My Journey to Start a Business
The year was 2000 and I was thirteen years old. This was the first time I drew my first sketch and by high school I realized that I could become a designer with my own fashion brand. After graduation, I decided college wasn’t my path. I always believed that I could teach myself how to sew and ultimately create patterns. For the moment, I would work at the nearest mall and overtime gained valuable experience from three major apparel companies. When growth came to a halt, I knew it was time to become the fashion designer I’d always known myself to be. I purchased books and watched countless YouTube videos to learn how to sew. Adding common sense and a few tips from my mom that had sewing experience led to several creations to get the wheels turning.
These were the very first garments I created. A melon orange top made with my first self-made pattern. The toddler girl dress was for my very first customer, my two year old niece. My second customer and most loyal customer to date was my sister who gifted this red dress to my mom.
Being self taught however, brought a fear that my sewing skills would look like that of a beginner. It made me uneasy to know that one day I would have to sell my personal designs to complete strangers. My comfort zone was producing garments for myself and my family. The idea of designing for others and being criticized was paralyzing. It created stress and a worry that I may have wasted my time. That fear led me to wait countless years before launching the fashion business I’ve always wanted.
As I acquired fashion knowledge, I also took time to learn about myself. Knowing my true self gave me a new confidence and assurance that further encouraged me to be proud of my designs and work. Naysayers are inevitable but that doesn't mean they have to be my focus. The sayings, 'learn from your mistakes and keep going', 'no one is successful without haters, that’s a sign you're doing something right', encouraged me and eventually overruled my fears. More prepared than ever, I decided to design and create my very first women's collection. It was time to share my passion with the world and plan on a date to launch.
I am forever grateful for these and many other books I've studied.
As I began the journey of starting a business, I realized there were a lot of elements to learn and understand. Things like trademarks, the type of business, budgets, pricing, the best marketplace, etc. I started the year finalizing this research as well as my women’s collection. The date of launching felt so close. After six and a half years of quitting my last retail job, I said to myself, “This is the year! 2020, a new decade, a new chapter in my life, I AM READY!”
Then an unexpected turn happened, the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Everything started closing down. Going outside brought stress and anxiety from an unseen virus that was spreading throughout the entire world. Suddenly, I was caught in a thought process of ‘now what?’.
Twelve years had passed in my adult life and I couldn’t give up. Not receiving a paycheck since quitting my last job was weighing heavy on my conscience. The timeframe I gave my boyfriend, who supported me and my dreams felt long overdue. As years of being ‘unemployed’ strolled by, people would start to ask, “what do you do for a living?”. My response was a runaround answer. I could feel their judgment behind my back or in silence of a grown woman not doing anything with her life and talents. I was looking like a failure on the outside. It was time to put all the hard work from behind the scenes, up front and take center stage.
With a need to put an end to looking like a ‘do nothing girl’, I had reached my breaking point. I was ready and prepared for a life changing breakthrough! A worldwide never before seen pandemic that brought everyone to live in quarantine wasn’t going to be the reason to say it’s not my time, no one needs fashion right now, or much less quit. As quickly as jobs were being terminated and people were sent to work from home, the world began calling on anyone with a sewing machine to give a helping hand.
FASHION GOES TO WORK
When met with the challenge of needing face coverings, the media called for all designers and sewists to create face masks. The CDC and other creatives partnered together and soon there would be a flood of shared content for pattern print outs and tutorials on how to make various masks. As I laid in my bed reading and scrolling on Instagram about how fashion designer Christian Siriano and the mayor of New York came together to make face masks for the medical field, it dawned on me to get to work. After all, anyone with a sewing machine is bound to have a stash of cotton fabrics in their work room.
TIME TO GET BUSY
Initially I wanted to make face masks for my immediate family so I did. I informed them I was going to sell masks and they replied, “Let us know when they’re ready to buy some”. I rushed into my workroom and brought out all of my cotton fabrics from previous projects, navy blue, red, black, leaf print, polka dots, etc. This was more than enough to get started. A new project was underway.
Waiting to realize my dreams after so many years meant waiting for a loan was no longer an option. It was time to get up and make the money myself. That was my reasoning behind charging my family for the face masks. I downloaded and printed out the patterns I found online. After watching countless tutorials and understanding the CDC regulations I finalized how I wanted to produce the masks.
