Sigh. Our next woman with a dream job barely needs an introduction. I’ll try anyway. Sarai Mitnick is the founder of Colette Patterns, purveyor of perfect patterns, designer of dream dresses, vintage vixen of… oh, you get the picture. Join us as she shares a little of what it’s like running the coolest pattern company out there!
Colette Patterns produces pretty and timeless sewing patterns with great instructions and beautiful packaging, sold through our website and independent fabric stores around the world.
How did you end up launching Colette?
Before launching the company, I worked in Silicon Valley. I worked in the tech industry, but on the design/usability side of things.
I became a bit burned out on the tech industry. I wanted to do something creative, and I also knew I wanted to work for myself doing something I felt passionately about. For me, that was the craft of sewing. I envisioned Colette Patterns as a way to fill a niche of stylish and well-presented sewing patterns, but also as a way to contribute to the preservation of the craft of home sewing.
Did your previous experience help you out now, or did you completely head out in a new direction when you started Colette?
Working in the User Experience field taught me a lot about understanding the needs of real people and incorporating those needs into a well-designed product. The entire field is about listening to people and designing things that are useful to them. I think that, as a result of that, my customer’s experience always comes first.
Working for big tech companies also taught me a lot about dealing with stress and crazy schedules, and also about what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to organizing a business.
I get up early and wake up slowly with plenty of coffee, then go for a run or do some other kind of exercise before heading off to work. I’ll drive or bike to my studio, which is in an old industrial building with south facing windows and lots of light (imperative for me in cloudy Portland!). I usually spend the first hour or so of my day catching up on email. I try to clear out my inbox every day. From there, my day can go in a number of directions, but I’ll typically spend it with Caitlin, my assistant. She’ll work on muslins or making samples, while I might work on drafting, grading patterns, writing instructions, or talking to vendors. I think if you’ve ever had a small business, you know how many hats there are to wear, so things are always varied and interesting.
What’s your favorite part of what you’re doing now?
I love designing, and I love writing about sewing. I feel like my company’s mission is to educate and inspire other sewists, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing to dedicate your working life to.
How do you make it work?
One of the challenges I’ve faced in the last year is dealing with growth. As a new small business owner, it wasn’t something I’d dealt with before, so I’m still learning how to handle it. Basically, I’d made the classic mistake of assuming that my costs would grow roughly in proportion to my sales/income. Not at all true! Now I have much more overhead then when I started (assistants, studio space) in addition to the extra cost of production. So as I’ve grown, the company has brought in more money of course… but it’s also become necessary to spend MUCH more. However, I consider this a good problem to have.
The other thing I’ve learned a lot about is staying organized and structured. Like a lot of creative people, I’m naturally sort of messy and impulsive. I’ve had to impose a lot of systems and schedules on myself to keep things in working order. I hate feeling overwhelmed by chaos, so it’s been necessary for me, even if it goes against my inclinations. Now I consider myself way more organized than the average person. I just have to be that way to make it work.
Is this your sole support?
This is my only job, and I hope to someday employ my husband full time (or close to it). He already helps part-time, but has a separate consulting business as well.
Working for yourself is something I think everyone should at least try. It is difficult, but you can get so much out of it: freedom, creative control, and flexibility for the rest of your life. I’d advise anyone who wants to start a business to do something you’re already passionate about. Embrace challenges, learn to prioritize, and keep the people around you happy!
What’s next for Colette?
We’re introducing our first men’s pattern this year, which is very exciting. I also hope to introduce more beginner level patterns in the next year. It’s very challenging to design something that’s simple to sew, but still interesting and stylish… and I love design challenges! I have many ideas for future directions outside of the patterns, but I’m just playing and exploring for right now.
Running my own business was one of the best decisions I ever made. I love almost every aspect of it, and would encourage any person to give it a shot. It’s not for everyone, but if you have the right characteristics, it can really transform the way you live, as well as make a difference in the world.
Super special thanks to Sarai for taking the time to ‘chat’ with us today! If you haven’t already, check out her site, the Colette blog and the Flikr group! And if you’re itching to make the easiest, most flattering dress in the universe, head on over and join the the Sewalong hosted by Gertie! Starts December 6th!