Category: Ethics

#FellowMakers History & the Triangle Factory Fire

Fellow Makers, young Italian immigrant garment worker in Brooklyn

Fellow makers, many of us have forgotten International Women’s Day began as International Working Women’s Day. The agenda? Changing conditions for the working women of the world and uniting the working class. On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. On March 8, 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, an end to sweatshops and regulation of child labor. In 1910 at the Second International in Copenhagen, a world wide socialist party congress, Clara Zetkin proposed March 8th be proclaimed International Working Women’s Day to honour the work and struggle of women the world over.

The garment making industry had doubled in size between 1900 and 1910 with factories cramming unskilled immigrant workers from Russia and Italy into inadequate buildings without fire escapes or working regulations. Women who had previously worked from home were now forced to work in factories as piece-work sewing shifted to assembly production to meet demand.

#FellowMakers Triangle Fire Striking Workers

In November 1909 young women had helped instigate the “Uprising of 20,000”, the largest strike of women workers in New York history at that time, when 20,000 of New York’s 40,000 garment workers walked out of the factories and refused to work after being called to strike by Clara Lemlich. Clara was a 19 year old Ukrainian immigrant, who stood up in front of thousands of fellow workers to say:

“I am a working girl. One of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. What we are here for is to decide whether we shall strike or shall not strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared now.”

The next morning they took to the streets. After the general strike of 1909 the majority of New York shirtwaist manufacturers had signed union contracts, except for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and on March 25th 1911 the need for women to unite went from a revolutionary spark to a blazing fire.

March 25th, 1911

Hundreds of women filed into the ninth and tenth floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory as they did every morning. Some women lugged the heavy machines they would work on all day and were required to carry back and forth from the factory. Many women would also take home clothing to be worked on by the whole family, with children as young as three sewing into the night. Workers were mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, who laboured long hours under miserable conditions facing regular deductions for electricity, mistakes, singing, or talking on the job. In some shops workers had to supply their own thread, needles, or rent the chairs they sat on to increase the profit margins for the shop owner. There were also men at work in the factories as pressers who spent all day standing at long tables using hot irons to press finished pieces, but the employees were overwhelmingly female.

That day when the women were bent over their machines a fire broke out and ravaged the factory killing 146 people, mostly Italian or Jewish women and girls. Many leapt from the roof or windows when they could not escape the factory floor because the fire escape doors had been locked to prevent stealing. Still known as the worst factory fire in US history the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire led to sweeping marches and reforms on worker rights not only in America but around the world. The cries of workers jumping to their deaths made Frances Perkins rush out the door to watch as in under twenty minutes over a hundred lives were lost, Frances would go on to be secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first woman to serve as a Cabinet secretary. The event galvanized the Progressive movement in the US by uniting wealthy women with working women to improve social conditions for all. The fire also led three young Jewish women Clara Lemlich,  Rose Schneiderman, and Pauline Newman into a life of union organizing and political action. The working women who changed history were handmakers with little education or means, just like millions of us are today. Rose Schneiderman’s famous 1912 speech following the fire is as relevant now as it was then:

“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”

We like to believe things have changed since 1911, but have they really? Now that garment and textile factories aren’t in Brooklyn but in Bangladesh we can be comfortable thinking that if we buy or make handmade we are not part of the problem. The rising rage in the handmade community around reselling, manufacturing, and ‘craft-washing’ by factories and companies obscures a much deeper issue – if handmade is to be an alternative to the sweatshops we need to learn to scale fairly, democratically, and with organized structures for advocacy and accountability. Otherwise we run the risk of not being a force for change but a self-serving way to avoid dealing with larger patterns of consumption, all while making ourselves feel good.

#FellowMakers Triangle Fire Mourning

“That spring of 1911 we mourned our dead comrades, the victims of a society which was concerned only with the profits of an individual and not with the welfare of the many, of the working masses. The Triangle victims were martyrs in the fight for social justice, and the labor movement will always remember them as those who, with their young lives, paved the way for a better world with a more just society, a world free from exploitation, in which equal rights for all will be respected.”

Mary Domsky-Abrams, Blouse Operator, 9th floor (read her full interview with Leon Stein here)

Fast forward 100 years: manufacturing is carefully regulated in the developed world where we have unions, fair wage standards, building inspectors, child labour laws, and labour rights organizations. Across our borders and oceans conditions for women have not improved, they have worsened. Maybe Clara, Rose, and Pauline would have been the first to call North American sisters to arms when over 1100 people died and 2500 were injured in Bangladesh during the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.  Unfortunately while tragedies get major press the follow up, policy change, and worker rights get less public interest because they impact our personal luxuries or divide us politically. Major brands like Loblaws, GAP, H&M, Target, Topshop, and more, use garment manufacturers in Cambodia and Bangladesh, where the factories employ primarily women and children.

