended as a day of solidarity for women of all classes to acknowledge the struggles of working women and join their call for improved conditions, wages, and equal rights the theme for International Women’s Day this year is Make It Happen. Makers and handmade have the potential to change the status of women and other labourers, in our own communities and globally, radically redefining how the world makes a living. Imagine if this year we dedicated ourselves to making it happen not just for ourselves but for other women, joining a long line of heroines whose hands have shaped our stories. We’ll learn about Clara LemlichRose Schneiderman, and Pauline Newman when we dive into the history of this day, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the ethics of current manufacturing conditions in the textile industry on March 25th as part of our Ethics explorations. However, today our focus is the stories of women in our community who are currently working hard to improve their own conditions while showing that handmade business is a path to ownership, self-sufficiency, healthier lives, and happier families for women from all walks of life. One thing unites all the stories shared: making it happen isn’t easy, things are uncertain, no one is working 4 hours a week, it is still worth it. 

The success stories we talk about or that make the news are only a teensy part of our diverse community: women with disabilities able to earn a little income and supplement disability payments with meaningful work, single mamas leaving jobs that won’t allow for sick days or time off to make their own path helping other women, sole wage earners supporting whole families from their sewing machines, women literally making their way through school, couples choosing to live simple lives within the means of their simple incomes who need to think fast when the pipes burst. Each of these women are shining examples of what handmade (or any) business looks like: hard, often lonely, deeply satisfying work.  The hard working mother who lies awake at night thinking about how her low sales mean rice for dinner next week, or who will be evicted if she doesn’t make her quotas, or who had to choose between investing in the future or seeing the dentist. These are the stories have mostly been absent from the front pages of our sites but if handmade is going to be an economic force for change, one that helps close the last sweatshop and ensures fair wages for the work of every hand in every country, we have to start talking more openly and honestly about who needs our support and how we can offer it.

So pull up a seat and spend some time getting to know the inspiring working women who stepped forward to share their stories and their unique struggles and success with us this year. Everyone was asked the same set of questions: 

  1. Your business is your primary source of income – what kind of work do you do, how many hours do you work, how many dependents do you have, and how long have your been running your business? Additionally if you can disclose your annual income or employee salaries it would be deeply valuable for other women as this information is rarely shared publicly. 
  2. What have been the biggest struggles or obstacles you’ve faced being the main provider for your family while also dealing with the uncertainty of business?
  3. Have you found many other full time women makers who rely on their income to feed children, pay rent, or access essential services?
  4. What women have inspired or supported you most on your creative journey? Have you felt well supported or able to access the resources you need or have you felt isolated?
  5. If you could send a message of solidarity to working women all over the world and young women who will become the next workers what would it be?
  6. Do you believe handmade and creative work can improve living conditions for women and their families? Why?

Bella Grey Jewellery Designs, Karen Cameron

Karen Cameron, Bella Grey Jewellery Design

I design jewellery that combines natural beach stones, paper decoupage and silver solder. I am from the Owen Sound  area of Ontario, Canada. That’s a couple hours north of Toronto and situated right on Georgian Bay (part of Lake Huron), which is the source for most of my stone collecting. My jewellery style came about originally simply as experimentation for myself. I wanted something that didn’t look like anything anyone else was wearing and something that allowed me to combine favourite materials. This was the result but I had no idea then that it would turn into a full time business for me.

At the time that I was making my first big bunch of still experimental pieces, I happened to have a lot of big ‘stuff’ going on in my life….some of it by choice, some absolutely not. Within a one year period, I ended a lengthy marriage because I knew in my heart that it just wasn’t a healthy place for me to remain, a couple of months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and  needed two surgeries and radiation but, thankfully, no chemo, and then, after returning to work following my treatment and recovery time, I lost a job that I quite enjoyed and depended on. My experimenting and playful passion for jewellery designing suddenly became a now or never believe-in-myself situation so that’s what I did. I chose to have a positive outlook about my abilities and the possibilities that would come from believing in myself and following my creative instincts and desires.

So I jumped in with both feet, lots of determination, and an open mind, and Bella Grey became my primary income source. The first year was completely exhausting but I knew where I wanted to take my business and I was bowled over and energized by the positive response and growing demand. I will admit, there were many times when I stayed up far too late, working into the wee hours of the night, in order to keep up with production and schedule demands. Year two brought more growth and lots of lessons in focus, self-discipline, and organization. Still exhausting but less-so and I was beginning to feel like I was going to actually be okay, that my business was going to be able to support itself, me, and my two daughters.

So, here I am, now nearing the end of year three and I have seen incredible expansion across the country with  wholesale accounts, sustained enthusiastic retail response, and ever-growing interest via communications from new customers within both realms. I now have a dependable friend who will help with production when needed at the  busiest times and that’s not only a big help, it’s a reminder that things are going well. I still work long days and weekends  find me either working at an event or on business things at least part of the time but I don’t often allow myself to become sleep deprived because of work demands anymore. So that’s progress…and a certain kind of success, I think.

I did develop a business plan from the start and I think that’s a crucial step in starting and growing any business. I worked hard on writing it and did my research and due diligence. It gave me direction, focus and goals to strive for over the first couple of years. It laid the ground work for meeting targets and I was amazed to find that my actual figures ended up being very close to my business plan projections. My annual sales have almost doubled over the three years, going from about $28,000 the first year to almost $50,000 this year. That, of course, is still a stretch in terms of making a comfortable living…as that figure must cover all operational expenses for Bella Grey AND support my family but I’m getting there and still loving  what I do.

