1/20/14

Transforming a Hobby into a Real Job


Earlier this month, I decided to close down my small business, Samantha Conner Designs. So last week, I went to Market for the final time. I went to collect my samples and displays. I wanted to say goodbye to my showroom and my sales rep. It was bittersweet. Market to me is so exciting. Everything you could imagine is sold there, people from all over the country travel here to purchase products for their stores. Home decor to apparel and everything in between.
On the front door of the DMC is a sign that says "No Children Allowed".
Maisy is a regular here-- she knows how to get around the rules :)
This week, the displays down stairs were all home decor. Lots of beautiful things to admire. 
Each floor in Market is dedicated to a different type of store.  Apparel for women, men, home decor etc and my floor-- KidsWorld. Riding the elevator up to the 8th floor brought back memories of how it all began.

Building up my handmade business from a 'nap-time' hobby to a real job took almost 6 years. I started when Afton was about one year old and worked on it pretty regularly from then. It was mostly just for fun, it was a hobby that paid for itself. Then, three years ago I decided to take it further. I wondered if I could transform it from a word-of-mouth business to an Etsy shop and then to an real Accessory Line that was offered at the Dallas Market Center.


Before I could turn my hobby into a business, I would need to find help. My local business was keeping me busy. I couldn't really handle any more business on my own. So if I wanted to secure wholesale clients, I need to have some help to fill those orders. I set out to find a local manufacturer.

I went through an extensive internet search and a lot of phone calls-- and they led me to Geri Wilson at ITC in Garland. Geri was like my 'fairy godmother' of all things manufacturing. I was a self-taught designer and seamstress. My college degree was in Elementary Education. So I learned everything along the way. Sewing at home for your children is way different than designing and manufacturing a line for wholesale. Geri spent a lot of time mentoring me and helping me think about what I wanted my business to do and how to make that happen. She taught me that if you are willing to listen, people will share what they know. (So make sure you always have a notebook and pencil!)


In one of our first meetings, Geri recommended that I go check out the Dallas Market to see if my accessory line could find representation in a showroom. The DMC is closed to the general public, so in order to get in I could pay and apply for a badge to tour it as a manufacturer or I could go with a friend (either a buyer or another designer). One of my favorite children's boutique owners and my best client was kind enough to get me in the door. After that, the rest was up to me!



I remember going to Market that first time. I was alone, with a notebook and wearing one of my headbands. I went from showroom to showroom, selling myself and my accessory line. These showrooms were representing huge companies like Ralph Lauren and UnderArmor. Would there be a place for me??


At the time, I didn't even have samples, a line sheet or pricing. Crazy! And to my surprise, I had four different showrooms who were interested in representing my accessory line at Market.


After a lot of consideration, I chose the Posh Pit with Lesley Lewis. Years ago, Lesley had launched My Vintage Baby years ago and she had a great reputation for taking small lines and growing them. She was well liked by her clients and she had a lot of ideas.


It took a lot of work, but after that January market, I went home and got my accessory line- Samantha Conner Designs- ready to show in both Jackson and Dallas for the March shows. And on the first day of that March show, I had 5 new boutiques place orders. I was floored that stores wanted to carry my line. After the orders were written, the real work began. I met with wholesale fabric vendors and purchased supplies to take to Geri.


Geri and I worked on samples, patterns and the specifics of my headband designs. Her team of seamstresses got to work making my designs- filling the wholesale orders. I had 10 styles with 10 color options for each style. Each style was available on a headband or clip. I worked on photography and created a line sheet, order forms, and a look-book. Logistics had to be figured out too- shipping supplies, credit card processing, and everything behind the scenes.



Over those three years, I grew my accessory line to also include girls apparel. I designed three seasons of apparel, each season was made up of multiple collections. I sent several of my designs down the runway in the Dallas Market Center fashion show. And the highlight of my small business career was when one of my outfits was purchased by CWDKIDS catalog. Along the way, I made contacts with boutique owners, sales reps, other designers, pattern makers, seamstresses, manufacturers, textile sales reps, and more. I interviewed and hired my own contract workers. I loved the creative side and made my way through the business side.

One of my apparel designs in the showroom window. 
And through it all, my little girls and my husband were there cheering me on. Sweet Afton, the faithful model. Jeff, the patient investor. And Maisy- my companion in fabric shopping, manufacturing meetings, and all things Market. 



Looking back at it all now, I can see so many things I could have done better. And at the same time, I am in shock that I even pulled it off! I had created my own accessory and apparel line that was shown at the Dallas Market. I mean- I was up there on the 8th floor with Ralph Lauren! :) It was such a crazy, exciting, busy, stressful, crazy learning experience. As I was driving home from Market for the last time, I had to keep telling myself, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

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-Want to know more about how the story of my handmade business?
  >>>>>Read why I shut it down {HERE}
-And check out the posts in my "Dream a New Dream" series below or click {HERE} to see the entire series.
1. Passion to Profit
2. The Birth of a Clothing Line
3. Getting Started
4. Moving to An Island
5. Back to Market
6. My Design is in a Catalog
7. Growing a Small Business 
8. Making Changes


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