For every mega IPO and multi-billion dollar acquisition, there are a thousand untold success stories from entrepreneurs all around the world.
Today, I am humbled to bring you my interview with former elementary ESL teacher and college instructor, mother, and empty nester that simply refused to go quietly into retirement. Her story of success is one that many of us have only dreamt about in our late-night and long weekend hustles.
I hope her story is a reminder that, for every product and service you encounter, there is someone out there making their very own dreams come true.
Allow me to introduce Smithe Sodine…
My name is Smithe Sodine. I’m a former elementary school ESL teacher and college instructor. In 2020, I founded Smithy Home Couture, a handcrafted decorative pillow company. I design and manufacture custom luxury pillows, cushions and bedding. My clients are interior designers, homeowners, and home goods stores.
Working with textiles has been a constant thread in my life. I was born and raised in a small town in Haiti. My mother and grandmother were both seamstresses and I watched them turn yards of fabrics into beautiful garments, draperies and other items. They let me help whenever possible. I sewed buttons and hemmed dresses. As I got older the tasks they entrusted to me got more challenging, so I gradually acquired more skills.
At 16, my family immigrated to Florida. Life as immigrants in the USA was both challenging and exciting. I didn’t speak any English, so I worked hard to graduate high school. I still loved sewing and wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology part-time. Meanwhile, I worked full-time as a seamstress to support myself.
While I was at FIT, I met my husband and started a family. I moved to Long Island to raise my family, so I never graduated. I kept sewing just about everything that you can think of, from wedding gowns to table napkins. It was a great way to stay engaged in my passion while raising a family. My life took many turns–going back to school, raising kids, teaching. Once I was an empty nester, I needed to start my next chapter. I went back to my roots, and in 2020 I started Smithy Home Couture.
It took a while for me to decide on what kind of company I wanted to start. I knew that I wanted to work with textiles and let my creativity flourish. I did a lot of brainstorming and research to figure out what products would be simple enough to design and manufacture. I eventually decided on decorative pillows because I love them and have many of them around my house. I also knew they were an easy item for people to buy and that they would give people’s homes an instant luxurious upgrade. I started fabric sourcing and designing a collection right away. I wanted fabrics that were unique and luxurious yet affordable. Then I started sewing very simple knife/straight edge pillows. I focused on the craftsmanship and the quality of the inserts (the stuffing inside the pillow) a necessity for great looking pillows.
I officially started the company in February 2020. Unfortunately in March, New York City went into a covid-19 lockdown. Launching the business became a real challenge, especially because I expected to sell most of my products in person. So, I shifted gear and started an Etsy store. I took all the fabrics I had in my workroom home and started making pillows in my basement during the Covid-19 quarantine while also making much needed facial masks for friends and family. Many of those friends and family became my first clients. Then, I slowly started getting more online orders. At times, it became difficult to keep up with the demand. I enjoyed the interaction with customers in a time when social isolation became too real. People were focusing on making their homes more comfortable and I had products that I could help them do that. The real challenge was learning the computer and photography skills I needed to upload the products to the platform. The e-commerce model has worked out well for me, so I expanded to other platforms, such as Wayfair and Chairish. Now, I also work with interior designers across the nation.
For the e-commerce portion of my business, offering unique well made custom products, and quick delivery have helped with acquiring customers, however great customer service is what retains the clients. I treat my customers the way that I want to be treated. They often come back to my shop because their initial experience was memorable. Great products combined with memorable customer experience are essential to retaining customers particularly on Etsy’s platform. It also helps to throw in a small discount on their next purchase. As for the interior designers I service, skillful craftsmanship and a quick turnaround time are most important.
I’ve read quite a few books on my journey. I’ll name the ones that really helped: The 1-Page Marketing Plan by Allan Dib, Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, Shark Tales by Barbara Corcoran.
I subscribe to The Hustle, an online business newsletter to keep track of what’s happening in the business world. I also listen to My First Million, a podcast about business and entrepreneurship. Even though its target audience might be younger than me, I find it to be very informative and inspirational. The information is delivered fast and with humor, so I’m a big fan.
When I started the company, I wanted to find an interesting and engaging way to replace some of my teaching hours and to learn something new. Basically, I thought I was simply too young to retire. I just needed a different kind of work and a schedule I could control. My company has become part of my lifestyle. I communicate with my customers any day of the week, at any time, and from anywhere. I have grown steadily over the last two years. I quadrupled my revenues in the second year. I earned more than I ever did as a teacher (teachers are grossly underpaid). Most importantly, now I have a team of three. My employees are skilled artisans. Together we make, pack, and ship hundreds of pillows and other items every week. Smithy Home Couture’s future is very bright. We remain a handcrafted decorative pillows and home goods company delivering high end quality products at a fair price. I would like to expand to new platforms and to continue developing relationships with interior designers.
I have few advices for those looking to start a business. I encourage people to make a plan, break it down into small steps and just go for it, one small step at a time. When I started my business, it took months for me to see any measurable progress. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failures can be great life lessons. Grow slowly and know what you really want from your business. I grew my business slowly because I wanted to understand every part of it. Once I understood what I was doing, I was able to scale up faster.
I invite everyone to connect with me on Instagram @smithyhomecouture, on Facebook at Smithy Home Couture. I can also be reached through my website at www.smithyhomecouture.com, at Smithyhomecouture.etsy.com, or email me at email@example.com.