Sara Young stood in my backyard while our kids jumped on the trampoline pretending to be mythical creatures and told me the story of her business Young Apparel Co. I couldn't help but hold my mouth agape. She reminisced that she had studied Chinese History, earned a degree, intended to teach but had the babes and wanted to be with them, saw some moms creating and selling t-shirts on social media, thought it looked fun, decided she need to learn design, asked an acquaintance to teach her the basics, learned-learned-learned, bought the stuff, and CREATED. She is still making and growing and giving and sharing and it's incredibly inspiring.
Young Apparel Co. is sold online and in several stores around San Diego. Sara has created multiple lines of unique, earth and life-appreciating apparel for babies, kids and adults. Her home is overflowing with energy and boxes of supplies. She spent some of her late-night work time to answer a few questions about how she started, how she balances motherhood and entrepreneurship, and her next steps. Let's Dive In!
1. What were the upfront costs, equipment and knowledge you had to acquire prior to starting Young Apparel Co.?
Starting an apparel company was totally out of left field for me. I have two degrees in history, certificates and credentials for teaching, and when I started this company, I knew absolutely nothing about graphic design, screen printing, or how to run a business. I definitely thought that I might be crazy for going in such a radically different direction than what I had trained for; but I really wanted to learn, and if this venture meant that I would get to stay home with my babies, create my own schedule, and have something creative to call my own, I was ready to take on the challenge.
I started where most of us would start: Google and YouTube. I researched the best and most user friendly graphic design programs. I researched how to screen print, and watched about million tutorial videos. I obtained all of my business licenses and certificates, drafted a business plan, and signed up for a small business bank account. I researched wholesale clothing companies, and signed up for wholesale accounts with five distributors. I then started ordering samples to see what I liked and didn’t like. I wanted my tees to be high quality—soft, durable, and washer/dryer friendly. I bought a screen printing machine off of Craigslist, and after my kids went to bed, I would stay up late and practice screen printing. But there was more. I needed to figure out packaging, shipping, and promotional supplies. All of this was very foreign to me, but I chipped away at my to-do list a little bit each day, or when I had time. Overall it just felt really good to be learning something new again.
After I felt more confident in my craft, had found some tees that I liked, and had a couple of basic designs, it was time to make my “big” debut and see if they would sell! Since I also had no idea how to create a website or really market myself outside of social media, I decided that Etsy was a good way to start. I signed up for a sellers account and spent about a week uploading products, creating product descriptions, designing the look of my site, and making sure I had all of my ducks in a row. I wanted it to be perfect, even though I knew there was no such thing. I started Instagram and Facebook business accounts, and then I launched! All in all, I spent about $4,000 on getting my business baby off the ground.
2. What was the first accomplishment/feedback/milestone that made you think it could be a successful business venture for you and your family?
Prior to starting my business, I had spent a lot of time looking at other small shops on Instagram and Etsy, and had already predetermined what equaled success. Of course, this was not exactly helpful or healthy, but we all do it as a form of measurement. I knew that most small businesses were very lucky if they were to break even after their first year, and that most wound up in the red. This should not be discouraging, because as I read over and over again, successful entrepreneurs were successful because they hung in there over that first big hump, and again over the next little hump, and the next big hump, and so on. Perseverance and determination are key to surviving that first year. I took that advice to heart and got through my first year with a profit of $200! That may not sound like a big success, but to me it was huge. It meant that if I kept at it, kept learning, kept growing, and continued to challenge myself, I might have a chance at a real successful business.
