I'm thrilled to highlight a brand new Etsy shop with you today. SterlingSewn is the type of store that makes me want to buy one of its handmade bags for every single woman I know; they're functional, beautiful, and made by an incredible mother and woman. Even its tag line is adorable: "Fun. Functional. Tote-everywhere-able." Come on! I want one.
Then there's Rachel, the seamstress behind the gorgeous totes and baby slings of SterlingSewn. She's one of my best friend's sisters, which makes her...my best sister? I caught up with her via email recently, got to test drive one of her bags, and couldn't wait to share this with you.
Even better? Tomorrow I'm going to be giving away something amazing from her store, so come back tomorrow to win!
StartCloseIn: You're an incredible baker in Vermont and a mother of two, a wife, a sister, and friend. Where do you find the inspiration for creating these beautiful bags? Who do you make them for? Is she also a creative woman, a mom, a business person?
SterlingSewn: I started making bags for myself and as gifts for people in my life. I'm a huge fan of the tote- I love the simplicity, the functionality, the stuffability. The totes I make for SterlingSewn are inspired by the totes I've been using and loving for years. I'm a busy working mom now, but I was a busy woman hauling stuff around before I was a wife or mom too. Everyone in our family has their own tote, which helps to keep us organized because every person's individual needs are contained. I feel like anyone can carry a tote, and I try to design them with enough options that there is one appropriate for anyone. (Admittedly, I haven't really made one specifically aimed at guys yet, but a lot of men end up helping carry bags for the women in their lives, so I hope they're man-friendly!) Some women might keep one in their car for the farmer's market or grocery store, some women might use it as a beach bag or gym bag, someone might use theirs as a diaper bag or to corral all the kid accessories you need to keep with you when you're traveling. Someone else might throw their purse and gym bag and lunch bag all into a big tote like my Hauler Tote so that they're not juggling multiple smaller bags on their commute into work.
I love the look of your bags- sort of sleek on the outside and bright and creative on the inside. Tell me your thought process in creating this style bag for us!
My favorite color is gray, followed closely by navy. Personality-wise, I'm a well-socialized introvert. I have a Masters degree in art, but I always preferred to work in black and white. The colors I would choose one day always looked ridiculous the next day. I like interesting patterns and color combinations, but I can't commit to having to look at them all the time. I've only ever purchased black vehicles. Having said all that, there is something to be said for the joy that the unexpected can bring, especially when it inspires strong emotion. At my "real job" I'm a Pastry Chef, so naturally I think of slicing into a cake, or a pie, or biting into a truffle. A simple outside sometimes hides a delicious middle! This is also true for people, and all sorts of other things. I love to open one of my totes to either pack or unpack it and smile because of the lining fabric. People should own and use functional items that give them joy - whether they be clothing, bags, coffee mugs, shoes - because that's pretty much the best type of multi-tasking that exists!
The quality and creativity of your bags shows how much thought your put into each one. They're so gorgeous! How do you pick fabrics and fabric combinations?
Quality is important to me - I am not the type of girl to treat things delicately. I respect things that are sturdy and reliable. I'm also thrifty. In order to keep costs reasonable on the making and selling ends, I buy the high-end upholstery fabrics for the exterior of the totes on clearance and through wholesalers. The lining fabrics are generally less expensive, and fabric-hunting for me is like a mini-vacation. I buy what I love, in small quantities, and then stare at my stash while I'm working to try and decide on pairings. I lay out combinations at the end of a work session or before I go to sleep and then see if I still love them the next time I see them. Since I opened the Etsy shop, I get really excited when a tote gets purchased, but I'm always a little sad to pack it up and see it go! I think that means that I'm doing something right, because I'm making what I love.
What's special about making bags and slings for you? Why choose these to launch your Etsy store?
I launched SterlingSewn with bags and slings because those are the items that I use the most, give most frequently as gifts, and they're things I love making. A Ring Sling is basically the closest thing there is to a tote bag in which you carry a baby, so it works! There are tentative plans to add other items, really put some work into the website, start to blog about projects, etc, etc. I'm waiting to see what I can make happen (and trying to find more time!) When I'm not focused on specific projects, I end up making a lot of tiny dresses and things like toddler tepees and Elsa capes for my kids, so it's best if I have a plan!
How did you come to start an online business?
SterlingSewn is still a little tiny tadpole of a dream! It might fail in a very ordinary and unspectacular way, and if it does, then I will try to find comfort in my attempt. I am always sad when someone says, "I always wanted to..." So, why didn't you? Why don't you? There are no expiration dates on dreams. There are obstacles, obviously, but there are also solutions. I completed college and grad school and worked interesting jobs and then later finished culinary school, but I'm still struggling to find a work/life balance. Having a family has complicated the way I feel about how I spend my time. So, taking small steps towards being more entrepreneurial seems like a good thing to do.
Who or what inspires you?
I look for inspiration everywhere, and I find it! I look for color combinations on my commute to work, in the messes my kids make when they pull out every toy we own and scatter them across a room, and in the piles of dirty laundry. On a good day, I am inspired by my daily struggle - from trying to figure out what I can do for work that brings me joy but also helps pay bills to simply getting everyone dressed and out the door! I claim small victories whenever possible. I'm inspired by my husband, who is an exceptionally giving and supportive person who does his absolute best to keep up with my quirks. I'm inspired by the women in my life near and far who remind me through their actions to continue to seek solutions for circumstances that may be less than ideal, to find beauty and humor in the mundane, and to smile through stress. Mostly I try to make decisions in my life that round out the stories of strength and spirit and love and generosity I want to one day share with my children.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Thank you so much for offering to introduce me to your extraordinary people! You are such an incredibly giving and strong and inspirational woman, and I'm so thrilled to be able to connect with you on your blog. May 2015 bring all of us unexpected successes!
Cheers to that, Rachel! And thank you so much!
*SterlingSewn gifted me a bag to try out. All opinions are my own. And-spoiler alert-I'm going to have a giveaway from SterlingSewn for one lucky reader tomorrow! Stay tuned.