Though it was a somewhat scary place to start out from for me, I was fortunate enough to tap into some wonderful resources. In my area the provincial government runs and funds a program that became my starting point for writing my business plan. Once I was on my own feeling my way through the first events and sales, I found a huge outpouring of support and guidance from artisans and handmakers who had once been in my shoes. Though these people were both men and women, there is, of course, a very evident solidarity between women who share the handmaker’s survival experience. While there are many who are selling their craft as a hobby or to bring in a second income for their families, many of the women I’ve met over the past three years are, indeed, single income earners who are trying to survive solely through their creative work.

I would say that, aside from the stress of working hard to bring in enough to survive on, the biggest struggles I’ve encountered in this experience are attempting to balance work time with family time, and finding ways to develop contingency plans in case something goes wrong at some point and income plummets or falls short. I find I frequently feel like I’m shortshifting my daughters on my time and attention because of work demands. Thankfully, though they’re older teenagers and don’t necessarily need my attention like they used to, I still don’t want them to feel that I’m not there for them if they need me. That’s something I am always working on. The biggest worry I see in working for myself is the possibility that some sort of emergency or health catastrophe could strike and that would be extremely difficult to get through. Still, despite that, I truly believe that I’ve never lived my life more fully and that makes it entirely worth the risks.

The greatest inspiration I’ve encountered along this journey came right at the start. When just the tiniest thought of taking my jewellery from personal playtime to business had not even fully taken root in my mind, I read an article in an arts magazine about a newly single mom, wondering how she would survive on her own, who, along with her mom’s help, turned her artistic projects from her youth into a hugely successful and fulfilling business. I so loved what she made and was so inspired by her story that I found the courage to believe I could succeed, too.

Karen’s message to other women:

If I could send a message to other women attempting to, or dreaming of, surviving through their creative work, and to the generation of young women who have yet to make that decision or face that need, I’d encourage them to dig  deep and believe in themselves, in their intelligence, their endurance and their love of sharing what energizes them. I  do believe that an income derived from a woman’s handmade creative work can improve living conditions for women and  their families. It allows a woman to move away from complete or even partial dependence on another person. Though there’s nothing wrong with a collaborative income supporting a family, there is a healthy strength and wholeness that comes with knowing that one can make it on one’s own if necessary, especially when that comes through nurturing a personal creative passion.

Mother Moon Pads, Denelle Philemon

Denelle Philemon, Mother Moon Pads | FB | Instagram

I am the mompreneuer behind MotherMoonPads. I help women create a positive experience with their menstrual cycles by providing them with quality, affordable, reusable cloth menstrual pads. I am a one woman company, so I do everything from choosing and purchasing the fabric, creating the cloth pads, photographing them, stocking them on Etsy, and shipping them out. I support my family of 5. I have been married to Henry for 15 years, and we have 3 children. Gwendolynne is 18, Ezekiel is 7, and Eleanor is 4. MotherMoonPads was born in October of 2008 out of a passion for sewing, a desire to become more green, and a need to contribute to our household income while raising our children.

MotherMoonPads was never intended to be my full time job. I graduated from college December of 2010 with my bachelor’s degree in accounting. The intention was always to close the business and go to work outside of the house, utilizing my degree. I had my third baby March of 2010, and it was then that we decided I should keep MotherMoonPads,  as it would allow me to stay home to raise my children. Aside from keeping my own books, to this day I have not used my degree. I have no regrets.

MotherMoonPads grew over the years, to the point where I was able to fully support our family for over 2 years while my husband dealt with some medical issues. It still remains our main source of income. We live very frugally, so I may keep my work hours to around 30-40 hours a week at this time. As I unschool our two youngest children, I tend to work either very early in the morning while they sleep. We thoroughly enjoy our days exploring the world together, so I try to complete all work by 11 AM at the very latest. I increase my work hours based upon our financial needs and goals.

The biggest struggle that I face being the main provider for my family is the instability of my income. A good stocking of products can have a great impact on our lives (and the flip side is also true). It has been difficult for me to reconcile the lack of reliable income. I believe in surrounding myself in the company of women who are inspiring to me. I am very blessed to know other women makers who support their families, or contribute a large portion of the family income while raising their children. I firmly believe that having this support network around me is vital to my personal and business success.

The following women are just a very small list of those who have supported and inspired me over the past 7 years of business: Gail Baker, Bright Life Toys, Tanya Bernard, Pampered Mama, Becky Andrews, Bumstoppers, Rachel Jones, OnTheRound, Erica Libenow, Talulah Bean.

If I have ever felt isolated, all I had to do was reach out to my support team. They have helped keep me sane during the ups and downs of running a small business. They have been there to dry my tears during the rough times and to celebrate during the fabulous times.

I believe handmade and creative work absolutely improves the lives of women and their families. Many women, myself included, struggle with desiring a creative outlet along with the need to provide and care for their family. Running a small, handmade centered business from home allows women to do exactly that. They are blessed with time to focus on family. They can set their own work hours around their children’s schedules. They are in charge of their income and priorities.

Denelle’s message to other women: 

“To thine own self be true” So much in life, love, and work will tempt you away from the truths you hold in your soul. Resist. Speak your truth and speak it loudly. Don’t compromise yourself or your business. The truth and strength is inside.

Do not look at other handmade sellers in your category as competition. They can be great friends, sources of inspiration and comfort. They are going through similar things in business. Lift each other up instead of being afraid of or tearing apart your “competition”.

Freshie & Zero, Beth Lawrence

Beth Lawrence, Freshie & Zero | @freshieandzero

 I run a handmade jewelry business – we are about 90% wholesale, with the remaining 10% coming from craft shows and our retail website. I have a husband who is essentially a stay-at-home dad but he does work occasionally (he’s a freelance music recording engineer – a very Nashville job!). I have two young children, ages 4 and 2. I’ve been running Freshie & Zero since 2006 and doing it full time since 2008. I currently have three part time employees.

