To build CraftyStitches, Jennifer (Jenn) Michael took advantage of Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC) business counseling services from the very beginning. “As a new startup business in design and cottage manufacturing, it’s not easy to find supporters who understand,” she explained. Jenn found a family at Loudoun SBDC, who proudly helped her “grow up.” At every step of the way, Jenn kept coming back to Loudoun SBDC to ask questions and seek growth advice.
Jenn Michael was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, SAR, to a family of seamstresses and tailors. Jenn began her studies in Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco. She completed her B A at Georgetown University and earned an M S from George Mason University. She had a successful career in business analytics, HR Management, and HR Information Systems before returning to her passion for fashion accessories design. She began to sell fashion accessories that she made on her home sewing machine, and in 2010 she incorporated her home business as CraftyStitches, LLC. CraftyStitches specializes in customized quilted accessories with embroidered monograms and has developed a successful line of products for the growing wedding party gift market.
After business counseling from Loudoun SBDC, winning their Business Plan Competition, and competing for a Lemonhead Council spot, now Jenn is racing around the world. A major part of the CraftyStitches growth strategy has been to expand into overseas markets. Jenn and her key staff enrolled in the intensive Passport to Global Markets program offered by the Virginia SBDC Network. Participants in this program work with legal experts, bankers, freight forwarders, and trade specialists to devise an international growth strategy customized to their company’s strengths.
Online retailing sites such as Etsy (which specializes in handicrafts) actively market to foreign users, and make it easier for small businesses to offer their products globally. Online payment systems such as Paypal and Google Checkout simplify transactions by accepting payments in a wide range of currencies. This eliminates exchange-rate concerns and offers increased security to both parties.
Recently, Jenn and her staff have focused on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to increase overseas online sales. By ensuring that the CraftyStitches website is recommended to shoppers in Australia, Canada, South America, and Europe when they search online, the company continues to present their products line to them. Today, sales to these countries make up more than 30% of company revenues.
To Jenn Michael, selling handmade goods is more than just a business plan, it’s a crusade. “I believe that working with our hands and creating something organically can change our worldview. Our children today need more than just technology. I want our next generation to be able to create with their hands. Creating does something to your brain.”