If you’ve decided to be a creative entrepreneur, it’s probably because you’ve got an idea. Maybe even a vision. But for creative people, ideas are easy to come by, and deciding to make an idea into a business is a huge leap. How does a creative idea turn into a creative business?
From Hobby to Business
Like many creative entrepreneurs, I started out sewing as a hobby. I got my first sewing machine shortly after I graduate from college, and I fell in love. I sewed skirts and then dresses, obsessed over vintage patterns and snuck away to fabric stores on my lunch breaks.
Eventually I enrolled in a MFA program in photography, but I keep sewing on the side. As a money-strapped graduate student, I sewed tops, bags, and napkins as gifts for family and friends. I started designing. After a late night at the sewing table I’d wake up feeling exhilarated, but also guilty for not spending time in my studio working on “real” art.
Last year, I decided to quit two-timing. Everything I did - sewing, taking photographs, shooting video - was making, and it was all equally important. And I decided to start a business making things and call it Sunday Shift.
My story isn’t unique; Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” series profiles dozens of successful Etsy sellers, many of whom started out making things as a hobby. (FYI, I still have a day job, and I will not be quitting it any time soon.) In her post “How to Turn Your Hobby into a Business,” Etsy blogger Kelly Rand nails the key questions, including the important question of whether you’ll still like your hobby once you’re doing it to make money. So far, I’m enjoying sewing and designing even more than when I did it just as a hobby.
Defining a Business
Once you decide to start a business, it’s time to start thinking about exactly what that business is. For me, and probably for many people, the original idea was basically something like “making stuff for people to wear.” That’s way too vague. At a recent tour of a craft brewery in Boston, I asked one of the young founders what his advice would be for a budding entrepreneur. “Figure out your brand and mission sooner rather than later,” he said. “It’s hard to get things going and then realize ‘this isn’t really where I wanted to go.’”
Your business could be making funny hats for babies, avant-garde knitwear for urban 20-somethings, or organic cotton yoga clothes for women of all ages. Try to do all of those things, and you’re going to get overwhelmed, and people are going to get confused about who you are. I suggest starting with what you really love to make, and then figure out who you’re making it for.
I really wanted to make dresses, and I loved the idea of a versatile, simple silhouette. In fact, I specifically imagined it as the dress a hip, modern woman would wear on Sunday: comfortable enough for hanging around her apartment reading the Times and drinking coffee, chic enough for brunch with friends or an afternoon at an art museum, easy enough for strolling in the park.
I designed a short a-line shift dress with front patch pockets (because nothing without pockets is truly practical), which could work in solid colors and as a template for more adventurous design ideas, like contrast pockets and block printing. Hence the name Sunday Shift.
Making it Sustainable
I didn’t initially conceive of my business as a sustainable one. But as I got more serious about making my idea into reality, I realized that it was important to create things in a way that matched my beliefs, which means minimizing environmental impact and supporting the ethical treatment of workers, as well as embracing the beauty of bodies of many shapes and sizes.
Given my lack of experience in the fashion industry, I didn’t know exactly how to make that happen. Last year, while I was still living in NYC, I took a workshop at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) called Ethical Fashion I that covered the basics of sustainable and ethical fashion design business, from the impact of growing textile plants to international certifications and compostable packaging. Ethical Fashion I is part of a non-credit Sustainable Design Entrepreneurs concentration at FIT open to anyone, and many of the courses are now available online.
For more readily accessibly information on how to make a fashion business sustainable, check out Crafting a Green World (like their post on DIY eco-friendly clothing labels) and Ecouterre’s Ask a Designer series, with topics like “How Can Fashion Designers Make Clothes Less Disposable?” and “What Should Emerging Designers Know About Eco-Textiles?”
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
The final project for Ethical Fashion I was to create a mission statement for a sustainable fashion business, and I think this is a step every creative entrepreneur - heck, every entrepreneur, period - should take. You can see the mission statement I wrote for Sunday Shift in this Prezi.
A mission statement should say what a business is, what it intends to do, and what its values are. It should be specific, and make it clear what differentiates your business from others. It doesn’t have to be eloquently written, or even something you share publicly. But it should serve as your guide. And once you have your mission? Get on it.