Closet Core Patterns is ten years old this month and I’m feeling very nostalgic about this huge milestone. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to reflect a bit on all that’s happened both to me and this small business in the years since I released our first sewing pattern.
Back in 2013, I was a commercial interior designer primarily working on shopping centres and I was… miserable. The work was monotonous and uninspiring and I was SO bored (there are only so many ways you can design indestructible “mallscape” furniture when it's meant to survive abuse from feral children and those riding lawnmower floor cleaners). I was, however, sewing non-stop. I would come home after work and sew for 5-6 hours each night, eating ramen and frozen pizza for dinner because I was too obsessed with sewing to stop and make myself real food.
At that point, I had been blogging about my sewing projects for a few years, and in 2013 I started working on a vintage-inspired bathing suit pattern for myself, which was very on-trend at the time (Norma Kamalli was having a major renaissance). I decided since I was doing so much work that I should just try and release it as a PDF. It was before Instagram took over our lives when sewing bloggers would write 3000-word essays with dozens of photos about whatever it was we were making at the time. Eventually, some of us started drafting and releasing our own patterns as well, and I was part of the early wave of indie pattern designers (shout out to BHL, Tilly, Emerald Erin, Dixie DIY, Katy + Laney, Grainline Studios, and so many more on the PDF pattern vanguard!)
I had ZERO expectations about releasing this pattern. I was secretly staying late at work to use the computers and large format printers, and just wanted to bring in enough cash to pay down some credit card debt. At $10 a pop, I sold more than 1000 Bombshell Swimsuits that first year on Etsy, and I felt like I had won the lottery. It registered that maybe there was something there there - that all the design training I’d had over 8 years might actually qualify me for something more than designing food courts. The next year I released the Nettie Bodysuit to see if this thing had legs. Apparently, it did, because that pattern also took off and gave me enough start-up capital to quit my job (I wrote about taking that big leap here).
I soon turned most of my apartment into an office, and there I worked for the first few years getting the company off the ground. My (amazing) first employee Alexis joined me around that time, and she would come over in the morning while I was often still in my pajamas and we’d figure out how the heck to run a pattern company together. The expression “learning curve” doesn’t really convey the massive spiral of education I got in those early years. How to get a pattern produced. How to set up a website, and protect digital files. How to respond to people on social media, and deal with customer crises both big and small. How to set up a shipping operation, pay taxes, do payroll and buy the right business insurance. I made a zillion mistakes and worked alllll the time, but it never felt so much like work as a mission. It was like I had a little battery inside me that was fueled by passion and purpose.
After discovering a third-floor walk-up apartment wasn’t the best place to run a business when you are dealing with hundreds of boxes of patterns every month (thank you to all the delivery people who didn’t look at my classic Montreal death trap stairs and turn around and drive away), we eventually moved to a raw loft space in a crumbling old building that took a biohazard suit and 20 gallons of paint to make liveable. We roasted in the summer and froze our tails off in the winter, but in between, we started to grow.
While I never really meant to become a boss, it just started to happen organically. I’d realize I needed help with a specific thing, and all of a sudden the perfect person would materialize at exactly the right moment. Our patternmaker Celine joined us straight out of fashion school, her creativity and love of a beautiful detail fueling all our best designs. Our marketing manager Amy was a new friend and started writing posts for the blog – all these years later and I can’t imagine doing any of this without her empathy, ideas, or humour. My upstairs neighbour Rika came on as our shipping manager, getting the patterns packed and out the door through the worst of Covid, and helping to take care of me and Harry in ways I can never begin to repay. Monserratt first helped with sample-making, then took on customer service, and is now managing our website and education program better than I ever could. Veronik joined us a few years ago to help whip our pattern development into place, and while she’s moving on this month to the next stage in her career, we are so incredibly grateful to her for helping make our pattern-making process so much faster and more efficient. Cassie, Ama + Judith are newer additions to our team who have all become just as indispensable to the culture of this company, bringing their own skills, passions, and perspectives to help shape the future of Closet Core.
What felt like overnight, I became the leader of a small team of people. And while this may come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well (after all, I was voted most likely to become prime minister in high school) it was never anything I ever consciously sought out. In fact, at the beginning, I was resolute that I didn’t want employees because I didn’t believe they’d ever care as much, or do as good a job as me (the entrepreneurial brain disease!) The truth is, Closet Core is as much or more about what all these wonderful people bring to the table as anything I could ever possibly do on my own. If I’ve done anything right, it’s been learning how to recognize what people are good at and trying to get out of their way so they can shine. I’ll always be the opinionated control-freak who sweats the tiniest details, but I think I’m getting better at sharing the burdens and learning to let go, just a little, when it counts.