People still ask me all the time when they find out I run my own business if I work from home or if I sell my jewelry in any stores. It’s difficult to explain that not only do I have a studio outside of my home, but that I have (3!) employees and over 150 active wholesale accounts without sounding self-important, you know? I am proud of all I accomplished and I want to convey that, but I don’t want to sound like I’m full of myself OR that my business is a quaint little hobby. It’s tricky. I think the assumption of a “working self-employed mom” still conjures up the image of someone who gets a little work done while her kids nap.

I think the biggest struggle for me is that I am in the unique situation of not only being a working mother, but a working mother with a primarily stay-at-home husband taking care of our children, and very little free time to connect with other women in a similar situation. I used to be able to cut out half a day to run errands or shop, but now that is a rare occurrence because there’s always so much jewelry to be made and paperwork to be done! I do try not to work on the weekends so I can have family time, but I still end up working at least one weekend a month. This leaves almost no time for fostering friendships which I know is a big hole in my life. Luckily, there is the wonderful internet which has been the best way for me to connect with other women in similar situations. We don’t judge each other for being workaholics, and we help each other navigate our business decisions. I’m sure there are other “mom-preneuers” in my city, but being a workaholic goes hand in hand with having little free time to connect with them!

With a K Writing, Kris Windley

Kris Windley, With a K Writing | FB | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

I am a professional writer, so I spend a fair amount of time working on my own writing projects (I’m planning a book right now about the process I went through to get into business and the lessons I learned in my pyjamas and hiding under the blankets).  I write for other people too though. I’ve written on websites, pamphlets and brochures and even more recently in a cookbook with Mayi Carles called the Life is Messy Kitchen. That was a lot of fun!

I also do a lot of consulting as a writing coach for other women in business. I’ve become obsessed with helping other women embrace their own voices and share them confidently, because I think we (women in particular) often find ourselves either trying to sound like we are “supposed to” or shutting ourselves up entirely – and I think both of those options suck. I also think that there is great beauty in the pieces of us that set us apart as real people: the things we tend to hide when we are afraid of being vulnerable, so I coach women to see those imperfections as what they truly are and share them with confidence.

I’ve been the sole contributor to my family’s income since my kids’ father and I split up, 12 years ago…2 days before I started my first University degree. I got through 2 University degrees and raised 2 daughters on my own, working nights at a nightclub and summers running a literacy camp for kids in one of the largest provincial housing neighbourhoods in New Brunswick.

Then I spent 5 years teaching (for next to nothing) at a small private school for kids and adults with learning disabilities…and a retail job…and a marketing research job. It was hell. I got sick all the time – and I don’t mean the “You’re a teacher” kind of sick that comes from being surrounded by the petri dish germ balls we moms call kids. I developed a mysterious autoimmune dysfunction that landed me on major autobiotics regularly. I stopped sleeping. I stopped loving my job teaching. I stopped being a good friend, and I stopped being a good mom.

I still loved and cared for my girls, but I was sick and tired and busy all the time. I was tense like a guitar string tuned way too tight, and they felt it. I could tell it was hurting them, and that just added to my stress – and to my tension. The whole show was a mess.

After another wicked fever and a terrible situation at my work coming to a head, I went to my doctor and just poured out my heart. She was amazing, and spent way more than my 30 minute appointment talking to me. She told me that I had to stop working for at least 2 weeks – that I had to – Just. Stop. Now.

I did – and the fallout at work was awful. They were furious that I was taking the time “off” and told me that I wouldn’t be welcome back if I did. I was stuck between my failing health, the needs of my employers and the guilt between. My then 10 year old daughter was the one who cut through the mess of all of the other people’s needs I was trying to fill. She told me, “WE need you” and I listened.

I spent those two weeks (and change) hiding under the blankets on my couch, feeling like I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and then I got up and I started my business writing for other women’s businesses and teaching them how to write well themselves. It’s been a process – figuring out what my real drive is and what I really need to do to help my clients most. It’s been fun! It’s been scary. It’s been exciting and revitalizing.

Every single thing has gotten better. I feel a pride in my work that I couldn’t ever have foreseen, and my girls do too. They are always thrilled to tell their friends and teachers about the fact that their Mom is a writer – that she works with people all over the world, and that she gets to be creative and do her own thing.

They’re unknowingly doing their part, shaking that societal belief that creative work isn’t real – that writers and artists and makers don’t actually make enough money to live on. My oldest daughter wants to open a restaurant when she’s older, and my youngest wants to be an artist. I love that they are ready to make their own way. I love that they aren’t afraid like I was.

My biggest struggle – bar none – was the belief that I was an impostor and that at any time someone would show up and tell everyone I was just a school teacher who could write well. At some point, I realized that expertise comes from working and learning and doing and creating. Somewhere along the way, I embraced the validity of my own voice and took my own advice – go figure 😉

I’ve been lucky to find a core group of women who work in the creative field online – running cool and varied businesses – but most of them are in a married relationship and so they don’t have that added pressure of being the “only one” in charge of making money. It’s quite frightening when I sit down and allow myself to imagine the worst case scenario, but I just keep pushing instead, and so far it’s worked. I’ve been supported in an almost mentor-like way, by April Bowles-Olin from Blacksburg Belle. She is a great teacher and is extremely generous with her knowledge and experiences. I met her in person, in San Francisco last Fall when I took 2 of her classes at Creative Live. It was one of the most wonderful and encouraging experiences I’ve ever had, and I met other students there who have since become great friends and confidantes.

I believe that creative work is a wonderful way to work as a parent. You can feel like the time you take away from you children is time well spent – building your work-legacy – and you can show your children that they too have the power to captain their own lives creatively. I can be there for my kids when they need me and I can show them through my own example that working for your own dream is not only possible, it’s realistic and possible.

My greatest purpose is to help women and girls learn that their voices are legitimate, their stories are amazing and they have every right – and responsibility – to share them proudly.

