Growing a business is challenging for a lot of reasons, and one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is the actual space. When is it time to upgrade? Can I afford an independent studio? How long can I mentally survive working out of my home?
I’ve postponed getting a proper workspace for as long as possible, but we’re definitely at a tipping point. Alexis is my studio manager and has been with me for over a year, and we are getting increasingly crushed working out of one room and a small hallway alcove (the rest of my living space is basically filled with boxes 24/7). I knew this year something had to change, and decided when I bought my new apartment (I move in June!) I’d temporarily keep my old place for a studio until we can find something better (ie. with waaaay more natural light and ideally a freight elevator since our delivery guys basically want to murder us whenever they have to carry a massive print run of patterns up two flights of narrow Montreal stairs). My current rent is crazily cheap so I’m confident the business can handle the expense on top of the new, terrifying mortgage I’ll be paying on my own.
It’s not sexy in here right now, but I took some photos recently for a piece I wrote for Mimi G’s new magazine Sew Sew Def, so I thought I’d show your our current set-up. We’ll be re-organizing once I’ve officially moved out, but for now think of this as a snapshot of a growing small business bursting at the seams.
This is sewing central. I moved my sewing machines to this corner last year, so the set-up is a little different than the last studio tour I did (which kind of makes me laugh now since it was so clean and styled and now I’m just fighting for storage in every available corner). We added a cover stitch machine to the party and normally it sits at the back of the table and gets pulled out when needed. I moved all our thread and notions over here too so everything is within arms reach; it’s a very efficient workspace.
My gravity feed iron is one of the best investments I made. It presses better than anything and has survived multiple droppings. I turn on the little red light next to it whenever I use it so I remember to turn it off since there is no auto off. Normally those pocket doors are open to my very messy living room so I can watch Netflix while I’m sewing, but I’ll spare you the disaster that is the rest of my home right now.
I moved my desk across the room from the sewing station. I spend a lot of time here so I invested in a second-hand Aeron chair for my poor back, and I use an ergonomic keyboard tray so my wrists don’t fall off when I’m marathonning at my desk. I’m kind of over the brass birds but I’ve had them here forever so I’ve learned to make peace with them.
On the opposite side of the room is our cutting table (tutorial to make it here), garment rack and fitting dummy. I use the table a lot to shoot things so it takes pride of place by the window. We have very little shelving storage so I try to keep everything we use frequently in storage bins under the tabletop for easy access.
Next to the sewing station is a mirror (great for fittings and #ootd selfies), along with my industry dress form by Alvanon. This was one of the biggest capital investments I made in the past few years but I am so happy I got her; she is a perfect representation of the size 10 we draft for, and has removable arms, a squishy belly, and can be wheeled around and rotated on the rolling rack. Also, plants, because I’m obsessed with green, living things even when we don’t really have space for them.
The space would be fine for just me, but Alexis and I are often working together and it gets pretty cramped, especially when we both need to sew. We’re both really ready to take over the adjoining current living room and have a little more room to move around.
Speaking of Alexis, her workstation is set up in the nook/alcove next to the main studio. She does all of our shipping and customer service, along with a million other things because she’s really smart and organized and good at everything (although a little camera shy ;). We have to do a lot of vertical storage so her workspace isn’t the most zen place ever, but everything she needs is at hand.
Here’s another view of her work area from the hallway…
I’d say we’re working in about 300 square feet, and that’s not counting all the space taken up by boxes in the rest of the apartment or the storage room in the back filled to the ceiling with pattern stock. It’s a little hairy to be perfectly honest. Like, I’m sorry my bras are air drying in the bathroom hairy, and please let me close this door so you don’t see my unmade bed and pile of clothes hairy, and oh, I cooked a huge meal last night and was too tired to clean up hairy. It’s intimate working in someone’s home but thankfully Alexis is a beautiful angel and has handled this transitional time with grace and humour. I promise you Alex, you will have a normal office and workspace so very soon.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to expand and stretch our wings. I recently bought a giant industrial cutting table and industrial sewing machine from a friend which unfortunately we don’t have space to use right now. I’m hoping to give Alex the big table so she has lots of room to pack orders, and I’m going to start playing around with the industrial machine to see how I like it. I’m hoping to be in a completely new space if and when I can find a cool/safe loft or storefront location in the neighborhood. I’m limited geographically since I need to be be close to the dog’s therapy center and my new place, and also because I don’t want to buy a car.
Hope you liked this little sneak peek of where we’re at… I’d love to hear how other people are managing the workspace issue with their own small businesses!