Nicole Russell and I first internet-met a few years ago when she started her fabulous blog Fussy Busty, and she has always been a warm, generous person. In fact, we were part of a secret Santa exchange one year, and she knitted me a coffee cup cover with the store’s iconic pears stitched onto them! Recently, she embarked on a new journey in her life as a work-at-home mom and small business owner. Nicole translated her enjoyment for sewing into a custom-clothing business for children and adults, and her adorable daughter is often found modeling the latest designs. Because so many of us struggle to find properly fitted garments, a business which offers the option of purchasing custom-made clothes at an affordable price is one I am keen to support. Not to mention, all of you know by now that I adore family-owned businesses, made in America products, and anybody willing to do something different in the clothing industry. Naturally, I am loving what Nicole is hoping to achieve here, but I especially loved how candidly she spoke about the trials of working from home and raising a child. Oh, and did I mention she made me a dress? A dress that channels my favorite writer even? It’s en transit now, and I’m totally doing this:
Enjoy the interview, and definitely contact her about getting your own custom piece!
Wild Pigeon Handmade Clothing
Find them at: http://wildpigeonclothing.etsy.com and http://www.facebook.com/groups/wildpigeonhandmade
What they offer: Handmade clothing for children and adults in uniquely printed, highly quality knits
Who they are: Married, 20’s something and have an almost 9 month old. I’ve had my hand in many different hats, but outside of being a SAHM I have a master’s in psychology which I have used in the social work field. I’m working on a master’s in counseling so I can get licensed, and I’ll be starting practicum this fall. I am also the owner of the blog Fussy Busty, which in its heyday was quite popular for plus size bra reviews 😉
What made you decide to start working from home and making custom clothing?
I decided to start working from home because I had already decided to be a SAHM. I chose to stay at home because I was working in the social work field and when we looked at the cost of daycare…can you believe it? It’s actually cheaper for me to stay at home! All of my income from my previous job would have gone solely to daycare costs, and I was making more than my husband at the time. It was an easy choice to make because on top of that, I wanted to stay home anyways. We waited through 4 years of infertility to have our miracle baby and I don’t want to miss any moments with her.
Anyways, after about 8 months of me not working, I decided I really needed to find something to do. Being a SAHM, you can easily lose your identity….each day is full of feeding the baby, playing with the baby, cleaning, doing laundry…you get the picture. I had to find something that I enjoyed that would also bring income into the house. I am a member of groups that sell handmade clothing and I kept thinking “you know….I really can make those things myself.”And once I started, I was hooked. It began as something to help me find myself again, and now I’m doing it to help my family. I’m making slow progress, but that’s true of any handmade business, I think, especially because my #1 priority is my daughter and my sewing and business is second. Sometimes it is hard to find the time to work the business!
I am always so envious of people who have learned how to sew! How did you learn, and do you have any advice for beginners? *cough* like me *cough*
I actually was taught how to sew at a very young age. My older brothers and I were always sent to my Grandma’s house during the summer while my parents were working…and what do you do with three kids? Teach them all how to sew. I was probably 7 or 8 years old when she taught me how to make a quilt. I have a picture hanging up in my living room that highlights my Grandma and I in the newspaper. My mom and my aunt sew as well. It’s just been a part of my life.
I think that learning how to sew is actually fairly simple if you have the right tools, patience and time. Start with something simple. A pillow is very easy. All you need is a sewing machine that can do a simple straight stitch, 1/2 yd of fabric, thread and good quality scissors. Beyond that, there are a LOT of really good, easy to complete patterns that you can buy at JoAnn’s, but I personally prefer PDF patterns because they ALWAYS include photo tutorials. There are also some really great videos on youtube. Want to learn how to hem? There are tons of videos! As a beginner, be kind to yourself. And remember, there are no mistakes….only design elements!
Your last point reminds me of one of my favorite quotes for computer programming: There are no such thing as bugs, only unimplemented features! Have you made any mistakes so far? I imagine custom clothing is tough to get right sometimes!
Yes, I have made mistakes. Working with knits is very tricky because the fabric stretches as you sew it, so you really have to keep a good handle on it. My most common mistake is when I’m sewing a skirt on to a lined bodice. It’s usually about 3-4 layers of fabric to keep track of, and the top layer sometimes slides out of place and doesn’t get stitched into the seam. I then have to go back over the seam until all layers are stitched into place. It’s an easy fix, thankfully.
Thinking about the future, what do you hope to accomplish with Wild Pidgeon? Any new products on the horizon?
My plans for the future are to really get the word out about my business. I live in a small town and I think with the right marketing, Wild Pigeon can really be successful here. Clothing wise, I want to continue to expand the styles and fabrics available to customers. As I mentioned, I primarily work with knits, but I’m currently testing some patterns for woven fabrics to see how they sew up, wash and wear. My goal is to work slowly but steadily, creating quality items that speak for themselves. I would love to see Wild Pigeon become a hearty source of income for my family, and so I’m willing to put into the work to get to that point.
