travel

small is beautiful: drygoods design

Image: Olaiya Land

It's time for another installment of Small is Beautiful! For those of you who missed the first one, SIB was born out of a desire to document and share some of the amazing independent businesses and creative projects near and dear to my heart. I also want to provide a space where small business owners can talk about how they got started and the challenges and joys involved in running your own business. Whether you're contemplating taking the leap into setting up shop yourself or just looking for cool places to check out in Seattle, I hope you enjoy hearing their stories.

This week, I'm featuring Drygoods Design. Owner, Keli Faw's ebullient spirit combined with the expertly curated selection of beautiful fabrics and notions makes this a space I love to stop into whenever I'm in Pioneer Square. I've taken several classes here and am always thrilled (and as a novice seamstress--somewhat amazed) at the beautiful garments and accessories I leave with!


An interview with Keli Faw, owner of Drygoods Design fabric shop and sewing studio

Image: Olaiya Land

Mad lib time! People could describe your business as Pinterest meets reality.

What is your background? 
I came out of college during an economic downturn so I headed back to retail and then as the economy improved I moved to corporate communications, PR, and marketing.

How/when did you get the idea for your current venture? 
Strangely enough, the current version of Drygoods was not originally in my mind's eye or plans. I started out as an online-only shop where I also made things to sell. I couldn't find fabric locally that I loved on a regular basis for my own line of goods so I decided I could take matters into my own hands. From there, it became more about getting the fabric to customers than the line of goods and then creating a retail experience that was not found elsewhere. After watching the power of our customers learning from each other, it just made sense to launch the studio and classes.

Image: Olaiya Land

On a scale of one to shitting-your-pants, how nervous were you about starting your business?
Initially, it was a three because the growth and expansion were very organic, all the while keeping my day job for a couple of years. I launched Drygoods a month before my second child was born knowing that it was now or never. And at that point, it was just me. When it came to opening a retail outpost a little less than a year later, it came at one of the worst possible times in my life. My father was terminally ill but I knew that if I didn't go for it, I would always wonder what if. He passed away a month before I opened the shop. It was crazy and dark, especially with two young children and frequently traveling husband but it's strange how adaptable we are. 

The first few months of having a retail presence were almost a blur. Then it became easier, but it's taken years to get a true handle on all that I need to do and do it well. As Drygoods has grown, the stakes are higher. Knowing that you have people relying on you for their livelihood, it's much more sobering.  Since then though, the scale has shifted much more to stress and freaking out, especially when it became clear we had to move from Ballard to another neighborhood. However, our move to Pioneer Square was a really good move. Not only is it a beautiful space, it's also central to so many parts of the city and we were incredibly fortunate that so many of our Ballard customers kept coming to see us.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

What's the greatest challenge with your business? 
Managing the manic nature of retail. One day is amazing, the next can be the worst. In this city, we're competing with the weather, city events, and the purchasing behaviors that major online retailers are driving. We have an amazing customer community but we are not invincible.

What do you love most about your business? What brings you the most joy? 
I love watching our customers and students react the same way we feel about fabric and/or completing a project. Watching someone catch the sewing and/or craft bug is so rewarding. And making the buying decisions around fabric. It's almost always like Christmas morning when a shipment arrives.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

What's on your bedside table (be honest)? 
A few travel books for the US (my kids and I are scheduled to go on a four-week road trip this summer), the Hillbilly Elegy, the Alexander Hamilton biography, a bunch of receipts, my current knitting project, and my tarot decks

Secret hobby and/or obsession? 
It's not so secret but my cathartic moments away from the shop are found knitting, cooking, and working in our yard.

Favorite city? 
That might be the hardest of questions. In Europe - Paris, Stockholm, and Lisbon. The US - NYC and San Fran

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

If you could get in a time machine, zoom back into the past and give yourself one piece of advice before starting your business, what would it be? 
Okay, this is the hardest question :). I think it would be to start it earlier and diving in sooner with a more concrete version versus going from an organic, "let's see how this goes" point of view. However, at the same time, it's hard to wish for another directive. I think of all the incredible people I've met through this all and I would hate that all the good and the bad didn't potentially happen because I took a different course of action about the business.

What other local business/project do you think is Small and Beautiful? 
Some of my favorite places to shop are Re-Soul in Ballard, Phinney Books, Velouria, Clover Toys, and The Palm Room

Image: Olaiya Land

smoky calendula margaritas

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

I just got back from five sun-soaked days in Palm Springs. Five days during which, per our tradition, I ditched my devices, hiked, swam, sunned myself and got what felt like a luxurious amount of sleep. 

All that sleep and sunshine and time away from my computer and phone did something magical to my brain. It afforded me the time and perspective to think. Not about laundry and bills and the rising tide of emails in my inbox as I do in my normal life. But really think--about the bigger picture of my relationships and my work and whether I like the direction things are going. Mostly I do. But I discovered that in a few areas (many related to this blog) I definitely do not. With a little distance and space to connect with myself, I realized I’ve started to feel like a phony in my online existence.

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

For the past several months, I’ve lost my lifelong joy in cooking. I’m constantly thinking about whether recipes will look good on the blog and on instagram, whether people will actually make them, how difficult they’ll be to shoot--instead of simply what I want to eat. My photography, too, has felt staid and unsatisfying. I feel like it’s become sort of advertorial and aggressively pretty as I’ve been prioritizing turning this space into a full-blown business and growing the blog and my followers on social media. My Instagram feed, the victim of too many online marketing classes, has started to feel impersonal and rigidly formulaic. The whole shebang had started to feel like a rather unfulfilling slog. 

And that, friends, is no good. 

