Meet Jennifer Michael, Founder, CraftyStitches
SUCCESS STORY: Turned a side-interest / talent into thriving fashion accessories business on Etsy
WORK SCHEDULE: Varies, but I mostly finish by 3 p.m.
KIDS: Catherine, 7, & Rekha, 6
SANITY VICE: Shopping, coffee & the nail shop
Editor’s note: I met Jenn in Washington, DC while attending “Startup Day on the Hill” with Engine Labs. She opened my eyes to how Etsy can be a major vehicle for women who have talent and want to strike out on their own with a consumer product. I was curious how hard it was to open an online store, and Jenn was willing to share!
MB: Walk us through how you got to this point in your career, and tell us about CraftyStitches.
JM: I was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR to a family of seamstresses and tailors. My mom worked in a knitting factory, my father was a tailor, and my grandmother sewed in a sewing factory. I grew up sewing all sorts of stuff out of the left over fabrics of my mom’s factory stuff. She had me cut the threads and help out on production.
In 1982, when I was nine years old, my parents migrated our family to the United States. After high school, I pursued a fashion design degree at FIDM. I moved to the United States. When it was time for school, I first attended the Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco. Then, I switched gears to pursue an education at Georgetown University in International Labor Issues. From there I earned earned a Master of Science from George Mason University, and had a successful career in business analytics, HR Management and HR Information Systems.
In 2010, a co-worker in the office asked me to make a jewelry roll to carry her jewelry for a trip to Africa. I started cutting, sewing, and made three jewelry roll examples for her — and CraftyStitches was born.
To build CraftyStitches, which specializes in customized quilted accessories with embroidered monograms, I took advantage of Small Business Administration-sponsored management training and counseling. I won the 2011 Business Plan Competition sponsored by the Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC) “and just took their advice and ran with it.”
I love to sew. My sewing machine makes me feel invincible. I can do anything on my sewing machine. CraftyStitches is a passion that has grown in ways I never dreamed. I have two assistant seamstresses and they are fabulous ladies who are talented crafters. Look where a second-hand, 20-year-old Bernina sewing machine got me? Yep, I still have this baby.
MB: Tell us how you came to building your business on Etsy?
JM: When I sewed the first jewelry roll for my co-worker, I had to somehow sell it to her online because she lived in London. I created my own Etsy website, took pictures, and listed the items online. She loved them and bought one roll. I had two left and needed to sell them. I bundled them and sold my first set of The Perfect Bridesmaids®. Yes, the rest does feel like history. Since then, I have improved my listings, trademarked and copyrighted my products, and hired two assistants to help me.
MB: How hard was it to establish yourself as a business on Etsy, and has it been a good way to manage your sales?
JM: It’s really easy to start a shop on Etsy. It was a great way to start something small. Probably the most important thing I had to recognize was to accept and value my talents and products. I think it’s something that many of us don’t talk about because we think we just want to recoup the cost of materials. Price affects so many things. It affects the world of crafting handmade and it affects other artists, so even if I don’t value my own talents I need to value those who make similar things. Bottom line is if you plan to low ball on the price, it really does not do anyone any good because it does not allow your product to grow and you will always be afraid to increase your price thinking you will scare your customers away. So start at the Right Price. It’s something all Etsians argue and believe in!
MB: What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking about opening a store on Etsy?
JM: I love selling on Etsy. It really created an avenue for me to sell my crafts to consumers who appreciate great handmade artistry. My advice is be creative, fearless, and take absolutely amazing pictures. Emphasis on the photography. Be descriptive about why you are unique.
MB: What’s the best part about running this kind of business?
JM: Flexibility… I work and I am a mom too, so it allows me to do what I love and be with my girls.
MB: Do you employ working moms? Why and what kind of employees do they make?
JM: Yes, I have two moms on staff. Kara has seven kids and Delma has three. They are my best mom employees, more dedicated than anyone I know. They are excellent at their craft and can handle anything. Kara constantly reminds me to put family first. She cares for her family with such devotion and being able to balance work and family. It’s a goal that many of my fellow moms struggle to balance. That includes me. She’s amazing!
MB: What’s your best working mom time management tip?
JM: Stick to a good schedule that is realistic for you and family. Do something that is yours! All yours! My favorite morning routine is getting my main floor nice and clean and opening all the windows, vacuum, then sit and enjoy that clean beautiful space before it gets all messy from the day. I know this sounds really funny but it’s the most peaceful, feeling for me. I feel totally complete during this meditation time.
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