The Birth of Sorta Green Kids

Sorta Green Kids Banner for My Etsy Shop

Although I opened my shop on Etsy on April 24th, 2011 its birth (or should I say its conception) was a few months prior to that. As our family spent time in Florida at Todd’s parent’s place during his recovery we both pondered and prayed about other ways to produce an income once we returned to Tennessee. He knew that he didn’t want to return to construction full-time and I knew that I didn’t want him to either.

Ria in the Blue and Yellow Flowered Skort Outfit

I had been making skort outfits for my twin girls for a year or so. It was something that I devised in an attempt to make second-hand clothing more modest and feminine while also fulfilling my desire to sew for them with minimal free time. It started with simply lengthening some skorts that they already had and later I discovered that I could easily make skorts out of shorts as well.

The Shorts of the Skort

I prefer my girls to be in skirts rather than shorts, but skirts make it difficult to play and be modest at the same time. The skort was a great solution. The ruffle on the shirt  was actually the result of a mistake I made that left me with an extra piece of  fabric. I didn’t want to waste it so I attached it to one of the girls’ shirts and rather liked the overall look. The skort outfit actually looks like a dress but functions like shorts and a shirt. A friend of mine suggested that I try selling them.

Ria in Red Polka Dot Skort Outfit

While in Florida we had access to some fabric stores with great sales that enabled me to get nice fabric at a reasonable price. We also shopped rummage sales and second-hand stores periodically which enabled me to find a good variety of shorts and tops. I made several outfits using my mother-in-law’s sewing machine.  One of the benefits of using her machine was the fact that I could actually zig zag the edges to prevent fraying. While I adore my machine at home, it was given to me from some friends who purchased it at a rummage sale for $1 and it is likely more than 40 years old. Because I do not have all of its original parts, it can only do a straight stitch.  I have since purchased a serger for use at home in order to overcome this handicap.

Our Neighbor Sari in the FSU Skort Outfit

I’m afraid I don’t have as many items in my inventory at this time as I would like. As I mentioned earlier I purchased a serger which I need to master before I actually use it on products that I sell. Also, the time that I had planned to use for producing more items for sale has turned into time for resting since we are now expecting our fifth child. I’m hoping that I can get a few more items up before his/her birth as I know that having a newborn around certainly won’t increase my free time. 🙂

Tevya wrapped in Checker Board Quilt

The skort outfits are currently the main item that I sell, but I have many other items in mind. Currently the only other item in my inventory is the giant checker board game quilt, but I have many, many more ideas that I can’t wait to get to… all in God’s good time.

Checker Board Quilt with Pillow Checkers

 

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The Thrill of the Sale

Well, we made two sales this week and somehow it seems like we won a prize. Woo Hoo!! Hopefully we’ll get that same feeling even when we are having trouble keeping up with the sales.

Sorta Green Buttons sold two sets to one customer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Sorta Green Stuff sold some old records. 

One interesting though unimportant note was that the buyers were on opposite coasts. One in New York and the other in California. Wow, we’re national distributors!

Owning and operating your own business should be fun. When it is no longer fun it is time to move on to something else. We have a friend who is a brilliant musician and used to really enjoy playing the keyboard. But he ran a recording studio for many years and for years afterword played only rarely. He simply got burned out on something he loved. In recent years he has found a way to rekindle his joy through teaching others.

The old adage that says “Find a way to get paid for doing something you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” only goes so far. You have to remember to take joy in what you do every day as well as to take time out for other things. I love ice cream but if that was all I ever ate even I would eventually get tired of it.

Part of the remedy for us is that we currently have several things that we are working with and hope to add more in the future. Paula really enjoys working on her sewing projects and dreaming up new ones, I really enjoy trying to find new things to turn into buttons or new ways of using old materials. We both enjoy sorting through our “stuff” finding things we think someone else might like to have. (and would be willing to pay for. 🙂 )We are preparing to branch out into the craft supply business, and other ideas are brewing.

But even with that we have to be careful not to spread ourselves too thin. If you get too many things going you will not excel at any of them and most of them will be mediocre at best. One of the keys to happiness as a business owner is to concentrate on a few things you really enjoy while not neglecting the other areas of your life. I have seen too many people over the years who are very successful in business while the rest of their lives are a mess.

We have to keep our priorities straight. Running a successful business is an acceptable goal but family and friends are much more important.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I have often  heard it said that the difference between a fool and a wise man is that a wise man learns from his mistakes. While that is true as far as it goes I think a truly wise man learns from other people’s mistakes. With that in mind let me tell you about two of the mistakes I made very early on in our online selling experience so that others may avoid doing something like it.

Our first official sale on one of our Etsy.com sites was an old Fischer Price record player.

Ria and Teeny listening to a record

At the time I had our sites set up to list shipping costs to the U.S., Canada and Mexico. As it happened that first sale was to someone in Canada. I quickly learned that my assumption that shipping to Canada or Mexico wouldn’t be too much more than shipping within the U.S. was very wrong. As it turns out shipping to Canada from the U.S. is about three times more expensive. In my belated research I discovered that it can actually cost more to ship something within Canada than to ship that same item from Canada to the U.S. Go figure. Make no assumptions; do your research first and be thorough.

The next thing I discovered was that our Paypal account was not set up to receive payments. Getting that straightened out turned into a huge hassle and took more than a month. I will not go into the details as it would take too long to explain and the details wouldn’t help much since  our situation is somewhat unique. Suffice it to say, again; make no assumptions; do your research first and be thorough.

