INTERVIEW WITH JULIE of ZozoBugBaby from Salem, Oregon
Hi Julie! Thank you for taking some time to give us some insight into how you run your successful childrens clothing boutique business! I just adore all of your creations, absolutely precious! How long have you been in business?
I officially opened ZozoBugBaby on April 7, 2008!
How did you first decide that this industry was for you?
It wasn’t ever really a conscious decision. My background is in fine art and before ZozoBugBaby, I owned a mural-painting business. After I had my girls, I just transferred a lot of my artistic vision into sewing for them. I never really liked seeing them in the same clothing everyone else was wearing. I began creating things here and there for both of them and got so many requests for custom clothing that I decided maybe I could add a clothing line to my already crazy art business! It didn’t take long for it to completely take over my life.
What do you do to make yourself stand out from other similar businesses?
I just do what moves me. Handmade children clothing has seen a CRAZY explosion thanks to Etsy and other marketplaces. So many people do what I do, but I just stick to my own style and create from within. I feel that just by following my own vision and not trying to do what others are doing is what has made my business successful! In this industry, it’s very easy to get sucked into comparing yourself to others. I just stay true to the pretty pictures of clothing dancing in my head and it all just seems to keep growing! I feel it’s crucial to find what you REALLY like to do and stick to it. Branding is also a very important step in setting yourself apart.
It is obvious that you are a creative person and that a lot of that is already in your blood, but where do you find other inspiration?
I have to say that most of my ideas come to me when I’m doing the most banal things……driving the car, doing dishes or in the shower. I’ve never had a lack of those “light bulb” moments when creating, but I am very inspired by art, color combinations I find in nature…and other designers! I also find a lot of inspiration in music. I find that listening to classical music or one of my favorites, movie score composer, John Barry, always gives me ideas. Music without words is important. If there are no words…I don’t get caught up in focusing on lyrics. I can just drift off into the music and the floodgates of creativity just open on up!
Textures! It may sound odd, but random things like a shiny candy wrapper lying on a shag carpet inspire me. I love the juxtaposition of interesting textures.
I always love your bright funky colors & patterns! Do you come up with the patterns yourself?
I do! My designs are definitely not complicated. For children, I prefer simple. Most new designs of mine are often based on older ones, but with different features or alterations. My 2 girls guide most of what I create. They are very finicky about how things fit, sleeve lengths, and the “twirlability” factor. I am quite primitive in how I design, I think. I usually just grab a big roll of art paper, hold it up to one of my girls and trace a rough sketch of a new design to fit one of them. Then I”ll make a sample and adjust from there. There are probably easier ways, but I just go with what makes sense for how my brains works!
Do you do all of the hands on work yourself, or do you have helpers/assistants that help you? How do you keep up with all of the orders?
I currently have 4 assistants working with me. Right now….it’s a HUGE struggle to keep up with orders and it’s an area I need much improvement in! I keep hiring assistants and the demand keeps growing. I hope it levels out soon so I can take a nap!
How do you know what you should charge for your work? This seems to be a reoccurring question for a lot of women out there, they don’t want to “rob” people, yet they don’t want to work for “free” either. How did you decide what your time/art is worth?
This is NEVER an easy question. When I started out, I just GUESSED. I looked at what other designers were charging and used that as a starting point. I am at a much different place now with assistants, orders, inventory and a lot more expenses. I think you have to look at what the market will bear and where you are in your business. I see so many people charging almost nothing for their work and it’s so sad. It’s also undercutting other designers and seamstresses, which is also not ok. If you have a unique product, then you don’t compete on price. If you are sewing the same pillowcase dress as 7 other people on Etsy, for instance, it’s going to be harder to charge what you are worth for that product. At the most basic level, look at what it costs you to make your product, both in physical supplies and time, as well as what others are charging for similar items. That will make it a bit easier to find your comfort level with price. Prices can always be changed, too!
I know you are on FACEBOOK and also have your own etsy site, you must receive different emails from people all over the place, from different sites & on different accounts, how do you manage to keep track of various orders/emails and still keep up on the production of the products?
Again..I struggle with all of it. I no longer sell on Etsy, but on a Big Cartel site. I finally hired an assistant just to help me with correspondence and Facebook. Especially during the Holidays it’s just too much for one person to handle. I beg my friends to help out, too, when needed. Moving to Big Cartel has been an adjustment as keeping track of orders is a bit more difficult, but I just do the best I can and keep working to improve.
Do you have a family? Children? If so, how many?
I have a husband (Larry), who is pretty much a better “wife” than I am since I started this business. He does all of the housework! We have Zoe, 5 and Delia, 3 1/2.
How do you find a balance between your business and your family life? Do you ever take time for yourself?
What is this “balance” that you speak of? hehe. I am a workaholic and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had “me time”. I have finally hired enough help that this situation will change in 2011. I am determined to only work 5 days a week in the New Year.I probably have the most UNBALANCED life you could imagine. Sad, but true.
What have you found to be the most successful thing that you have done to better your business?
FACEBOOK! It has taken my business to a whole new level. It is definitely worth the time investment to get your business out there on Facebook. It’s the best free marketing tool on the planet!
Customer service is so very important and I believe word of mouth is one of the best advertising tools ~ what have YOU found to be your best advertising tool? How do you get your name/product more known?
Definitely word of mouth! I have never really had to pay for advertising, which is a blessing, since it can be expensive. I also always keep my business fresh and exciting!! There is always something new going on and people are always excited to check back and see what fun new items I have been working on. You have to create a buzz about your business. To do that..you have to be unique in what you do and be CREATIVE about marketing! People always stop me on the street to ask about something I am wearing, which is usually a skirt I made. There is your chance to promote! Have your children wear your designs. GIVE products away to friends as a way for them to advertise for you. Partner up with other business to cross-promote. There are SO many free things you can do to get your name out there. Also….be patient. It takes time to grow a business!
Do you have your own storefront? Do you go to Saturday Markets or something of the sort? Or is your company solely online?
I used to go to Markets when I first started, but now my online store keeps me pretty busy!
And finally, what 3 tips of advice would you give other women out there just starting out in business, or trying to better their own businesses?
1. Define your brand. When people think of your business..is there ONE thing that comes to mind? What will people know your business for? I say this because I see so many new shops on Etsy that are doing so many different things that it’s hard to know what their business is about. Specialize in something and do it WELL. Develop a recognizable style/product.
2. Invest in professional assistance. When first starting out, your budget may not allow you to hire help, but tap whatever resources or contacts that you have. Example: While I am good at drawing, I am horrible at graphic design (which is an expensive thing to hire for). My best friend is an amazing art director/graphic designer. She designs all of my sewing pattern covers. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT AND WHAT YOU ARE NOT GOOD AT and FIND someone to help fill in the gaps. Friends and family are generally eager to help!
3. BE confident, stay the course and have patience. Building a business is NOT easy or fast. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done (ok…other than raising children!). If something you are doing isn’t working..change it. Don’t be crushed by failure. Learn and keep going.HAVE FUN! That was more than 3 things, but…..I’m always one to push the envelope!
Thanks again Julie!
Images in this post belong to ZozoBugBaby
Did you enjoy this edition of the special “Women in Business” series? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts! Also remember to leave your thanks & comments for Julie, I’m sure she’d love to hear from you as well!
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