It was so fun (and a little intimidating!) to interview Amanda Archer. She's a wedding dress designer who hails from Chicago, and she's clearly way too cool and creative for Sarah and I! It was fun getting some of the inside scoop on the design business. Plus there are tons of brilliant business moms out there dreaming of starting or growing their own clothing lines. So listen on, friends!
The Archer Collection is about the modern woman; classic and easy to wear with a twist of retro and a bit of vintage romance. Fabrics in the collection are always made from natural or eco-friendly fabrics. Amanda searches far and wide to find the best quality of new, organic and vintage fabric and trims.
Most dresses are available made-to-order, customized or standard sized. Amanda’s dresses can be found on Etsy, or customers can come to her office studio located in Chicago's West Loop. Her wedding gowns are also available at Mignonette Bridal on Belmont Street in Chicago.
Taking the Leap
Amanda graduated from the fashion institute in San Francisco with a degree in Fashion Design. She worked for 5 years for other design companies, then started her own business in 2008.
“Etsy is what really helped me launch my business,” Amanda says.
Amanda was working full-time and doing dresses on the side for customers. Her business was essentially a weekend job. She also designed and made clothes at home for practice after learning something new at work. Amanda worked hard to hone her craft and gain as much expertise as possible.
Amanda continued in this way for a few years. Once her side dress design company became fairly busy, she took the leap and became a full-time entrepreneur. We love the way Amanda hustled on the side to get her business going!
Business was slow at first, but 9 months after she started, Amanda says things got really busy. She saw a big increase in volume of sales and she had to figure out how to handle that influx in business.
Solopreneur or Outsource?
When the orders starting pouring in, Amanda chose to push back her timelines rather than hire on help. She works with a lot of bridal groups who have many orders within one wedding. Brides understand that there’s a longer timeline for multiple dresses and orders, so remaining a one-woman show hasn’t been a problem. Amanda's timeline is 3-6 months for bridal party orders.
What does a Typical Day Look Like for a Wedding Dress Designer?
Amanda goes to work in the morning for about 6 hours. Her husband works night shifts, so her daughter is home with her husband while she’s at work. In the afternoons she takes her lunch break with her daughter and puts her down for a nap. After nap-time, they head back to the office for an hour or two so she can wrap things up. Then she takes her daughter to the park on the way home when the weather's nice (which we understand is a bit of a rarity in Chicago!) Amanda is able to work 8 hours a day and also have 8 hours a day with her daughter.
Low point in her business
Amanda really cares about her customers and how people receive the dresses that she makes. So if she has an unhappy customer, that’s a low point for her. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, she works really hard to resolve the problem and keep her customers happy.
It’s a learning experience. In the wedding industry, it’s inevitable to run across issues, but you have to learn from those issues, do your best, and move forward.
How her dress design business helps to support her family
Amanda and her husband support the family 50/50. Amanda points out the added benefit of having her own business — she can work around her husband’s schedule. She can be flexible and make family a priority.
Accomplishment She’s Most Proud of
Being able to open up a studio space was a big deal for Amanda. (Sarah and I are drooling as we think about it! A place all our own to work and create?)
Amanda still has many more goals, hopes, and dreams, but she’s very happy with what she’s done with her business so far.
Her biggest goal is to open a bridal boutique. She’d like to work with other artists and designers and have a space where she can produce items in the back. Her boutique space may also host wedding and baby showers.
Amanda has decided that her boutique will open within the next five years. We love that she's setting a timeline to make her dreams happen. Amanda is picking herself, and we can't wait to see what happens as a result!
Finding a Studio Space
It took a few years for Amanda to find the right space. She’s moved twice so far. When she found the space she wanted, there was a tenant already working there. She found out when they were moving and then took over. Patience and persistence paid off!
Favorite Online Tool
-Etsy for Shipping with Ship n Click functionality
– Instagram to post photos of what she’s working on and pics of her baby
Amanda uses a hands-on system that she learned from another designer. Once or twice a month she goes through and makes sure she has the threads, zippers, and fabrics that she needs for that month’s workload. She doesn’t type things into her computer but instead has all of her orders in front of her along with a checklist.
Single Biggest Factor that Helped to Grow her Business
Etsy! It’s a great community. It reaches people all over the world. Without Etsy it would have been a lot more challenging to grow her business.
Happiness is success. Being able to support herself and time with her family rank high on Amanda's list. Before her daughter was born, her life wasn’t as balanced. Sixteen-hour days and very little vacation time were not all that uncommon for Amanda.
“Having a child has forced me to balance my life. I feel a lot happier, and to me that feels like success.”
Right now is Amanda's busy season and she can often feel underwater. Even though it's very stressful, she keeps perspective by having a checklist for each day. As long as she gets through that list each day, she is doing ok.
Amanda keeps perspective during her slow season as well. She's thankful that she still has business.
Photography is one of Amanda's hobbies, so for the past couple of years she has taken the pictures for her own photo shoots. She does her own photo shoot of her new designs at least once per year. Wow, we are so impressed! Amanda hires models, make-up and hair artists.
Working with Models
Amanda often finds her models through contacts in the industry. She’s worked on large photo shoots with multiple photographers and many models as well as participated in fashion shows. These opportunities generate many leads.
Amanda also uses a site called Model Mayhem. The site allows users to search for a variety of parameters such as hair color or height. From there, Amanda contacts the models to see who will be the best fit.
As a dress designer and photographer, Amanda clearly has a vision for how she wants her shoots to go. Amanda tells her models to pretend like they’re getting married. They're happy. It’s a positive thing.
Sometimes models can glare at the camera. Telling them how to feel helps to give them direction. “They don’t have to smile the whole time,” Amanda says, “but they should try not to look angry.” (Sarah has her own theory for why models look so sullen all of the time!)
Funny Mom Moment
Amanda’s daughter is a CEO-in-training! They were walking down a busy Chicago sidewalk, and she was shouting into her play phone for several blocks. Business people on their phones were walking by just laughing at the baby yelling into her phone. (Clearly, she had important business to discuss!)
See Amanda's gorgeous designs for yourself!
Do you have a 5-year plan for your business? Is there a big dream that you absolutely know you will achieve? We want to hear about it in the comments.
~ Beth Anne