Reporting from the heart, quiltmaker Lindsay Stead set out to “make my own mark on this long tradition, while at the same time staying true to its roots.” Originally crafting the graphic, one-of-a-kind handmade quilts herself, Lindsay quickly found herself in a position where the growth of her business also meant the inclusion of other people in production. “Moving forward, I know that I need to have an open mind as to how my business can grow and change,” Lindsay adds, “While always maintaining the values that are important to me.”
She looks to those fruitful makers who came before her as inspiration, but cautions against comparing “your beginnings to someone else’s middle… I only try to compare where I am today to where I was before.” Creating her own opportunities and working hard every day are what she credits most to her progress. “I think the feeling of success is very personal,” she admits. But when talent and energy come together, the risk is worth taking. “There isn’t much to consider. If you’re passionate about something, then go for it!” —Annie
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I’m not sure that I ever did decide to start my own business — I feel like it happened very naturally. I have been interested in design for as long as I can remember, and chose to study furniture design in college. I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind, I always wanted to design my own products as a full-time job, but I never had a concrete plan. After finishing college I began working with textiles, quilting in particular, and I worked on quilts for a handful of years before launching my business.
After a few years of defining my own aesthetic, I decided to create a small website and enter some quilts into a juried show. I was fortunate enough to have my work accepted into the show and even luckier to have one of them sell. I had also made a couple of commission quilts in that same year and I realized that I guess I did have the beginnings of a small business. From there things began to grow quite quickly — I opened an online shop, began taking on more commissions, and also started working with a group of quilters in rural Ontario to help me produce a larger volume of work.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?
At a few points during my quilting career I have made some decisions that would define what my business is or would be in the future, but I have been realizing more and more that these definitions were actually more like limitations. My original intent was to only make one-of-a-kind quilts and to make (and hand-quilt) them all myself. Letting go of this idea and working with a group of experienced quilters has meant that I can make my quilts accessible to more people. We can produce more and produce them at a lower cost, while still maintaining heirloom-quality quilts. Moving forward, I know that I need to have an open mind as to how my business can grow and change, while always maintaining the values that are important to me. Offering thoughtfully designed products that are well made, supporting local craftspeople to grow my production, and working on projects that I’m passionate about is how I currently define my business.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I’m not sure if someone told me this or if I read it somewhere, but the best advice I was ever given was, “Don’t compare your beginnings to someone else’s middle.” I think that sums up what I tell myself every day. It’s so easy to feel like you aren’t successful when you compare yourself to others who are further along than you. Although I think it’s incredibly inspiring to look at other successful businesses (and often reassuring that if I keep working hard, I may obtain the same success), I only try to compare where I am today to where I was before. If I feel like things are moving forward and I’m happy with what I have accomplished, then I’m on the right track.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
One of the biggest difficulties in turning my craft into a business was being overwhelmed with all the steps it would take to get there. Trying to tackle everything from setting up an e-commerce site, accounting software, hiring other quilters, sourcing fabrics, photography, social media, etc., etc., etc. sometimes seemed like too much to overcome. I think the key for me was to try not to think of that daunting list and just work hard every day, one thing at a time.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
You need to create your own opportunities. I have always been the kind of person to go after something that I want, but it wasn’t until running my own business that I realized how important that would be. Almost all of the most exciting moments in my quilting career have come from me initiating dialogues — with peers to plan an exciting exhibition, with the quilters I work with to produce beautiful hand-quilted work, with other artists to share a creative space. You really can create your own opportunities and this is invaluable in trying to grow a small business.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
I definitely know that I have made mistakes along the way, but they are always learning experiences that inevitably lead to improvements, so it’s hard to think of mistakes as failures.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Time. Anyone who runs a small business will tell you that it takes so much time. Whether it’s time with family and friends or time to just work on a quilt for fun, I often feel like I have to miss out in order to keep on top of my business. I have found that setting some boundaries for myself has really helped me to keep a better balance. For example, I now make sure I take one full day off every week — it really has made a huge difference for me.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
I think the feeling of success is very personal, and most often not what others would measure your success by. For me, the greatest sense of success I feel is when I connect with a customer who really appreciates my work. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that you can create something and that others will want to make it a part of their lives.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
I’m not sure if it’s just my nature, but I’d say there isn’t much to consider. If you’re passionate about something, then go for it! Just start doing it and the rest will fall into place.