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