We have been in Atlanta, GA for a little over 3 years and I still talk about NYC all the time. It’s true, I miss the city. But it’s also true that we are really happy here; so why all this longing? What I’ve recently realized is, my longing isn’t for the city itself, but rather who I was in the city. I haven’t discovered my new me in this new city yet. The last place I evolved as an individual was in New York, so I guess naturally that’s the person I revert to when thinking about who I am at present. I’m feeling good in my identity as a mother. But with my personal identity, it’s now here that I begin to rediscover who that is.
My youngest child has finally started daycare. It’s part time, and the hours are very, very short. Right now it’s what works best for our situation. Now that I am finally in a place where I have some time to work again (3 hours, 2 days a week to be exact), what do I do? This question arose when I decided I was going to take a much longer-than-anticipated break from work. The day I decided - I would just focus on taking care of my kids. This time away ended up being exactly what I needed to grow; it became productive for me to be unproductive. The decision to cut the work-side of my life out completely was not an easy one to make. But the reality was, I had no choice. So how did I get there?
To understand I need to look back on why I left NYC in the first place. Moving away was a decision that was easy to make but hard to accept. I wanted to stay, but I couldn’t afford the life I wanted anymore. Without enough money, I was uncomfortable and disappointed. Uncomfortable with the small space I was living in, and disappointed I couldn’t get a bigger space. I couldn't even participate in so much of what makes the city great; museums, restaurants, even the grocery budget became hard to manage. I needed a change. That being said, 13 years of my life were in that magical and exhausting city. It’s where I spent most of my 20’s and the first half of my 30’s. It’s where I began and evolved in my career. It’s where I met my husband and, it’s where I became a mother. These major milestones have shaped me in profound ways. Now I'm in the midst of adjusting to another big milestone, living in a new place. Change takes time. And for me, change is exciting. But this change has been different from any other I’ve experienced before.
When we moved, our son was 15 months old, and this created a buffer to the adjustments a move usually has on one’s life. Our lives were preoccupied with the adjustments we were making as parents, and this outweighed the adjustments we were making to being in a new place. Once the dust settled, I continued working on my clothing line just as I was doing in New York. I continued to work with the same contacts and the business was steady. We enrolled our son in full time daycare. He was very happy there and I was able to work full time again. It’s worth mentioning, we would not have been able to put our son in full time daycare in New York. But we also could not have afforded for me not to work so I could take care of him, even part time.
Once our daughter was born, things shifted. My “plan” was to take 3-4 months off, then “work from home,” as they say. And for me that meant working while she was napping. And when she was awake, well, surely I could at least do a little work between feeding and playing, right? Needless to say, this did not work out. I very quickly learned I am not adept to work like this. I need my own time and space to build a momentum. No interruptions or distractions would do. My baby would win every time. I’m not sure why I thought I could do it. Maybe I thought I was better at working around a baby’s schedule since she’s my second? I must have forgotten. Or maybe, I just didn’t want to face the truth...I was at a crossroads and came to realize, I was no longer happy with the quality and process of my work. I really wanted to work, but being unhappy with my work lead to me being uninspired. And being busy with my baby left me too exhausted to try and figure out how to become re-inspired during nap times. And then the guilt set in. I don’t battle too much with mom-guilt, I battle with career-guilt. I never planned on cutting work out of my life after becoming a mother, so when working and childcare became difficult I gave myself a lot of grief. Thoughts like; “Why can’t I do this? Other moms seem to," “If I stop working I will be forgotten,” “I will lose my drive,” “I won’t be satisfied just doing “mom” stuff,” crept in often. After many internal discussions on the idea, with a lot of feelings high and low, I finally let go of the guilt. An aha moment during this process was this Eileen Fisher quote I read from the book “In the Company of Women” by Grace Bonney:
GB: “Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?"
EF: “I would have been less driven - I would have tried to be calmer and take it a little slower; tried to make more conscious decisions. I would have liked to have put myself at the center earlier and kept my own life as more of a priority.”
It resonated with me immediately, and it helped me feel ok with letting go of work and the stress it was causing. It was my time; and I was going to use this time to focus on my kids. I’m so thankful I was, and am still, able to spend this time with them. To have the ability to temporarily step away from work and live on one income is a privilege. And when I miss working, all I have to do is remind myself that my time will come again soon. And well, that time is now.