Craftypodes, Kelly Martinez

 Kelly Martinez, Craftypodes |@Craftypodes | Instagram | Pinterest | FB

Craftypodes will be three years old at the end of May 2015. Over those three years, we have transitioned from being focused on crochet and knitting to what we do now – cross-stitch and embroidery fiber art, patterns, and crafty tutorials. I was doing amigurumi crochet before my arthritis made that very painful and difficult for me to do on a daily basis, which promoted a shift to stitched work. I do all the embroidery that is not cross-stitch, and I also design cross-stitch patterns that my husband cross-stitches before we make them available. I am very much the creative force, but I also help my husband research financial and administrative aspects of the business. I also write the Tarot Tuesday feature on our blog, as well as all of the posts that talk about the stories behind my share of the crafting and my personal process in doing the work.

One of the benefits of running your own business when dealing with chronic health issues is a flexible schedule, but I put in a minimum of six hours of work a day for Craftypodes five days a week, and time spent doing actual crafting is on top of that. Counting the crafting, I can spend around ten to twelve hours a day working.

We don’t have any legal dependents, but we do have an elderly three-legged rat terrier. We will not be having children, so we don’t have to plan for them in our future.

While working to make Craftypodes a successful business and become self-sufficent financially, we are dependent on disability benefits at this point in time. Our combined income is less than $20k per year. I do have Medicaid, which is the government funded medical coverage for the disabled and those with low income in the US, so we do not have to pay for my arthritis medication, and my husband recieves his medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs at no cost to us because his disability was caused by military service.

The current political and economic climate in the US is an absolute struggle. I’ve read about studies that show people become more inclined to blame someone else for having a problem the less confident they feel that they can do something to fix the problem or that they would have a safety net if they found themselves in the same situation. There’s a real problem with that right now, and people who do depend on government assistance are often blamed for needing help, shamed for accepting it, and used as pawns in political mudslinging that does nothing to address the reality of anyone’s situation. There are also problems within the VA that have created more struggle for many veteran families, including ours. We’re able to keep our bills paid but there’s no money if something goes wrong like our car needing repair, and our city does not have a robust public transportation system. It also makes it very difficult to find the money to invest in our business because we have too little income and credit for loans.

I struggle with my health, as well. I have Complex PTSD, which I am in treatment for, and it has contributed to my arthritis and my being overweight. I need to take the time to look after myself more, but there are only so many hours in a day. We juggle housework based on who can do it physically. My husband has pain and mobility issues that prevent him from doing a lot of tasks, so he’s happy to do the things he can. That leaves some things I simply cannot ask him to help with, as well as doing my share of the work for our business. We started our Patreon campaign this year so that we can slow down and I can take better care of myself, as well as take the time to do projects I wasn’t allowing myself to tackle before. The race to try to get more products out faster without sacrificing on the quality of our work was really doing a number on me.

The third struggle I have with our business is finding “my people” within the handmade community. We’re a couple of really big geeks, I see myself as an artist rather than a product maker, and I am a queer-identifed person with no children. It’s really great to connect with so many different people who have different skills and come from different backgrounds, but it is sometimes kind of lonely to be lost in a sea of stay at home moms doing more traditional handcrafting. Even among geeky crafters, I have trouble relating to people ten years younger than me who have a couple of kids and enough disposable income to keep up with movies, games, and comics better than I can.

I honestly don’t know the financial situations of a lot of other crafters I interact with, and most of them I do know about are running their business as the secondary income, if not a money making hobby. I do know Tessa of Krmbal Clothing is running her business as main income, not secondary. The women I have gotten to talk to within the handmade community have been very supportive! Trying to answer this question threatens to simply become a list of handmade businesses! To choose just a few, though, Shawna of Scrawny Girl always pushes me to go ahead with those really cool ideas I have that I’m afraid other people might not like. She reminds me that my art is to make my soul happy, first, and then other people if they “get” it. Tessa from Krmbal Clothing has always been willing to help in any way she can and is just a really easy person to talk to. Rebecca from Hugs Are Fun has been very encouraging about trying crafts that don’t come easily for me, and I credit her with me finding a love for English Paper Piecing.

I believe handmade and creative work can improve things for anyone. It can be empowering someone to start their own business, making it possible for them to make certain items and maintain them rather than buying and replacing them, or the mental and physical health benefits of crafting. And I believe we help girls and women when we teach boys to craft. It breaks down some of the walls that exist when we say this is “for girls” or “women’s work”. And if we accept that a man can create things with yarn or needle and thread, then we have to accept that a woman can be a scientist. We can do more with less by reusing a lot of things in our creative work, which absolutely improves living conditions in multiple ways. It’s never a waste of time to learn at least one craft.

Kelly’s message to other women: 

It doesn’t matter what age you are, what shape your body is, how you dress, who you love, whether you have kids or not, how you do or don’t worship – you deserve to thrive. Even if that’s not what you’re getting, remember that it’s what you deserve. Don’t let anyone convince you that you aren’t “good enough”. We’re stronger as a whole when our individuals are strong. Everyone is “good enough”.

Anne-Marie Verron, Groupe Talents Opera Paris

Anne-Marie Verron,  L’ours tombé des étoiles | Blog | FB | Pinterest

My name is Anne-Marie Verron, I create artist bears under the name “L’ours tombé des étoiles” which means “The Bear Fallen From The Stars”. I chose to create one-of-a-kind contemporary bears, in alpaca or mohair. I also make them scarfs, bows, small necklaces or hats to achieve giving them they own personality.

Because they are all unique, each bear has a name: the person who adopts one receives its authenticity card. It takes more or less 20 hours to create a bear, I spend about 6-7 hours a day in my workshop.

