According to the latest census numbers (2008), women make $0.77 to every man's dollar (1) and the average revenues of majority women-owned businesses were still only 27% of the average of majority men-owned businesses (2). My hope for Sparking Cinderalla is to foster a community of support for female entrepreneurs as well as provide a little juicy insight into who these women are in their everyday lives. After all, as Mama Gena says, "Women are the greatest untapped natural resource in the world."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Emily Smith, aka Nightengale: Nightengale Needles

Name: Emily Smith, nicknamed Nightengale
Job Description: Seamstress & Owner of Nightengale Needles
Company Info: or Facebook search for "Nightengale Needles" and on other social networking sites

Nightengale Needles is "Geekery and Fannishness by way of fabric": Hats, scarves, plushies, baby goods, doll clothes & accessories, bags, backpacks, cushions, art dolls, and a host of other delightful, colorful items all themed around the fun of being a fan. Anime, video games, animals, and popular culture are my main subjects. Most of my work is custom-made commissions, and many of those are created from one-of-a-kind patterns. I do all my own designing, pattern drafting, and work. Nightengale Needles was founded in July, 2009. It's a primarily online and traveling business, and you can meet me and my plushies at a number of anime, gaming, and pop culture conventions across the Eastern USA.

1. What made you decide to start your company?
I've been sewing since I was little, but I had a conviction that my ability wasn't 'good enough.' At a Pittsburgh convention for animation and video games, I was wandering the artists' venue and found myself mentally critiquing almost every fabric-crafts booth I encountered -- not their vision, but their technical skill! Some goods there had loose threads or were made of the wrong material for their application. There was a full size wedding dress with glitter puff paint for "trim". And don't get me started on the sad excuses for "durability" being touted, or the atrocious customer service practiced by some of the 'artists' who were more interested in their portable gaming systems than in conversing with their customers. As I looked around, the little voice in the back of my head had some helpful advice: "Sheesh, Emily, look around! If these people 'deserve' to take the chance to sell here, you sure as flipping hell do too!"

That was the turning point, and I can still look back on that single day and name it as the point at which I decided my college degree in Creative Writing, which had me spinning my wheels because of a disconnect between my own writing vision and the strictures of the publishing world, wasn't where my true career and passion lay. Two years later, here I am!

2. Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Not bankrupt? *laughs* I am such a new business that right now, I'm taking it one day at a time. Well, okay, one week, because there's that thing next Thursday; and I have to contact that one vendor for the event next month. *laughs* I have often been told that I have the right balance of right and left brain to hold down the business end of things while my artistic playfulness can grow. In five years, I want to have proven that true. I'd love for Nightengale Needles to be in a smooth rhythm, where I know how it works and it works with me. If I tell you that my business feels more like a teammate to me than a simple economic endeavor, would that make sense to you?

3. Who was your inspiration?
Without a doubt, my mother. She's the one who taught me to sew. Every Halloween we were the best costumed kids on the block. And my knowledge of fabrics, threads, and the quality that comes from taking 12 steps to do what could be accomplished in 10 are precious things I've gleaned from her, her fabric cupboard, and her 1970 Husquvarna Viking. She's also the one who taught me about the importance of presentation and staging, and gave me an eye for aesthetic layout.

I also have to give a shout out to my dad, my biggest fan by far. Thanks to him I know how to engineer an effective, lightweight display that has big at-show appeal but packs into a 24" suitcase for the flight home. I know how to keep my books, integrate wire and metal work into my fabric goods, and translate a concept through the patterning process into a three-dimensional object. While my peers were playing Nintendo 64, I was playing with KeyCAD and, later, AutoCAD.

I guess in a brief way, I can say that I was given the skills that are now creating my success by a very practical, DIY-minded set of parents. =D

4. What turns you on?
*laughs* If you asked my roommates this, they'd give you an earful. To say I'm turned on by fabric isn't the half of it; they usually leave me standing in front of the boutique windows and come back fifteen minutes later to drag me away from the exquisite pleating and seams and drape. I'll babble for hours about the qualities and techniques of manipulating fabric. I have Very Strong Opinions about the proper use of blades and choice of thread. Thinking about my work turns on my artistic brain; I get entirely wrapped up in the need to sew and to make and to get all the ideas out into products, all at the same time. Thinking about how many more techniques and talents I can teach myself, and how much I can't do yet that I someday WILL -- that's my drive. ♥

5. What advice do you have for tomorrow’s female entrepreneurs?
Keep it professional & organized. I can't count the number of times that I've struggled to convince someone that I'm only in my second year of business, and that's because I understand that when you are in public, every second, you are performing and presenting your brand as an extension of yourself. And yes, you do have "a brand." From Day 0, carry yourself in confidence. Get a professional email address, carry real business cards - even if your first batch is the free kind from Vistaprint - and follow up on contacts, emails, and promises. Keep your paperwork in order, and stay abreast of the legalities of your field.

My family always says, "Guts & Hard Work." That's what it takes, especially as a single proprietor. When I'm at an event, I *am* Nightengale Needles from curtain up til we pack up and head home. It's exhausting, especially since I work intense convention-style shifts as opposed to the more regular daily hours of a physical shop. But either way, if you are as excited to utterly exhaust yourself in pursuit of your business success as strongly as you are excited to make your passion a huge part of your life, then you'll be okay.

6. Tell us a sexy secret ;-)
I am a ridiculous fan of garden-fresh berries and tomatoes. I go into absolute fits. You could probably pay for one of my products just by placing a perfect branch of deep red organic cherry tomatoes in my hands. At the least, it would probably take me twenty minutes to even notice you'd swiped anything! =D

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