Testimonial: Ruby Gertz of Spokes and Stitches

It was a pleasure and an honor to have Ruby Gertz of Spokes and Stitches in my second WHOLE ENCHILADA cohort! We met live on Instagram and talked about her experience in the course.

Let’s talk about what Ruby does – and how the WHOLE ENCHILADA enabled her to value her own labor and expertise, crowdfund a major project that had stalled – and build a new, powerful industry-expertise pillar!

Play Video about Ruby Gertz of Spokes and Stitches, praising the WHOLE ENCHILADA

Kelly
Hey Instagram, this is Kelly Hogaboom with Bespoke Hogaboom. And I am in my purple void – I’m in this like back corner and it kind of looks like I’m in Nowhere. I am here to talk pattern-making and gender and size inclusivity in pattern-making. So this is a really good one for any of you sewists. But also my hope is that [we can discuss] Creative ethical business on your own terms. There is Ruby, you’re on the ball. How are you this afternoon?

Ruby
I’m good. How are you? We’re both wearing tie dye? Right?

Kelly
My closet is like: we have enough ice dye! Yeah – and you got yours from our mutual friend and your WHOLE ENCHILADA cohort. Nancy, right? That’s a Nancy original?

Ruby
I did yeah, I was actually it was funny right before this Live, I was like maybe I should change into like one of my own designs. And I was like, You know what? It’s actually very much in the spirit of your course to wear a piece to support a fellow classmate. So this is from shout out to Nancy’s Handmade Goods. Check them out on Instagram! Yeah, it’s really beautiful beautiful. [She makes] beautiful, colorful, delightfully, like vibrantly colorful pieces.

Kelly
So yes. And every time she does a new drop, she’s kind of like upped it a level. Her last – the dresses she has, with the sort of side designs – have been really impressive. 

Kelly
So Ruby, first, I want to thank you for coming on Live because I know you’re busy. And you’re really busy this week! So thank you very much. Do you want to introduce yourself and tell anyone who’s watching now and later who you are and what you do?

Ruby
Sure. My name is Ruby Gertz, I use she/her pronouns. And I’m an indie sewing pattern designer. My company is called Spokes and Stitches. And I design sewing patterns for clothing and accessories across a really wide size range and for two gender-neutral fits, which I call Linear and Dynamic. And the aesthetic is meant to be solarpunk! So this idea of solarpunk being a science fiction, kind of futuristic genre that like imagines sort of a, this idea that like, we can kind of avert these environmental crises and kind of work our way into a better future. So I try to I try to kind of keep that ethos in my patterns and in my designs.

Ruby
Has anyone ever called you an optimist with regards to solarpunk? Have you ever heard that?

Ruby
You know, I haven’t! I would describe myself as more of an idealist than an optimist. I don’t know. I like, I feel like optimism is great. But there’s also like, a lot of darkness of the world. And so I sort of feel like I can see a way where things could be better. But I don’t necessarily, like ignore the bad stuff, either, if that makes sense.

Kelly
No! you know, definitely – I mean, I know you well enough to know that you don’t! Optimist versus idealist – we’ll have to circle back to that. Yeah, today’s kind of – today’s kind of a rough day with that, because we just heard that Elon Musk is probably going to be buying Twitter. Which I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of got me down this this afternoon. So – we’re not here to talk about that son of a bitch. We’re here to talk about you. 

Kelly
So I just want to give my completely unfettered opinion and say that I love your patterns. From the very beginning I loved how size and gender inclusive they are. But also your actual illustrations, and the technical contentin your patterns is pretty much some of the best I’ve ever seen. And I’m really impressed that the only other pattern company that I feel like goes into as much detail was the DIBY Club, which we just got an email that they’re closing today –

Ruby
Oh, really? 

Kelly
Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So – anyone out there who’s like a new sewist or who wants to up their game, I think Ruby’s patterns are a really great place to start because there’s just so much support in there. And that’s you – you do all of that, you write your own instructions and draw your own illustrations and everything?

Ruby
Yep, yep, it is 100% me. My background is in Fashion Design. I have a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design. And I freelanced as a pattern-maker and seamstress alongside a full time job in higher ed for about the past ten years. So I have a lot of experience also teaching. I taught sewing classes, and I even taught a sewing summer camp for children for a couple years, back when I used to live in New York, and that was super fun. So I feel like I really do enjoy teaching. And I think that that bleeds over into the pattern design and the instructional design as well. Like I often think like okay, if somebody didn’t have any idea like what a facing was or what binding was, or you know how to apply a neck band, like what would make this like the most kind of easy and transparent way for them to kind of figure out what it what it is. I think especially teaching teaching children has just like really, really helped me think of multiple ways to explain things. And, yeah, just being really, really mindful of the instructional design and not using too much language that’s like very, very kind of like, jargon or something. You know, I’ve seen there are definitely pattern companies that it’s – you have to be a pretty experienced so as to, understand kind of the terminologies So, I always prioritize putting a glossary in each of my patterns that has any terms that I think people might be confused by. And also just being really, really explicit in terms of calling out like, This is how you grade or blend between one size and another if your body – which most measurements do -you know, spans different sizes. Or here’s how you could do particular adjustments this design to make it like more accessible in certain ways.