As someone who spent several years working from home, I know it can not only be isolating but also challenging to juggle work and family life in the same space. Of course, I only had my dogs to care for, and you have a young child. How have you coped being a work-at-home mom (WAHM) now?
My sewing time is limited to when the baby is asleep or to when my husband is home during the day, so there are many nights that I am up until 3am sewing…..and then I still have to get up at 8am with the baby. My daughter is breastfed and still wakes up throughout the night to feed, so even if I stay up late, I frequently have to stop and feed her so that she can go back to sleep. It’s hard to find the balance, but my husband is very supportive and tries to find the time to help me when he can. When he is home during the day before work, he will play with the baby and sometimes take her for a walk so that I have a quiet house to sew in. Do I wish I had more time? Absolutely, but don’t we all?
What advice would you offer someone considering working from home or being a WAHM?
Be realistic about your goals and what you can afford to do. Making the choice to be a WAHM involves the standard risks you see when starting a business in addition to the lack of separation between work and home. Make sure that you have support from your partner or family. Without my husband’s support, I would never be able to get any sewing done.
How do you unwind after a tough day?
Put all the sewing stuff away, set my phone down and play with the baby. Or, I read raunchy romance novels. Guilty pleasure. But disconnecting from the internet and sewing are the best ways to refresh.
Have you ever received criticism from customers? If so, what did they say, and how did you address it?
I haven’t received criticism from customers, yet. I know it will come. I have, however, received criticism from others in the sewing community. It’s really a cutthroat environment and some ladies can cut to the quick about your work. I had posted a question along the lines of “how much would you charge for something like this?” and it turned into an all out debate with personal jabs. The internet can be so cruel sometimes. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t think it was legitimate (except for maybe a few helpful comments). I told my husband about it, left the group that I had asked the question in, and decided to just write it off as someone else having a bad day. You’re going to get criticism no matter what you’re doing, and it won’t help to take it all personally.
The internet can definitely bring out the worst in people, but it seems like you’ve found ways of moving forward without letting negativity keep you down. Have you ever had any moments when you wanted to quit and throw in the towel though? I feel like all business owners go through this more frequently then we let on. What has kept you going forward?
YES. These moments often involve a seam ripper. FYI, having to use a seam ripper is awful and tedious and…frustrating. In those moments when I get frustrated, I usually have to sit it down and walk away for a bit. And then I go back because, even though this part is difficult, I know that the end result is going to be beautiful.
Were there any people who helped pave the way for you to succeed or who are helping you now?
My husband, hands down. He has been so supportive. I have to give a huge thanks to my sister and my best friends who have so lovingly allowed me to make them something, send it to them, and then post their photos in my facebook page. They show off my work beautifully, and are champions and cheerleaders when I need it the most.
What are some of your favorite products to make? Your custom pieces are adorable, but do you have any favorite parts of the design process?
I love making dresses with circle skirts. Love it. I think it’s because I know that whoever ends up wearing it is going to get to experience the joy of a full, twirly circle skirt. I make a lot of dresses for young girls and this is a huge selling point for them. I love seeing the smiles during mid-twirl. I also really like being able to make clothing specifically for someone’s measurements. I have personal experience with this…..I am very busty (wearing a UK 42JJ), and a lot of times, many clothing items have a neckline that is too low, or there’s not enough coverage on the sides under the arms, or the straps are too long….and the list goes on. But when I make my own clothing, none of those problems matter because I can tailor the pattern to my specific measurements so that I get a great fit. The same goes for my customers. Who doesn’t want clothes that fit them perfectly instead of just kind of okay?
I totally agree. I’m very big on paying more for a better quality garment that fits me well, but there’s a stronger emphasis now on cheap off-the-rack clothing. I’m sure that’s something you’d like to see change about the industry, right?
I hope that more awareness about custom clothing and the handmade industry happens in the near future. It’s very hard to be successful in the clothing business when you’re competing against factory made clothing (a la Walmart) that is mass produced and cheap. There’s a lot of customer education that goes into being successful in any business that is new, but the hill wouldn’t be so steep if it weren’t for those big box stores selling cheap clothing. I hope that makes sense. I think everyone should watch the movie “The True Cost” – available on Netflix – so they can see why supporting a handmade business is so worth the extra cost.
What has had the biggest impact on you goals so far?
The reception that I have gotten from friends and family has been overwhelmingly positive and it encourages me to keep going.
And I always like to close with: The secret to happiness is…..
Choosing to do what is best for you and your family, not what is best for everyone else. Boundaries are the key to happiness!