This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re going behind the scenes with the lovely Annika Benitz Chaloff of handcrafted lingerie brand Married & Bright. Annika, whom I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know in person at the Craftcation conference this past April, is a honey of a woman – and I’m tickled pink to introduce her to you as well. Welcome, Annika!
LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?
Annika: About five years ago, I decided to start my own business because I couldn’t find a career path that I was happy with. Rather than endlessly pursue jobs that dead-ended or made me feel trapped, I started a line of children’s and maternity clothing called Expect. That ill-fated business closed at the end of 2014. I was so heartbroken by what I perceived as a failure, I vowed never to go into business again.
In early 2015, I fell into being a handmade business owner when I made a bralette for myself out of leftover materials from Expect. That bra went “viral” on Instagram. I got so many requests for duplicates that I had to open an Etsy shop to process the orders. Suddenly, I was in business again, and invigorated with fresh passion.
As the success of my new business, Married & Bright, increases, I realize more and more that there is no other career I’d rather have. I am, simply put, unemployable. I really enjoy setting my own hours, being free to travel, and creating my own lifestyle. I’m hoping to become a mother in the next few years and I really like the freedom that entrepreneurship affords me when it comes to time spent working and time spent with family.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Annika: I wanted to create unique lingerie that is designed by women, for women. I wanted to design and market non-intimidating undies for everyday ladies. From day one, it has been my goal to make women feel more beautiful, confident, and positive about their bodies through what they put on it. I believe that the way you look on the outside has the power to influence how you feel on the inside… and truly lovely, fun lingerie makes every woman feel just a little more pretty.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Annika: I make quirky yet delicately handcrafted lingerie that is designed to make the wearer feel wonderful.
LBC: Where can we find your products?
LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.
Annika: Every day seems to be different and I’m often flying by the seat of my pants, but usually I split my day into three sections: filling orders, marketing, and product development. I strive to get my orders out within 48 hours of receiving them, and since every bralette and pair of undies is made-to-order, I spend a lot of time at my machine.
I enjoy working late into the evenings, and as a result, I wake up late — around 10am. Usually the first thing in my work day is sewing and packing orders to get them to the post office before it closes at five in the afternoon. Most days I’m at the post office at noon, and I swing by Starbucks on my way back home.
Then I dive into marketing efforts, whether that is developing my Pinterest and Instagram platforms, or working with a blogger on an upcoming feature. It’s hard for me to keep from adding new products to my line because I’m always finding new materials I want to work with, so a few times a month, I sew, photograph, and create new listings.
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Annika: 1. Think through why you are going into business. If you are doing it just for fun, then it’s not a business. Sometimes, business isn’t fun, but it can be very rewarding even when the money isn’t flowing. I went into business to be in control of my work schedule, income, and lifestyle.
2. Think strongly about the viability of your product. Do a little research about what kinds of products people want to buy, and see if you can supply that. I think a lot of handmade business owners go into business to try to sell something that they enjoy making without considering if people actually want to purchase and own it. This was the downfall of my pervious business; I was making products I enjoyed sewing, but ones that no one really needed or wanted.
3. Consider how much money you want to put into your business and make a plan. It’s easy to get excited about starting a business, but much harder to be harshly honest with yourself when it’s not going well. It’s important to think of it as a business and not take it personally when it’s not going well. I’m not saying to throw in the towel during a slow season, but to just be careful about sinking a lot of money into something without a plan.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Annika: When I used to get overwhelmed as a kid, my mom used to say, “Just do it bird by bird.” I return to that phrase often when I’m feeling like there are just too many tasks in front of me. I make a list and I break the steps down to super small actions. I think of what needs to be done today and what I can leave for tomorrow. Sometimes it’s as simple as cleaning up my studio so that I have room to cut long reams of fabric, and then laying the fabric out to get cut. Bird by bird.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.
Annika: Education. Period. When I was running Expect, I refused to spend money on anything besides materials. I’d say that’s the number one reason that business failed. I had no idea what I was doing. When I fell back into business, I decided to educate myself as much as possible about anything related to my field. That included brushing up on sewing skills, and taking online classes about marketing, finance, social media, and graphic design. Paying other people to share their genius with me has been worth it tenfold because of the heartache and frustration it has saved me.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
Annika: Something hard I face almost every day is people writing to me complaining that they don’t think the products I make are for them. It can be really hard knowing that there is an underserved community that I could be selling to, and feeling like I can’t help them. Specifically, women with larger chests feel disappointed that my bralettes aren’t made to support them. I had to realize that, first of all, I can’t serve everyone. No business can. I had to be okay — at least for the time being — with turning away potential customers because my designs aren’t meant for them. Secondly, I had to strongly consider if I wanted to onboard these potential buyers and how I would do it. Since making underwire bra is a complicated, math-heavy (and I’m good at math!) project, I’ve decided to make a long term plan to literally support these women… just not today.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
Annika: I’m not sure if there is even a word for this cause, but my current passion is making women feel good about themselves no matter what men think about them. My best friend, Jessica, founded I Dress for Me, which is a movement that sums up my feelings about fashion. Wear what you wanna wear and don’t worry about what your husband, boyfriend, or strangers on the street think about you. Wear a wild outfit, or a short skirt, and forget about what others think. Your sartorial choices are not an invite for judgement, conversation, harassment, or assault. You can check out the movement on Instagram at @idressforme.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
Annika: 1. It might be harsh to call this a tool, but my “biz besties” are a great resource and enormous comfort to me. Having a group of fellow small business owners to bounce ideas off of, or just whine to, has been wonderfully helpful.
2. This may be surprising, but Etsy has been an amazing tool for growing my business, and I don’t plan on doing away with it! Etsy is like one of my employees. She brings in traffic, advertises for me, and streamlines my customer onboarding process. I can’t fire someone who only takes a 3.5% commission!
3. Since I run my business out of my home, having a whole room designated just to Married & Bright has been a really lovely luxury that I hope I never have to do without. Being able to lock the door and get work done without interruption allows me to be as productive as a work-from-homer could possibly be. And being able to shut myself out of the room when the day is done lets me dedicate valuable time to my husband and dog at the end of the day.
LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Annika: Designing and making my own products is something I hope to never have to stop doing, so as I grow my business, I’m hoping to outsource tasks like marketing, finance, social media, packing and shipping, and sourcing materials. I’d love to have a small team. My loftier, more long-term goal is to one day open a brick and mortar boutique where I can interact with my team and customers daily.
LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…
Annika: 90s pop and musicals. I can’t get enough of those five-part boy band harmonies, and those get-out-of-your-seat-and-do-a-solo kick line tunes!
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Annika: Snarfing down Trader Joe’s Belgium Chocolate pudding straight out of the container while standing in front of the open fridge. If there is another way to eat that stuff, I haven’t discovered it yet.
LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?
Annika: I would seriously love to get someone to do my bookkeeping. I’m decent at math, but something about looking at money numbers makes me queasy, even on a good month! To not have to crunch those numbers once a month would be so so dreamy.
Thank you, Annika, for sharing your talent with us! We absolutely love what you’re doing with Married & Bright, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!
Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!