I started creating full time in june 2013: It was a big step but that was the true beginning for my handmade business. Ever since I made the decision to stop creating as a secondary activity only, my business has strengthened every year. In 2013, I was the French Artist of the Year, during the French Teddy Awards, thanks to my clown Jules. Since 2014, I am the first bear maker to be a member of the prestigious Art Workshops of France: artist bears are quite unknown in France, so it is a great recognition as an arts and crafts discipline. For my first participation, I had the honour to get a TOBY Industry’s Choice Awards 2015 (the most important american Teddy Bear trophee), for my bear Leon.

I have always worked alone on my bears. However, my daughter is very much helping my business to thrive! I went to a Teddy Bear fair in 2006 and when I walked out, Charlotte pointed out that I should try creating bears of my own. At this time, she was starting international public relations studies. She built me a website to help me present my art, and she takes care of all my English contents. She taught me how to take professional-looking pictures, launched my blog, social media accounts…She is a real asset, as she grants visibility to my bears! I get more time to create, while she takes care of the selling part. Without her, my bears would never have left my living room… I’m not sure I would have continued making teddies for so long, or at least it would only be a hobby. Now that Charlotte has got her Master’s degree, we are committing as a team more than ever to make L’ours tombé des étoiles successful! This adventure is truly a mother-daughter project, our skills are complementary and it’s amazing to live that together.

It is really difficult to find a job if you stopped working to raise children, that was my case. I decided to give it a try and start making bears to pay my bills! Working at home gives me much freedom to work wherever I want, follow my own rhythm… Doing what I love for a living and being available for my family has no price! Family members can sometimes give you a hand, that is a great way to create more bonds. The “trap” is that you can easily get overfocused on work, because it becomes an important part of your life and the frontier between business time and personal time can get blurry. It is important not to stay isolated, especially when you sell online. I have met a lot of local artists (not only bear makers) and made lots of interesting encounters. This is so fulfilling, I don’t regret making that decision at all!

Donna Druchunas

Donna Druchunas, Sheep to Shawl & Stories in Stitches | FB | Twitter | Instagram

I am a knitting designer, teacher, author, editor, and translator. Yes, I have had to do that many different kinds of things to make it work. I started my business in 2004 when I began publishing designs and articles in knitting magazines and published my first book of knitting patterns. But I’ve only been 100% supported by my business for about 2 years. Until then, my husband worked and I also did contract and part time work for tech companies. Right now my business grosses about 60k a year, but after expenses and such, my net income is less than 20k. I’ve been working on converting my business from “moonlighting” to a serious business and that’s growing every year as I improve my focus and change my offerings and business model to adapt. In the future I will be focusing more on teaching and mentoring new knitting designers and authors, as well as on my own writing and teaching. I will be doing less freelance editing and translation as I build up my income streams in these other areas.What have been the biggest struggles or obstacles you’ve faced being the main provider for your family while also dealing with the uncertainty of business?

The biggest struggles have been finding a lifestyle that is not too expensive to be supported by my business. We actually moved to a less expensive state where we could buy a house for cash and curtail our expenses as much as possible. We are always working on managing our budget and cutting expenses. If we had children, it would have been much harder. It looks romantic from the outside because we live in a 150 year old farmhouse in rural Vermont. We love our life, but it’s not as romantic as people think. We heat with wood, we have no pizza delivery, it’s 20 minutes to a latte and 2 hours to a Starbucks, 2 to 4 hours to “local” airports, and there’s always something to fix in the house. Like the burst pipes when it was 20-below zero the other night.

I’ve always been inspired by Annie Modesitt, another knitting designer and author, who has supported her family with her work for years. Deborah Robson of Nomad Press has also been a huge influence on me, and an ongoing mentor in many ways. I work with Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse as a business and creativity coach. Finally, I am part of Cigdem Kobu’s Progress Lounge, a group for introverted women in creative careers.

I don’t think having a lot of money is the most important thing in life. Standard of living would not be based on how much money you make, but on how much time you have to spend with your family and friends and doing what you want, rather than selling all of your time to some big company to do something all day that is meaningless to you. That said, there’s nothing wrong with having a day job that provides money to support your passions and your life, it’s just not the right path for me.

Donna’s message to other women: 

Don’t try to duplicate what anyone else does and don’t put yourself in competition with others. Start slow and be courageous and persistent. The best way to succeed is to be part of a community of like-minded makers, especially women who tend to have a different way to look at the world especially regarding how to make a living and how to define success.

Sara Milley, Parkadilly

Sara Milley, Parkadilly | FB | Instagram

I have been twisting wire and recycling one of a kind framing for 3 years! Over the past three years I have saved, recycled and sold 1300+ framed pieces! I twist wire day and night; because not only do I love what I do, I also support my family by doing so.

During the first two years of business, my husband was a student. I firmly believe in that age old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It was a long hard road but every moment of it inspired me to become something more. The doubters and naysayers pushed me, and drove me to prove them wrong. And to date, I have.  Having an amazing support system, an amazing army of followers and the stubborn attitude allowed me to reach new heights within my business.

Sara’s message to other women: 

I believe in the dreamers, the doers and the rule breakers. Yes it is hard work, but when your dreams are so big, and your heart is full, the sky is the limit. The pure beauty in life that comes from doing what you love, overflows into everything you do. A creative mind is a healthy mind. Creative energy is good for the soul. The world needs women who break the mold, women who do the unthinkable. We are raising our children to believe in working hard, being yourself and breaking standards.

Penny, Taylored Curiosities

Penny, Taylored Curiosities | Blog Instagram

When I was studying my Illustration Degree at university, I spent the rest of my time making shop stock and selling my hand made designer toys online. At first I used etsy, but later changed to a stand alone shop. I worked in to the early hours of most mornings, and was tired a lot, but it paid the rent and made university possible for me. The rent was £550 a month and I managed to support both myself and my partner at the time. I am currently completing my teaching qualification, but I still spend all my spare time creating new art.