Kelly
That’s wonderful. And I’ve been sewing for so long – I was sewing pre-Internet era, which is kind of wild to think about. AndI was getting more serious about sewing in the forum era. So that was the yahoo group era, along with the forums. And so uploading one image took some time. So we didn’t have a six-second Reel, showing you how to understitch or anything like that. Things have really changed in just my short career of sewing. So you have a background in pattern design, freelance, you built your own company, you’ve taught both classes and individuals. I’m sure you get DMs of people asking you how to do X, Y, or Z, you also have a Discord community where you help people. So if you sit back and think of your entire sewing career, what do you feel like you’ve learned in the last year since we met and you took the WHOLE ENCHILADA course?

Ruby
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think something that’s really come together for me, especially since the course is how I’m thinking of how I’m placing a value on my time. I think previously, kind of coming from the fashion and mass-production world, I was kind of indoctrinated into this culture of like, always compete on price. Always try to make your stuff as cheap as possible. People won’t buy it if you charge too much. Or … it’s kind of this idea that, like, you need to work fast, mass production is the most efficient way to get as much stuff out the door as quickly as possible. And I feel like I built a lot of really bad habits from from that mindset. And so I think the WHOLE ENCHILADA course was amazing in tons of different ways. But for me, specifically, I think the financial component – kind of figuring out what are these skills actually worth? And how do I place a value on this work? That has been really, really helpful!

Kelly
Yeah, wow! So I’m someone who gets DMs all the time from people wanting my expertise for free, right, whether that’s like sewing or building a business. And as experienced as I am, there’s always this part of me that hesitates before I send them “here’s my link to schedule time with me”, where they get to pay me, right? And I mean, I’ve been doing this for years. So do you think there’s a component that is gendered there, where if you aren’t a cisgender man doing what’s considered “men’s work”, that you have been – or I,  or both of us – have been sort of socialized to believe that we’re supposed to give, give, give, give, give for free? Any thoughts on that?

Ruby
So many thoughts. Kelly, so many thoughts! Well, first of all, I think like, definitely, yes, I think sewing is something that especially because so many folks do do it as a hobby and make things out of love for their families or friends, people they are close to: it’s very undervalued as a skill, and as labor. And I think that especially, unfortunately, because it is often kind of considered this “women’s work” or like domestic labor, which is just as valuable as any other form of labor. But I do think our culture has a way of sort of spinning that and saying, … it’s the kind of thing: “Oh, why do you want to [charge for that]” – you know, I watched your Live with Tracy from last week and people being like, “Oh, I don’t want to spend five dollars to have the tailor hemdmy pants” and well, if you’re gonna buy a sewing machine and learn how to do this yourself, you’re looking at a couple hundred. So actually paying somebody five dollars, or even twendy dollars, for something that takes them thirty minutes that they have the skills to do is actually quite reasonable. But I think it’s really unfortunate the way we’ve kind of taken this one skill – which is really a skill! – and we’ve, kind of turned it into this, like, mass-production thing that gets done in very kind of ugly ways, especially like, overseas places where there aren’t, you know, as many labor regulations. People get taken advantage of, especially a lot of women and non-cis men get taken advantage of, in that field. And so I think, I think it’s something that we have to really train ourselves to have a different relationship to, and I find this with myself. I mean, I can’t act as though I’m like, so high and mighty and I’ve totally quit fast fashion, like: I haven’t, you know? Like sometimes I want a pair of cheap leggings. And I go to Old Navy, and I buy cheap leggings and I feel really guilty and yucky about it. But also those leggings would have taken me like five hours to make, and I just didn’t have the bandwidth and Zumba class is in three hours. And so – it’s tough. Like, it’s a really tough thing to reckon with, I think. Especially with kind of like the slow fashion movement, too. I think people can maybe be really self-righteous about it. There’s kind of this interplay between – you know this idea that it has to be very expensive, which I don’t think it does. But you know, this idea that only wealthy people can afford to dress in sustainable ways. I think – yeah, I don’t know. It’s tricky. Sorry. I feel like I’m kind of rambling. I feel like I went off on sort of a tangent there!

