When it comes to starting your own business, it never hurts to get a bevy of experience in the field first. And for textile designer Rebecca Atwood, that initial experience in the home goods consulting world helped her to solidify her own passions and business ventures. Through her work, she found a hole in the market that could be filled by her own design ideas, and now she is doing just that with her hand-painted and dyed textile products. She shares a bit of her career journey and ambition with us today. –Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Throughout my career I worked on creating collections of home product, consulting on trends and advising on their application in the market for major retailers here in the United States and also the UK. I gained expertise in design, product development, trend, merchandising and production.
After working in the home goods industry for six years, I felt there was a hole in the market for the textile products that I actually wanted to buy: Livable, not over-the-top, pattern driven product. Product that was thoughtfully crafted and responsibly produced. Product that dug a little deeper and wasn’t just following the “trends.” And product that focused on the artistic process.
I needed a new challenge in my career, something that would really push me. Just as important to the aesthetics, I really wanted to control how and where it was made. I had travelled quite a bit for product development in India and Europe and thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the job, but I felt like often other politics came into choosing a factory. I’m very passionate about the fact that we should be making responsible choices about where and how our product is made. I’ve chosen to start our production here in the US, which is important to me because I can have a very close handle on how everything is made. I do think you can produce responsibly overseas, but that’s something that will happen as the business grows and only for product where it makes sense.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
Once I had the idea to start my own business it became something I couldn’t stop thinking about. I had actually signed up for a workshop with Jess Lively called Business With Intention, not even knowing what my business would be. It was during a time that I felt frustrated with where I was at from a work standpoint, and something in my gut told me I should sign up. Taking this workshop was really an “aha!” moment for me where I realized I actually had all the experience I needed to create my own line and I could start small.
I began by doing a lot of reading and researching – from general market research, to graphic designers, dye techniques and business books. I worked on a business plan I never really finished, but I had a clear vision in my mind of what I wanted to create. I put together a mood board for the brand as well as a master to-do list breaking down what needed to be done to launch my own line. I really like to be organized, so having a list where I can keep track of tasks and schedule them in for weeks or months ahead really helps me from getting overwhelmed and allows me to be more creative.
We started with pillows as it was a product I could keep a really personal touch on by printing, dyeing or painting the fabric for myself. I also think of pillows as being the storyteller in an assortment of merchandized goods. It seemed like a good place to start and one where I could tell my own story. From there we’ve dabbled in other smaller accessories, and we are about to launch fabric by the yard. With time we will continue to grow our assortment of home goods.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I am really lucky to have a lot of people in my life who are great mentors to me. Their support and advice has honestly been invaluable, and I am so grateful.
There’s one piece of advice, though, that I find myself constantly going back to. My friend Matthew told me, “You get to choose how it’s done, what it looks like, how fast or slow things go, and what it becomes. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Sometimes it can be overwhelming if you think about how others are doing it and what you “should” be doing, or even all of the things you’d someday love to do. This piece of advice reminds me to focus on where I’m at right now and what feels right. There’s plenty of time, and I don’t have to do it all now.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult aspect of starting my business has definitely been the financial side. There are a lot more factors in managing the finances for a business than your personal finances. My background is in design, trend and production – not business! I’ve learned so much along the way, but it will always be a challenge. This is an area I definitely ask for help. I took a course in QuickBooks, and I have a great accountant that I work with. My husband has helped me with creating spreadsheets to calculate monthly projected expenses and income so I can plan out six months to a year, and I have an amazing friend who has become an advisor on these types of things.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is one I’m still learning and probably always will be because I’m a worrier. Running my own business has been a lesson in learning to let go a bit and be “ok” with the uncertainty. It’s made me trust myself more.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I’m not sure I would categorize anything as a failure since nothing has stopped me. I’ve certainly made many mistakes, but I think that’s just part of the process of starting your own business. One month I really miscalculated on the finances with more invoices coming in while – simultaneously – a customer was really late on paying. It was one of the most stressful periods of the business, but we found a way to make it work and that meant taking out a loan. This initiated the spreadsheet I work with daily to calculate where I’m at as well as expected income and expenses.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
For me the greatest success so far has been getting the business out of our apartment and into a studio space. It really was a game changer, and as much as it was what I needed to grow the business, it was also (and equally importantly) what I needed emotionally. Working from home meant that I was never shutting off. I was always working and needed a physical break from it. Having my own space where I can go every day and be creative really feels fantastic.
Our aim is really to bring back a focus to these initial stages of making which are often lost in today’s commercial products. Having a studio gives us more space to draw, paint, collect inspiration, make collages, create swatches and test colors. We want to restore the care and creativity to the production process, whether it is done in our studio or with a production partner.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Well, I’m a huge fan of the Biz Ladies series here on Design*Sponge. I read through so many of the articles when I was researching starting my own company, and they had such invaluable advice. I still have many of them printed out that I refer back to. I also really enjoyed reading the E-myth and 99U’s book Making Ideas Happen.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Are you a self-starter?
Are you passionate about this more than anything else?
Ideally, what do you want your life to look like?