In April 2016 it will be three years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse and despite promises to take care of injured workers and improve conditions the BBC reported women like Mossammat Rebecca Khatun are unable to work, Khatun spent two days under the rubble and lost her leg along with five family members. Others like Sharmin Akter had to return to their previous jobs despite being terrified and still others are unable to find work at all. “They consider us too damaged, they think we will not be able to work as hard as we did before.” one worker is quoted as sayingAs the CBC reported many of the brands implicated in the collapse have contributed little or nothing to funds that support those who were injured.  In the 140 page Human Rights Watch report “Work Faster or Get Out” conditions in the Cambodian garment industry are laid bare for us to consider the price of cheap labour. 90% of garment factory workers in Cambodia are women who face being fired for pregnancy, taking bathroom breaks, or working too slowly amid many abuses of fundamental human rights. Even now locking factory doors to prevent employees from stealing or holding union meetings.

Today, a century after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire workers are still routinely dismissed, intimidated, or killed for trying to unionize to protect each other and improve conditions in countries like Cambodia, not because our countries are better than theirs but because consumers like us believe sweatshops are morally okay if things are cute.  Don’t get too cozy on your handmade high horse, even shopping local or supporting ethical brands does nothing to help fellow makers in factories overseas. Sam Maher, policy director of worker safety at Labour Behind the Label wrote 18 months after the collapse,

“The survivors and families of Rana Plaza have been failed by everyone. Their government, their employers, the brands and, yes, even us – the consumers. As long as our response to such tragedy is to wring our hands in guilt, to worry about our choices and how we can feel good about the clothes we buy, we will continue to fail them. As much as we may want to, we can’t shop ourselves out of this. If we really want a fashion revolution, we have to do more. We have to stand with these workers and shout as loud as we can, so that they will not be forgotten and will not be left alone.”

#FellowMakers Rana Plaza Factory Collapse survivors photos by Kevin Frayer for Associated Press

These are the faces of the women who are often seen as “competition” to handmade businesses – if this is our competition, what does that say about us? Photographs by Kevin Larkin for Associated Press. 

Women-led movements in both the US and Canada changed how the developed world treats workers. Policies, building codes, fair wages, and employee benefits exit because workers lobbied for regulations and the right to collective bargaining. Women worked together to form trade unions, guilds, and advocacy groups even uniting housewives into unions to lobby for access to childcare and affordable rent. Yet the very concept of the working class, of worker’s/women’s rights, or unions have become dirty words so it is little wonder that International Working Women’s Day was replaced by the less polarizing International Women’s Day. Yes, all women’s lives matter, just like all lives matter but the lives of specific communities experience pressures that others with more resources do not. This is one reason why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important to the Black community, by speaking with a collective voice, intolerable conditions can change.

Despite the romance that surrounds it, entrepreneurship has led to less security for workers with many micro-business owners working well over 10 hours a day. Many also juggle parenting or second jobs to get by. Many small business owners are uninsured and injuries, pregnancies, or illness in the family can leave them reeling financially and without proper support, so it is understandable that many feel they don’t have time to work together. Despite economic instability for increasing numbers of workers, unions in North America have seen a steady decline and lack of interest from young people since general working conditions improved and the right to unionize was protected. The Freelancer’s Union and Maker’s Row in the US are working to close that gap but very little exists for handmakers globally or locally.  At the same time manufacturing is a dirty word in the handmade community with so much rage directed towards any company or person who looks to grow. It can’t be chance that the main headquarters for Etsy is located just a short ride across the bridge from where the Triangle Factory fire happened, from their location in the Lower East Side where many of the Jewish immigrants lived during the time of the fire it is possible they can change commerce for the better – with our help. Of all the companies that have been built based on handmade values Etsy is leading the way in initiating many discussions around policy change, responsible manufacturing, democratic access to entrepreneurship and ethics but it is unfair to expect them to be the ‘creativity police’, makers own that role. But are we doing a good job?

Who is Responsible?  