Kelly
No that was the perfect tangent! It *is* tricky, because it feels like the whole conversation is fraught with all of these really nasty ideas and underpinnings. For instance, in the slow fashion movement, and in the me-made movement I have seen language that is kind of – that is really dismissing the efforts of these overseas workers, which is entirely unfair, right? So it’s like: yes, the garments that I personally, Kelly make, they do last longer than fast fashion, even expensive, fast fashion. But that doesn’t mean that the workers in those systems are doing shoddy work. They are *not*, they’re doing excellent work. And I’m reminded of that phrase: “all clothes are handmade”. So – put some respect down on whoever’s making your clothes wherever they are. And I like to refer – if people really care about this, from the human ethics [perspective], the animal ethics [perspective], those kinds of things – find the projects: like Collective Fashion Justice is a good one, Garment Worker Center is another – I’ll try to remember to tag these. But there are organizations that are kind of in the trenches on these issues. And I think you should sort of connect with those instead of kind of [posting] out there and being like, look at this top I made – it’s so much better than anything at GAP! Yes, it is. But be careful what you’re saying. You know what I’m saying? Like, my intention would never be to piss all over garment workers, because I am one, at the end of the day, I *am* a garment worker. 

Kelly
So in that vein, as someone who when you sew you get tons of requests, and you know – “Will you sew this for free?” or – my favorite is when someone asks you to make it and you think of some kind of rebuttal and they go, “Well, of course I was gonna pay you!” And I’m like, I kind of feel like you were gonna pay me a really small amount! And so – I feel like a lot of hobbyists sewists now, they get out in front of that by saying, “I don’t sell anything, I don’t sell anything, I don’t sell anything” – right? Instead of – what I wish they would say is “I don’t sell anything, but my friend Kelly Hogaboom sews those things, or “Our friend Traci Kay Pryde will make you something. So I kind of wish hobbyists would kind of broaden their vision a little bit and realize that there are makers out there who are happy to do that work – whether it’s mending, alterations, or custom clothing.

Kelly
So I know you have done some custom work. You and I probably both agree that custom work – of course, that’s my bread and butter – but custom work is kind of mentally and emotionally exhausting. And so I think you and I would agree that any sewists out there, we would exhort you do not sew for someone unless you really want to, is that fair to say?

Ruby
Absolutely. Yes. I haven’t done custom work in about a year. I stopped around this time last year. Because it just felt like I was kind of juggling too many things and – and it’s funny that you mentioned the custom work, because there’s a part of me that’s like, maybe trying to dip my toe back into it. I feel like I’ve kind of had a break. And I’m like, maybe it would be fun to take on some more custom work and do some more pieces for people, and especially from an accessibility standpoint, I really felt like – with the patterns it was like, it’s really I enjoy designing for, for people who have, I guess what we would consider non-standard proportions. Or people who wear larger sizes, who have a harder time finding stuff, and not everybody wants to sew it themselves. So sewing patterns are a wonderful resource for people who really – who are excited about the craft and want to do that for themselves. But also, not everybody wants to, or has the time or has the bandwidth. People maybe would rather put their time into something else.

Ruby
And so yeah, I have I have gotten a few requests over the past year that I’ve kind of pushed away. And I’m like, maybe, I don’t know. But yeah, you and I are both like – we’ve talked about this before – it’s like there’s like kind of so many skills within sewing, and it can be hard sometimes. So just pick one thing and commit: I’m going to be a pattern maker. I’m going to be a custom clothier. I’m going to teach workshops. So I’ve always been the kind of person that wants to do it all. So yeah, that’s definitely something that I’ve –

Kelly
That’s a very tactful way to say it! I would say like, I’m a shitshow and I do too many things. But the truth is from a business perspective, the more we narrow our niche, the quicker we can grow an audience and make money. But I always like to say that Creatives often don’t want to niche too much, right? Now there is the type of Creative that will kind of like pick metalsmithing and just kind of work on a limited sort of scale where they go deep, deep, deep, and they get a little variation. And I always look at those businesses – it’s gonna be easy for you to make money pretty quickly. But when you’re someone like, like me or a few others in the course, where you kind of want to do it all. It’s hard to do it all and build the market for all of it too, right? Because [the audience] especially in the age of Instagram, they can’t think of you as doing lots of things. They are kind of like, “What does Ruby do? Ruby makes patterns,” and then they they stop thinking about you. And that’s what they think you do. And so if you decide, “I make patterns, and I teach workshops for accessible sewing,” it’s gonna take some time for people to really have that sink in.

Kelly
You have – I know, we’re gonna talk about your sabbatical in a minute. But your three pillars right now, are that you – you’re still teaching lessons when you come back. Is that true?

Ruby
Yes. Yeah.

Kelly
You’ve got your patterns. And you’re also an industry expert. And I know you’ve had some success with that. You had a really awesome workshop that I attended here – was that two months ago? Can you explain that, what you’re doing? And like how it fits into the accessibility and inclusivity of the sewing movement?

Ruby
Yeah – so when I started Spokes and Stitches over a year ago, I knew – so I guess I’ll preface this by by saying, I graduated in 2019, with a master’s degree in Human Sexuality Education. And I was really looking for a way to kind of like, integrate that knowledge and that training with my sewing work. And so a really big facet of that is, gender identity, bodies, our relationships to our bodies. And so I was thinking as soon as I was like, Okay, well, I know, I want to do something with sewing patterns. And as soon as I thought, Okay, well, we’re going to be offering sewing patterns to people – any people who want to sew, right? Kind of the first problem that you’re confronted with, or the first challenge is body shape and size. You have to come up with a size chart, because everything you design, you’re gonna have to grade across a spectrum. And so, you know, there have to be some limits on that spectrum There has to be a smallest size and there has to be a largest size. You have to decide how different body parts are going to relate to each other proportionally within that size range. So I kind of went down a really deep rabbit hole with those [issues] because it was just really interesting to me. And so I would say that I built up some expertise in terms of learning about the history of size charts and kind of how and why we do things the way we do and coming up with some alternative methods. So for me, right now I grade all my sewing patterns or my garment patterns across two gender neutral fits. One is called Linear and one is called Dynamic. The linear one is a figure that has kind of a lower chest, waist, and hip ratio. So a figure that we would think of as like maybe a little bit more rectangular – for using gender terms, we might say more masculine. But that’s not necessarily the case. And the dynamic figure, is what we would think of as maybe like a little more hourglass shaped, so a higher ratio between the chest and waist and the waist and hips. And the idea is that people could combine elements from the top and bottom of the patterns to match their own proportions. So for me, for example, like I have a dynamic top; my bottom, it’s very much linear. So I have a two inch difference between my waist and my hip. So if I were going to sew for my own patterns, I would use the the dynamic top half and the linear bottom half. 

Ruby
So this this translates – sorry, that was kind of a long winded –

Kelly
No, no –

Ruby
This translates into the consulting work, because actually something that I kind of realized through doing the WHOLE ENCHILADA course is that this was an area that I actually had some expertise on. And I did actually attend a couple other webinars and courses on this topic that I felt were really kind of lacking, and  didn’t really come from a place of like, actually understanding bodies and gender. And so I felt like I had something to contribute to that. So I started running a course called Apparel Design for Sizing and Gender Inclusive, – or Size and Gender Inclusive Apparel Design, which I think I will probably run again, because I actually spent so much time building it, and it was actually really fun to put together. And I think the more I offer it the more I’m gonna learn about the topic, and keep integrating new knowledge and everything. So, yeah, so I am offering this course, I offered it in February, I’ll probably offer it again, in June or July. So you can check my page to see when that will be coming back. And then I also will work with other pattern designers or folks in the fashion industry who are launching their own brands or their own pattern lines. Specifically, around topics and challenges of designing a size and gender inclusive line, because I think it’s something that not enough people think about when they’re starting to launch a clothing line, or pattern line or really anything having to do with clothing. I so I think I feel like I have a lot to offer in terms of where people can look for size chart data, how they might want to think about naming their sizes, or their fits of their garments in a non-gendered way. And also the technical patternmaking aspect of like – how do you design for a body, without using gendered terminology.

Kelly
Yeah, I love it. I mean, I kind of came to some of this knowledge base as a custom clothier because I was having people of all, genders, sizes, shapes, desired gender presentation, gender identities. And like, just right now I’m making two coveralls. And they’re both – I use the same block the same size block, but one of them is like, I feel like they’re about two inches difference in height [from the block]. But one of them I’ve needed to add nine and a half inches to the inseam and the other person only one inch. And so bodies come in this huge variation of shapes and sizes. And one of the things that kind of sucks about being a hobbyist sewist, especially if you don’t fit in the straight size range, is I feel like it’s really hard to get a good fit for your own body. Like I said, if you’re in the straight size range, and you’re kind of built the way that the size model was built with maybe just a little bit larger hip or a little bit smaller bust, I feel like you can achieve fit a little easier. And if you’re outside of those standards – which are very narrow although a lot of progress is being made thanks to people like you. It’s really hard to fit and then – the added part of that is like a lot of times people in larger bodies had been socialized their whole lives to believe something’s wrong with their bodies. So then when they sew something and it doesn’t fit, I feel like they’re sort of quick to still feel like shit, basically. And so some of my work has been – I’ve spent hours and hours in my Discord helping people with fit, right? With this coverall that we’ve been doing. So you’re – I mean Ruby, I think you’re really doing your part. I think you’re doing a great, great job. Do you feel like things are getting better in the sewing pattern world? Are they are they getting better slowly? Are they kind of taking off?