We’ve grown even more in the last few years, of course. My blessing and curse is a non-stop idea-generating brain, and while I’m learning not to follow every single one, the good ones have a tendency to stick. It’s how Core Fabrics came to be. Our sister brand fabric shop has taken on a life of its own under the wise day-to-day leadership of my incredible business partner, Tereska. It is very much the fabric store I wish I had access to when I was getting started, with sustainability and quality at its very core. Together both companies moved to a much bigger studio space two years ago, and it’s been one of the biggest challenges and joys of my life to start a new company while running an established one. I had absolutely no idea how to run a retail, inventory-based business and the first year or so was very scary as we figured out how to maintain healthy cash flow and sustainable inventory management. Between both companies, we now have 16 employees, and while we’re still learning so much every day (and I’ve had many sweaty and sleepless nights stressing about how we’re going to keep the lights on through many challenging times), every single day I come into work I feel so grateful for what we’ve built. Both companies are in such very good hands with our amazing team, and I (and we) are so excited about the future.
After ten years in business, Closet Core has released 35 standalone patterns (with one of my all-time favourites coming in just a few weeks!), 5 sewing classes (with many more planned in the next two years), and of course, our sewing subscription service Crew that launched this year (which has been its own wild and amazing journey). We’re now designing and releasing 16-18 patterns a year, which absolutely blows my mind when I think about how much I struggled to get 2 or 3 out the door when I was a one-woman show. It truly takes a village.
We’ve learned so much, especially in the past few years, and right now are very focused on just doing what we’re doing to as high a level as humanly possible. Tereska tells me my greatest strength is my quest for continual improvement, and while I may drive my team batty sometimes with my perfectionism, I also think it’s why we’re still around and thriving. I’ve promised the team not to come up with any new plans or businesses for at least the next year (I’m doing my best but I basically have a new business idea every 8 weeks or so) so that we can just refine, grow, and develop what we’ve already built. I hope you know that behind the scenes, nothing inspires us more than dreaming up ways to create beautiful, enriching and creative sewing experiences for you. We believe sewing is such a powerful force for self-love and personal growth, and it drives everything we do.
In closing, I thought I’d sum up ten things I’ve learned - one for each year Closet Core has been in business:
- Everything is better with the right people around you. Every idea is brighter, every plan is smoother, every victory is sweeter, and every failure a better education.
- It doesn’t feel like work when you have a strong purpose and mission guiding all your decisions – instead, it feels a little bit like destiny.
- Letting go is the hardest, but setting people up to take ownership of their work is so important so they can feel connected and proud of what they do each day (and for me to be able to go on an actual vacation).
- The act of making is so fundamental to who we are as human beings. Creation is who we are, at a molecular level. People are happier, more in flow, and more connected to themselves and their community, when they are making things and tapping into their creative drive. Being a part of that in any small way is the most fulfilling thing I can imagine.
- The internet can be a wild place, and it can be super challenging to make the right decision when a lot of people are talking to you at once. I’ve learned that the only way I can steer the ship with any degree of confidence is to take a big step back from social media. Making space outside the echo chamber was the best decision I ever made for my own mental health and the long-term health of our companies.
- Failure is growth. Mistakes are growth. Stepping in it and embarassing yourself is growth. Every time I’ve f*cked up, it’s ultimately lead me to a better place. All you can do is learn from your mistakes and do better the next time around. Don’t let your fear of not getting it right stop you from ever trying in the first place.
- Work can be fulfilling and all-consuming, but ultimately it is just work; it is what we do to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. And what happens under that roof and at that table are ultimately what matters most, so making space for time off, other hobbies, and friends and family will make the work more fun and more meaningful, and give you the energy to keep at it well into your eleventh year and beyond.
- The angel is in the details. Attention to detail matters more than almost anything, and sweating the small stuff is not a waste of time. Caring deeply about accuracy, specificity, how things look, and how they come together, absolutely adds up to the sum of its parts. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
- Sewing people are the best people. They just are. I dare you to find a smarter, kinder, cooler, more supportive or creative community of folks… it’s not a competition, but y’all, we winning.
- Sewing has lessons to teach that go way beyond just stitching seams together. It will teach you to love yourself, to believe in yourself, to aim for the stars. Learning to sew taught me how to have the confidence and faith that I could do hard things like start a business and lead a team. I mean, once you master a fly front zipper the world is basically your oyster.
Ten years, ten amazing years. Thank you for being a part of our journey, and here’s to (at least) ten more.