Monday, April 14, 2008

Meet Michelle Adams of Rubie Green

My friends and I often talk about starting our own companies but it's a little daunting trying to figure out where to start. Then one of them wondered aloud how the blogger behind the site M.A . Belle started her organic fabric company Rubie Green and it got me wondering too so I decided why not just ask her! Turns out that M.A. Belle is really Michelle Adams and she was kind enough to share not her story but some really great practical advice on how to start a business.

Michelle has had a quick rise to the top! She graduated in May 2006 from Michigan State University with two degrees, one in apparel and textile design with a minor in interior design and another degree in advertising. While in school she worked for Pottery Barn for three years but one week after graduation she went to work for Domino as a Market Editor. Can you imagine! She assisted Tori Mellott for a year and a half before she left to start Rubie Green! Amazing!

Michelle said that Domino was the most incredible experience of her life. "It opened my eyes to so many people, styles and ideas and I'm POSITIVE I could not have started Rubie Green without having worked there." She also said she had always been really intrigued by textile designers. "As early as high school, I was clipping articles about Rachel Ashwell and Cath Kidston, and studying what worked for them versus what did not." In college, she continued to research and explore different designers, and took a sustainability course which opened her eyes to the importance of environmentally friendly design. "Our professor taught us that if we were going to put more products onto the earth then we needed to do so responsibly. It's a concept that has stuck with me throughout the entire manufacturing process, despite the fact that it would have been twenty times easier to manufacture in traditional ways." See, some students do listen in class!

As for starting her business, Michelle says it was actually a LOT easier than one would think! "I am 25 and have a creative brain, not a business oriented one, and so far have been able to figure things out one day at a time! My basic structure for figuring things out is as follows, and I will break it down below: 1) reach out to contacts. 2) attend relevant trade shows to ask questions, meet pros and learn more. 3) establish a niche market. 4) utilize free in-state resources. 5) call upon competitors. 6) GO FOR IT!!"

"So basically, when I left Domino in September, I honestly had NO CLUE what to do, so I started by making a list of contacts that seemed even REMOTELY relevant. I tried not to narrow the list down since you never know who will know somebody else! Then I began by reaching out to my contacts for advice and to see if anybody knew of any reputable eco-printers in the states. Once I had exhausted my leads (and learned quite a bit!) I attended an Organic Exchange conference out in Monterey, CA. where I was introduced to printers, suppliers, manufacturers, designers, ETC, who were all incredibly knowledgeable and thrilled to help! I also attended a women's business event hosted by Design Sponge and Oh Joy blogs, and ended up meeting fellow female entrepreneurs who I still chat with today! Lots of us bounce ideas off each other so the meeting was an invaluable experience. (And was free!)" We love free!

"When I came back, I went into research mode and searched for a manufacturer, which actually ended up taking me about 3.5 months!! It wouldn't be as hard if I weren't manufacturing eco-friendly items though, so don't be turned off by that. In the meantime, I worked on my designs and branding so that I could launch it positioned the way I wanted it. (Just wait till you see the final site! It's going to be SO CUTE!) I was lucky that my interests in eco-design happened to already be a niche market, since having some sort of niche is crucial to success (You have to figure out why somebody would want your product versus another and really play up that reason). Great Advice!

Next, I scheduled a meeting with a business advisor who is available to meet for FREE with residents of New York City (each state has a similar program) and can discuss anything from naming my company to helping me file for taxes and marketing! I went to him to figure out how to legally register my company, since I HATE research and wanted to be lazy and have him TELL ME how to do it, which he did! Happily! And for free! The NYC website can be found HERE, and again each state has their own." I just want someone to tell me what I need to do too so I found this advice from Michelle invaluable!

"Once I got my company legally registered and also filed for my trademark, I was all set to apply for a tax ID number and start up business! Along the way I cold called some of my competitors and was honest with them and explained who I was and what I wanted to achieve and asked whether I could ask them some questions, and you'd be surprised by how many people were willing to help me! Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art and Design was particularly AMAZING and helped me out immensely, as did Dawn Oliveira of Oliveira Textiles! I basically owe them my life! Along the way, I also paired up with a friend from college who has a business brain, and he's been there to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. He will play a larger role in supply chain management once my company starts to take off." Michelle runs her company from her 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side and says, "I don't even have a desk and couldn't be happier!" Woo hoo!!!

I always say it but it's true that the best part of blogging has been all the amazing and inspiring people I've come into contact with. I want to thank Michelle Adams for taking the time to tell us how she was able to "become her dream." I hope her story and advice will prompt you to begin thinking about starting your own business. I know it did for me!


Photos by Peter Wang and Patrick Cline

23 comments:

katiedid said...

HC, I think you have started on a really positive and informative track here with the "living your Dream" post and this one. I am looking forward to more of the same, as I am in the same mode myself! I am hoping that the economy will not scare me into complacency.

Habitually Chic said...

Katie, I am definitely going to try to bring you more stories like Michelle's. I want everyone to follow their bliss and make their passion their career so I will encourage people in any way I can!

MABELLE said...