Some makers truly believe reselling or manufacturing can hurt handmade and that until we stop overseas factories all artisans will suffer, then there are articles like this from Lucky Break Consulting on why “handmade alone isn’t enough” and is “becoming more vanilla with each passing day” justifying makers believing the only way to succeed is to pour money into hustling to keep up. This is in stark contrast to the stories in this article. The woman featured in this video who had to give up her baby to not lose her job. Or the stories featured in this Norwegian reality series where young fashion bloggers spend time living and working with Cambodian garment workers. Even though we might struggle to pay the bills from month to month, the average North American creative entrepreneur is not living or working in intolerable conditions, employers are not taking food out of our children’s mouths, and our sales usually come from niche markets who can purchase higher price points. By working together we could improve our products, photography, marketing, and values but as individual business owners we are little more than mini-corporations without any code of ethics at all.

So while we argue or debate the value of handmade, fellow makers around the world struggle just to make it through the day.

#FellowMakers Who is Responsible?

No, the blame for the division of the maker movement can’t be laid on factories, platforms, or policies – the problem is the consumer – us. Many makers are incredibly privileged as Betsy Greer of Craftivism so brilliantly explains, that we have the luxury to debate what is handmade and shame other workers who don’t meet our arbitrary standards is a perfect example of this wealth and power. That the new meme for maker culture has become spoofs like this instead of knitting as a form of resistance isn’t the fault of any one company. History has proven that handmade values and the profit system don’t go well together, as Utah Phillips explains in Natural Resources on the album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,

“the profit system always follows the path of least resistance and following the path of least resistance is what made the river crooked.” 

We choose to be elitist instead of organizing supports like unions or trade organization with our fellow makers. We complain about companies like Etsy instead of working with them to improve policies and support the women, who at least in Canada, represent  91% of it’s seller base according to the most recent seller survey. We shame dissenting voices when we could build an inclusive movement with a solid foundation for makers at home and around the world.  Self-interest makes us mean, small-minded, and bigoted as a community leaving people more worried about sales than the people making the things we consume. If we truly care about handmade values it is time to put aside divisive arguments and work as a community to make sure that the  “better world with a more just society, a world free from exploitation, in which equal rights for all will be respected” Mary wrote of after surviving the Triangle Fire finally becomes a reality and no more sisters or brothers die from “neglect of the human factor”.

Learning from History

We keep telling ourselves now that handmade won’t save the world, and it sure won’t if we keep treating it like a commodity instead of a belief system. Just buying handmade won’t change the world, but handmade values can, the belief that people, places, and process always matter more than profits and that together our hands can make a better world.  These are the same values that propelled the Arts and Crafts movement in the late 1800s to 1920s when artists and craftspeople rebelled against the increased industrialization of life, the mechanization of art, the rise of factory work, and monotony of assembly line jobs. The movement gave women the chance to move crafts out of the domestic sphere and into the world of art and business where they united around creativity, making money from traditional industries and employing other women.

The Arts and Crafts movement in Europe and the Craftsman movement in the US led to a revival of traditional craft, the establishment of woman-owned potteries like Rookwood, and influenced the future of design. Then, as now, what started out as a woman driven movement built on handmade values became a marketing niche and the same conflicts divided the movement. Some took the side of democratic, affordable art made possible through ethical manufacturing and the other for purity of process and artisanal pretention, slowly it all fell apart leaving us some lovely antiques.  What is happening now in the maker movement isn’t new, these politics have divided us before. Is it handmade or homemade? Is it art or craft? We reduce handmade values to bourgeois elitism when primarily white moneyed educated folks bicker about what isn’t allowed while the rest of the makers and workers try to make do. Divide and Conquer is one of the oldest tricks in the Capitalist Handbook.

The trouble with thinking handmade can be hurt by factory made is that as makers in the developed world with access to means, technology, and supplies we have an incredible opportunity to create ethical economies. It is our responsibility to extend the hand of fellowship to makers globally who also want to improve working conditions and wages so we can lift each other up. Factories are not our competition, the profit system is. Handmade isn’t fragile, it was here in the beginning of time when our ancestors painted pictographs and will be here to tell our stories long after all of us are dust. Handmade might not be enough to build you an empire on the backs of others but it will always enough for those who want a simple life of handmade, homemade goodness. We don’t create a culture that values craft, artistry, beauty and value by shaming or arguing in little cliques – we do it by educating, investing in opportunities, and working together in solidarity within our community, trade, and political structures to meet our needs collectively and hold our systems accountable. To want for each other what we want for ourselves was the foundation of the union movement and one we might want to rebuild if we care about handmade, women, workers, or the hands that make the world.

