TL;DR: This got long (surprise, surprise). If you’d like to skip past the memory lane bit, skip down to the “Midas Touch” header.
I built my first business when I was still pregnant with my now 21-year old.
It wasn’t a success.
Eric had been laid off and we’d moved in with my parents while he looked for work. He got a job at a car dealership but the $1000/mo base pay wasn’t going to allow us to get a place of our own any time soon. My mom and I were making quilts for my unborn child and decided to try and make some extra to sell. I’d give a lot for a screenshot of the site I built on Geocities. It was probably full of exclamation points and pastel colors.
Here are the blankets we were making (bonus bb Jake content):
I called my business Sweet Pea Blankets and listed quilts for sale on eBay. Eric was so proud of the site I’d built, he brought it up on the computers at work to show his sales buddies. But the site was broken and he called to let me know. I was confused as I pulled it up on my brother’s computer. It looked fine—just how I’d designed it.
It was my first lesson in how fonts and graphics worked. I’d used picture fonts to decorate the site (little swirls and curly Q’s), not understanding that if people viewing the site didn’t have my same fonts installed, they wouldn’t appear.
My baby sister caught me up to speed and I learned how to convert my picture fonts into real graphics using PaintShop Pro, which is still around!
Sadly, my glorious new .gifs didn’t make a difference in sales. No one bought my quilts; they were priced too high because I didn’t yet understand about buying fabric wholesale. My mom and I had been buying fabric retail and pricing the finished quilts to cover the materials cost + my time and labor. (A sidebar here: Even with wholesale fabric, selling handmade quilts is difficult. No one really wants to pay what they’re worth.)
We were still living with my parents when Jake was born. Even with all of the financial stress we were under, it was such a sweet time. We were holed up in my former bedroom, and Jake’s bassinet (borrowed from my aunt) just fit between our bed and our dresser. We’d perch on the end of the bed and just gaze at him sleeping, unable to fully comprehend that we’d made a whole human being.
Jake will absolutely love that I’m writing about this, but as a baby, his little bottom was so angry every time I changed his diaper. After trying every diaper rash remedy in my stack of new-mom books, his pediatrician suggested switching to cloth with a stay-dry liner. My mom balked, telling me all about awful crinkly plastic pants and the eczema she developed rinsing my cloth diapers in the toilet.
Me, circa 1977 or so, clearly thrilled with my diaper situation.
I fell down an internet rabbit hole (shout out to Netscape circa 2001) and learned all about modern cloth diapers. Plastic pants and pins still existed, but there were better waterproof covers that were soft and closed with hook and loop. Fancy microfleece liners would keep Jake’s bottom dry, and eliminated the need to dunk and wring out messy diapers in a toilet bowl like my mother had done. My excitement was quashed, however, when I priced out a set of FuzziBunz fitted diapers.
I ended up on the sadly now-defunct www.diapersewing.com and realized I could save a lot of money by making diapers myself. I downloaded free patterns and went in search of the recommended waterproof “PUL” fabric that promised to function better than the plastic pants of yore. The bewildered fabric store employee led me to raincoat fabric. It wasn’t waterproofed on the inside like it should be for diapers, but I thought I’d try it anyway. I sewed my first diapers out of cut up washcloths and towels, raincoat fabric, and blanket fleece. They were horrible and leaked around the legs, but I was delighted. Jake’s rash cleared up and it felt promising, like there was something here, something worth learning more about.
Jake wearing one of my early creations, probably made out of flannel and old towels. It looks like I used the Honeyboy Pattern.
I quickly learned in order to get the right fabric to make better diapers, I had to join co-ops on Yahoo Groups. Someone would be in charge of bulk ordering waterproof fabric and the nicer, waterproof fleeces and wools, and a bunch of us would join, entering the amounts we wanted in a database. When we met the minimums and paid, the organizer would buy a roll or two from the manufacturer, then be responsible for cutting it up and shipping it out to all of us. One co-op wouldn’t have everything you needed; you had to join multiple lists to get the right materials to make a whole diaper. And then it would take months to receive your goods and you’d end up with multiple cut & ship charges.
One night, laying in bed with Jake nestled between us, I told Eric my idea to start a fabric store that carried all this speciality diaper stuff in one place. As became our usual, he was very supportive, even though he wasn’t sure how he felt about my zig zagged pile of washable flannel wipes. I’d showed him how to wet them with the peri bottle I’d received at the hospital and how they went in the diaper pail instead of the trash. He’d wrinkle his nose, but dutifully followed my instructions and usually got Jake’s janky homemade diapers on correctly.
As most of you know, my silly little idea became my second business, and one that was far more successful than Sweet Pea Blankets. Very Baby still exists today (we sold it in 2012), but it started out as The One Stop Diaper Shop.
Blurry screen capture from domain tools & it’s missing the background graphics, but I’m so glad to have any record of it at all.
After writing my very first business plan, and sourcing wholesale fabrics and other speciality diaper notions, Eric’s parents loaned me $10,000 to get started (a sum they later said I never had to worry about paying back ❤️). I figured the number of people who cloth diapered was pretty small and the number who sewed their own diapers was even smaller. I famously thought it would be a little something I could do on the side to help pad our meager family finances.
I launched in April of 2002, probably announcing it in all those co-op groups I belonged to. Word of mouth spread fast; aside from a regrettable situation with a very early version of Google Adwords, I don’t recall doing any advertising at all. People were tired of joining fabric co-ops on Yahoo Groups and waiting months for their specialty fabrics to arrive. Orders were shooting out of the printer and I stood there in shock, breastmilk leaking through my shirt, little Jake balanced on one hip.
I called Eric at work and burst into tears. He quit his horrid job at the car dealership and came home to run this thing I’d built.
We ran the business for a decade. It got us out of my parents basement and into a little condo with a single-car garage we used for the fabric shop.
Our first shop. Eric was so happy to be a work-at-home-dad.
After a little over a year there, we grew out of that single-car garage and moved back to my parents’ house after they moved to a new place; the two car garage felt enormous!
Little Jake in a merino wool diaper cover + Eric near the back of his old Ford pickup.
My now 19-year-old, Nate was born in that house and didn’t wear a disposable diaper a day in his life (I was so proud of this back then, haha). Both he and Jake did a LOT of diaper modeling and were guinea pigs as I developed our own line of diaper patterns.
Nader modeling a tool set someone made. The diaper under that red fleece cover was made out of the same fabric as the shirt.
Family and friends remained confused about what we did for a long time. Most pictured Eric and I hunched over sewing machines, sewing diapers ourselves. In reality, Eric was cutting yardage and shipping it all over the world while I taught myself graphic and web design. In the early days, our site was made up of hundreds of static .html pages. Each one had to be updated separately in Homesite when we added something to the navigation menu or changed the design. Learning how libraries worked in Dreamweaver (when Macromedia still owned it) saved me a lot of time, though I hated the new WYSIWYG editors; it always added junk to my painstakingly written code.
After we were unable to buy my parents’ old house due to a lien on the property, we searched for a place with enough land so we could eventually build a shop. Our search took us farther and farther north (prices on homes kept dropping!). For fun, since the housing market is BONKERS, here are the stats: List price was $167,000. Brand new 3400 square foot house, three finished bedrooms upstairs, an unfinished basement downstairs. One acre, no covenants. 😱 We bought it and moved to Idaho in November of 2004.
It was going to be a while before we could break ground on the new shop, so Eric ran the business out of the front room and basement.
Fabric stored in our front room before we had any furniture in there.
I’m sad I don’t have a better picture of the shop Eric set up in the basement. His desk was behind this towering shelf of remnant fabrics (the bane of his existence). Remnants were often the end-cuts after he’d cut and shipped the rest of the roll. Sometimes they were pieces on a roll that had holes or snags from the mill, or the first cuts that had gotten dirty during shipping. He’d save them all to list at a discount in our remnants section on the website. The remnants section was extremely popular, but they were a pain to sort, label, price, and list.
Spot our kitty, Ginger on the bottom shelf.
Eric always liked allowing local pickups and I couldn’t stand it. My apologies to any old Diaper Shop customers who arrived at the house to pick up an order and met my frazzled, put-out self at the door. The endless UPS, Fedex, and USPS pickups, plus freight deliveries all made me want to tear my hair out (and led to some very embarrassing situations).
I was so relieved when Eric built our shop and all in-person business interactions no longer involved my front door.