Heather- WOW. I cannot even tell you how touched I am by this post. This whole experience is still so surreal to me, and hearing my own story summarized like this is incredibly cool. Thank you for your support and for your daily inspiration via Habitually Chic :)

Pink Wallpaper said...

that is so awesome to achieve something at such a young age!! way to go michelle...i love hearing your story!

Habitually Chic said...

Michelle, It was my pleasure!!! As I said, you did all the work! All I did was type it up! Thanks for being a wonderful inspiration!

Habitually Chic said...

Pink Wallpaper, I can't believe Michelle is so young! Makes me think I need to get my act in gear!!!

In(side) the Loop said...

this was such a great post. Her advice is really helpful and full of honest, sincere responses. She sounds like such a lovely person!

emily@designsmack said...

Exceptional!! Thanks for the inspiring story.

Octavine Illustration said...

what a wonderful, truly inspiring story. i love her candid responses and easy-going manner. and her fabrics are beautiful!

Suzy said...

Oh she's just a baby...I'm feeling a little left behind now! Thanks for interviewing Michelle, I was curious how she'd started aswell, and now we all know! Some great advice there.

Jacqui O said...

Great post HC, it's a wonderful insight into someone setting up a business; something so many of us think about but how many actually do?
Love your blog, I look in every day. Keep up your great work.

LondonCalling said...

Enjoyed the interview with Michelle! Very motivating. Inspiring us all to follow our dreams.

Kelly said...

Don't let anyone tell you are too young, too old or anything else. What a great story! Inspires me not to keep listening to everyone who telling me "put in your time at the bottom and my time will come" and instead be proactive and live my dreams. Thanks Heather and Michelle. Us UES girls really do need to get together sometime! Bliss... pure bliss!

Style Court said...

Michelle has great taste!

morrismore said...

What an inspirational and exciting success story--I am going to forward this to my young nieces.

In additition, her designs are great. I want the pineapple pattern for curtains on a bedroom French doors..

Susan said...

Well Heather - you have inspired this older Chicago single mom gal - I have had that little voice in my head telling me I need to do something that makes a difference - allowing me to use my God-given creative talents - but I have shushed it for many years.....I am now going to start brainstorming with my extended circle of friends.

I always tell people who say that they are afraid of painting their homes with exciting colors - "What is the worst that can happen - if you hate it - repaint it - but just DO IT!"

So I will keep you apprised of how I heed my own advice (with HC's nudging)and start a new career!

cheer!

art history is for lovers said...

this is such a great post. Congrats, Michelle!

design - 59 said...

HC -
Awesome post! Can't wait to see/read more.

M.A.Belle - I was wondering if you could give us insight as to how you were able to fund yourself/insurance etc. while in transition from Domino to Rubie Green. I think this is ultimately what's holding me back.

MABELLE said...

Hello again! Wow- reading over these comments honestly made me tear up a bit. All of you are incredibly kind and are inspiring ME! I can't thank you enough :)

As for financing this whole endeavor, I was a bit lucky. When I moved to the city in 2006, my dad lived here for work so we shared an apartment (aka free rent and my best friend! Not a bad deal!) So I was able to save quite a bit which I am trying to live off of now. But as for the actual RG funding, I'm lucky enough to have received a loan from my family, as they have watched me dream of owning a company since I was a kid. However, I completely realize that this is not a normal situation, and also know that my funding will be up soon (I've got till September! Cross your fingers RG takes off!) so I have been researching alternative options. The NY small business website has a whole section dedicated to funding small businesses here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/nycbiz/html/financing/popular_financing_source.shtml and I know that tons of small business loans for women are available (I just googled it and TONS of entries came up) so it's nice to know that many options do exist.

As for health insurance, I hate to admit that I don't have any! It's honestly too expensive in Manhattan (the cheapest plan I could find is $895/MONTH!! WHAT??!) but I know that it's not that steep in most cities. For instance my friends in Michigan are eligible for the "young persons plan" through bcbs and pay something like $42/month for basic health insurance! The difference is insane. NY also has the Healthy NY plan, but I'm not eligible as I'm receiving funding for RG, so it's tricky. I realize I'm taking a huge risk and am just hoping for the best...!

So Haute said...

HC-I can't tell you enough how inspiring Michelle's story is and this post couldn't have come at a better time. I'm at that point in life where I'm trying to figure it all out and find the career path that truly makes me happy. Right now my job is completely unfulfilling and it's to the point where I dread going to work every day. I've always wanted to start a business but I could never really hone in on what my true passion is. Since I started my blog a few months ago I finally figured out where my passion really is. I've had a great idea for a business that I really want to pursue but the fear of the "struggle" of starting a new business combined with the fear of failing has always prevented me from exploring my ideas further and pursuing my dreams. Reading Michelle's story inspired me to believe that I can totally do it and that I should just go for it. So thank you for this post!!!

Brooke said...

Great post!

And thank you Michelle for sharing your story and being so open and informative!

Abbe said...

This is such an awesome post! xo Abbey

Coquita said...

HC- Michelle sent me the link to this post via email, and what an amazing post! I'm a second year textile design major at Philadelphia University with a passion for being sustainable and a goal to start my own buisness one day. This post along with an email from Michelle has been so inspiring not only for a buisness in textiles, but to start using my blog again. It seems like a great way to gain contacts.

Thank you so much for posting Michelle's story!!!

Be well

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