Makers today can learn many lessons from the Triangle Factory Fire: Factories are not the enemy, they are our responsibility; Governments and companies don’t make policies or improve standards unless moved by regular people; The factory worker/immigrant/fellow maker are not competition, they are family; and so many more…but maybe the most important one for us to remember is the moral attributed to Aesop in the sixth century:

United we stand, divided we fall.



A Lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.


Ethical Guidelines for Blogging

ethical guidelines for bloggers

Blogging seems simple enough! But did you know that you could get in legal trouble for blogging, or at least risk angering someone you admire? Consider some basic blogging ethics and understand the legal issues with blogging. Not only do you want to keep things legal, but you want your readers to trust and respect you. Here are some things to think about.

Copyright and credit

If you’re able to write all the content for your blog, and create all the graphics and take all the photos, you will be in the clear as far as copyright infringement goes. A great side effect of all this diligence is that your blog will shine for the hard work you’re putting into it.

Not everyone has the skill and the time to create every last bit of content from scratch. If you don’t, make sure you’re using images correctly. Your only legitimate ways to gather images for your blog are:

  1. Create the photo or graphic yourself
  2. Use paid or free stock photography with an appropriate license
  3. Get permission from the content creator to re-use their work

Just because someone posted an image on their own site or on social media doesn’t mean it can be posted anywhere. If you will be posting images that you didn’t create, you need to have the right to do that.

When in doubt, if you’re putting any kind of content on your blog that you haven’t created yourself, you should both ask the creator for permission, and credit that person in your blog post.

If you’re re-using written content, it’s usually okay to insert an attributed quote into your text (and even better if you link back to the source). It’s not okay to re-print someone else’s entire article without permission.

If your post is based off of the original idea of someone else’s, share the credit and mention the inspiration in your post.

Truth and opinion

You may not think of yourself as a journalist, but as a blogger, you are responsible for earning your readers’ trust. You need to be clear about what is fact and what is your opinion. When speaking of others, be sure that you’ve verified what you’re writing about them. Libel is a real thing that you can get in legal trouble about.

Be transparent with your readers about what is editorial and what is advertising. Are you sharing affiliate links? Did you receive payment or get free product to blog about a certain topic? Readers need to know if they’re getting your unbiased opinion, or if your writing is affected by a relationship with an advertiser.

Giveaways and contests

Before you go wild promoting your blog or business with giveaways and contests, read up on how to do these legally. Your innocent blog giveaway may be an illegal lottery in some states. If your prize is worth enough, there will be tax concerns you need to think about.

This article gives a brief overview of how to keep your contests legit:

But Everyone Else is Doing It: Why There are So Many Illegal Social Media Contests

Marketing and spam

When promoting your blog, make sure that you do so tastefully, and steer clear of anything spammy. This means not sending unsolicited emails, not posting inappropriately about your business in public forums, and not forcing advertisements on people who aren’t looking for them.

Even in your own spaces (your blog, your social media accounts), remember that people want value from you, not an endless stream of ads.

Privacy and policies

Always respect your readers’ privacy. This means keeping their email address private, and if you collect any data about them, you shouldn’t share this information with others, or use this information inappropriately. Your emails must be opt-in, and you can’t share your email lists with other people or companies.

Make some policies for your blog and be sure to share them with your readers! What is your comments policy, privacy policy, terms and conditions for use of your site? These don’t need to be pages and pages of legalese, but could instead be a few sentences by your comments box, or a promise next to your email opt-in that you won’t share email addresses with other companies.

Did you know that the comments people write on your blog posts are not yours to use? By default, they are copyrighted by the comment poster. If you want to use that wording elsewhere on your site or in your marketing materials, you’ll need permission. You can get this permission in advance by having a comments policy stated on your site.

More help with your blog

This is a brief overview of topics to think about. If you blog, I urge you to spend some time on Google learning more about blogging ethics and legalities.

This post kicks off a series on the Aeolidia website about starting a blog for creative businesses. Upcoming posts will discuss whether you should have a blog, share the steps to take to start a blog, give you a huge list of ideas of what to blog about, and cover common blogging mistakes I see.

Take a moment now to subscribe to my newsletter, so you won’t miss the next posts:

Get more tips on blogging

Since we’re talking ethics here, I had better mention that I will keep your email address completely private, and will not share it with others or use it for anything but to send you my newsletter!

Do you have a blog? Are you thinking of starting a blog? What questions do you have about blogs for business, or blogs on ecommerce sites? Please share in the comments. I’d love to offer some personalized tips.

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.