Backing up a few years, we started offering advertising on our website, figuring a lot of our customers were sewing cloth diapers to sell and could use the exposure.
Again, the internet archive leaves out what I’m sure were eyeball melting background graphics, but this one showed one of our first advertisers in the sidebar.
The banner advertising spots, along with the desire to work on our sites myself, launched my web design business. I don’t know why I decided on a fruit-based name… I had to field a lot of inquiries about whether or not I lived in Australia or New Zealand. 🦘
I was SO proud of those rainbow menu buttons; they had a hover effect to show a different graphic.
Web design became my third business and it was successful, too. As was my habit with my blog, the web design business underwent a lot of name changes over the years. Kiwi Designs became Very Designs and after a hiatus to homeschool my kids, came back as Eleven Sixty. There were various offshoots over the years: Flat Line Web Design, Very Commerce, and I Blame Her. If/when I bring back this corner of the internet, it’ll be called Two Seventeen after Eric’s favorite numbers.
If I start adding screenshots for every reincarnation, we’ll be here all day. But here’s one of my favorites:
One Stop Diaper Shop branched off in a few different directions too. We liked the idea of carrying our own diaper patterns and perhaps even offering a line of ready-made diapers. However, the cloth diapering world was rife with accusations of stealing and copying, so I bought an established company called Strawberries ‘n’ Sunshine (SNS) rather than try to develop something brand new.
I ended up completely re-designing the patterns and enlisted my talented maternal grandmother as seamstress. She could only handle so many orders a month, so we’d open for a short period, then close so she could sew. This unintentionally created an even higher demand, as they became somewhat hard to get and therefore more desirable. I am SUPER sad I don’t have a screenshot of the SNS website. It was… bright. The Internet Archive only offers a broken version:
I was really busy with clients of my own, so hired Ali from the now-defunct www.groovylizard.com to create the web set. I’m pretty sure I used Secure Net Shop (still around!) for the shopping cart.
Eventually we re-branded Strawberries ‘n’ Sunshine (a mouthful) to Very Baby and launched both our own line of sewing patterns as well as a cottage industry licensing program allowing approved seamstresses to sew diapers with our branding for resale. I adored this pink layout and I adored the giraffe.
Very Baby (name coined by Eric) was so much easier to say than One Stop Diaper Shop, and we ended up migrating the whole business there with plans to expand as a natural parenting store (didn’t ever happen). Very Baby also spawned my longtime online moniker, verymom, while Eric used verydad.
We had a dozen approved Very Baby seamstresses by then, all wonderful, but my grandma was still the most popular. So I made her a new site where I could control the opening/closing of orders separate from the fabric shop. My grandma thought I was a very dramatic child (I was) and started calling me Tallulah after the actress, Tallulah Bankhead. Thus, Tallulah Baby was born. All my web designs are obviously out of style now, but I still think this one is so cute.
Sorry all the screenshots are blurry. I have not yet figured out the best size/resolution for email and am often limited by old internet archive screen captures.
My friend Lori used to marvel back then, saying everything I touched turned to gold. She was certain I’d eventually have a “Very” empire someday. 🤣 I’d laugh, because I knew much work it all was, even though it looked so shiny from outside—still looks pretty shiny, even as I write it all out. It wasn’t all rainbows, though. There was a lot of drama in the cloth diapering community; the cottage industry licensing program in particular probably aged me ten years. We made a lot of mistakes, I cried an awful lot, and sometimes wished we had normal paychecks, even if it meant we had to work outside the home.
Still, I used to carry this… sense of self assurance around with me; I knew I could build businesses. I knew I could make money. When Eric died, so many patted my arm and said they weren’t worried about me at all. “You’re just so capable and accomplished,” they said. “You’ll be okay.”
It was nice to hear, but it suddenly felt like I was trying to shrug into a wool sweater that had gone through the wash on the wrong cycle. Everything was too tight, pinching under the arms and strangling my neck.
I remember what it was like to feel proficient and skilled, but I still feel like I’m trying to wrangle myself into that shrunken sweater; yanking its too-short fibers down, trying and failing to get it to cover my exposed skin.
