6 Things I've Learned Working With My Spouse, Edwardian Ball Retrospective, Spring Shows

It's been quite a year at Compass Rose Design Jewelry. A combination of life and family circumstances, as well as a growing list of wholesale accounts in the US and our first International order has forced me to think a lot about the limitations of identifying as a one-woman operation. Despite being in recovery from non-profit burnout, I felt a lot of pride in being a one-woman indie-designer.  I have learned to transition from a state of overworked almost embattled orientation, but in some ways this initial phase is required believe that founding a small business is possible. Our work at Compass Rose is about wearing history, understanding the origins of a world poised between centuries of social conventions facing new technologies and political upheaval. We are much more than steampunk and we are much more than a one person project.

Our Beginnings:
After I returned from living for several years in Amsterdam in 2008 and was frustrated by the opportunities available in the nonprofit sector or pr consulting, my fields of official expertise - I started my etsy shop. Sometimes during the first couple years, it worried me that designing and making jewelry was not political enough, not making enough of a difference - but now I think differently. Running a sustainable small business - we're talking living wage and health insurance - is possible, but difficult. We compete with a world of hobbyists and crafterfolk who undercharge for their work. I compete with $20 necklaces in the steampunk genre made with faux antiques at shows and galleries - this means the artist is getting $10 per necklace with at least $5-6 in materials. I refuse to work below minimum wage, it's just not what I'm doing. The ability for my husband and I to create jobs for ourselves that allow us to feel the self-respect and dignity of making things (see Shop Class as Soulcraft) and keeping ones mind applied to the projects of your own choosing and invention - feels powerful. We are reminded of our ability to make things happen.

Change Happens In An Instant:
When my husband found himself let go last fall from what he thought was a stable job after helping his parents with some medical stuff for two weeks - we were thrown for a loop. It's definitely been one of those blessings in disguise - my sweetie is a lot happier, picked up his banjo again and started helping out with Compass Rose Design. Despite the fact that things have been tight, we're taking the opportunity to celebrate NOT working for disrespectful bosses. In the last six months, we've grown into the idea of being a family business.

Though he's been super supportive from day one - I think the growth of the project into an actual business shocked my husband - in a great way. Finding yourselves at such a crossroads as a sudden change of income as we did after the loss of his job can cause one to either get depressed or resourceful - and we've chosen the latter.  It helps that he is just as much of a history nerd as I am and has a handful of relevant skills. We're a long ways from supporting our entire lives and putting away savings with this work, but we can understand that it's possible. Growing from a business where the administration is done in my head to a scenario of working with my life partner has brought up some fascinating lessons for us - I thought I'd compile a brief list.

Six Lessons I've learned (am still learning) working with my spouse in a home business:
1. Talk about it, but not unless everyone ate breakfast
2. Everyone should pursue their interests and skills
3. Build for Success - Make a Work Space that Works!
4. Partnership Frees Creative Energy 
5. Don't be Afraid of Change, Or Be Afraid but Be Open to Change Anyways
6. Leave the Workshop Occasionally

1. Talk about it, but not unless everyone ate breakfast
 We used to ship our etsy sales in the morning, sometimes before breakfast, but not any more. There were so many things, like everything, that I just do the way I do because I have. It was important for me to learn that Johnny could not read my mind and to be receptive to Johnny' ideas about systems and how we do things. It took me a while to understand that I expected him to know how things operated and that I was getting frustrated, which was unreasonable. Part of this was making sure we had eaten and weren't crabby when we talked (mostly me). I also had to be flexible about being open to new systems and ways of doing things - whether it was how we ship from our etsy shop, to how we solder or find antiques or when we order supplies. He has a lot of good ideas and we had to learn how to manage the logistics and emotional aspect of establishing practices together. We're learning to be flexible - finding some way between that makes sense.

2. Everyone should pursue their interests and skills
Johnny at the Soldering Bench
It takes a while to sort out who does what, but it does sort out organically. I definitely got to a place where doing production, social media, events, accounting and administration were becoming too much for just me and my workshop was constantly jumbled as I attempted to keep up. Luckily - Johnny is an expert solderer with significant welding and metalworking and carpentry skill. He's awesome at photography and photoshop (his first paid job was for a wedding photographer) and improving our production processes.  We rephotographed and edited our entire etsy shop (more than 2000 photos) in less than two weeks. He has built a full soldering station and constantly identifies clever ways to solder things better, more clean, more sturdy, better.  Since we are one of a handful of etsy sellers doing silver soldering work rather than using glue, so it's nice to have more hands at the workbench.

3. Build for Success - Make a Work Space that Works!
Our Workshop/ Living Room
It did not occur to me at first, but space matters more than I thought! With two of us working, we needed to make sure there was enough space to make and store and still live in our house. Because we work from home - it's a constant challenge to maintain a separation between work and life - more specifically, there isn't one.  Every week, we sort hundreds of antique parts from flea markets and attics and staying organized is crucial. The three sets of shelves he built has allowed us to have a place for everything, for the first time. We both share a mix of busy-work and higher-level work that helps us feel valuable and stay engaged. I had to learn that lots of stuff doesn't matter and that having the ability to control our pace and alternate our work is important to both of us. The importance of having good workspace and storage REALLY helps eliminate clutter and makes a much more productive workspace.