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

I recently read a post by a woman I follow, who’d decided to take a six-month break from Instagram in order to focus on herself and being a better mom, wife and friend. I found it immensely encouraging to hear about someone else’s struggles with the social media monster. It made me feel I’m not the only one unnerved by my constant desire to find Instagrammable moments rather than be present. 

So it feels important to tell you all about how I’ve been feeling and publicly announce my intentions to keep things a little more real around here. I think it will keep me more accountable (thank you!) and I hope it will help anyone else wrestling with similar demons.

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

For these reasons, and because I just need this space to feel fun again, I’ve decided to scrap all the advice I’ve accumulated over the past 2 ½ years on how to grow your blog/social media following/online business that doesn’t feel like me. If it feels like an opportunity to grow my skills that will push me outside my comfort zone (like the Oaxaca photography workshop I took), that’s one thing. If it feels cheesy and inauthentic, it’s a no-go. 

I don’t care if posts featuring cakes and cookies and ice cream get more likes. I don’t eat those things very often. I don’t care if the prevailing theory of social media is that you should have a highly-curated feed with lots of negative space and a unified “color story”. I want to post what I find beautiful and what makes me happy, in whatever order I feel like. In general, I want less pretty and more real.

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

To that end, I plan to free myself from the vice-grip of social media. I want to work on developing a photographic style that feels truer to myself. This week I started reading cookbooks for fun again and choosing recipes that appeal to nothing but my own whims and fancies. It was fantastic. 

I want to focus on the parts of my job that bring me real joy: Travel. Leading retreats and workshops. Meeting and collaborating with new folks. Getting people jazzed and confident to cook for themselves and people they love. 

image: Olaiya Land

Connecting with other people and encouraging them to do the same is what gives me the most energy--not learning about SEO or fretting over my social media feeds. This realization feels incredibly liberating, like it deserves a little celebration. So this week, I made some desert-inspired Smoky Calendula Margaritas and toasted my new-found freedom. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. And that’s definitely something worth raising a glass to.


Smoky Calendula Margaritas

  • 2 tablespoons calendula petals + additional to serve
  • ¼ cup flaky salt (I used Maldon)
  • ½ cup mezcal
  • ¼ cup calendula simple syrup (see recipe below)
  • ¼ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • Lime wedges, to serve

*Notes: I learned on my trip to Oaxaca that the best quality mezcal is clear, not amber. Do yourself a favor and track down some quality mezcal for these margaritas. I learned the hard way that cheap mezcal is not your friend. If you want to wake up without a killer hangover, buy good mezcal

- You can buy calendula petals online or from an herbalist or health food store. I bought mine at Rainbow Natural Remedies here in Seattle. Marigold petals will also work. If they come as full flower heads, remove the petals from the stems before proceeding.

image: Olaiya Land

To make calendula salt: place 2 tablespoons of the calendula petals in a spice grinder and pulse until roughly chopped (you can also do this in a mortar and pestle or molcajete). Transfer to small and bowl and add the salt. Stir to combine and set aside. Stored in an airtight container, the calendula salt will keep indefinitely.)

To make the margaritas: Pour some of the calendula simple syrup into a small plate with a lip. Transfer the calendula salt to a similar plate. Dip the rim of 2 8-oz cocktail glasses into the simple syrup then place the rims of the glasses in the calendula salt and turn to coat evenly. Set aside. 

In a cocktail shaker, combine the mezcal, calendula simple syrup, lime juice, orange juice and a pinch of calendula petals and shake vigorously over ice for 30 seconds. Pour into the prepared glasses. Top with more ice if necessary. Garnish with a lime wedges and serve.

Makes 2 drinks.


Calendula Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dried calendula petals

Place the sugar, calendula petals and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. 

Remove from the heat and set aside to steep for at least 30 minutes, and preferably for an hour or two. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to remove as much syrup as possible. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

oaxaca wanderings

oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com

I’m home from Oaxaca and what an amazing trip! I went for a photography workshop that turned out to be a little tougher than I'd expected. We rose early and headed to bed late. We shot through heat, dust, smoke and into darkness. We muddled our way through a foreign language to ask total strangers if we could take their portrait. I got a stomach bug. And slammed my finger in a metal door. And one night I drank WAAAAY too much cheap mezcal and danced my ass off at a salsa bar and then had the (second) worst hangover I’ve ever had in my life. It was not pretty. 

oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com

But was it ever worth it.

In addition to the above trials and tribulations, there were visits to some of the most beautiful, vibrant markets I’ve ever seen. A trip to see artisans making paper by hand and coloring it with locally sourced natural dyes. A visit with a group of feisty sisters crafting ceramics using techniques thousands of years old. A bumpy car ride to a palenque where we watched as our hosts smoked woody agave hearts, then mashed, fermented and distilled them into some of the finest mezcal I’ve ever tasted. Everywhere we went, we were greeted warmly and fed heartily. The Oaxacans we met generously shared their stories, their knowledge, their traditions and their tables with us. 

oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com

Through those sunrise shoots, rides over dirt roads to breathtaking locations, and interactions with the people we met in Oaxaca, I feel I’ve grown as a photographer, too. I learned more from Andrea and Martin in nine days than I would have in a year (or a lifetime) of experimenting on my own. Add to that the generous feedback and advice of my fellow travelers (many of whom I can now call friends) and this trip was truly invaluable.

oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com

Oaxaca has changed me a little. The time I spent hearing the stories of such talented, wise, humble women and men in Mexico has left me feeling more connected to people everywhere and more grateful for my time on this earth. Bruised fingers, sleep deprivation, hangovers and all.

oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com
oaxaca on millys-kitchen.com