Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What happened to Brighter Day?

My very first bag
Back in 2011, while neck-deep in nursing school, I needed a creative outlet and decided to pick up sewing. I'd sewn a little bit before, but attempted a small clutch purse from a tutorial I found online. It was the first zipper I had ever installed and, though it probably took me hours longer than it should have, it actually turned out and I had a blast doing it. I took a picture of the bag, listed it in my Etsy shop (where I had formerly sold jewelry), and within 5 minutes, the bag sold. 

The next day, I made an identical bag and put it in my shop. It sold later that day. "I might be onto something," I thought. The following day, a bride sent me a request for 5 bags for her bridesmaids. I'd never made 5 bags before, but thought, "Why not?" and went to work.

Fast forward a year and a half. The business, Brighter Day, had taken off. I was working full-time as a nurse, was pregnant with Liam, and was sewing for hours each night. Once Liam arrived, the trend continued: working at the hospital 3 days a week and sewing on my days off. While there were some very long days and nights spent sewing, the work was invigorating and I felt creatively stretched in the best ways. I heard from brides all over the world who sent in very specific requests which had me hunting all over for the perfect fabric combinations and special touches to add to their bags. It wasn't long before I had bags in several boutiques, too. Soon, I was making as much money sewing as I made being a nurse, so I decided to quit my job at the hospital to stay home with Liam and sew full-time. For the next two years, this is what I did. A whole lot of sewing. As in... 1500 bags. 

For a short time, I employed another lady part-time to help me conquer the never-ending list of orders, which was incredibly helpful. Then we moved to North Carolina and I started working by myself again. I interviewed a few ladies to help me sew but there was always a catch: one smoked (the test purses were irreparably smelly), another had cats (and that smell is impossible to get out of a fabric bag). So it was just me, my sewing machine, and our growing little guy.

For a while, this setup worked. Our days consisted of trips to the fabric store and the post office while I wore Liam in the carrier, or sewing while he played on his play mat on the floor. I frequently felt frazzled, but I told myself daily (and sometimes hourly) how lucky I was to be doing this and getting to stay home with Liam at the same time.

But then, at some point just before we moved into our current house, things changed. I can't put my finger on it. Was it a certain number of orders per week that made me feel so consumed? Was it Liam's new mobility that made it impossible to work while he was awake? Was it the fact that Liam was now gone two mornings a week so I could work (and I missed him)? Was it the loneliness of having no coworkers? Was I just plain burnt out?

I think it was a combination of all of these reasons, but while I was pregnant with Lanie, the work began to feel like drudgery. Every time my phone would *ping* with a new sale, my heart would sink. I often had to work after the rest of my family went to bed, which made me feel like a slave to my business. It was hard work, lonely work, and at this point, uninspiring work. When people would say, "How lucky you are to get to work from home!" I would inwardly think, "Not really. With kids at home, it doesn't feel like much of a blessing at all." I had absolutely no down time, because if I wasn't playing with Liam, I was sewing. If I wasn't sewing, I was cleaning the kitchen. If I wasn't making dinner or grocery shopping, I was answering Etsy convos. There was never, ever a break.

Just before Lanie was born, I decided to close the shop indefinitely. I thought that maybe after a few months away, I'd begin to miss it. I finished up all of my orders and tied up every loose end before her birth and let out a deep sigh of relief.

Now, almost 4 months later, I have to be honest: I don't miss it at all. I feel a tinge of guilt when I admit that, though, because it doesn't negate how grateful I am for the years I was able to sew full-time. To work in my own home. To be my own boss. I don't take it for granted that many people dream of that setup and are never able to make it a reality.

So the shop, as it stands, is closed. Perhaps I'll pick it back up someday in some other form, but I can't make any promises. It certainly feels like a step of faith to say "no" to something that had become pretty unhealthy (read: pure stress) and yet to say "no," too, to income we needed. I'm really not sure what's next. At some point soon, I'd love to go back into nursing part-time. I'd love to do more writing. I'd love to do lots of things. Right now, though, the task at hand is two very full-time kids (and one who is having a difficult time sleeping for more than 3 hours at a time). I never thought I'd feel fulfilled in "just" caring for them, but right now, they are absolutely enough.

