When Sara Charles decided to open an Etsy shop in 2009 to sell graphic prints, she thought, “What have I got to lose?”
The now 31-year-old had spent two years prior, after graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with a degree in graphic design, creating wedding and baby shower invitations as a freelancer, she told Business Insider. It was a client who encouraged her to sell some of her prints on Etsy, the creative online marketplace that now hosts 1.7 million sellers.
As her shop, SimkaSol, grew in popularity, she began fielding requests from customers to put her designs onto clothing and pillowcases.
“I was, like, ‘Well I don’t really know how to do that, so let’s learn how to do that,'” she said. “I learned how to screen print, basically, by the grace of the internet. From there, that really just opened up this whole new world to me … ‘Wow, I can now do so much more with textiles.'”
Charles 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 Charles’ main source of income.
That initial caution-to-the-wind attitude has followed her. “I do have a saying that I try to live my personal life by and apply to business, and that is: Better to live by ‘oh well’s’ than ‘what if’s.’ I continually push myself to do things so that the uncomfortable becomes comfortable, and call it growth,” Charles’ said.
After teaching herself to screen print, Charles decided she’d design and produce her own clothing, rather than buying American Apparel basics to print on. “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.
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 Charles’ 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 Charles is still the sole employee of her company — aside from a little help from her friends during the holiday season — and runs her end-to-end business entirely from her home studio in Massachusetts.