I first came across Tressa Brotsky’s gorgeous organic soft toys and goods for wee ones at the Moss Street Market in Victoria BC this summer. My mom wanted to pick up a gift for her acupuncturist, who was expecting and I was happy to tag along to one of my favourite community markets. I was immediately taken with Tressa’s gorgeous wares and her eye for design, detail and an elegant simplicity in style. That’s a heck of a lot of praise to heap on a seemingly humble set of organic cotton burp cloths and such, but if you take a look I think you’ll agree they are the loveliest burp cloths you can find.
Since then I’ve admired both Tressa’s lovely goods and, as I started following her blog and learning more about her, I had a hunch that she’d be a great resource for me to turn to for wisdom around my pending motherhood and entrepreneur balancing act. I recently had a lovely phone call with her during which we talked about selling goods online, building a business, balancing motherhood and running a small business and all kinds of other good stuff which I’m excited to share with you here.
Tressa’s describes herself as always having been someone who was making stuff. In university, at UVic, she was sculpting, painting, and from how she tells it generally living in her studio. Eventually her eye for creating beautiful things met her desire to find quality organic products to use with her young daughter and she started making her own receiving blankets, cloths and toys. Dress Me Up was born. She began the business by selling at the Moss Street Market (the same market I first found her at), and eventually took her stuff online through other retailers and then with an Etsy store and now her own Shopify site.
I often have conversations with product producers (and fashion designers, jewelry designers etc) about whether or not they should continue to have an Etsy site (or start an Etsy site), if they are selling their wares through their own site online. Many folks seem to feel like the Etsy presence will somehow cheapen, or lessen their main sales channel through their own website. Tressa’s experience mirrors my thoughts on the matter exactly. She’s experienced an incredible level of support, promotion and traffic through her Etsy site that would not have come to her via a stand alone site and it has convinced her to keep a shop up there. Some of her best PR hits — like being found by Celebrity Baby Blog, which eventually led to great coverage and all kinds of further spin-off coverage in major publications and some long standing relationships with retailers — have come through people searching through Etsy for products to include in spreads/reviews. Add that to the active and supportive community around Etsy and she’s really happy to keep her store going there. One of the other ways she uses her Etsy store in a different way from her main Shopify site, is to add some one-off or more flexible products that aren’t necessarily a part of her main line. For example this year she’s making some gorgeous holiday stockings from vintage wool, which she’ll be selling through her Etsy site. She also uses the two stores to offer her goods in two different currencies – her main site is in Canadian dollars while the Etsy site is in US. Another use that Tressa has very wisely put Etsy to, is for researching what other products similar to hers are in the market. She is a smart cookie.
As for wisdom to share around balancing motherhood and a thriving business, she told me she wishes she had hired support earlier. This is a common story for many small business people — Lauren and me included — particularly those of us with an eye for detail and a bit of a phobia of risk. She’s started bringing in other mom’s, who help with the production and sewing of her products to assist her and has someone else who helps with admin and packaging of orders. She’s found that overall she’s had to learn to get more comfortable with risk on different levels from being responsible for paying other people, to being willing to invest money into the business to help it grow. At this point, now that her business is growing and enjoying success, she has to try to not only balance being the kind of mom she wants to be with running the business, but also finds she needs to try to balance the everyday minutia of running the business and taking care of the administrative end, with finding time to be creative and work on new product designs. Overall, she shared with me, the biggest challenge has been picking up and learning the skills required to run a successful organic soft goods business along the way, as she really didn’t start out thinking about building a business per se. That learning curve is certainly a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with trying to stay ahead of.
You can find Tressa’s goregeous wares in her stores and from the following fine retailers: