A few people have asked since I launched this website/blog/experiment about what ever happened to my last foray into creative ventures – Cubbylove.
Perhaps some people hadn’t realised my previous handmade homewares business no longer existed until they saw this site with little to no mention of it.
Others, like some newer friends (and perhaps readers I haven’t met), had seen a couple of mentions of it (in our our about page for example) and asked what it was, having missed that part of my life entirely.
So it feels like a story I should write about, not because it’s all that interesting, dramatic or juicy, but simply because it might explain a little about me, and may hold some helpful lessons for other people considering some form of creative pursuit.
The Tale of Cubbylove
Sometime in 2012, while working a rewarding but monotonous 9-5 office job, I decided that it was time to bail out of the rat-race and give a small creative business a crack.
I’d been going through a bit of a career tail-spin for years. I’d finished my sensible degree in social work about 4 years earlier, and almost immediately decided to go back and study something creative – I chose fashion design.
That cycle continued when I finished studying fashion, as I found myself working in fashion sweatshops until I grew disillusioned with the industry, then went back to social work until the weight and intensity of it inevitably wore me down, and then back to fashion, and the cycle continued.
So in 2012, I’d been working two years in an honestly great job, matching disadvantaged youth with volunteer mentors and nurturing their friendships – but the monotony of an office job, combined with some of the usual office politics, had grown too frustrating and claustrophobic.
That frustration, combined with the feeling that the sweatshop-like sewing jobs had only allowed me to exercise a small part of the skills I’d gained studying fashion, sparked the idea of ‘doing my own thing’ and starting my own business.
You’d probably expect at this point that I’d start a fashion label – which I had toyed with – but in fact I wanted to launch a homewares label. My fav weekend activity was staying inside, rearranging furniture, decorating my lounge room and drinking tea, so it seemed like the right fit.
Another part of the motivation had come from thinking about what kind of job I wanted to have if (and obviously, when) we had children. The idea of working from home with small kids, crafting and creating for a living, seemed like some kind of romantic ideal for the kind of parent I thought I wanted to be.
I pitched the idea to Jai, quit my office job and got stuck into it armed with a youthful batch of confidence, a hand me down sewing machine, a very helpful helpful NEIS subsidy and some sexy letterpressed business cards thanks to Little Peach Co.
The next couple of years were a whirlwind of inventing new items, production-line crafting them, and learning how to run and promote a small business. There were ups and downs, wins and losses, and more than the occasional panic attack induced late-night job-search for a backup plan.
In the first year or so, we successfully launched the first range with our online store, got heaps of great press, did some fun collabs with Frankie Magazine, and nabbed a stall at the Finders Keepers Markets. Most importantly, we sold enough items to keep me from resorting to those backup plans.
We also started a family.
The next year, having taken some time off making anything new and selling only what I already had in stock for a while, sales and press had started to slow down. This was fine at first, because we had a new baby to look after, but eventually babies begin to get expensive, so I invented a new range of items and did another online marketing push.
This time something unexpected happened. Our online sales went back up a little, enough again to maintain us, but this time I was also contacted by a host of stores wanting to stock the items.
Suddenly I had to figure out how to make the items in bulk numbers, and figure out how to set wholesale and retail prices for the items. I also had work on getting the cost of making each item down enough to make sure the wholesale price was enough to make it worth doing at all.
With a still small child (who was NOT a good sleeper) this started to cause a new problem. What had originally worked well as a business I could run by fulfilling a trickle of orders from home, didn’t work so well when I was suddenly getting orders for 20-50 pieces at a time, with expectations of prompt overseas delivery.
Servicing the big orders also often meant dropping the ball on the social media marketing, and not releasing new items enough to maintain the regular trickle of sales.
Finally, after too many months struggling to get the baby to sleep, then staying up making homewares until she woke up again, I decided it was time to move on. I had lost the love for the ol’ cubby – so I started the process of closing down the online store, and fulfilling the last few orders left.
And that was the end of Cubbylove.
I don’t regret a second of it. Thanks to this little venture, I learned a lot about myself, a lot about business and marketing, and a lot about my town.
I discovered that Brisbane has some of the most inspiring and creative folk around. Reaching out, learning from and supporting other young Brisbane creatives forged the path for some great friendships. All the rad people I met along the way are what keeps me inspired to try new things and keep a little sense of adventure in life – like starting a blog.
People like Leah, who’d started a boutique fashion shop, stocked some of my items and eventually employed me to work the odd weekend in the store, before she went on to become sustainable fashion ambassador.
People like Mim and Jordan, a young couple who opened a cafe next to the boutique, and pushed through despite initial struggles to eventually find success at a new location, before becoming entrepreneurs extraordinaire as she started a floristry business and he opened a pizza restaurant.
People like Hannah, who was my friend and partner-in-crime for years before Cubbylove, but who shared the journey with me as she launched her own line of jewellery and fashion accessories.
People like Lis, creator of the most comfortable and beautiful sustainable undies you’ll ever wear, or Jessie, a super talented illustrator who happened to hold the stall next to me at a Finders Keepers market, or the many talented photographers, videographers, musicians, designers and artists I got to meet and become friends with through those circles.
(Guys, those links are there for a reason.. seriously.. go check out my ridiculously talented friends)
I learned a lot through that time too, like the importance of reaching out and making connections with people you’d like to learn from, as they’ll often become your friends. I learned the importance and reality of the old ‘fake it til you make it’ – as I pretended to be drowning in sales in the early days before the sales actually started to happen.
I also learned to embrace change, to welcome it, and to hold on for dear life when it’s thrust upon you. I learned that sometimes that means the best way forward is calling an end to something when the costs begin to outweigh the benefits. And I learned that it’s never a waste of time to try something crazy, even if it doesn’t quite work out, because the experiences and lessons you learn in doing so might be worth more than you stood to gain from staying in a comfortable but unfulfilling office job.
Most of all, if it hadn’t been for that experience with Cubbylove, I may never have had the guts to do what I’m doing now with The Togetherish – whatever this might become.