I created Arc of a Diver in 2011. It was supposed to be a clothing line but when I started working on the leather bags for the line, I fell in love with the medium.
I found working with leather and making bags to be challenging yet rewarding in a different way that apparel was. Leather felt so traditional, and even ancestral as a medium, designing with it felt artisanal and personal.
I was lucky enough to be married to a successful man that could carry the income load through my first years of business expenses. I learned a lot myself at first. Then I found an older gentlemen that let me apprentice under him. He taught me secrets, standards and corrected me when I needed it. The name “ Arc of a Diver” was chosen when I was searching for something that embodied my relationship with the sea and I love 80s soft rock.
GET INSPIRED BY YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Inspiration in my design comes from where I live in the Pacific Northwest. It is green, lush, gray, rustic and comfortable. The Pendleton wool is made just a few hours south of where my studio is and portrays rich history and tradition through rich and vibrant textiles.
I am also inspired by men’s and women’s bags from yesteryear. Artisans didn’t skimp on quality and character in those times, and they had to use their goods regularly, so comfort and practicality were of the utmost importance.
All of my materials, hardware, liner and even packaging come from right here in America. That is very important to me. My favorite materials to work with are leather, linens, chambrays, wool and rayon.
START SMALL THEN FLY
I started my shop on Etsy. Promoting yourself in a place where there are so many other great artisans is hard. It’s actually pretty hard. You have to not be influenced by other designers, you shouldn’t even browse and look at other designers in your forte – that is the best advice that I can give. I just design what I want and what I would want to use. I photograph, in a way, that I like and even package things the way I would want to receive a package if I bought a handmade item. I have to stay 100% true to myself, give the best customer service I can, make my business priorities known and update aesthetics every season or so. I also designed and work from my own e-commerce website. That way I am not side by side with competition and customers can come to my website and get the feeling, style and aesthetic that I want them to get without being limited by Etsy.
GET ORGANIZED AND HAVE A VISION OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ACHIEVE
Mistakes I have made during this whole process would probably be not being organized enough and not having a vision for your business. When you are organized, you have a clear mind and smoother executions. Having a place, and reason for everything is one of the most important things in your business. People will wander without a vision and often just stagnate. When you keep a notebook of detailed visions you will constantly be growing, getting better and achieving. When you have a vision, you can support yourself, when you don’t have a vision, you are just a creative in your home. I use an e-commerce website for business. But if you do not want to pay monthly fees or percentage fees, you can use a site like Big Cartel. They have clean layouts and easy transactions. You can promote yourself by collaborating with other creatives that may have reached a little more success and experience than you, but also have the same style.
THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY
To me, business shouldn’t exist without sustainability. Think about the word ‘sustain’ in sustainability, its like keeping something alive. For me, it’s important that my business supports leather companies that process leather in a healthy, toxin and formaldehyde free way. Do you want to carry around formaldehyde off-gassing all over you all day?! No way!
It all goes back to embracing the natural and earth friendly way for me, so I like to sustain those that do so through my business needs. I read a poignant quote about sustainability one time that said, “Every time you buy organic vegetables or fruits from a farmer at the farmer’s market, you encourage him to KEEP growing more organic food.” It’s the sustainability cycle.
GET BEHIND WHAT YOU STAND FOR
Aspiring entrepreneurs should think about what is important to them, not just what will sell.
It stands out when an entrepreneur is standing behind something that they care for and something that means something to them. For me, sourcing American materials and toxin and chemical free materials were important. Brass hardware that was lead free, leather that was only processed with natural elements and herbs and fats, and wool from sheep in my part of the Northwest using only recycled and renewable packing products. Those things are top priorities for me and help to promote sustainability of good companies that are doing things that I support. Get behind what you stand for and let it show.
THINK ABOUT YOUR LIFESTYLE
I could never work a normal job under someone else ever again. I have to have full freedom of creativity. My husband and I are working towards becoming a sustainable homestead, and that takes work and time, so having my studio on our homestead gives me freedom to give attention to what needs it. I need to be able to tend to animals, the garden, cook from scratch and spend time outside. I wouldn’t be able to do that nearly as much with a regular job.
GET DOWN AND DIRTY
In old times, people’s lives depended on the things they made, produced and created. Everything was made the traditional way- houses, bread, dresses, milk and so on. While the old fashioned way of doing things might want to be discarded by some, there are so many things that I want to keep alive. So while I am making butter from raw milk, a cute sundress or whatnot with my own hands, I also take pride in making the goods for my business with my own hands the old way with heart and soul instead of having an offshore factory bust out the cheapest and quickest version. I find it enriching to make things myself and often find that it is a lot healthier. I would rather make an organic cotton dress with my own hands instead of buying one that was made in a formaldehyde rich factory and then wrapped in plastic and shipped across the globe. Or fermenting old fashioned, probiotic-filled pickles with just salt and spices instead of vinegar, preservatives and heat processed pickles. Or getting milk fresh from the cow and making cultured butter instead of buying butter from confined cows that are only fed GMO feed and don’t get to run around in the grass all day. Making things is the most liberating thing in the world.
SARAH FAVORITE BLOGS AND MAGAZINES:
IHeartMyDreamJob.com is a great source for new entrepreneurs.
MotherEarthNews (it’s not as hippy dippy as it sounds)
Discover and buy Sarah’s collection here.
– As told to Francesca Mey