At Shop Small Fort Worth we are all about preserving our community’s character through local businesses. We care about their stories, their trials, and their successes. We are excited to get to know the business owners and creators on a more intimate level and understand exactly what inspired the formation of their businesses and how they want their business to impact the local community. Here, in our “History of the Business” Blog Series, we let them tell their stories, and maybe, by doing so encourage others to start one of their own!
This week we welcome our guest blogger Emily Lee of The Bow Next Door. We loved Emily and her awesome local business before but feel even more connected to her after learning about her road to small business ownership and how she got to where she is now. She is such an encouraging force! Make sure to read to the end as she has some VERY exciting news to share with us!
If there's one thing I've learned about running a small business, and life in general, it's just keep at it.
My childhood wasn't a normal one but it's all I knew. My three sisters and I were Air Force brats and moved schools every four years. My mom didn't have a traditional job because my dad was deployed or on TDY (temporary duty) but she did manage to run her own small business. Before Etsy, or even the internet was around, she hand-sewed and sold Christmas tree skirts and stockings out of our home (one of which was purchased for Barbara Bush when they were in the White House!). I remember going to Junior League markets with her up and down the East coast to sell her goods. At the end of each market, I was allowed to buy one thing as my 'pay' and it usually involved some kind of saltwater taffy or fudge - I'm cheap help!
When it was time for choosing a college, we were stationed in Southern Illinois waiting for our next transfer. My parents told me I could go anywhere that is less than a 12 hour drive from San Antonio or Colorado Springs, the two bases still in consideration. I choose TCU and they moved to Colorado Springs. After four years, I graduated with a degree in Chemistry and moved across the country to begin studying Polymer Chemistry at Virginia Tech. After a year in grad school, I realized that chemistry wasn't my thing (would've been helpful information say, five years prior) and I moved back to Fort Worth.
Long story short, I met my now-husband, began working for his family business in the HR department, got married, and had my first born. Shortly after my daughter was born, we decided it was easier for me to stay home with her because of my husband's hectic travel schedule. Being someone who loves to keep busy and work, this new normal wasn't 'normal.' I felt like I was losing myself. Three years and multiple losses later, I was diagnosed with PPD and anxiety and began my road to recovery. The following year my son was born and I began feeling more like my old self. I decided to do something for me. I began taking smocking lessons at Berry Patch Fabrics on Hulen and learned to sew. The end product wasn't great but I got the 'me time' I so badly craved. After smocking a dress for my daughter, I had extra fabric so I made a (hideous) bow and my third baby, The Bow Next Door, was born.
I found something I enjoyed but more importantly, something that got my drive back. My husband was 100% supportive and I was 100% committed that I would spend no more than I took in (still to this day). I would sew at nights when the kids were asleep then post pictures on Etsy, and to my surprise, people actually began to buy bows. I wasn't in it for the money, and customers definitely weren't in it for a good product, but I kept on because I was happy. I tweaked the style, fabrics, and sizes until a figured out the perfect, classic bow. I would spend hours aimlessly walking fabric stores with my shopping buddy buying new fabric and getting ready for craft shows.
I began selling at local craft fairs and building a customer base. I would see repeat customers or even people who would tell me that their friend sent them to shop. My Etsy site began to take off within the first year and stores began reaching out to me on Instagram. They would ask for wholesale info and line sheets while I frantically googled 'what the *$#* is a line sheet?'. I sold my first wholesale order in March of 2015, they posted my product on their IG, and multiple stores started requesting info. I knew I was on to something different.
Babies on the Boulevard owner, Lauren
That year, I sewed each bow by hand and cried multiple sleepless night attempting to get orders out on time. Fast forward to January of 2016 when I signed my first contract with a showroom at Dallas Market Center to rep my line at market. They wanted to launch my line in June which meant I had to provide samples for my Spring / Summer 2017 collection. I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to keep doing it the way I've been doing it. I found an amazing manufacturer in Dallas and a wholesale fabric supplier in NYC. I learned about trademarks, look-books, line sheets, price sheets, profit margins, and taxes in record speed. I reached out to local friends for help with my logo (TCU sorority sister extraordinaire), pictures (Sabrina Gebhart Photography), models (too many great friends to mention), amazing fabrics (Brooke Wright Designs), and attorney recommendations. Ready to launch at market, it was suggested that I close my Etsy shop and start my own website. It was scary. I had a following. Repeat customers. But I took the plunge, designed my own site, and closed my Etsy.