By the time we finally got everything working right the customer had been waiting over a month (and been very understanding of our ignorance). And, because of my screw-up with the shipping costs, we were actually going to lose money on the deal. Taking these things into account as well as the fact that the customer had given birth to her first child during this time (learned through our correspondence with her) we decided to make the record player a gift to her in honor of the new baby, take the loss and chalk it up to lessons learned,  good will and PR.

So at present we have decided that shipping outside the U.S. is more than we can handle. If things go well we may reconsider that at some future date; after much more research, with no assumptions. I’m sure there are other assumptions we have made. Our only hope is to discover them before we get bitten again.

Why Sorta Green?

Shoovey Hugging a Tree in My Favorite Skort Outfit

Twenty years ago I might have called myself VERY green.  I was a bit of a tree hugger and quite obsessed with saving mother earth.  I felt quite guilty for using resources of any sort.  It killed me to throw away anything that might be of use within the next 100 years and I thought everyone should take cold showers and walk or bike wherever they went.  While in college I studied environmental engineering in hopes of making a meaningful contribution to the whole environmental movement.  Also, while in college I got saved, yes the real come-to-Jesus, surrender-my-life sort of “saved”.  I no longer worshiped the earth but the one true God.  In doing so I eventually became more balanced in my approach to the environment.  While I did learn that God wanted us to be good stewards of the world that He blessed us with, I also learned that we were made in God’s image and that He’d made it for us to use and enjoy.  People are ultimately more important than the planet.

The name Sorta Green came to me when pondering the fact that our products have a “green” eco-friendly aspect to them, but ultimately our goal is not to save mother earth but to glorify God.  Todd’s buttons are much more natural than those  found in stores but he does use electricity when he fires the ceramics and when he drills holes in the rocks or shells.  When making my skort outfits I start with second-hand shirts and shorts.  Because I choose those in the best condition, I’m not likely saving them from a landfill, but by buying second-hand I’m not adding to the demand for new factory made items either.

Our lifestyle is  “sorta green” as well.  While we are not “off grid”, we live in a fairly small house which minimizes energy waste, we burn wood to heat, have a small organic garden, and bike when possible for transportation.  We support local merchants with weekly purchases and only make bigger shopping trips to bigger merchants every three  months or so.  We use cloth diapers, we compost food scraps,  and burn paper waste in order to minimize trips to the dump.  At the same time we enjoy life and enjoy the bounty that the Lord has blessed us with without guilt.

Another final twist to the Sorta Green name that I only thought of recently is the fact that we are “sorta green” (very green is probably more appropriate at this time) when it comes to trying to establish a small home business.  Prior to this we’d never set up a shop online and we’d never created a blog.  We’re having fun as we continue to climb the steep learning curve in this realm but hopefully one day we won’t be quite so green at least in this sense.

The Birth of Sorta Green Buttons

In November of 2010 Todd fell off a roof while on a construction job.  The fall (actually the landing 🙂 ) broke his left wrist and fractured two vertebrae in his lower back.  We praise the Lord that there was no damage to his spinal cord. His parents invited us to stay with them in Florida while he recovered.  During this time, once he was able to get around better, he began making ceramic buttons.  He’d been wanting to try something like this ever since we saw some in a yarn shop in Wisconsin on one of our trips north to visit my family. 

When he was growing up his mother and grandmother took up ceramics as a hobby so he revisited some of the skills that he learned back then.  After his father retired from the Air Force his parents  ran a ceramic shop for several years and his parents still have one of the kilns from the shop and several shelves of molds.  His mother of course helped to refresh his memory regarding the ins and outs of the process.

Ria "helping" Daddy make buttons

While he started out using molds that his mom already had, he branched out into using jello cutters found at a yard sale, plastic toys from the children’s stash, and other objects that could be turned into molds or cutters. The kids really enjoyed trying to find things for daddy to cut the clay with and even made buttons with their play-doe.

Tevya using a large plastic button to make play-doe buttons

He also began drilling holes in pretty shell fragments and rocks that he found on the beach.  His favorite is made from a large piece of brain coral.

Teeny, Tevya and Ria "helping daddy sort shells

Once we returned to Tennessee he set up a shop on Etsy on March 28, 2011.

The banner for Todd's Etsy shop

He has high hopes that this venture will prove profitable as he finds the process quite enjoyable and rewarding and he is always trying to find new things to turn into buttons. All of his buttons have much more personality than your average store-bought button as well as a lot more heart and effort behind them.  We encourage you to check them out.

Welcome

This is the Sorta Green Team (Paula, Todd, Teshuvah, Tiveria, Tikvah, and Tevya)

Welcome to our blog.  Sorta Green is the name that we have given our small home business that we began while my husband recovered from  falling off a roof.  Thus far it consists of three different shops on Etsy.  They are Sorta Green Buttons (sortagreenbuttons.etsy.com), Sorta Green Kids (sortagreenkids.etsy.com), and Sorta Green Stuff (sortagreenstuff.etsy.com).  We’ll talk more about each one of these in future blogs.

We thought it would be fun to journal about our experiences throughout our small business journey and so was born this blog.  My goal is to journal weekly (preferably on Fridays) about the progress of our business, lessons learned, and more.  We think it will be interesting  simply as family history, but it may also provide help to those down the road who undertake similar endeavors and start out as “green” as we are.  We hope you enjoy.