The time was always the biggest struggle. It still is. I love creating, it’s how I’d spend all my time if I could. But life gets busy and there’s always so much to try and cram in to every day. If there were more hours in the day, it would be much easier.

Also, some days you can go all day without talking to another human if you work from home. It can get lonely, so it’s important to make time to socialise. Stay sane ladies.

I think I know about four other women who do it as a full time, dependant source of income. It’s hard for them too as, like I say, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Late night instagram chats help a lot to keep up morale when things all get a bit much. Since taking part in art shows and making lots of contacts, I have an amazing support system! The art world is full like minded people who will chat crazy to you in the early hours and who you can bounce ideas of. A lot of those are women! Holly, Kitty, Joanna and my Emily are a few of my non artist females who support me and my art (and my craziness). They are strong, independent women indeed!

100%! Creative women raise creative children and the cycle repeats. Who doesn’t want a world like that. This very weekend I went and sat with my aunt and great aunt who taught me how to crochet. I’m a strong believer in what I call campfire learning. If the women in our family don’t pass down their skills then who will. It’s bonding mixed with teaching and it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to share all my skills with my daughter. I’d wholeheartedly encourage her to become an artist if she wanted to. I think having creative people in a home is perfection.

Penny’s message to other women: 

NEVER let anyone tell you that you can’t or won’t achieve something. If it’s something you want, then do it. I don’t believe in problems, only solutions. I know life can get tough and blue days affect us all, but keep going, keep being you and tell those negative ninnys to jog on! (I am a natural worrier, hence my Worry Bean creations, so trust me, I know it’s hard sometimes, but you’re not alone).

Thank you for taking the time to meet this inspiring group of handmakers! Leave a note of encouragement here to say you see how hard they are working, purchase the work of their hands and invest in their futures, follow them on social media and take special care to shout out their awesomeness, give what you can to support OMHG your contributions help feed this family of four and make it possible to share diverse stories, but don’t stop there:

Look around your city, your neighbourhood, and your country – everywhere in every occupation are women who work so hard, take time to learn their stories and be their supporters. Share your own stories, speak up for each other, lean against each other. This is how we make life better not just for women but all people, not just in marches or on one day, but every day. Solidarity is wanting for others what we want for ourselves, a life with both bread and roses. We can make this happen in part simply by choosing to support the hands that make the world and reaching out our own hands to help. 

Getting To Know – Krista Steel-Varsakis of RainCityKnits

Krista RainCityKnitsThe Getting To Know series features interviews with makers, artists, designers and small business owners at all different stages of their careers. I’m always interested in how other adventurers in the world of creative entrepreneurship run their businesses, get inspired and how they got started in the first place.

I have the biggest crush on RainCityKnits! Cushy hand-dyed yarn in bold, bright modern hues. What’s not to love? Krista, the woman behind the brand, is all about sustainability, fun colours and some serious getting down to business.  Let’s get to know Krista: 

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Hi Krista! To start with, I’d love to know a little bit about you and your business.

I’m a Vancouverite who had to travel and live around the world to realize how much I loved my hometown. I learned to knit while on a university exchange in small town New Zealand: a country with more sheep than people.

RainCityKnits was born out of a love of bright colours – an antidote to the the endless grey season here on the West Coast. We strive to offer high-quality products that are ethically created, without compromising on aesthetic.

Prior to launching RainCityKnits, I worked internationally on issues of sustainability and social justice. My passion and commitment to these issues guide my business practices.

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What’s the story behind the name RainCityKnits?

Those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest are very familiar with rain. Vancouver is often referred to by locals as the Rain City. I wanted the brand to reflect the location from where RainCityKnits comes. Rain also evokes a desire to snuggle up in warm woolens so the name just fit. If I could go back and change things, I’d probably re-think the word “Knits” and go with “Dye Studio”.

Drying Yarn

How did you get into dyeing yarn?

Truthfully, I couldn’t find the colours that I wanted on the quality of yarn bases that I like to knit. My experience has been that bright yarn colours are often seen as childish. A function of this attitude is that the truly bright colours are often limited to acrylic or other “economical” yarns. I tried dyeing some bright colours on a lark one day and here I am.

Do you prefer dyeing or knitting?

I don’t really think I have a preference. They are different activities, performed in different contexts. Dyeing is more “organic” than knitting, in that you can experiment more while having successful results. Knitting is more regimented and repetitive. They appeal to different aspects of my personality.

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What have you been knitting with your yarns lately?

I’m currently working on a sweater coat by a Norwegian knitwear designer in our Steel Grey Worsted. I’m a huge fan of Nordic designs. I love the tendency toward “strong shapes” that are modern, simple and unfussy. I just finished a pair of socks that use our Graffiti yarn and Hot Pink accents by Vancouver-based designer Holli Yeoh.

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How would you describe your relationship with colour? Do you have a favourite?

I’m a huge fan of bright colours. I’m particularly interested in neons at the moment. I love seeing a super bright colour like Electric Coral paired in a sweater with a neutral like a cream-colour. Lucky me, neons are super popular at the moment, which is great. I’ll still love neon after the trends move on too.

Where do you find inspiration for your brand?

I take a lot of my inspiration from the street fashion I saw during my time living in London, UK. I admired the boldness of the younger Brits who aren’t afraid to mix colours and patterns together and thought “Why can’t this be the case with knitting too?”. I like the idea of taking something traditional like knitting and pushing toward a more modern aesthetic.

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RainCityKnits seeks to use ethically sourced fibre. Could you tell us a little bit about that and why it’s important to you?

