I get asked a lot, “how did you get into this”? I’ve been sewing my whole life, starting with little blankets for my Breyer horses. I was first exposed to the outdoors industry working for Pat Smith and MountainSmith in 1983 when he was still in his garage and made the move to the first facility. There, I was a jill-of-all-trades batching packs for the sewers, inspecting packs, shipping and almost anything else. This was my first exposure to entrepreneurship, outdoors goods, industrial machines and production.
I cobbled together most of an apparel design degree but did not complete it due to life happening. I spent a lot of years doing custom clothing and bridal. When we moved to Spokane it was a great opportunity to quit that niche. Honestly, as a jeans-coated-with-dog-hair kind of gal, and piles of gear all over the place, it never was a good fit. In the meantime, I was rummaging through the back tables in fabric stores as the first fleeces were just starting to come out. A few patterns became available and I was able to outfit my husband and little boys with fleece garments. Adult fleece garments were spendy, and there was nothing for kids. In my quest to make affordable gear, I began to reverse engineer, tweak, and search out information that was not obvious for the home sewer. This was noticed in the community, and a guy said to me, “you should be repairing gear”. What a great idea!
Spokane is the kind of place where small businesses are supported by the community, and we have a very active outdoors community here. It wasn’t long at all before I was getting known as “The Zipper Lady”. I got the bright idea to build a website in ’97 or so, and established an online presence. Back then it was easy: hand code some HTML, add some links and voila`: a website is born.
I had read about Usenet in a women’s magazine and I sought out rec.backcountry. My Usenet newbie “hello, I can fix your gear” post did not go over well, and the trolls had a field day. I do not remember who it was, but I am ever grateful to the kind soul who emailed me and gently explained the Usenet faux pas I had made and let me know the correct way to (non) advertise on a non-commercial newsgroup. The key was participation and a one line signature, so that’s what I did. I helped people do their own repairs, told them where to find materials, advised them on gear care, and in return, they called on me when it was time for a pro. In addition, I was for many years a moderator and participant in the Gear Makers forum at the Backpacking.net site.
Throughout all this, the work started coming in. Whether it was a referral from a website, friend-of-a-friend, search engine, an outdoors club, or a referral from a manufacturer I confess I never kept track after I got to 45/50 states and some international work. I now have arrangements with local stores to collect local work, in addition to contract work and all the great folks that somehow find me. I’ve never consciously advertised, but I do believe that the willingness to share information and help other when I can contributes to things coming my way. This leads me to thoughts on hoarding information, which will be posted another day.