REBECCA ATWOOD // REBECCA ATWOOD DESIGNS
Brooklyn-based designer and artist Rebecca Atwood received her BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design and began her career at Anthropologie. Since then, she has worked with major retailers in both the United States and United Kingdom creating home product collections and consulting on trends and design. Rebecca values and believes in the process of making. Her original collection of home textiles focuses on the artistic process. Blending traditional textile techniques and hand painting, Rebecca creates products that are both simple and luxurious.
The line is deeply rooted in Rebecca’s everyday observations of her life in Brooklyn as well as her personal history – growing up on Cape Cod surrounded by the ocean, antiques and the family restaurant. Behind each design is a story drawn from her collection of family heirlooms, textures found in nature, vintage patterns discovered at the flea market, inspired color combinations from world travels or a composition from her sketchbook. These experiences and collections are layered together to inspire pieces that are thoughtfully crafted and casually elegant.
Photo by Emily Johnston
Was there a moment in your life when the light bulb went off and you just knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur and launch your own collection of home textiles?
If you asked me a few years ago if I would ever want to have my own business I would have said no. After around 6 years of designing home product for various retailers I came to a point where I really needed a change … and I honestly wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. I wanted a new challenge, something that would really push me … and I also wanted to create product that I’m passionate about. There is a lot of product out there, but honestly I often can’t find just what I want.
So feeling at a bit of a crossroads I thought I’d explore the idea of doing something for myself. I decided to take a workshop by Jess Lively called Business with Intention. Through doing this workshop I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t do my own thing. I had the experience already, and I just needed to figure out how to do it in a way I was comfortable with. Jess’s workshop took you though all the basic stages. For me I already knew a lot about building a brand from my previous job, but the idea of leaving a steady job was really scary. Probably the most important part of the workshop for me was the discussion of a ‘spaghetti number.’ Basically you figure out what you need to make every month to pay the basic bills and eat spaghetti. This made me realize I could freelance while I got my line off the ground. It seems pretty obvious but for me the idea of leaving my well paying job was creating a mental block for what I could do past that.
From there the idea of starting my own line became something I couldn’t shake. I wanted to see it realized from start to finish, and to be able to make decisions about not only what the product looked like but also how and where it was made.
Once you knew you wanted to launch your line what steps did you take to make that a reality?
Once I had an idea of what I wanted to do I created a master to-do list in Excel, which I actually still use. I’m a planner, and it makes me feel a lot better to have everything written down and assigned to a timeline so I am not worrying about if I’ll remember to do something or not. This helps me break things down to something that feels achievable and not overwhelming.
A few of my first steps included:
- Register for domain name
- Research on graphic designers for my logo and website
- Read ‘Biz Ladies’ series on Design*Sponge
- Take courses in dyeing and screen-printing to freshen up my skills and have access to studio space to work on initial swatches
- Read ‘The E-myth: revisited’
- General market research
- Source initial supplies
- Work on initial business plan
- Create mood board for brand
What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons along the way. Overall the biggest lesson I’m (still) learning is that you can’t control everything and need to let go a bit. I could drive myself crazy with perfectionist tendencies but in reality I’m just one person. I also think asking for help and hiring people to do things that aren’t your expertise is essential. Get an accountant! In the end it is more than well worth the money.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
I’m not sure if there have been too many surprises. I mean overall running your own business is not a predictable job to have … things will constantly be changing. I knew it would be a challenge and it certainly has been, but it’s also been easier than I thought it would be in some respects. The internet and social media has changed things. Five years ago it would have been a lot harder to get the word out, but now you’re able to share your story so easily.
Do you have a daily routine or rituals you do?
I definitely am a creature of habit. I had gotten into a pretty good routine when working from home, but am now settling into new ones since I’ve moved to a studio space. I always start my day with a cup of coffee … and I’m personally most productive and creative in the mornings so I try to get in early and work on the most important things before lunch. I leave answering emails, meetings, and less strategic work for the afternoons. Other than that my days really vary. It depends on what stage we’re at with the development of a collection.
What hardships have you had along the way?
My biggest challenge has been the financial side of the business and funding everything I want to do without outside help. My background is working as a designer and while I’d worked on top level trend concepts, product development, briefing designs, production, etc. I had not had to budget in the same way I do now. Managing your personal monthly finances versus a business is a lot different and there’s certainly been (and still is) a learning curve. I’m really lucky to have a great support system with colleagues I can ask questions of, and my husband of course. He’s much better with the financial planning than I am and helps me set up spreadsheets. I’ve been really lucky that there’s been such a great response, now I just need to scale things up and figure out how to do that from a financial point of view. It’s one step at a time, and I can be impatient.
What do you wish you would have known going into this?
I think I was pretty well prepared going into this. I had worked for large retailers, as well as a small company. My previous job was as a consultant where I worked with retailers to develop private label programs, brand building, trends, etc. so I was already comfortable working with retailers and pitching products. My previous jobs really did provide fantastic experience for launching my own line. Sure it would have been great if I had taken accounting courses, or knew how to use QuickBooks, or had more retail experience … but you can’t know everything before you start. You’ve really just got to start where you are and keep learning.
What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?
For me I have to really plan things out. I find that spending time upfront to plan allows me to be more creative and productive. I have a master calendar that I plan out bigger projects on based on when I want to launch a product. This allows me to see what things look like from an overview. Then I also have my master to-do list. I write everything down on it – a reminder about sending an email, following up on product development, shipping orders, dyeing fabric, cutting backs of pillows, etc. I find it really helpful to break down what needs to get done into small achievable tasks.
Other than that I try and break down main goals for the week and then the day. I try to leave my mornings for big tasks that need more focus, creativity, or attention and leave my afternoons for things that don’t require as much brain power.
Highlight of your career so far?
I think the biggest highlight of my career so far has been just making the jump to doing my own line. Personally it’s been so fulfilling and I feel more engaged with my life and the choices I’m making … and that feels amazing. I also really love when I get customer emails. It’s always so nice to hear back from the people who love and are using my products.
Looking back, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure there’s anything I would do differently … except maybe to remind myself to give myself a break! You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s how you learn.
Best advice you’ve been given? Any advice that you’d give other entrepreneurs?
I’ve been given a lot of great advice. My parents are business owners, and I also have a great network of support from my previous jobs in the industry. The best advice I’ve been given was from a good friend who has been a mentor to me. He told me ‘You get to choose how it’s done, what it looks like, how fast or slow things go, and what it becomes. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ Sometimes I get caught up in what I should be doing, instead of focusing on where I’m at right now and what feels right for me. I repeat this advice to myself a lot, and I think its lead me to making smart decisions about my company.
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