This is it! The Pierogi Picnic Etsy shop has officially closed as of 9pm this evening. Let the record show that August 2nd, 2015 is a day that now stands in history! At least in my books. Though it’s a bittersweet moment, there’s so much to celebrate when looking back at these last seven years of sustainable design.
It all began with a skirt. I created a simple asymmetrical pencil skirt using a thrifted cotton t-shirt. Every which way I went I would receive compliments, along with inquiries on how people could get their hands on one of their own. That’s what inspired me to create an affordable line of retro, comfy, eco-friendly clothing. I had also recently discovered the growing handmade movement, and with encouragement from my husband, launched my own Etsy shop in the fall of 2008.
After debuting my store I continued to create truly one-of-a-kind clothing items made from recycled materials. Scouring Chicago’s thrift stores high and wide, I was collecting pre-loved fabrics and vintage textiles to create a unique line of casual and comfy clothing. Within a couple of months I began to add other designs. T-shirt dresses, camisole gowns, restructured tanks, vintage finds and more! It was in that year that I came up with some of my most popular designs, included the Resurrected Tee skirt, Revamped Flower headbands, Darling Dresses and No Sweat tunics. They were a hit! And so Pierogi Picnic took off!
By mid 2009 the Pierogi Picnic collection blossomed to include accessories, formal wear and even a men’s line. My homemade wares were selling like hotcakes. In less than a year my little hobby was turning into a full fledged business – and no one was happier than I! It was also that year that I applied, and got into, my first ever craft fair: Renegade. The mother of all craft fests! Taking part in the event provided some invaluable insights that would guide my practices and strategies for the remainder of my business’s life. Plus, hearing positive feedback first hand from Pierogi Picnic fans was just the confidence boost I needed to take things to the next level.
From there on I started doing other local fairs, selling on consignment, and developed my first ever formal business plan. I created the Pierogi Picnic website, and accompanying blog, which documented everything I was learning along the way. I joined the EcoEtsy team, networked with other local creatives, and fine tuned my photo skills. In late 2009 I began to simplify the designs and repeat them using different colors. I started to expand upon the number of sizes I offered, including extra smalls and extra larges, diversifying the shapes of clothing as well. I also developed a recognizable Pierogi Picnic “look.” My branding was solid – gray backdrop, clouds, real models, bright colors and big smiles. Between the cohesive collection and eye-catching photos, Pierogi Picnic was everywhere! Featured on Etsy, in magazines, and blogs the eco-crafting world over! 2009 was the year I developed the foundation I needed to make Pierogi Picnic an ongoing success for the next six years.
Fast forward to 2011. My business was continuing to boom after the creation of the much-loved Cosby Skirt (read about the design’s controversy and my battle with Urban Outfitters here!) and other popular designs, including the Freshly Picked tanks, men’s Smash Shirts, In Bloom dress and, my favorite, the Grunge Plunge. I was continuing to re-tailor vintage pieces as well, giving classic garbs a much-needed update, while still preserving their retro flair. I was also learning to work smarter, not harder, which allowed to keep my prices fair while still making high quality garments. But by the middle of that year I had a revelation. Why make large batches of clothing in advance, and try to guess what size and color people may want? Why not provide the basic design and options for custom-made pieces?
It was a brilliant strategy, and one that no other sustainable Etsy designer was offering at the time. It would allow me to still make items in small batches, but tailored to the tastes and shapes of individual clients. With the launch of my new custom order collection, the Pierogi Picnic brand rose to a new level. I started selling pieces at an alarming rate, forcing me to extend estimates for the turn-around of individual items. With designs like Green Girl, Sir Cycle and Never Never Land I was giving people of green mind, who were on a budget, a chance to have clothing made just for them. It was brilliant (if I may say so!) and was the shift my business needed to become financially sustainable.
After the introduction of the custom-made collection Pierogi Picnic was never the same. And in a good way! I created my first-ever lookbook and began to become a guest blogger on green-minded websites. Suddenly, I became an authority of sorts of green DIY design. I was still tinkering with one-of-a-kind pieces here and there, but the majority of my sewing was dedicated to a handful of popular items. This allowed me to enter a new corner of the apparel market: wholesale! By having a sewing system in place that would let me make a items in batches, I was able to start selling my creations to boutiques around the globe. The Pierogi Picnic brand was continuing to grow and evolve faster than I ever imagined! Better yet, amidst all of the activity I was still able to remain true to my original mission of creating eco-friendly clothing by hand at an affordable price. It was this basic premise that secured the success of the Pierogi Picnic brand for many many years.
