Editor’s Note: MilSpouse Entrepreneur Spotlight is a monthly Q&A designed to celebrate the successes and acknowledge the challenges of a milspouse entrepreneur. In the past, we have highlighted Chelsea Hickey of Sparkle Social, Amy Schofield of Schofield Strategies, Breanna Ramey Daughtridge of Untamed Rose, Michelle Campbell of Forte VSS, Jeanette Price of Peachy Keen Perfume, Jessica Bertsch of Powerhouse Planning and Bridget Platt of Daddy’s Deployed. This month, NextGen MilSpouse features Stefanie Weakley of Abby Maddy.
Your Name: Stefanie Weakley
Military Branch Affiliation: Army
Years as a Military Spouse: 9 1/2
Business Name: Abby Maddy
Year Established: 2010
Tell us about your business: Created in 2010, Abby Maddy in an exclusive line of charmingly sophisticated handmade ladies totes, clutches and accessories for women who want to stand out in a crowd. The business you see today is the direct result of a military wife’s passion for business, love of handmade and desire for a fulfilling, portable career. Each item in the shop is handcrafted with gorgeous designer fabrics, Kona cotton linings and our own signature labels. From our large market tote, to our small key ring pouch, each item is stylish and functional. We believe that design, much like life, should be fun, practical, and a little fancy with lots of room for creativity.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes! I grew up working in my grandmother’s thrift shop and would spend my holidays and summers dressing mannequins, styling outfits, re-arranging displays and dreaming up marketing and promotional events.
What motivated you to start your own business? Another deployment! We had a toddler, and I was working from home with direct sales. But when we found out that baby #2 was on the way, I knew I was going to need waaaaay more flexibility! So I started making things for my daughter and selling them online. Now we’re a ladies boutique, but when Abby Maddy first began I made children’s accessories!
What is the best part of being an entrepreneur? Being in total control of your own career and life. You have no one else to blame when you’re an entrepreneur and you also have to answer to the toughest boss you’ll ever have- yourself. But I LOVE business, everything about it, and I love that I am actively designing our life and not just sitting back waiting to see what happens.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur? I think most military spouses would agree, moving takes a toll sometimes. We’re on move #6 in 9 years. It’s rough, but it’s also an opportunity for growth. I try to see it as a chance to build Abby Maddy all over the country and that’s exactly what’s started to happen. The contacts you make when you live in so many different places just can’t be replaced. Even with social media, there is just no substitution for living in a community and being immersed in day to day life.
There are also practical matters, such as having a store front versus online. I chose online because I can’t even imagine having to close up shop and move. But even working from home, we often encounter space issues when moving from one house to another. In our house at Ft Knox I had an entire spare room, in our house in D.C. we had to convert the dining room into my studio. But you just make do- I think that’s one thing every military wife can do well!
Do you find that being an entrepreneur fits well with your role as a military spouse (or does it even factor in)?
Absolutely, I can’t even imagine doing it any other way. Early in my husband’s lieutenant days, I worked outside the home, but once our babies were born I was really missing that focus I had when I was working. But I struggled with putting our little girl in daycare, so it seemed liked starting my own business was the only logical step. Looking back, I don’t know what took me so long!
How do you blend working from home and your family relationships? Ha! I think this is a daily struggle. As I write this, my three year old is clinging to my back and my six year old is spread out in my studio floor coloring. There really is very little separation, I am designing, cutting, sewing, ironing right in the middle of our house. It’s just part of our daily life right now. But I love it because my kids are SEEING me work and I’m growing two baby entrepreneurs.
Biggest lesson learned so far as an entrepreneur: Don’t worry about what you don’t know, focus on what you’re good at. In the beginning, all those children’s accessories were made by hand- as in I didn’t know how to sew by machine! I literally sat at my dining room table with my mother’s twenty five year old sewing machine and my computer and watched YouTube videos until I learned what I was doing. It was slow going, but boy it was a good lesson! I am extremely proud of the fact that I am self-taught and now I teach classes where I teach other women how to sew too! Just get started and let the business lead. Four years ago I would have NEVER told you I would be designing and crafting ladies clutches, but that’s the direction the business was going and I’m so glad I had the presence of mind to get out of my own way.
Best piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Just don’t quit! It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be really, really hard some days. Get OK with that and then get going. Pick something you are completely in love with, because odds are good that you will be spending more time with your craft than anything else. Expect to not get paid for a long time, and plan accordingly. But most importantly, treat it like a growing, viable, business from the very beginning and that’s exactly what you’ll have.