3. What’s one thing you try to do every day to keep work/life balance?
Work/life balance is something that I think most people struggle with. The funny thing is, starting this business was my way of creating more balance in my personal life as a wife and mother. After having two children, I was feeling like I had gained the world, but lost part of myself. I gave all of myself to my family, and left very little room for any personal growth and development; and it took me a few years to realize how much I missed doing things for myself and how much I needed it to feel normal, balanced, and happy. Starting this business allowed me to feel whole again. However, now that my business baby has taken off, and requires more attention than the occasional late night Netflix and Print session, work/life balance has become more important. Number one, I always have physically written to-do lists which I write in order of priority. I write the list at night before bed and I leave it on my desk to revisit in the morning—which is both a physical and mental trick so that I don’t take my work to bed with me. I look at my list again in the morning and decide what needs to be done first, and where I can fit those things in my day. Some days are more busy than others, and this is where the guilt factor often comes in. I will always stop working in order to help with homework or make a healthy meal for my family. Even though our family is not particularly keen on schedules and routines (we travel a lot and keep things pretty relaxed and go with the flow), we love reading bedtime stories together, and I like to keep that as consistent as possible. I also have a personal rule to do at least one meaningful activity with my family a day. It doesn’t have to be big—it could be reading books, playing a game, or going to the park before dinner. However, if my kids are simply bored, I try to take five minutes to guide them in new direction, explain how much time mommy needs to complete her task, and keep working. It’s a big perk of working at home. I try not to feel guilty about working because I think it is good for them to see me in action so-to-speak. I think it is important for them to see what it takes to be successful; and that includes my failures, trials, learning curves and triumphs alike.
4. What’s been a hardship you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
This might sound silly, but one of the biggest hardships surrounding this business has been social media. Social media is great in so many ways, but it can also be a draining, life-sucking beast. In the beginning, I found myself constantly comparing myself, my skills, my company, and my success to other companies like mine, mainly on instagram. I think we’ve all been there. I would look at another graphic tee company and scrutinize every detail about them, trying to figure out why they had more followers, more engagement, or more sales. Were my photos not as good? Did people not like my captions? Did people not like my designs? What was better about their company? It was hard. I did a lot of research on social media algorithms, and listened to a lot entrepreneurial podcasts. I worried about it entirely too much. Then one day I decided that all of this was way too stressful, and I just needed to follow my heart. I stopped comparing and started collaborating with other business owners. I stopped worrying and started finding inspiration. I worked hard, focused on my product, how I wanted to present myself as a small shop, and things got better. My sales went up, my followers became more engaged, and I became a lot more happy and actually excited about networking and marketing. I learned how to make it work in my favor, and it has no doubt been an integral part of my success.
5. What’s your next goal for your business? How are setting yourself up to reach it?
When I first started my business, I thought I wanted to work all of the local farmers and mom made markets. However, being a mom to two kids and wife to a busy husband who often travels for work, I just couldn’t fit that kind of commitment into my schedule. Instead, I began inquiring about putting my designs into existing shops. Over the past year I have acquired three shop spaces in local stores, and it has been a total game changer. Since they are more permanent fixtures, I don’t have to worry about set-up and take-down every week. I stock the shops, decorate my spaces, and the store employees do the rest. These shop spaces have also given my shop a lot more exposure, and opened so many more doors. In the next year, I plan on expanding into more local stores. I also want to find more ways to give back to my community and the world with my company. We have done tees for charity in the past, but I am working on a sort of kindness campaign. It makes me happy just thinking about it.
6. Who/what have you used for guidance as you have grown in the clothing business?
Over the last 3 years, I have met so many wonderfully talented people in the small business world, and so many of them have become mentors along the way. The small business/entrepreneur world can be competitive of course, but mostly I have found everyone to be honestly generous and kind. The first Brand Rep search I ever did, I was so nervous. So I reached out to some other shops and asked for advice, and they were all more than willing to help. We bounce ideas off each other. We cross promote by doing collaborations or giveaways, and we give each other shout-outs on social media. It is such a wonderful community of hard working individuals, and everyone is so supportive. If you need help or guidance, don’t be afraid to ask a fellow entrepreneur.
Thank you so much, Sara. I know you have inspired other mamas out there to swim into uncharted waters to find their exciting professional journey, just as you have done. You can find Sara and her apparel here: www.youngapparelcompany.com. Check it out :)