4. Partnership Frees Creative Energy
In stepping back, we've also clarified that it is the history behind the object that is so interesting to us and to our customers - that history transcends trends like steampunk. It's why we use genuine antiques in our work and are always finding new bits to treasure.  Johnny's love of trains and railroad history has also inspired new collections. I'd worked with train buttons - in particular a Swedish set of uniform buttons from 1903-1905, but Johnny created several new designs and even found a use for his rather large date nail collection - date nail cufflinks.  Most of them date from the 1920s and 1930s.

The ANTIQUITY Collection
Because Johnny is doing so much soldering, I finally got to launch my ANTIQUITY collection, a high-end collection of jewelry using genuine Victorian watch chains and decorative fobs of semi-precious gemstones. I've had the collection ready for almost six moths, but have finally had the space of mind to list some on etsy. Each piece comes with a historical description of the design elements and the natural history of the gemstones, based on Pliny the Elders Natural History from 77AD. I'm also getting time to work on a new fine-silver bezel set line of rings. Creative juices are flowing!

5. Don't Be Afraid of Change / Be Afraid but Open to Change Anyways

Borderline Hoarder of Broken Bits
Having my partner's perspective has helped me let go of some of my most un-useful habits (like hoarding broken bits of whatnot in case we might need them when we CLEARLY never will.) As we redesign our catalog, another inside perspective is invaluable in deciding which collections to expand which to discontinue (prune), which is way more emotionally scary than I anticipated. For example, we've sold lots of battery operated pocket-watches on nice crystal-adorned chains, I'm tired of explaining how to change batteries - despite the popularity of the 1980s, we've apparently blocked this part out. People often ask for these watches, but it was not until Johnny suggested I discontinue them and stop dealing with batteries and components that we did not make, that I decided to let the $20 necklace folks do the pre-fab items.

Road & Rail Men's Collection

We're really dedicated to genuine antiques, including the new Road & Rail men's Railroad Accessory collection and the luxe ANTIQUITY heirloom jewelry collection. It's totally liberating to discontinue items and refine our brand together.

6. Leave the Workshop Occasionally
When you have a home business - you could ALWAYS be doing something. It's important to turn off the Compass Rose brain once in a while and get some time out in the world. It's tempting for me to constantly talk about ideas as they come up - making every moment ripe with possibility as a strategic planning opportunity. DON'T DO IT. I admit I could think about Victorian fashion and politics for ages, I'm constantly thinking of new designs or things to try, but I do not need my partner to share this constant obsession.  It took me a couple of weeks to stop blurting out ideas constantly to him and to transition to making notes and bringing things up while we sorted watches - sometimes I'd even call it a meeting. We often work long hours - a typical day for me can be from 7:30 or 8:30 am and we might still be doing something at 11pm. This is possible because we can alternate what we do and maintain our interests, hobbies and lives outside of our company. Johnny is an avid beer brewer, we're actually in the long process of launching a production craft beer brewery (Van Houten Brewing), and has banjo class every Wednesday. We take lots of gardening breaks - even 10 minutes here and there keep the mind and creativity pumping.

Small Vacations Can Go a Long Way for Recovery
Of course, having a workshop you can physically take with you creates some challenges to my suggestion that you go on vacation - even for 2 days at least once per year - I would say turn your etsy shop to vacation mode, but it would be disingenuous, since I never do. Last summer, we drove almost to Canada with the etsy shop in a shoebox and a grocery bag of shipping supplies - we mailed from Portland, Oregon and Maple Valley, Washington. It tends to help pay for the vacation. We did do 3 days in Mendocino this spring and I checked out for 2 days completely, that was important. I'm still working on this one....

If you have experiences to share about working with your spouse - email me!

On a totally different note, I wanted to post a few long overdue photos from our outrageously fabulous time at the Edwardian Ball in January:

With the fabulous Sarah of Dark Garden Corsetry

Compass Rose Booth Shot

Motor Boat and Piney Fresh -
with one of the most awesome corsets ever,
by Louise Black http://www.etsy.com/shop/louiseblack
the Lovely maker of Miss G Designs
Trying on corsets at Sister Moon

Creek (me) with the Fabulous Torah of Black x Iris Creations!
Another cute couple

Adventure & Go Forth!

so much Luscious!

This just in: I was featured in the Random Nicole Blog Maker Weekly - it's a great article:

Shows just added: SF RAW MENAGERIE - April 26th, 2012
PG&E Women's Network Spring Bazaar - May 9, 2012
More information on Spring Events on our website - stay tuned!

Find us on Facebook for events & secret etsy discounts up to 20%:
Save 10% in my etsy shop with code: CRD10
Custom Order or Wholesale Inquiry - email us!

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