When RainCityKnits started out, I sourced all my Merino Wool from a Uruguayan mill. The employees there were organized as a Worker’s Collective – a popular way of structuring a labour force to ensure fair rate of pay. As the business has evolved, I’ve expanded my range of fibre to represent customer requests from a variety of suppliers. I work closely with yarn distributors to understand the supply chain involved in the cultivation of the fibre I use, favouring Fairtrade and Organic yarn bases where possible.

I am hoping to work with a local farm to source fibre closer to home in 2015.

Yarn Dyeing

What’s your best-selling item?

The best selling item at the moment is our Graffiti and Highlighter Yellow colourways. I think the craziness of these colours makes for fun knits and something a little bit different than what you might find elsewhere.

Which is your favourite item?

Personally, my favourite yarn colourway is Electric Coral. There’s something about this colour that just makes me so happy. I actively have to talk myself out of knitting everything from this colourway, with moderate success….

Yarn Drying

What does your typical work day look like?

One of the neat things about running RainCityKnits is that no two days are the same. There’s constantly a shifting list of priorities and tasks. That said, I’ve developed a bit of a structure to help me be as efficient as I can be. Mornings are spent taking care of admin stuff – responding to emails, invoices etc. The boring stuff to many makers, although I do enjoy getting things organized.

Lunch is spent at the dog park with my 2.5 year old Labrador Retriever, Pamela. Working in the neighbourhood means that I’m able to spend a lot of time with my dog. We have a group of “dog friends” over there who we meet at noon every day. This midday checkpoint actually helps keep me accountable timewise, which is perfect since I am easily distracted.

After lunch, I’ll head over to my studio to get the dyeing process started. I’m very lucky and the studio is located a short walk from our home in Railtown. The studio itself is part of an artist-run centre which offers 22 studios for rent at a really reasonable rate. This has allowed me to expand RainCityKnits.

I dye to order. To keep things organized, I work with a dye rotation schedule of about 14 days, which means I dye one colour once per fortnight. For example, I dye all my Hot Pink colours together on Day 1 and then my Vermillion (Red) colours on Day 2 etc. This leads to a slightly longer turnaround time for customer orders, however it means that I’m able to minimize wastage of water / dye and also to keep my wholesale customers happy too.

Throughout the day, I make a point to look at my social media – especially Instagram. This also helps to keep me feeling connected to the world outside! I love seeing what customers are doing with our yarn!

RCK - Brights

What do you love about running your own business?

There’s so much that I love about running my own business. I think the best part of running RainCityKnits is that I have complete freedom to take the business in any direction that I choose. It turns out that I have a strong point of view about colour and I have found a way to share my viewpoint. I actually never considered myself to be artistic before I started RainCityKnits. Running my own business has allowed me to develop a creative part of myself that I haven’t given much credit to before. That part is pretty awesome.

I also really love the flexibility that running my own business provides me in terms of scheduling. I know this is one of the parts that appeals to many self-employed folks. That’s not to say that the hours aren’t long – they are! – but I am able to choose when I work.

What do you find the hardest?

The hardest part of running my business is flying solo a lot of the time. At first, working alone from home was a novelty. I’m quite a social person though and at this point, the novelty has worn off a bit. Loneliness is super common with self-employed folks, and emphasizes the importance in ensuring one has interaction with people outside of work through social activities, community involvement etc. Pamela the Lab and I have just signed up to be volunteer visitors at an Adult Day Centre, which we’re both excited about!

RCK - Portobello Cowl 2

Do you do many craft fairs?

I do 3-4 fibre related shows per year. In the beginning, I did do a few non-fibre specific shows and through that process, found out who my demographic really is: knitters, crocheters, so essentially fibre people.

The shows I attend – including the Knitter’s Frolic  in Toronto – are full of enthusiastic customers. I really love meeting customers face to face and sharing in their excitement. Working alone in the studio, it can be easy to forget about the big picture. When I go to a show, I’m reminded just how awesome fibre people are. The days may be long, but it’s totally worthwhile.

What do you do to get inspired when you’re feeling drained?

If I’m feeling drained, I’ll usually take a walk around the neighbourhood into adjacent Gastown and check out what people are wearing. I find that process really reinforces my overall vision by reminding me of what I love! We are a very urban brand so it makes sense to take inspiration from the heart of the city.

I also find that shifting gears away from work really helps me too. Meeting up with friends, doing something fun and non-work related and usually silly helps a lot. When I do return to work, I’m more inspired.

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If you could spend a day with any maker/artist, who would that be and why?

This is the toughest question yet! There’s such an insane amount of artistic talent out there. In terms of my own industry, I really admire Stephen West for his creative knit designs. He is someone who pushes the envelope in terms of re-imagining what knitwear can be and he’s gained a huge following from a diverse range of knitters too. I love seeing older folks knitting and wearing his designs. He proves that everyone can appreciate edgier styles.

I’ve just discovered visual artist Alison Shields who works out of the same artist centre as I do. She uses very simple tools – tracing paper and pencils – to create these layered drawings that are different than anything I’ve seen before. Her pencil drawings hint at natural landscapes without being too overt. I’d love to watch her creative process.

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What is one thing you wish you had known when you launched your business?

When I started, I had no idea that my little hobby would grow into a business. As a result, I didn’t have a bookkeeping system in place. When tax season rolled around, I had nearly a year’s worth of accounting to catch up on. My advice, boring though it may be, is to get some basic bookkeeping system set up. There are lots of online systems that can help – I personally love StitchLabs, which is geared toward crafters.

Also, if you plan to sell online through a platform like Etsy, be sure to do your research on your tax obligations to customers in the regions to which you sell. Again, not the most exciting way part of running a business but super important. You don’t want a nasty surprise at the end of the tax year when you find out that you should have collected tax from customers!

Treat yourself to some RainCityKnits goodness.

