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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My back story

I’ve been making products from upcycled – or recycled, or reclaimed and repurposed, if you prefer – fabrics since 2009.  Quit my day job to do it, in fact.  Here’s how it happened.

I invited my mother to come down from Ohio to Atlanta for a visit.  We needed her to bring her laptop, for reasons I no longer remember.  She took it out of her suitcase; it was in a blue felt bag.  When I touched it, it made a crinkly noise.
            “Where’d you get this laptop case, Mom?” I asked her.
            “I made it,” she replied.
            “What’s inside?”
            “Gee, Mom, this is pretty great. I think you could sell these.”
            “Oh, pooh,” she said.  “Who would want to buy this?”
The original LapTopWrap by Mom

Well, I thought a lot of people would.  And at the same time, I was less than thrilled with my current job.  So my ever-supportive husband, Dominique, got to work on a design, and then I got to work on making a 2-dimensional drawing into a 3-dimensional prototype that could be sewn.  We gave one to each of our children to beta test.  Results came back positive.  We called it a LapTopWrap because it wrapped around the laptop and was padded with bubblewrap.  Pretty clever, huh?

I opened an etsy store and started contacting university and college bookstores in Georgia.  I finally got an order – and it just about killed me.  Each of my LapTopWraps was unique, and this order was for 5 of this style, and 3 of that…trying to fill that order took every waking second and drove me crazy trying to make multiple copies of Wraps with limited amounts of fabric.

Well, I delivered the order, and the bags just sat there.  I think they sold a few but I basically had to buy the order back from them.  Problem was, they told me, the students discovered they had bubblewrap inside and so stood around popping the bubbles!  I found out the hard way that bubblewrap was not the best padding to use.

Redesigned LapTopWrap
That was disappointing because there was so much discarded bubblewrap out there – I thought I’d found the perfect way to use it up.  But I found other recycled materials I could use, such as soft Styrofoam, which worked as well and couldn’t be destroyed by bored students.

There were other setbacks along the way.  Like the time the Orange County Christmas Market lost $1,000 worth of my products in the mail with no insurance.  Like the Women's Conference in California I flew out to and paid my daughter to work with me, only to sell almost nothing.  Like the too-many-to-count sales leads that led nowhere.  The life of an entrepreneur is not easy!  (Have I mentioned my supportive husband?!)

As time went on, I was able to sell my Wraps to a number of college bookstores in Georgia and Alabama.  My etsy store was doing all right.  I expanded my product line to include passport covers, business card cases, bags…all made from my upcycled fabrics.  I purchased an embroidery machine so that I could personalize my products.  I started making wine bottle bags and reusable sandwich bags and sold those to Whole Foods Market.  That was quite a process in and of itself but I felt I was finally in the big time.

I hit the jackpot with fabric sourcing.  Through a series of connections (see My Best Networking Story post dated 2/5/16), I took delivery of boxes and boxes of fabric samples, more fabric than I literally knew what to do with.  So I just kept sewing and selling and selling and sewing.

The Buckeye and the Frog B&B
Then my husband and I moved to Oberlin, Ohio, and opened a B&B called The Buckeye and the Frog.  The sewing business got put on the back burner as we renovated our 1880 Victorian brick home to be suitable for guests.  We opened for business in 2012 and were immediately swamped with reservations.  It feels like we didn’t take a breath for 3 years!

In 2015, I applied to be a vendor at SEED Ventures, a pop-up marketplace entrepreneur incubator in downtown Oberlin.  That experience directly led to my decision to bring a new direction and a new energy to my etsy store and my products.  More about that in a future post.

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