What seemed like a quick simple job was nothing but. Ensuring that the masks would fit was a new challenge. I couldn't have several people try it on like other pieces of clothes prior to Covid-19. To avoid waste from samples that myself and others tried on, meant getting things right the first time (and of course allowing the 'models' keep the samples). Hours of working at full speed brought lower back pains, blurry vision and sore hands and fingers. The stress on my body was no match for my focus and dedication to reach the finish line. After stitching the last seam I configured prices, photographed the masks, created size and price charts, and with the support of my family, I made my first few hundred dollars. This is when the support of my entire family turned into a blessing. Grateful from my sales, I realized this would be easier to sell if I posted them on a website. I realized a website was the opportunity to launch the women’s collection I had already been working on. But first, I needed fabrics to create more masks since my resources had depleted from my families’ sales.
GIVE UP OR UPCYCLE?
We’ve all been there, we get a rip or stain on our clothes and it’s as good as trash. This was the case with a corporate professional that constantly bought dress shirts because of a recurring tear on their sleeve. I took notice that the shirts were in good shape, barely used and asked to keep them. Soon enough I saved three stacks worth of shirts.
As businesses and fabric stores temporarily closed, I sourced fabrics online. Elastic was sold out everywhere and the high demand for cotton fabrics had me on a four hour search. I could only purchase the leftover colors that were in stock. After I placed my order I anxiously waited for days. After two weeks I received the email I was dreading: YOUR ORDER HAS BEEN CANCELLED! It wasn’t in captions but that’s how it felt. Several people were waiting for me to produce more masks and two weeks had already passed by. I needed to figure something out.
I thought back to the dress shirts I saved and sorted those that were 100% cotton. Now I needed to find white cotton fabric. Remembering that bedsheets were mostly made from cotton I searched and found them. Brand new king size white bed sheets, 100% cotton, add to cart, purchased! I went from waiting two full weeks for fabric, to receiving the white sheets in just three short days. As soon as they arrived I laundered them and got to work. As for the elastic, I brought out scraps of stretchy spandex fabric and with the help of my sewing machine created spandex ear loops.
Lining repurposed from brand new cotton bed sheets. Strips of spandex ready to made into ear loops. Upcycled masks with pipe cleaners.
The first day of wearing my first mask sample was going to the supermarket. As I waited in line on a chilly morning in New Jersey, the spandex loops were very comfortable but my eyeglasses started to fog up. Taking note of this, I later researched how to reduce the fog and found that nose wires or pipe cleaners could be used. Inserting a pipe cleaner that I already owned did the trick. No more fog with extra protection for my nose area. Using pipe cleaners with the upcycled masks, had my product coming along very nicely. After hours of countless cutting and sewing, I was finally done. Seeing the fruits of my labor filled me with excitement. As a true designer, I still wanted to purchase new fabrics that I knew would compliment modern day styles. A nearby fabric store that remained opened had the fabric I needed and an online purchase of new metal nose inserts meant my personal picks for fashion masks were on the way.
Online, masks started to show up everywhere but did not have modern prints or colors. Therefore, I chose fabrics that I felt resonate with today’s fashion customer.
At this point in my face mask journey, I was more than ready to launch my online store. The reality of having my own shop puts a rush to get things done. Team “no sleep” was in full effect. I photographed every single mask, uploaded the photos, filled in the description boxes over and over until, once and for all, I was done. My online store was ready and I hit the publish button. Full of excitement I wanted to stay up and rejoice but as the 6:00 a.m. hour approached, my body started to get the shivers. That was the sign that the job was complete and it was time for some rest. Just like that, I had my own online business. No party, fireworks, congratulations, or champagne. It was just me, my work and a sense of victory to own my own business. YAY! I’M A BUSINESS OWNER!
I did get my favorite ice-cream cake to celebrate my new business!
JUST FACE MASKS?
I’ve sketched nearly 1,000 womens wear designs since I was thirteen and always thought that would be my starting point. However, life is always unpredictable and the least likely things are usually what brings us to fulfill our goals and dreams. As I got older, I learned that having the mental capacity to see opportunity where there is tragedy or lack is where perseverance lives. There is no perfect day. Only a mindset of positivity and opportunity that brings us to make the best decision for ourselves. Seeing all the open doors I’m ready to share all of my creativity with the world through my business, SIMÓN BELLE [sēe-mohn, bell].
My first women's apparel is now available as shown in above photo. Accessories and unisex designs are on the horizon for women, men and kids. But you’ll have to follow my brand to see what’s next. I design from the style and music played in my childhood neighborhood Passaic, an urban community in New Jersey. Bold colors, confident and comfortable styles will be produced at any given moment. SIMÓN BELLE does not follow trends or the usual fashion calendar. I simply design for the person that loves to stand out in something of great quality and value. I look forward to meeting all of the SIMÓN BELLE customers.