One of the most pervasive career trends today is the art of the side hustle.
Discovering a way to monetise your passions or hobbies, whether it be photography, writing, knitting, consulting, you name it, is a fulfilling way to earn some extra cash. Sometimes though, it becomes lucrative enough to pursue full time.
That was the case for 31-year-old Sara Barrett. After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2007 with a degree in graphic design, Barrett started doing freelance work, creating wedding and baby shower invitations.
In 2009, a client suggested she list some of her artwork on Etsy, an online marketplace for creative sellers and buyers, she told Business Insider. She thought, “‘What have I got to lose?'” and set up shop as SimkaSol.
After Etsy customers began requesting her paper prints on pillowcases and clothing, Barrett taught herself to screen print “by the grace of the internet.”
“I started learning how to pattern draft and how to use all my industrial sewing machines and it’s kind of just been this continual chain of learning a new trade and applying it and then learning another step, just constantly chugging forward,” she said.
Barrett kept up with the freelance graphic design — as well as teaching horseback riding lessons — until she realised how lucrative her Etsy shop had become. “It really wasn’t until late 2011 where I was like, ‘Wow, I’m making enough money to pay all my bills and invest back into the business. So at that point I was like, ‘I’m going to go for it,” she said. Today, SimkaSol remains Barrett’s main source of income.
To date, SimkaSol has raked in more than 16,000 sales on Etsy — and more than 47,800 “admirers” — which accounts for about 80% of Barrett’s overall business, she said. The other 20% comes from selling a full collection of women’s and men’s clothing and home decor on her personal website.
Five years in and Barrett is still the sole employee of her company — aside from a little help from her friends during the holiday season. Business Insider recently caught up with Barrett at her in-home production studio in Massachusetts, where she walked us through a day of one of Etsy’s most prolific sellers.
Barrett starts her day around 8 a.m. 'When you work for yourself you can kind of be like, 'I'm going to get up when I want.'' After taking her dogs out for a walk, she fires up her coffee grinder, a gift from her parents that she's now 'addicted' to. 'It's probably the most important part of my day.'
Barrett currently works out of her home, which includes a 300-square-foot studio. As a one-woman show, all the designing, marketing, and production rests on her shoulders. 'I usually spend about an hour in the morning waking myself up to the business by checking emails, checking the site, looking at some statistics -- views, likes, shares -- just to see where I'm at,' she said.
From there, she packages up any pending orders. 'During the holiday crunch times, I can work all through the night,' she says. 'But when it's just my usual schedule I like to package through the morning because it gets me started on my day.'
By 11:30 a.m., it's time for lunch. Barrett has celiac disease and said she generally eats healthy. Her go-to lunch -- 'if I even eat lunch, because sometimes when I'm printing I can't leave the press because the ink will dry' -- is a fresh salad from a neighbourhood café. After lunch, she settles in for a long afternoon of production.
'There are times when I'm not in production mode, I'm in design mode, so those are the days when it gets pretty chaotic, where I'm working on a new line or a new print, and my schedule could just get completely messed up,' she said. 'But when you have a shot of the creative bug you just have to go with it, and other things just take a seat on the back burner.'
Barrett spends about three weeks out of the year in 'design mode,' drawing up illustrations and creating silhouettes for a Spring/Summer collection and a Fall/Winter collection. On production days, like today, she starts with one of her hand-drawn illustrations, which she transfers to a computer to create her signature repetitive design.
Then she 'burns' the print into a screen using the sun as a UV source, she explains. The process eliminates the need for electricity and forces her to rely on the environment.
Now it's time to transfer the design to fabric through the screen. 'The screens are basically like a big stencil, you can put any colour ink on there,' Barrett says, adding that she's had the same screens for about three years now, which she simply cleans with water after each use.
Barrett says she only uses water-based inks because they're safe for the wearer and gentler on the environment. 'That probably takes close to about three hours of printing, which after a while your arms get pretty sore, but it's a good workout,' Barrett says.
Then, the freshly printed fabric takes a ride through the conveyor dryer -- the most important part of the process. 'It evaporates the water from the ink, curing the image to the fabric' so the print will last over time and through the washing machine, she explains. To work, each print has to reach 350 to 375 degrees for a maximum of two minutes, she says. All together, it takes about three and a half minutes for one item to move through the dyer.
Next, the items are cut into a silhouette for t-shirts, leggings, dresses, and tanks. For her signature t-shirt dress, Barrett spends about 30 to 45 minutes cutting the fabric.
Then it's off to the sewing machine, which can take up to eight hours for an order of 12 to 15 t-shirt dresses. It all depends on the size of the order and the complexity of the garment, she says.
Barrett says she ends her day by writing up the next day's to-do list. As her business grows, she's looking to expand her studio space as well. 'I just looked at a space right down the street from my house in this really awesome old mill that they converted into an innovation center of artists, manufacturers, and designers. This new space is 700 square feet so I'm hoping to expand and upgrade my equipment so I'm capable to print wider fabrics and also so I'm able to pay an intern or employee -- so that's a 2017 goal.'
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