All right. I can’t sew worth beans but that’s what draws me to tactile artists like Maggie of Gussy Sews. Her bags and so darn cute and so is she! Watching her career and business explode over the last three years has been so much fun and that’s why I really wanted to share her story and wisdom with you. I really hope you love this interview!
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
My journey started almost 5 years ago when I had recently found Etsy. I was truly enamored with the fact that women my age (!) not only knew how to sew but were selling items they had sewn AND they were making a living from these items. I thought it was a really wonderful lifestyle and I wanted to be just like those women. So what did I do? The next time my husband and I visited my parents I asked to borrow their sewing machine. Then I researched and learned how to sew. That Christmas my mother-in-law gave me a family sewing machine. At the time we were living in Detroit. Soon after I had my own sewing machine I started a shop with Etsy.
A couple of months later I lost my job (actually, my husband and I both lost our jobs; it was 2009 and we were working in the advertising/automotive industry). The next few months I spent nearly every waking hour continuing to learn the trade of sewing, perfecting my line of sewn accessories, testing the process for sewing a ruffle on each item, and meeting other handmade makers/bloggers. After 7 months of unemployment and zero job offers in Michigan we moved to Minnesota.
I continued sewing although my new day job took up the majority of my time. But I didn’t let that get me down! I worked super hard and continued to build the Gussy Sews brand. After a year of working at a large advertising agency in Minneapolis and working on my business in the evenings/weekends, I left my day joy to pursue Gussy Sews full time.
This was a dream come true — but also something I didn’t realize I wanted until the fall of 2008. Just last year we decided to chase my husband Zack’s career dream, so we moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. We’ve been here a full year, and as I type this our almost 6-month-old son is sleeping in his crib. His birth is another dream come true for our family.
The story of Gussy Sews and everything it came to be is very precious to me. It’s a story about trying something new, working hard, taking risks and passionately chasing after your dreams. But, possibly the most-important part of my story is about acknowledging that life-long dreams aren’t always born at birth. Sometimes they are realized later in life — but we spend the rest of our lives chasing them.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
The biggest challenge I’ve overcome so far in my business is over coming the largest creative rut ever!
It occurred after I had given birth to our son, Maxwell. I had promised myself and my family that once he was born I wasn’t going to choose work over him. If Max needed me, I would be there for him. I feel incredibly blessed to have my #1 daytime role be his mommy and my #2 be the gal behind Gussy Sews. I don’t think I prepared myself enough for “life after birth” because I didn’t spend enough time nurturing my creative spirit.
Suddenly my body was ready to be back working again (although for much less hours each day than I was used to!) but my mind couldn’t keep up. I missed the routine of work and the daily challenges/triumphs it brought, but I really struggled with how to get back into the swing of it. It took a lot of prayer and quiet reminders that “in time it will come back to me”. I didn’t realize how crucial it is to nourish myself creatively until earlier this year.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
I attended my very first blog conference in 2010, Blissdom, and it was at that sole event that I connected with so many handmade makers and bloggers that are still very dear to me today.
In fact, I was sitting in a session about growing your brand through blogging when I found some courage to stand up and ask a question to the panelists. I was asked to share my name and a bit about myself for one of the panelists, The Nester of Nesting Place, and at that moment I truly could hear the rest of the attendees whispering, “Oh, that’s Gussy!” once I did so.
It was important to me to go outside my comfort and ask a question during the panel, and to think of the relationships and future opportunities I would have missed had I not done that. Blogging and running a handmade shop takes a lot of courage to keep at daily, and the Blissdom conference was a really pivotal stepping stone for my business. I’m very grateful for The Nester for prompting me to share more about myself in front of such a large group of women. She’s a very dear friend and mentor to me, still to this day.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
I think every creative person has doubts. The trick is knowing how to quiet them.
Sometimes these doubts surface when I haven’t eaten a decent meal or am seriously lacking in sleep. Other times these doubts surface when I haven’t spent enough time outside with my family. But either way, the best way to keep the doubts away is to nourish myself creatively.
I don’t follow handmade makers that are doing something similar to what I’m doing. I don’t allow myself to compare my handmade journey with someone else’s handmade journey; my beginning could be their middle, and vice versa. There are a lot of things I wish my business could do right now, but sometimes our process is a bit slow because it’s more important for me to stay a debt-free business. I like to find the beauty in the day-to-day 🙂 For example, I’d love to replace my sewing machine with something fancier, so for now it’s a goal I’m constantly working towards. Other things I’d like to achieve… I’d love to learn how to print fabric and work with leather.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
I’ve come to realize if I’m hungry or tired, it’s best not to work. I’m the least creative when I’m hungry or tired — as I can only assume most people are.
My body really slows down and I lose any coordination/creativity. But I also start to doubt myself, which is hugely detrimental. I make sure both of these needs are always met, even it it means turning something in late. I’d rather complete something well, but late, than on-time but poorly.
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
Oh, I’m still learning this — my son is almost 6-months-old, so things change pretty often around here.
Just when one part of motherhood/the newborn stage goes really well, something changes and my husband and I are back to the drawing board 😉
Right now, a typical day looks like this: Maxwell wakes me up around 7am to nurse. He goes usually goes back to bed pretty quickly after, so around 7:30am my husband and I get up and have coffee together in the living room. Around 9:30am the three of us either get in the Jeep so Zack can get to work by 10am, or Zack catches the bus and Max and I stay at home.
We are a single car family so I usually ride with Zack to work so I can have the car for the rest of the day. Sometimes I have a phone/biz meeting scheduled, other times I have seamstresses to train (like right now), other times I have family errands to run or girlfriends to meet up with. That’s another tip — making sure I have time to simply enjoy life has been so, so wonderful for my creative/entrepreneurial self.
Max takes a nap around 12pm and again at 4pm, so we’re usually home in the afternoons. My afternoons usually consist of working on blog posts, planning the next line of Gussy products for the shop/sewing samples, answering emails, listening to an audiobook while walking our dog Bauer (I’m currently listening to The 4-Hour Workweek; it’s incredible!) or resting myself. Rest is good — it’s important for long-term happiness and success 🙂
Zack doesn’t get home from work until about 8pm, so once he is home I try really hard not to work in the evenings. Most of the time I’m successful with this, but sometimes I have to work to stay caught up, and I’m thankful for his support. Mixing mamahood with handmade life is a beautiful process, but it’s just that — a process. It’s not always simple and it for sure isn’t cookie cutter. Once Zack is home we have dinner together. Max goes to bed around 9:30pm, and by 11pm we’re usually dozing off ourselves — haha! If it’s quiet and dark it’s very likely I’m falling asleep. So, we go to bed and start all over again at 7am!
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Befriending other handmade makers and cross promoting our products with each others online communities. There’s something so genuine about an organic cross-promotion. And, oftentimes the best marketing moves happen without even trying to market to others. Which I absolutely love 🙂
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Keep your nose pressed close to your dream. Recognize that criticism is usually the result of the critic doubting himself, not you. Never stop sharing what you are passionate about, what you think is cool, what motivates you. Share what you learn with others.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
With a large studio space for the Gussy Sews team to work out of, and maybe a couple more babes sitting near me 😉