I started out today repainting a piece of furniture for my bedroom at about 5:20 am. To some that might sound crazy, but as I keep rediscovering there is something magical about starting the day doing something with your hands that doesn’t involve looking at a screen. It gets me excited about the day and motivated to work so that when I do sit down in front of the screen I feel like my brain is ready. I know some of you may not consider yourself to be crafty or artistic, or maybe not even particularly creative. Trust me, you have it in you. Just try it sometime, and if you do let me know how it goes.
While I may have it in me to start my day making jewelry or repainting a piece of furniture, there are many things on my list in which I have dabbled that I know would not give me that little oomph to start the day.
As much as I wish it were otherwise, high on that list is sewing. I received a sewing machine as a college graduation gift, and I can’t begin to tell you excited I was to receive it. It was something I had dreamed about owning for years, so when my friend and his mom gave it to me I was over the moon. One of my first excursions when I moved to Boston was to a fabric store. I walked around that store for hours, imagining all of the things I could make. I had visions of sewing an entire wardrobe for myself, full of stunning, unique clothes. And I did make a few things, including an easy skirt but I quickly realized that sewing was just not my thing, much less designing and sewing clothes. Lana Stepul, on the other hand, clearly has it in her blood. Her Etsy shop features gorgeous, hand-crafted feminine pieces made in Brooklyn. Along with her daughter, Kat, she is here today to share a little bit about her business.
Tell us a little bit about your work and how you got started with it.
Lana: As long as I can remember myself, I have been making clothes. First, for my dolls, then for myself, my daughter when she was born, and finally, for my friends. It all started out of necessity, rather than pure creativity. I was living in Moscow, Russia at that time and we really didn’t have not only much variety in terms of clothing and fabrics, but also access to all those things. I had to be resourceful and I would repurpose fabrics, re-cut old dresses, look for every possible way to create something pretty. After all, no matter how tough our lives would get, women always wanted to look beautiful and well put together.
Upon moving to New York in early 90’s, I was utterly astonished with the variety of fabrics available to me. I created a sewing studio in my home where I worked for more than fifteen years dressing my friends and a few private clients. At the same time, I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and honed my construction and technical skills at such brands as Tibi, Rebecca Taylor, and Haute Hippie to name a few. I would come home after a long day at work, and sew some more, and then sketch and sketch until I would fall asleep at my desk.
At one point, I just realized that I just had to do something about all that creativity that was pouring out of me. My daughter Kat discovered Etsy and asked me if I wanted to make a few pieces and offer it for sale. That’s what I did. Since then, I quit my day job. And so did Kat. Four years later we are still making custom clothing for our clients on Etsy. My idea has always been that clothes must be flattering to one’s body, made from good, quality fabrics, and be well-constructed. These are the key principles that I use when I create pieces for my clients.
What do you like most about having your own creative business? What do you find most challenging?
Lana: The most exhilarating part is of course having the independence and freedom to explore my own creativity. I love the whole process, from sourcing fabrics to constructing patterns to sewing to seeing how a pile of fabric can be transformed into a thing of wearable beauty. The challenging part for me is the whole management of the business, the operations of it. But that is why I am so happy and grateful that I have my daughter Kat. She takes care of those daily tasks that would drive me insane – managing orders, shipping, accounting and the like.
Kat: And as for me, I really love the sense of fulfillment that I get at the end of the day. Knowing that we created something that our clients would love and cherish is truly important to me. And the fact that it is my mom who made it all makes me really proud. But the funny thing is that being in business with a family member is a challenge of its own. Sometimes we fight, sometimes we disagree, or sometimes we agree too much.
What inspires you to create?
Lana: In my world practically anything can serve as an inspiration. Sometimes I see something on the street and it hits me! There! That’s the color I need or that’s the shape that I want. Fabrics, of course, are the biggest inspiration. I look at it, touch it, and immediately start imagining what it can become. Also, my clients give me a lot of good ideas. Just imagining them going about their daily lives can result in a dozen of sketches!
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
Lana: The story behind the product. When you read or hear the story you somehow want to become part of it. You want that thing in your home or you want to wear it. It really makes you feel unique.
Kat: The story is definitely important and I also think there is certain energy that gets passed from the hands of the maker onto the product they create. It is intangible, but very powerful. I personally want to know where everything is made or grown. It makes me feel connected to that product and I really believe that it can potentially make my life better and more meaningful.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
Lana: When Kat was little she loved making something with her hands. She would make greeting cards for me and her grandparents. And all sorts of pillows decorated with pretty much anything and everything she could get her hands on in the house without getting into too much trouble like broken jewelry or macaroni shells. But once she gave me a little soft toy stitched from fabric scraps. She embroidered the eyes and the nose on it. This was the most precious birthday gift ever. I cherish it to this day.
Kat: Oh, that’s a tough one! I have quite a few handmade pieces in my home and I love them all. But one of my absolute favourites is a bracelet that I received as a gift that had pieces of turquoise “wrapped” in silver which was molded by hand. You can even see the artist’s fingerprints on the metal!
When you are not making art what do you like to do with your time?
Lana: In the summertime, I love gardening. This year I planned a whole vegetable garden. So that will take care of most of my free time. I also read a lot and love watching old Hollywood movies.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
Lana: Never give up! Yes, you can be scared and not know what to do or how to do something, but never let that stop you from pursuing your dreams. Find courage to trust your intuition and let it be your guide.
Kat: My advice would be to always ask for help when you have questions or don’t know something. Yes, you can try to figure something out on your own, but there is a very good chance that it will only cause frustration and take you away from actually creating. You’d be surprised how many kind and helpful people are out there willing to share their knowledge with you. All you have to do is ask.
Thank you, Lana & Kat, for being on my blog today, and be sure to check out their shop!
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