I write this for two reasons. One is that a lot of people have no idea what running a small handmade business looks like. It isn't all just playing in beautiful fabrics and taking Instagram pictures of your latest ideas. It's late nights and business taxes, it's post office lines and broken sewing machines. At the same time, there's nothing like the satisfaction of a happy customer. Knowing you were able to bring tears to their eyes when they opened their package and saw their vision come to life is a gift.

The second reason is plain: So many of you have supported me and my little shop for years, and I really can't thank you enough. You often bought bags simply because you liked my blog and wanted to support my family, and that is a generous and beautiful gift. I will never look back in regret over the years I was able to spend working so hard and yet being able to stay home. It truly has been a privilege. So thank you. Seriously, thank you.

PS - I do still have my shop open with instant download sewing patterns available, and I will keep those up for the foreseeable future. This has become a great option, and I now get excited for every sale, hoping someone will be able to create their own bag from a pattern that took me years (and many late nights) to perfect.


  1. Hi Whitney, I've been following your blog and your business for years, you've been hugely motivating to myself and my husband as we are essentially just a few years behind your lovely family (IE no kids, but would like to find a way to earn money from home). I even started blogging because of you and taught myself how to install a zipper using your tutorials. I even started my own Etsy shop selling wedding decor type items, that got a little bit of traction because I was so inspired by you! I've often wondered if I have what it takes to be as successful as you've been - the few Etsy sales that I've had have been time consuming, but over all left me feeling so happy to have provided a bride with something special. But over the course of a year, it never provided me with enough income to make a difference to our family, and I'm still working full time. I guess what I'm trying to say is that your business has made an impact, your writing is inspiring, and overall you're such an inspiration to other women out here in the world who want desperately to provide an income to a family, raise children without sparing one drop of your attention, which is a near impossible combination, I'm sure.

    All that to say, keep doing what you're doing, raising those sweet kiddos, and being content with what being a mom looks like for your family. Your readers will still be here, and we're all praying for your family!

  2. I have my little Etsy shop, which I love. People ask me if it is successful (yes, for what I want, no in the grand scheme of things) and if it keeps me busy. I'm quitehappy to tell them that doesn't really keep me that busy. I want success, but I'm afraid that if my shop takes off that it will kill my love of making these custom designs for people. Also, while I enjoy being able to create and to have a little income, but I really, REALLY enjoy being able to be present with my little people. May you continue to have peace right where you are and to be able to continue saying sacred no's to the opportunities that aren't a good fit for you where you are right now.

  3. I've followed your blog for a few years now and I've always been inspired by your drive and creativity and accomplishment! It's refreshing to see that you're very human as well :) Grateful for your example in practicing wisdom and stepping away when you needed to (in this season) to put your family first.

  4. So happy for you! Although, I'm a *slight bit* bummed I didn't order a bag while you were still producing them! ;-)
    (I also found it funny that sweet smoker and cat lady didn't make the cut...ha!)

    1. Ha! I found it funny that they applied and then didn't think anything of it when I got the bags back. Oh my.

  5. After being home with Ian for the last 9 weeks and having Isaac running around, destroying the house while I simultaneously pick back up after him, I couldn't IMAGINE trying to run a full time business from home as well. I already feel like I hardly have a minute to myself. Working from home is no small feat.

    And honestly, I'm really excited to go back to work here in a few weeks. I'll miss my boys desperately and I'll also get in some much needed adult time. Not to mention, I'll get to use my brain again!! I know it makes me a better mom and wife. I really love doing the PRN thing... it's kind of perfect for our family. I primarily work when Jordan is home, but over the summer (while MDO is no longer happening), the boys will also be taken care of by a sweet lady from our church. I love it!! And I love my job!! :)

    (sorry for the novel-sized comment!! Ha!!)

    1. Oh man... I would LOVE to work PRN, but am afraid I don't have enough experience yet. I did just apply for a 3pm to 11pm shift (2-3 days a week) which would be amazing. We'll see!