Ok, so that header is the closest thing to click-bait you're probably every going to see on this website. I'm not totally committing to *never* wanting to make apparel again, but I gotta tell you, the idea of not spending the bulk of my working day in that particular way is massively appealing.
But, let me step back a minuet and take you back to a moment a little over a month ago when this shift happened that started this landslide.
For the first couple years of my business, I dove head first into anything and everything that was showing some meager measure of support. When t-shirts picked up major speed I very quickly picked up speed along with them, shifting my entire illustrating process so I could create designs that would translate best to that medium. My wife was working very long hours at her job, plus a 45 minute one-way commute, so we were both spending our days from 7AM to 7-9PM working. And that went on between 6 and 7 days a week. I know that when you're starting a business, you have to put the time in, but the truth was, my entire life was dedicated to working, and if there were spare moments here and there when I wasn't working, work was always lingering in the back of my mind.
A view from my old studio <3
And, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the guilt and anxiety I used to feel anytime I made a choice that meant I wasn't constantly working. If I met a friend for coffee, well damn I could have been working! If I went for a drive to find a new farmers market and eat lunch, that was time I also could have been working. I felt like I had to constantly justify, to myself and anyone who wanted to listen, (which was no one, b/c who wants to listen to that shit??) why it was OK for me to not, at that moment, be working.
A rare mid-week outing to the beach before we left New Hampshire.
I think to some degree this is a normal experience for people who are self employed &/ freelancers. Your regular life and your work life are completely intermingled. You work from home, so your work tasks are right next to things like loading the dishwasher and cleaning the litter boxes. It all gets convoluted and it can be a lot to stay on top of 100% of the time. And, then there's all the people constantly informing you how wonderful your life and your job are - people who generally have no idea what you do on a daily basis or any inkling of how you do whatever it is you do anyway. That pathway to vent your frustrations or struggles gets sealed off.
When we moved to Pennsylvania from New Hampshire, we agreed that we wanted our lives to be different. We wanted to focus more on the things that make us happy now, rather than putting things off for a distant time in the future. We made big changes. We planted a garden, and started home renovations. My wife quit her job to focus on school and family. Instead of talking on the phone a few times a day, because by the time she got home my wife needed to start her homework and I needed to go to bed, we take our dog for walks together, and get to work on projects together.
Not that it's all been roses, rainbows and sparkly unicorn poop. Trying to work from home with a million distractions sucks, but trying to work from home when your wife is watching obnoxious youtube videos or worse, playing playstation, 10 feet away from where you're trying to get shit done is garbage.
Anyway, I have gotten way, way off course here! You've gotten the idea. We wanted a change and made some pretty serious changes happen. But, as I was getting my first quarter taxes and reports together, I realized that the changes were not enough. I still wasn't really happy with my day-to-day. I'd been considering different methods for making apparel in-house for a couple years, thinking that there was huge value to being a 100% handmade-by-me business. I'd been looking into direct-to-garment equipment, pricing various options and calculating the credit card interest (cringe). But, it dawned on me that if I'm not really enjoying the time-exhaustive process of making garments now, I'm probably not going to like Direct-To-Garment just because it's a different process. It was a moment of clarity.
I do not want to do this anymore.
Holy shit, I really don't want to do this. And that's okay. Because, you know what? While I have been tying myself to the process of hand-making and fulfilling orders, I have prevented myself from doing all the other beautiful and equally worthwhile projects I have cooked up and jotted down in my notebooks. Do you know what the first thing I thought after I gave myself permission to not want to make apparel anymore??
"Oh my god, what other amazing things could I do with those daily hours of studio time?! How could I use my space better if it wasn't clogged with inventory?"
And then I started to consider how much of my time and resources are dedicated to this process:
Making apparel requires an inventory of blanks, which you have to maintain at a volume that allows you to fulfill orders while not having an excess or running out and constantly having to purchase more. And what you need to know about purchasing more is that wholesale suppliers have minimums. So every time I would run out of say a 2XL women's black tee, I'd have to buy over $200 worth of stock, even if all I really needed at that moment were 4 2XL women's black tees. Carrying inventory means you need to do regular stocktaking, check stock when it comes in for defects and fight with the wholesaler about those defects. It means that about one third of my working space is taken up with bins of t-shirts, tote and baby onesies.
I have to regularly purchase supplies and maintain my equipment, which can be frustrating, especially considering the fact that because of where we live, I have to order everything I need and wait 2-7 days for replacements to arrive in the mail.
