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About Blake + The Brand Story

I'd like to start out this first ever blog post with a bit of a disclaimer. I’ve realized that we live in a world where bloggers and influencers are these really cool and untouchable people that we really look up to and admire. Role models I guess you could say. We follow their Instagram accounts and keep up with what they're doing in hopes that a little bit of them will rub off on us. The places they go are hip, the food they eat is trendy, their outfits are impeccable. They're celebrities oozing effortless chic. This won’t be one of those blogs, I hope that by sharing my story I’ll be much more relatable and approachable than I may seem at this moment in time and I'm very okay with that. My goal with opening up  is to share that I am human, just like you. I hope that the more transparent I make myself the more I'll hear from all of you, the more you’ll be inspired to share your story, the more close and confident you'll be to starting something you've always wanted to do. At the end of the day I'm an imperfect mom, imperfect human and imperfect business owner who wants to encourage all of you. What I'm doing is something that, with a little hard work and elbow grease, is something anyone can do. You just have to start somewhere, understand the tools in your tool belt, and keep moving until you're where you want to be. 

I vividly remember having a conversation with my 7th grade school counselor. "I want to attend an art school for college." I said, and he laughed at me for thinking about something so far ahead. I was concerned my middle school grades weren't good enough to get into the school I'd wanted to attend and was looking for help making a game plan. I wasn't very social, I never really fit in, and honestly I was a little bit awkward. I was that girl that would sit in the classroom during lunch to avoid my peers and work on my various paintings. Flash forward five years or so, I'm so over high school, attending art classes at the community college and attending portfolio reviews with prospective art schools. I'm told by one of them that I'll be offered a full ride scholarship and they'll compete with other schools over me. Starry-eyed, I chose not to apply to my dream schools in Los Angeles that I’d already visited. To be honest, I think I was a little afraid to move too far from home. I applied to the Pacific Northwest College of Art, only the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and months later received a letter in the mail that my full ride scholarship had been downgraded to a presidential scholarship. My parents income level disqualified me for the full ride. This was a huge blow to my ego and also my wallet, as the difference was sixteen thousand a year.

I reluctantly move forward. Find a weird apartment in the suburbs of Portland (my first mistake) and attend my foundation year of art school. I'm not a fan. I don't fit in, I don't make friends, I'm unhappy and homesick. In hindsight I'm sure there were lots of things I could have done to better my situation but I was over it already. I came home for the summer and got a job working at Nordstrom which was an absolute godsend. It was at that job that I discovered my personal style, my tremendous work ethic, and my business savvy. After falling in love with my newfound career, I tried to drop out of school to become a buyer for the company. My family was very concerned and disappointed, I was crippled by their reaction and I dragged my feet back to my second year of school. The second year was the same story, as was the third. There were two silver linings though. I landed myself a glittering internship with a local small business owner and textile designer who I am still enamored with and in awe of. I also managed to transfer to the Portland Nordstrom store where I had a community and some sort of direction despite the fact that I felt utterly lost, not knowing why I was still attending art school or what I wanted to do with my life. I was learning so many things at once and utterly clueless as to how helpful they’d be down the road. 

When I was 22 years old I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Paloma. Shortly before my pregnancy I returned to the local university and attempted to finish my undergrad. This was difficult with one baby but seemed nearly impossible with two. I was in the middle of quarter when I brought Orlando into this world. I finished my classes and without a doubt in my mind chose not to return. I knew I was capable of something more satisfying to my soul and have frankly always felt like I attended school to impress everyone around me, instead of doing it for myself. Orlando was 3 months old when I decided to combine my skills and start a company. He was the chunkiest, happiest baby in the world and I vividly remember holding him in my arms and dreaming about all the things I wanted to do. I found some mentors (honestly, I'm not sure you can do anything in life without guidance from the right people), bought a business license and made my first group of tees on American Apparel. It did pretty well. At first I created all kinds of designs but quickly realized it was the tees with text that were selling. Fortunately, I was working with local printers and was able to print as few as 12 tees at a time, which helped me hone in on what my customers liked and refine my brand's style. A little less than a year in, I made a valentine's day design with a similar look to what I now still have. It blew up, like really. To the point where it sold better than I could keep up with. It was tremendously exciting and intimidating at the same time. It pushed me to refine my infrastructure and business skills and gave me an idea of what the brand could potentially become. It was also around that time that I made the risky decision to manufacture my own tees. 

