Ladies, have we got a treat for you.
Today's spotlight features one incredible, inspiring, and über talented woman: Wendy Downs from Moop.
If you haven't had a chance to check out her creations, you really should. Like, right now. Seriously, stop reading. Go to moopshop.com and click through the amazing canvas totes she (and her team) create. And then come back and read the interview.
Pittsburgh is incredibly lucky to have someone like Wendy calling it home. And we are even luckier to catch a glimpse inside her mind and business.
Introduce yourself as if you were speaking from the cockpit.
Hello! I'm Wendy, coming to you from Moop HQ. We design and manufacture canvas bags for men, women and (sometimes) kids. Every bag is designed and built, start to finish, in our Pittsburgh studio. Now stow your bag carefully under your seat or in the overhead compartment (psst...Moop bags make great carry-ons).
When did you earn your wings?
Moop began in a converted mill building in western Massachusetts in the very beginning of 2007. I began without fully realizing I was starting a business. I had recently completed grad school and had moved with my husband and daughter for a job (he was teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst). We lucked into a fantastic loft space in the former Stanley Home Products factory. I felt very connected to the energy in the building and the open space with incredible views (our apartment looked out to scenic Mount Tom).
I was entirely unemployed when we arrived in Massachusetts and had a very hard time getting a job (even though I had two college degrees!). We were living in a small academic town with no real prospects for a career for me. I am not one to just sit around and do nothing…so, I continued my personal practice as an artist while I searched for a job (which can be a full time job in and of itself) but, I felt very uncomfortable with my inability to contribute financially to our family. So, I ended up answering phones at a pediatricians office.
In many ways it was the best and the worst job I've ever had. Spending my daysaround sick children meant I was sick from the day I started working there to the day I left. But, I was surrounded by intelligent, talented women who were all working to support their families and to further themselves (this is something I respect greatly). They had developed an amazing community of support and respect for each other.
I worked all day and sewed all night. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I switched jobs and began working for Apple during the first year of Moop. It was equally as exhausting but, I learned so much during this time. Apple was the first major corporation I had worked for. I learned a lot about their philosophies and met some incredibly talented, positive, creative individuals. Once Moop had reached a certain daily sales volume, I left Apple. That was a great moment. Not because I was leaving a job but, because I was fully committing to something I had created and the hard work I had put in was beginning to pay off. I was excited for the work load ahead of me. It's been a continual learning, growing, hard working, exciting process ever since.
(A fun side note…last year, Apple asked us to make a custom set of bags for their employees..not knowing I had once worked there. It was a very special thing for me and a huge compliment to the business I had built.)
A good work environment means everything. I have kept that in mind as I have built my studio and team of assistants. It is hugely important to me that those who work with me not only love working for Moop but love coming to the studio each day. I have been able to take my experience from every job I have had (the good ones and the not so good ones) and apply them to running and growing a business.
We celebrate our 6th birthday this year and it feels like a major accomplishment!
If you could name a nail polish color after yourself of your business, what would it be?
It takes me far too long to come up with the perfect name for something so, rather than making you wait two years for this answer let's instead think of Moop as a nail polish color: We would definitely be matte, middle gray with a top coat of confetti (not to be confused with glitter). Moop is a concisely designed collection of well though out, understated bags, meant to be used every day. They transfer from day to night nicely and are meant to complement your daily wardrobe without being boring.
Not all flights are smooth. Tell us about how you handle turbulence in your business and life.
I combat stress with exercise. Not only is the type of work we do labor intensive — sewing can be very hard on your body — building a business from the ground up is emotionally draining. It takes over every aspect of your life. Exercise helps to release the stress of each day while building muscle to maintain the physical labor needed to sew for long hours. My back and neck pain (all you stitchers out there know what I'm referring to!) has virtually disappeared since I began cycling and running 3-4 days a week. Having the physical strength needed to succeed helps me also to remain more emotionally balanced.
I am lucky to have a supportive husband who is my best sounding board. I also rely on my business relationships. If I don't know how to do something or how to make something happen, I ask someone who does. I do not believe I can do what I do by myself. I seek out advice when necessary.
Who is the wind beneath your wings?
There are several people important to what I do. My husband and daughter have been so willing to join me in this process. I have always had my daughter come to the studio with me—and we have chosen studio locations based on where her school and after school activities are. She takes the bus from school to our studio each day. This means I have more time with her, she gets to know everyone who is in the studio each day and our studio is an extension of our home. My husband and I both work long hours so we have always tried to have a shared studio space (he is an artist, educator and musician)…otherwise we would never see each other! Our relationship and shared understanding of the hours and work needed to build a creative practice have made a lot of what we do possible.
My assistants, Jessica, Gena, Marlene and Mina have all played a huge role in the continued growth of Moop. I spend each day with these talented ladies and they continually inspire and motivate me. Which brings me back to my past jobs and working environments… building a team of compatible people is one of the most important parts of running a successful business — which leads to the question below…
What's your advice to other women as they navigate the business world?
…surround yourself with people you admire, respect and whose company you enjoy. Avoid being egotistical. Look for those who can do what you do, only better. Embrace that you need others to help your business grow and seek out the experts!