I have a BA in Environmental Studies and an MA in Print Journalism, so duh, I started a kids’ clothing line! But really, I first went to school as an art major and have sewn since I was a teenager, so although on paper it seems like I went off course from my background, I don’t think so. I spent several years as a writer/editor/reporter and loved that work so much, but changes to the field of print media and an economic downturn early in my career really made it hard to be the kind of reporter I had hoped to be. Maybe I’ll be able to loop back into some of that work at some point.
The ‘why’ has sort of evolved. At first (and I’ll dig into this more in the next Q) it was just letting off some creative steam after leaving a very uncreative and unfulfilling job combined with feeling like I didn’t love the options out there for boys clothes. I would find myself dipping often into the “girls’” section for Luka, and then discovered some really great unisex kids’ clothing brands. I’d always loved sewing and had been visualizing clothes I wished existed, so at first I was just bringing some of those visualizations to reality. As the business has evolved, so has the ‘why’. One of my big complaints when first shopping for baby clothes was that everything was made overseas in what were likely sweatshops. So as we’ve grown, the part about making things here in the States has really come to the forefront. On a more local level, we’re all about making things in Philadelphia. It’s not the hub of fashion manufacturing, but Philly has such a big creative community and a lot of history as a place for manufacturing lots of other things. There are so many companies making amazing clothes for babies and kids these days, I guess I see us as Philly’s contribution to the lot.
As the business has evolved, so has the ‘why’.
Sweet Luka Mo (SLM) didn’t start out with a clear idea, but really just as an Etsy shop of homemade baby leggings a couple of months after I had started making leggings for my then infant son Luka (in the winter/spring of 2013). After sending them out to friends as gifts and getting great feedback, I decided to take a stab at starting my own line, and it seemed easy enough to name it after my son, Luka Moses. From the start, Instagram was a huge part of promoting SLM and being part of that community really helped things along. We moved off Etsy to a standalone site about 6 months after starting out.
My husband is a photographer/designer/creative thinker, and from the very beginning he was helping me do all of the things I can’t do, like create our graphics and designs on the computer. He’s also contributed greatly to design ideas and just been my overall biggest cheerleader by far. We also have a friend who works on the business with us as a consultant in merchandising, planning, and all of that business-end stuff that I knew absolutely nothing about going into this. Another friend taught me how to screen print fabric when we were still doing things in small batches of just 10 yards or so. But really some of my biggest “help” has come from the moral support and purchases of the friends and customers I’ve met through Instagram. That community really helped me get this off the ground in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without them.
But really some of my biggest “help” has come from the moral support and purchases of the friends and customers I’ve met through Instagram.
Going into this with absolutely zero experience creating and running a clothing brand has been a massive challenge. Learning everything as we go along all while raising a kid have been two huge learning curves to climb simultaneously. If you like to sleep, I recommend neither. I kid! Kind of. Coming from the publishing field, it’s been a challenge to learn the ins and outs of this stuff, but I love it so much. The Internet is an amazing research tool and I’ve spent so many nights on my computer or phone just reading about apparel manufacturing, various dye and printing processes, and searching for inspiration. We also didn’t start the business with much seed money, so between leaving my old job and putting so much of our earnings back into the business, I’ve had to learn a lot of bookkeeping and money planning (not historically my strengths!)
I’m motivated by my family, first and foremost. I figure if I can do something that is rewarding creatively and helps sustain my family, that’s pretty cool. I’m also motivated by the thought of not wanting to ever go back to a job that doesn’t value me or allow me to put my creativity to use. It’s funny, because my old job was relatively easy and a lot of running a business is very hard work, but I’m happier. Hard work when combined with creative energy is pretty magical. I’m motivated and excited at the sight of adorable little kids having the times of their lives in our clothes, and by the other people in this industry who are just here to make cool stuff and have a good time. We’ve made some amazing friends in this business – people from other brands, customers, the people who run the shops and showrooms we work with. The network is amazing and something I hope to be part of for a very long time.
Hard work when combined with creative energy is pretty magical.
Ah! Everything and nothing. It would have been nice to come into this with more of a fashion and apparel manufacturing background, but the learning has been half the ride. I wish I had the wisdom from the start to not sweat the small setbacks and to trust my gut, but that’s come more with time.
Trust your gut and remember that comparison is a complete waste of time. We each really find our own paths to success. It’s easy to see someone else’s business that’s seemingly killing it and to want to emulate that trajectory or formula, but that’s not the way to become successful. Make your own secret sauce recipe. Otherwise, it won’t feel authentic to you and it won’t feel authentic to your audience and customers. Don’t be afraid to shun trends, and know which ones to embrace. Work always with good people. Be so kind to your customers – they are everything. Ignore anyone who begrudges your success. And remember that you can’t make everyone happy (really, nobody is a jar of Nutella) but if you can make some very good people very happy, you’re on the right track.
Make your own secret sauce recipe.
You know, I’ve never been good at five-year plans but obviously, we’d love to continue to grow. I’d absolutely love it if our business can be part of the bigger made-in-the-U.S.A./ethical fashion movement and triggers more people to both produce and buy from here. And I hope we continue to evolve. I have a friend who started the fashion incubator Manufacture NY (http://manufactureny.org/) and we’ve chatted about bringing that production model to Philly. This is a huge creative zone with a lot of art schools, and I’d love to see Philly be able to retain those creatives with a better local industry and jobs in fashion and production. If we can be part of that, it would be pretty amazing.
Um, can we go off scale? If I say 12 do I sound like a lunatic? But really, there are times when I’m on social media a lot and times where I’m fatigued by it and lay off a bit.
We’re really open to all kinds of opportunities – creative collabs, linking up with bloggers, meeting people from other brands and shops/boutiques. I peek inside each open door before I decide if I want to step in.
I peek inside each open door before I decide if I want to step in.
I’ve actually become more ambitious since having my son. I didn’t think that would be the case, but I want him to be proud of me. I want him to look at me and see that you can work really hard and do your own thing and hopefully be a success. Sometimes I feel guilty about how much mental energy I spend on work, but having my own business has given me the flexibility to spend a beautiful afternoon with my kid and then answer emails when he goes to bed.
I’ve actually become more ambitious since having my son.
Every time someone says that their kid loves our clothes and that they love the quality and style, I’m really proud. That’s really all that matters.