When Cynthia Mann launched her online fabric store, she was looking for a way to combine her love of making things with work that kept her close to home and her two young boys. Three years later, Fabricworm.com is a thriving business. Cynthia is not only selling beautiful fabrics, but, together with her graphic designer husband Jason, she is designing them. A further leap: Cynthia also manufactures her own organic line, Birch Fabrics. After being told again and again how cost-prohibitive organic would be, she decided to do her own research and found a way to marry costs, her family’ s passion for “ reducing our global footprint,” and her customers (and her own) need for a “ healthier alternative for the world.” Birch Fabrics is also the name of her recently opened brick-and-mortar store in California, stocked with 100% organic cotton fabrics.
Cynthia calls her life “ a dream realized,” but it is a dream that came with a big commitment of time and energy. “ There was a time there where I worked about 80 hours a week,” she says. “When things were really busy I would wake up in the middle of the night around 1:00 or 2:00 AM and cut and pack orders for a couple of hours while everyone was sleeping.” This was about the time Cynthia realized it was time to hire help. Her two full-time and three part-time employees are, Cynthia says, “the engine that runs the vehicle.” They will often sew together on lunch breaks and after work. Cynthia and the girls – Andrea, Bre, Arleen, Belin and Melanie – have “all really bonded around our love for all things crafty!”
Many, whether young mothers or not, dream of turning their love of craft into a viable business. Cynthia’s advice for anyone starting out:
- Research—tons of it—before you spend even a dime.
- Find out about demand in the marketplace and also competition—ask family and friends questions related to your ideas and business; join forums and chat groups online to get a sense of the demand for your product.
- Evaluate ALL the costs—Remember to include your time as a cost.
- If you have children at home, find someone to help you with them – for at least a few hours a week. You need uninterrupted time to concentrate on the research.
- Start small and grow slow.
And some Don’ts:
- Don’t price your goods too low and sell yourself short.
- Don’t jump right into it with a big investment
- Don’t assume that because you love something that everyone else will too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends.
- Don’t lose sight of what you wanted to do, and why you wanted to do it, in the first place!
When it comes to balancing work and family Cynthia says it can be “tough.” But she feels fortunate to be co-parenting with “a hands-on dad” who also works at home.
As far as balancing everything with craft, she says that though she doesn’t sew as much as she would like to, she tries to put in at least one or two hours on the machine a week. She enjoys designing, and suggests that anyone interested in fabric design “sketch and doodle like crazy, these can turn into the most unique and interesting designs.” Cynthia’s own favorite designer is Etsuko Furuya (her company is called Echino). “She’s incredible,” says Cynthia, “her use of pattern, is like no one else, and she inspires me every day.”
Though she says she “ stumbled” into this calling, clearly Cynthia is a woman who had a goal and accomplished that goal. When asked what, at this juncture, is the best thing about running fabricworm, she says, it is “ friendships.”
“ I’d have to say one of the best things is the friendships I’ve made, not only with my employees, but with the online community as well. I’ve met so many interesting, inspiring people. I just couldn’t ask for a better occupation.” “Not to mention,” Cynthia adds, “I have access to the most amazing fabrics in the world – at least in my opinion!”
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