My first step in the manufacturing process was to find a business to provide me with cut and sew services (that literally means what it sounds like), which I did thanks to a connected friend in LA. Next step was finding money to order them. I applied for and received a women's small business loan from a local community services program. In the spring of 2014, one year in, I was making, printing, and shipping all my own tees and the growth was exciting. Talk about a learning curve. I was remotely managing production, dealing with some pretty shaky connections, and running into all kinds of problems I had no idea how to solve. Looking back, manufacturing my own products has been the single biggest learning curve and headache of my entire business. I was dealing with production delays, frustrated customers and retailers, and my own personal feelings of shame and disappointment. That Fall, I made a new connection and was full of renewed energy and excitement. I had big, too big, dreams of making my own full line of clothing. I wanted to design all the things I've always wanted to find for my own children. Beautiful, simple, organic, and soft clothes dyed in all the right colors and ethically made. I got way too ahead of myself and created a line for winter that, although beautiful, was incredibly delayed and arrived shortly before Black Friday (whoops). I was so discouraged but solely blamed the bad timing. What I was a little in denial of was that I had a lot to learn about the world of clothing design, especially for babies. My zippers weren't quite right, I put a million snaps on things (you have no idea how expensive snaps are to do in LA), and my colors didn't dye the way I wanted them to. I didn't want to confuse or lose the confidence of my beloved customers and was honestly embarrassed. I quickly pulled the line and tucked it aside hoping I'd find a plan b. I worked hard to correct my mistakes, spent endless days researching, planning, studying my market, and made what I thought was the ultimate spring/summer capsule. The line was really perfect (or so I think) but I realized that I had gotten a little too big for my britches and was trying to coordinate and manage two completely different clothing brands under one name. Just like my disappointing arrival at art school, I felt deflated and my ego was bruised. That was last year and frankly I spent the rest of 2017 wanting to quit. I went back to my core line of graphic tees but had all kinds of issues with vendors and printers. It was a disaster, I had lost momentum.

I firmly believe we attract the energy we exude and I was depressed, negative, and fearful. As a result, I had mishaps and disappointments one after the other. Instead of being open and sharing about them and what was happening, I retreated into the shadows and felt vulnerable and isolated. I wanted to give up, I felt embarrassed that my rollercoaster of a business had been so publicly displayed, and I wasn't sure where to go next. Then in January of this year I met with my dear friends and mentors  who have closely followed my journey and choices as a business owner, and they encouraged me to dig my heels in and keep trying. It was their ultimate trust in me that gave me the courage, hope, and positive attitude to keep going. I remember heading into my car after our meeting and actually being moved to tears by their unwavering confidence and devotion to me and my capabilities. They saw something in me that I had been unable to see in myself. I took all that love and emotion and let it drive me forward, with excitement, without fear, and with the power of believing in myself. I found new ways to run the brand, made new connections to help me create new systems and plans more efficiently and effectively, and have been met every step of the way with new opportunity and success.

Now don't let me fool you. I still spend a moment or two every day wanting to give up. It is not easy, but nothing worth doing is. I work from home (I use that phrase loosely) with Paloma and Orlando, who are now four and six years old. Fortunately they are now both attending school and I have a little more time and space to focus on my career. About a year and a half ago I partnered with my manufacture, Ivan, and we started producing clothing for other brands in addition to my own. It's been the most rewarding and gratifying process to connect creative people to the right kind of manufacturing and see their ideas turn into amazingly successful brands. We still live in Washington and I visit LA as often as possible to check on our warehouse and get a solid dose of vital inspiration. As for me personally, I constantly struggle to find the balance between being a single mother and lady boss, but with one foot in front of the other I remind myself that every day they're seeing me work my tail off and keep trying (despite several small failures) with no plan to stop until I achieve my goals. It's not always glamorous for sure.

Many times in this process I found myself  having moments when I would stop and ask, what am I doing? Where am I going? Is this even worth it? But right now I am so pleased to share that I don't need to know the end result or the master plan. I'm happy to be creating, to be working alongside my partner and children, and to be crushing personal goals every damn day. Excuse my French, it’s just so exciting. I hope that if any of you find yourself reading all the way through this, you'll find a little flame inside yourself that you are capable of turning into a wildfire. I hope you wake up tomorrow with a little more passion and purpose than the day before. Don't worry about the outcome, don't ask yourself how you'll do it. Just start, keep moving, and have faith that you are absolutely capable of creating a life full of inspiration, creativity and passion. And please, if there’s any advice I can share, or help I can provide, let me know. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t seek help and guidance from people who were kind enough to give it. 

 

 

 

Comments

Jan:

Your motivation and creativity is so inspiring! You rock at this boss lady gig!

Jun 25, 2018

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