With some time available again, I am finally able to begin answering that question that’s been following me, what do I do? Letting go of work gave me time to really think this question through. The truth is, fashion design is not working for me anymore. I don’t feel passionate about it, and I believe it is the burnout caused by trying to keep a clothing line afloat. I’ve come to some conclusions as to why this is, and it is SO important to remember that these are my reasons alone; my own mistakes and thoughts on it all. There are many designers I admire that do it their way and make it work. As for me, it’s not working, and here are 3 reasons why:
1. I can’t afford it.
Running a fashion line is expensive. I’m not interested in finding investors at this time, and I don’t want to have loan or credit card debt haunting me and possibly affecting my kids futures. For those of you who are curious, here’s an example of what it might cost to create a new collection:
- patterns, $80 and up. The most I’ve paid for a pattern is $300 and this was a relatively easy pattern. The more complicated the pattern, the more costly. (I can make the patterns myself, and this is something I will do going forward since I’ll only be making 2-3 and not 10-20).
- Fit samples, $80 and up, and there are usually multiple fit samples. You make and remake a fit sample until the fit is right. There could be no changes, or you could have to change the pattern 3 times, each time adding cost.
- Sales Samples, these can cost as little as $80 or as high as $1000 or more. Again, the more work, the more cost. Usually there will be more than one sales sample per style (for press, showrooms, etc).
To simplify, lets say I have a collection of 10 pcs (this is a small collection by industry standards) and let’s make each style the same cost to create.
- Patterns, $150/pc x 10 = $1500
- Fit samples, only had to fit once, $80/pc x 10 = $800
- Sales Samples, $220/pc x 10 = $2200
That’s a total of $4500, and this is just the beginning. The other costs include (and these are just hypothetical costs, which would most likely be higher in reality):
- Sample Fabric $3000
- Fabric printing development $800
- Fit model, $500
- Lookbook, which includes paying (at bare minimum) a photographer ($1000), model ($500), hair and make up ($500), space rental ($800), and printing ($300).
- And finally, showing your collection: showroom or tradeshow fee ($4000)
That’s $15,900, all going towards the development of the collection, no orders have been made. This alone is a lot to take on with a limited budget, and there’s also the risk factor of putting all this money in and not making it back. Do it for two seasons and that’s $31800 a year, just on development. Withdrawing this money every 6 months made me very anxious. Most of what I made was going back into the business leaving very little left over to go into life stuff. I had knots in my stomach constantly, and they were telling me something. Not only was my future financially uncertain with the rate I was going, my health was taking a downturn due to stress. The timing was off and my priorities shifted. I had a family to think about now after all. I wanted to start saving for my kids futures, and nothing was being put away. Some of this was due to my own decision making, some was due to the fact that this particular business model was not working for my brands aesthetic, and some was due to the fact that I did not always price correctly because;
2. I’m torn on pricing. Pricing accurately is crucial, but I want to keep my clothing affordable.
This is partly to do with “imposter syndrome”. I can’t currently purchase higher-priced clothing and so, I feel guilty selling my clothing in that bracket. This is a constant struggle for me because I know the pieces are worth it, especially being hand painted. But I also want the clothing I make to be accessible for more than just the few that can afford it. But pricing correctly is so important. If not only for what the work is worth but also to ensure a healthy production chain, environmentally and ethically. Live and learn, but the hit I got for pricing too low caused my business to suffer. My fabric quality and fit started to decline when I tried to cut costs. Some of my vendors were not the most reliable, and the production process (of hand painted items especially) needed a lot more care than it was receiving. When fabric or clothing was delivered damaged, they were not sold, and I lost money and time.
3. My painting-to-product process needs tweaking.
In the beginning, I hand painted production myself most of the time. This saved money because I wasn’t paying myself for this work, not really. In order to do this, the prints had to be quick and easy to produce. Some of these quick and easy prints are my all time favorites, but what I truly love painting could not usually be incorporated into my collections. Many of the designs I love to do are intricate and time consuming. 30 tops with an intricate design could not be painted in an hour. Unlike the simpler designs, which I could sometimes paint up to 50 in an hour. To use an intricate design, I would have to reproduce it onto fabric yardage. This also usually made the clothing more expensive because I actually had to pay for the fabric to be printed - not like when I hand painted the fabric and could get away with leaving that cost out. I adjusted my prices many times until I was finally paying for the printing process properly, whether hand painted or screen/digitally printed. In the end, this raised my retail price. And until I can figure out a system that allows me to use endless intricate designs, while at the same time keeping my prices where I want them, I have to stop and reassess.
After facing these facts, it’s clear that the work I was creating did not reflect the type of designer I wanted to be. And there are other little things here and there, but ultimately, these are the big reasons I’ve decided to stop. So here I am. I’m not saying I will never do a full collection again, but for right now, I need to focus on what it is I love about the design process in the first place, and that is the creation of the print.
I love painting on silk so, this is what I’m going to focus on. My current goal is to create collections of prints painted on fabric. I can’t say for sure how this work will evolve and what new ideas will come to be. One thing I do know; I’ll be showing and selling my artwork on the site soon. But to get there, I just need to start.