Even though Eric and I were young and dumb and had gone ahead and had a baby without any real financial plan in place 🤦🏻♀️, and even though we were living in my parents’ basement and needed start up funds from his parents, throwing some noodles at the wall to see what stuck didn’t feel quite so terrifying. After all, if the hare-brained diaper shop idea didn’t work, we could recoup our costs by selling the stock at wholesale prices on eBay or in the Yahoo Groups lists. Eric had a seasonal concrete business he could start back up once the weather warmed, and I wasn’t so far away from working as a medical assistant that I couldn’t go back if I needed to… I don’t know, it was probably my naivety and youthful hopefulness, but the stakes felt so much lower.
In 2012, I’d been homeschooling for about four years. I was teaching a class at our local homeschool cooperative and was stunned to find out how many kids thought Africa was a country rather than a continent containing more than fifty countries. I searched the internet from top to bottom looking for some worksheets or a curriculum option to teach African geography and couldn’t find one that covered all the countries.
So I made one called Discover Africa.
This wasn’t necessarily a Midas touch thing, I sold the 250 page packets on my blog for $15.00, later selling one for Europe and the solar system, too. I was halfway through creating a packet for Asia when our lives took a pretty major turn and I had to get back into full time web design.
Years later, I revisited the old packets, and created a business plan for my mom and sisters. My brother in law was willing to invest some monies to get them going, but I couldn’t participate in the business myself as I was the sole bread winner for my own family while Eric homeschooled the kids. Without me, the plan kind of fizzled and it went back into the vault.
I’ve thought a lot about re-launching some kind of web design business (maybe only graphics & branding, maybe focusing on author sites, maybe just doing e-commerce—I still don’t know). But thought pulling out that old business plan for educational notebooking/workbook packets might be the easiest, low-stakes thing to start with.
It hasn’t been easy or low-stakes.
It’s so much slower going without my cheerleader and support person, and I am plagued with perfectionism, but I’m slogging along. Discover Africa is nearly finished. The worksheets have been re-made in InDesign (I used Photoshop to create the originals and updating things like copyright on every sheet was a bear) and I’ve removed all homeschooling references so the packets can be used in schools as well. I have plans to sell the downloadable zip files as before, but will also be offering consumable workbooks with perforated pages.
Geography Kid isn’t officially ‘live’ yet, but I’ve put a lot of work into the site in preparation and for testing purposes. I have regular panic attacks (some that wake me up at night!) worrying that even though I sold packets like this before, this is a largely untested and unfamiliar market for me. I don’t feel like I have a toehold in the homeschooling community anymore and since marketing my own books was Eric’s job, I feel very much at sea on how to market the consumable workbooks to a wider audience.
It feels like it might be a looming financial disaster, but I don’t want to abandon ship until I know for sure it’s full of holes.
I’ve also applied to Idaho’s displaced homemaker program (one of the few things Idaho does right—part of Equus Idaho, it provides funding for qualifying individuals to return to school or obtain other workforce training). I’ve been considering a return to school to finish my R.N.
I have have so many worries about this option. I worry about returning to school at my age, how long it will take me to finish, the limitations I have with dyscalculia, and how I’ll keep a roof over our heads while in school, but I try to hush them all up so I can explore whether or not it’s even feasible. Though I qualify, there’s no guarantee I’ll be accepted into displaced homemaker program let alone the school’s competitive nursing program. I’ve had my initial intake interviews with Equus and submitted the necessary paperwork, so I guess we’ll see.
Anyway, this is getting so long. My post devolved into another meandering walk down memory lane and I can’t bring myself to cut out all the nostalgia to shorten it. It’s a common experience for me these days (plunging into memories); I like living temporarily in the past where Eric is alive and the world still feels full of hope. Plus, I think it has been a good reminder. I really did accomplish a lot. Yes, I had Eric, but maybe I can accomplish a lot again on my own.
p.s. I’m sorting out my paid subscriber options. Right now it’s $5 a month and you can cancel at any time. There should be a link at the bottom of your emails to upgrade if you wish. Starting this month (probably) I’ll be writing behind the paywall about my experience growing up in a higher-law Mormon household and my painful exodus out of the church. I’m unclear as to whether or not this email service will send excerpts or notifications of a paid newsletter to the free subscribers or not. So just FYI, if I appear to miss a week it might be because I’ve published a post behind the paywall. No pressure to upgrade; I just feel a little more secure writing about these sensitive subjects if it’s a pay-to-read situation; I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. xo