Hello! This is very very long!! Grab your seltzer or coffee or cocktail as I talk in depth about the reality of a small business struggling through this pandemic year. You all have heard me talk about it, seen me push my way through it, witnessed low low points as well as very high optimism points and have helped me stay afloat. The challenges have been immense. And, while I feel very lucky to have not contracted covid (thank you face masks), this conversation is about all of the other parts of living through this pandemic. Small business is never just business - it is always a mash up of personal and business, together. It’s why I like small business ownership rather than faceless corporatism. It’s also why we, as consumers, like to support small businesses. It means something when we do.
One of the most meaningful parts of what I do is job creation. It gives me purpose in the world, ensures that I can do something different within a system that is often exploitative of labor. Unfortunately, I have often done this at the expense of my own wages or upward mobility. I made decisions in a manner that ensured I was taking care of everyone who was committing their days to this thing that I had invented, which is, in my mind, part of the responsibility of ownership. I have had fantastic relationships with just about everyone who has ever worked with me and I have heard from enough to know that they loved working here. The mutual learning and relationship building have been some of the most fulfilling parts of my job and is something I hope to continue to do.
However, this pandemic year has strained me in truly every way possible. I found myself working 5 times longer, 5 times harder, with 5 times more overhead and having 5 times more insecurity about my own long term livelihood. For a solid 13 months I have combatted a kind of stress that I have never known and it has taken a toll on my body, my brain, my sleep, my relentless optimism and my ability to see a viable future. This is not why I embarked on small business ownership 14 years ago.
We make bags, I create jobs and when things are working, it's really fun and has just the regular level of ownership stress. That stress tends to go in waves, giving you time to catch your breath in between each rush. The last 13 months have been relentless, with no true signs of easing up. It is unsustainable, even for me, the person who feels like she is in a perpetual storm of boulders being thrown at her, but even still, makes it through. It has forced me to evaluate my priorities.
I have been working alone through all of this. I come to work each day with my crew and we interact, but my job has become an administrative job at this point, isolating me to my desk in the back corner of the shop. Between the management of people, supply chains falling apart, the website, finances, marketing, cleaning, pivoting, rebuilding, etc. etc. etc., I really have not interacted in the way that I typically do. I have several new employees who, I would say, do not really know me very well, nor I them. I like to know my people. I have two long term guys who know me perhaps too well, and I love them dearly. My daughter has been so far away and when everyone in the world retreated behind the doors of their individual homes I suddenly faced a reality that the network of people who help me meet my needs of community and friendship and love and life had disappeared.
Over the course of this last year I went through a heartbreaking end to a relationship, was having health issues that required an MRI, had a reaction to the contrast fluid and went into anaphylaxis for what should have been a routine procedure, I spent the week in recovery entirely alone while simultaneously packing up the house I shared with my now ex-partner and moving to another, with a broken body and a new found fear of dying. Two months later, our 16 year old sweet kitty died, then I was assaulted in my new home, as a result ended up in the hospital again, felt more alone than ever in my life, had to cancel our in person holidays, instead celebrating virtually with my daughter, briefly dated a very nice man who was ultimately just not right for me but made me laugh in a moment when all I needed was someone to do that for me, rebuilt my business, rebuilt it again, faced potential bankruptcy purely because of this pandemic, started a new business, took on projects that I never would have taken on simply to bring in revenue and finally just reached my breaking point.
So, when I am faced with the question of why do I do this? It is not to feel so alone in the world, working so hard to have everything just keep feeling like I am drowning. It’s to be a part of a community that I love, with people that I love, making things I love, being fulfilled by the work that I do and the jobs I create. And, well, Pittsburgh has turned into a place that is not meeting those needs for me any longer. And so, I am scaling my business back to just me for a few months. Relocating everything to Seattle, Washington to be closer to my daughter and starting an entirely new rebuilding process.
This decision is filled with so many bittersweet emotions. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for 12 years. I have had so many beautiful friendships and partners and homes and studios and employees and dance parties and dinner parties and bike rides and starts and restarts. I raised my daughter mostly in Pittsburgh and have helped her out into the world as she builds her adult life on the west coast. But, she has some medical issues that need some oversight and frankly, I just want to be near her and have date nights with my girl and meet ups in the park and have that sense of familial community that so many others had during the darkest days of the pandemic. We all know a precedent has been set and something like this will surely happen again in our lifetime. I’m looking to the future in everything as I make this decision. And, I’m really excited about it. I am not change averse. In fact, I thrive with a healthy amount of constant change at all times. Also, I love logistics so the scale of this giant move does not scare me. Unless it’s 3:30AM and I’m awakened by the stress of it all. But, it is well underway. A truck arrives May 24th to be loaded up with my entire workshop and my home…and then I’ll drive off to Seattle!
This is a very long explanation of how I ended up in this place but, I think necessary to understand everything that went into this decision. Between now and May 14th, everything in the shop is available on a very limited basis. All inventory is set to what we currently have made and things will start selling out quickly so, pick up a new bag before they’re gone and know that every bag sold is helping me with the relocation process. Production in my shop, with my current team, will end in two weeks. It will be at least July before you can purchase anything from me again. And, when that time comes around, bags will be much more limited as it will be just little ol’ me stitching away in a pretty new space in Seattle, Washington. I can’t wait to build my community there, refocus my design practice, eventually open a storefront and bring parts of Pittsburgh to Seattle. It’s an exciting and scary and thrilling and terrifying time. I hope you’ll join me as I make wild wild things happen.
So much love for all of your continued support. It truly means the world to me.