I have had to completely replace very expensive equipment twice in the past three years, out of the clear blue.
And finally, I admitted to myself that the most important thing right now, is that I just want to be spending my time differently. I want to draw more, be more creative, have time to actually paint as well as illustrate. I want to offer more accessible art, maybe work on a book project, write more blog posts like this one. I want something different.
So, look, I found a great printer, and a leader in the direct to garment printing industry. (DTG is a process by which a shirt is placed on platen and inserted into a massive printer, which then lays down a full color spectrum of ink to create the image. The tee is then heat pressed to cure the ink. It needs to washed before being worn, but the resulting image is soft, embedded into the fibers of the tee, and will last a long time.) I talked with their employees, I ordered samples and frankly I was 100% thrilled. And guess what?? I can finally offer all my apparel in FULL COLOR. And for the most part, my prices will not change. AND I can still use the same beautifully soft tees I was using before.
The process to switching over to DTG production isn't going to happen immediately. In fact, I have been slowly working on it for the past couple of weeks and it still hasn't even touched this website yet. I'm starting with converting over my etsy listings, one at a time. This is slow going, since I have a ton of work to do on the back end of every single listing and connecting each design with a product through my printer. But it is happening and I have already had several orders of the new full-color tees, which is THRILLING!
What will I be doing with some of my reclaimed spare time?
Let me show you:
1. GARDENING, BITCHES!
My wife and I may have started a garden last year, but it's next level this spring. We planted apple trees and I have so many seedlings I am literally overwhelmed. We added 5 new raised beds, plus we're finishing a retaining wall on the deck and planting up the edges of the rain garden, which lines the walkway down to house. Plus some small things like re-building the deck off the alley-way, installing rain barrels and a new irrigation system, installing a poly grow tunnel (we did that last night!!!) and testing large felt grow-bags for tomatoes and peppers in it.
I have a peach tree, in a pot! A pretty pot.
One of the new apple trees, plus perennial flowers. We're hoping to plant up the whole 10 foot chunk of yard alongside our neighboring apartment building. It will serve both as a required barrier and a wildlife space :)
I planted lots of tulip and daffodil bulbs last fall, for the first time ever, and it's been so much fun watching them pop up. We are excited to add even more bulbs this autumn. Spring flowers are an important source of pollen for bees, and to be honest, they work wonders for my SAD.
The rain garden is starting to look less like a strangely shaped black mess, and more of an interesting dynamic space. The blue berry bushes, small willow, rose bush, bog andromeda and flag irises all made it through the winter. Look at the cute little pink flowers on that bog andromeda!
We did inherit several perennials, including a few old rambling rose bushes, which were planted along a chain link fence that needs to be replaced, in a bed that is swamped with bind weed. In the autumn we dug up the bushes (challenging due to the mass tree roots) and moved the roses, sprinkled in some mycorrhizal fungi powder & crossed our fingers. But look, they survived!
The perennial bed I started last year is off to a roaring start, and our new veg garden beds are immediately to the right. So, hopefully lots of pollenating insects will be attracted to the garden. Plus, a bunch of my cooking herbs are interplanted with the flowers, and it's always nice to have flowers, herbs & veg in one spot.
Finally, I can't forget my gardening assistant, who downright insists on being outside with me when I'm gardening, even if it's raining, even if she hates it. She's my lobster.
2. DRAWING & PAINTING, BITCHES!
I really do want to get back to making work outside of my iPad - even though digital work has been good for me and obviously I want to carry on with it. I just miss the tactile nature of drawing or painting on paper. So, for this year's 100 Day Project (hopefully I can actually finish it this year...) I am doing 100 simple graphite sketches of flowers in a small sketchbooks. Each sketch should take 20 minutes or less.
I'm posting them all on my Instagram, though they're not every single day. I'm aiming for every other day or so. As long as I can make it to 100 eventually, I'll call that a win.
3. Focusing a little more on work that makes me happy, like illustrations about gardening, and a few custom portraits here and there.
I'm offering a select number of accessibly prices custom portrait illustrations each month. Prices are based on the number of people/pets in each illustration, plus any additional floral design work you request. You can email me at calliegarp @ gmail.com for more information
So, in short, I'm excited for change. I am excited for spring and summer and new projects, and life evolving ever closer to the things we want and need. I hope you're feeling the powerful surge of change in this early spring energy, too. Stay tuned for more updates here & on instagram <3
Callie Garp has a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Tufts University. Keep up with Callie here.