RainCityKnits yarn shop on Etsy

Connect with Krista

Instagram – @raincityknits

Blog – RainCityKnits

Ravelry – RainCityKnits group

Twitter – @raincityknits

Facebook – RainCityKnits

Pinterest – @RainCityKnits

What did you learn from getting to know Krista and RainCityKnits? Share with us in the comments!  

Getting To Know – Iveth Morales of The Angry Weather

The Refuge NecklaceThe Getting To Know series features interviews with makers, artists, designers and small business owners at all different stages of their careers. I’m always interested in how other adventurers in the world of creative entrepreneurship run their businesses, get inspired and how they got started in the first place.

Iveth Morales is the spirited silversmith behind The Angry Weather. Her delicate nature-inspired designs are the perfect way to express your own weather within. Let’s meet Iveth:

Iveth Morales The Angry WeatherHi Iveth! To start with, I’d love to know a little bit about you and your business. 

My name is Iveth Morales and I love to make shiny things. I started making jewellery more than 10 years ago but it wasn’t until 2010 when I launched my first collection and started selling my jewellery online.

How did you get started designing jewelry?

It all started in Mexico: I got very into bead and wire jewellery (I love rocks and minerals). At first it was a hobby then I started selling it to my co-workers. I enjoyed this first approach to jewellery very much but I always felt I needed to make more and with the techniques I knew there was always something missing. Then I move to Canada and enrolled myself in metalsmith classes. With this new knowledge I obtained so much of the creative freedom I was looking for and eventually developed my first collection.

il_fullxfull.410053475_qinmYou grew up in Mexico before moving to Canada. How does culture influence your work? 

Tremendously but maybe not in the most obvious ways. The influence my native country has on me works from the deepness of my heart in the forms of memories, the love for my family and from the land. Many of my pieces are inspired by it, like my Rocks and Mountains collection for instance. I made these pieces thinking on my years living in northern Mexico, where deserts and mountains are part of a landscape that makes me so happy every time I see or think of it.

What’s the story behind the name “The Angry Weather“?

I always find myself mindlessly drawing clouds, little houses, raindrops. When I started in metal construction, the first things I made were weather-related pieces of jewellery and this is when I developed my first collection. The name came naturally afterwards as a way to describe what I was making. As newly arrived to Canada (I was born and raised in Mexico) I was also very impressed with the weather here, the drastic seasonal changes and of course, the snow!

Angry Weather Studio

What do you love about running your own business?

Being able to give wings to my creativity, to do what I love, to being able to fulfill the need of expressing myself through jewellery. Also, I love to have the freedom to do whatever I want on any given day!

What do you find the hardest? 

To remind myself that sometimes I need to catch a breath or have a bite to eat. To put myself a schedule. It’s easy to really neglect your basic needs when you get so into the work you are doing. Also, one of the hardest parts is not having a steady income source.

What’s your best-selling item? Which is your favourite item?

My best selling item is my Lightning bolt stud earrings and of course they’re one of my faves! I have so many favourites to be honest, but if I have to pick one it may be the Refuge necklace. This necklace is one of my most loved pieces and it means so much to me.

Etsy Roadtrip The Angry WeatherYou’re a very active in the Etsy community. Any tips for being a successful Etsy seller?

I think one of the most important things of being part of any community, is to get involved. With Etsy it happens the same way: the more you reach out and connect yourself with other creative folk the more you’ll learn about the business of making your work known and accessible for potential customers. What I consider to be one of the biggest advantages of Etsy is the TEAMS. Etsy teams are such a big part of Etsy’s heart and I’m lucky I discovered it early on my Etsy adventures. I’ve been so lucky as to meet so many amazing people through Teams that have help me grow by giving support, promotion, advice and friendship. So my advice for those new Etsy sellers trying to find their way to their potential customers would be: create a cohesive product that reflects you and to be proud of it; join a team, get involved with your community and enjoy the ride!

Angry Weather Cards

How do you feel about social media? Do you have any tips for balancing the demands of all the different platforms?

Social media is key for me and probably for most artisans, makers, artist, crafters trying to sell their work online. My tips here are quite simple and honestly based on my lack of multitasking skills, so they are not for everyone!

I have a similar mindset for social media as I have when making a piece of jewellery: I strive to give the person on the other side of the screen or the person that buys one of my pieces something that they won’t easily forget, so it’s quality not quantity. I try to make every one of my social media channels relevant, but I can’t put the same attention on all of them without neglecting the creative part of my business, so I focus on giving attention to the one I like the most or the one I’m better at it. I guess it’s all about priorities and focussing on what you do best or on what you enjoy the most.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere. In my family, a trip, a smile, in a sunny day, in the breeze, in a memory, a story, a feeling, a book, a song and so on. I am easily captivated.

Angry Weather Packaging

Who are 3 makers / artists you admire?

I’m always inspired and amazed by all the creative folk around so picking just three would be hard but let me try. One of my local favourites is Noemiah: I admire Noemie’s creative power to transform herself and her work. Her style is consistently stunning and very recognizable. I admire Bookhou: Arounna is a super woman and one of the most hard working people I know. She has an unstoppable creative power! Sandra Juto is also on my list, I admire how she seamlessly puts together the things she loves/creates so cohesively, her creative endeavors become an inspiring lifestyle.

What does your ideal Saturday look like?

Waking up late, eating blueberry crepes, watching movies with my family and having something delicious for dinner that I didn’t cook! Also, kudos if we managed to stay in PJ’s all day 😉

What is the biggest business lesson you’ve learned so far?

Believe in what you do!

Treat Yourself:

The Angry Weather Shop

Connect With Iveth:

Blog: Mademoiselle Cranky Pants

Facebook: The Angry Weather

Instagram: @theangryweather

Twitter: @TheAngryWeather

Video Credit – making of: The Refuge Necklace – Ricardo Meade from MAL DE OJO