Then, suddenly, in the summer of 2013, I hit a wall. I remember the day vividly. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and we were invited out to coffee with some friends. I was working 40-50 intense hours a week at my day job, which only left weekends open for sewing. I had a list of 10 custom orders that needed to be completed for shipment on Monday. I looked at my husband, looked down at my sewing machine, and began to cry. I was trying to run a full-time business with only 48 hours allotted each week to the endeavor. Due to the sudden success of the line, and a lack of time available to indulge it, I lost sight of the joy that came with creating things with my hands. I had built up my business to a point where part-time commitment was no longer possible. So I had to make a choice. I’d either have to go part-time at my day job or pull back on Pierogi Picnic. I decided to take one month off from custom orders in which time I could step back and catch my breath. I realized that I was in a unique position. I had a self-start business that was taking off, and also a day job that I adored. It would be a win-win decision no matter which way I swayed. So the question became more about what would be more conducive to the long-term. With my heart set on my work at the SPCA, I made the decision to pull back on Pierogi Picnic. I made a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t take on more orders than I could process at a reasonable pace. I stopped doing craft fairs. I stopped doing guest writing for outside websites. I decided to start sewing for the love of the process again. It was the best decision I could make for both me and for Pierogi Picnic.
Then, just a year after my weepy revelation, a miraculous thing happened. We were pregnant! After two years of fervent prayer, our little jellybean was conceived and in the process of being woven together in my belly. The news was a definite game changer! I knew that I would not be quitting my beloved day job, so something else would have to give, and that something was Pierogi Picnic. After making the news public I took another sewing sabbatical to give myself time (and energy!) to focus on my pregnancy. After a brief foray back into custom orders in the fall, I made the formal announcement that made-to-order items wouldn’t be available again until after the bebe’s birth. I didn’t want to find myself sitting at my sewing machine in tears once more and wanted to prepare myself for the biggest adventure of all: parenthood.
Baby Augustine was born at 2 a.m. on Valentine’s Day of this year. A little bundle of joy, love and answered prayers. His debut into this world has far exceeded all my expectations. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for this incredible blessing, and for the privilege of bringing up this little man. With his arrival has come the re-prioritization of my work life balance, as well as a slew of new inspirations.
Having taken a hiatus from Pierogi Picnic for many months, I have come to realize that it is time for a new beginning. A new adventure. One that will continue to draw upon my creativity, love for design, commitment to sustainability, and more important, commitment to work/life balance. Rather than being a one-woman-show, my husband and I are in the process of a mega collaboration. One that draws on my business savvy and his fine arts background. We’re developing a whole new brand with a whole new feel and direction. One that will take everything I’ve learned over the years and combine it with his know-how and elbow grease. We’ve been hard at work behind-the-scenes dreaming, designing, and making, and hope to debut the new company this fall. We’re keeping the Pierogi Picnic domain around until the beginning of next year, but will be re-routing it to the new site once it’s ready. We will also keep this blog up and running, and continue to bring you the scoop on eco-friendly DIY projects and other sustainable living tips. So if you’re currently subscribed to this site, or our Facebook page, don’t count us out yet! More exciting times are still ahead!
And now. For the grand finale.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Pierogi Picnic these past seven years. Thank you to my husband, David Paul Downs, who was my first fan, consultant and “employee.” My only employee actually. Who helped me cut business cards, deliver packages, sew buttons, work art fairs, model (against his will!), stay motivated and keeps things in focus. Thank you to my parents for always encouraging me, letting me use their van to haul displays to shows, and telling all their Polish friends about my “fashion company.” Thank you to my friends and family for always sharing my Facebook posts. Thank you those brave few friends who were loving enough to step out of their comfort zones and model for me! Thank you to all my fellow crafters and artisans who have always been open to sharing their ups, downs and secrets to success. Thank you to all my wholesale clients, custom order customers, stalkers, lovers and fans who have made this experience one I will always treasure. I would also like to thank God for His blessing throughout this journey and for all the valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
And with that my friends, I bid adieu to my creative baby, my project, my passion, my Pierogi Picnic. Parting is such sweet sorrow – but I know that this is not a goodbye – just a see ya later alligator. New and exciting things are just around the bend!