Ruby
Yeah, I mean, I do think there’s been a lot of progress made over the past few years. Like I think there’s definitely a lot of companies just in the past year that have expanded their size range. Or from now on  – maybe they haven’t expanded all their past patterns. But they’re, if they said, “Okay, from now on, we’re going to design up to this measurement.” I think that even Big Four recently announced that they’re going to be expanding their sizes quite a bit. It’s still honestly, I think it’s still not enough. I think it’s kind of like up to the sixty inch hip or something. But yeah, I mean, I do think there’s a lot of progress being made. And I think folks in the sewing community, specifically, like the fat sewing community, and fat liberation activists have had a really huge role and put in pushing for that and shaping that outcome. I think that’s really great! I mean, I think a lot of newer designers who are kind of coming into the scene now are definitely thinking about these things in a way that, maybe people who started ten to fifteen years ago, or even earlier, it just wasn’t really like, talked about as much? I don’t know. Yeah, there wasn’t as much public comment.

Kelly
I was gonna say there was Barbara Deckert’s book. And that was it – which is a pretty good book, actually. Yeah, and I’ve noticed a few indies are retiring patterns this last month or two. And I think – if I had to guess I think some of that is about size inclusivity. They’re not wanting to jump in there and redo the whole pattern -which I can understand that, actually. Because like, for one thing, as a small business owner, you should be able to do what you want to do. And if you don’t want to dig into your old pattern and revise it, I don’t think you have to. And I think it’s a tremendous act of good intention to retire it. And so that means, “I ain’t going to make any more money off of this [less inclusive pattern].” Everything going forward, they’re doing more inclusively. So I’m not a pattern seller or anything like that. But I wondered if that’s why we’re seeing so much retirement of patterns – just like the last two months. 

Kelly
Okay, so, Ruby, do you remember how we met because I can’t remember how who saw who? And like, I don’t actually remember.

Ruby
I think we met on Instagram. Yeah, I think we met on Instagram. I can’t remember like, who initiated contact necessarily. But I think I sort of remember maybe stumbling across some of your like denim repair videos and being like, this is cool. Um, yeah!

Kelly
Yes. And you’ve done some beautiful denim repair yourself. That’s funny. As soon as I’m done with this Live, I’m gonna go do denim repair. And just last night, I looked up the Singer 47W40, which is the gold standard for denim repair. And I have like most of the top hits, which –  that happened really quickly. I’m proud of myself! I mean, obviously, that’s just one small sliver of what I do. 

Kelly
So yeah, I mean, Ruby – let’s talk about your sabbatical. Because you’ve got these amazing talents. I should say skills, my oldest kid says, “it’s skill, not talent”. I’m like, That’s right. You’ve got these amazing skillsets. You, like me – and like so many of our friends – there are so many things we can do. And it can be hard to pick and stick to one. And I mean, frankly, why should we have to if we don’t want to? But! you’re also on a sabbatical. So can you tell us a little bit about what that is? And why you chose to do it? And if you’re ever coming off of that sabbatical?

Ruby
Sure. Um, yeah. So I decided to take a sabbatical. Kind of back in like, mid-March, I realized that, I was working on a pattern, I was working on some other projects, and I was just like, really dragging my feet for like, a couple of weeks, just feeling really fatigued and feeling really kind of like, checked out and like mentally just kind of not, not there. And I was kind of just like, oh, maybe it’s just the pandemic, or maybe it’s just like, this time of year, maybe. And I actually  was having a conversation with my partner. And he was like, “Well, you’ve been working like six and a half days a week for the past year and a half.” And I was like, “No, no, I haven’t!” – like, that’s not right. Because I also like, I really like what I do, and I’ve been building like – I couldn’t wait qhen I when I left my full time job back in 2020. Like, I couldn’t wait to spend every day in my studio. It was the most exciting thing for me, because I had been working my office job from home, literally across from my sewing machines, like on my email just being like, “Oh, I want to be doing that!” And so basically, as soon as I left that job, I just launched right into Spokes and Stitches with a ton of enthusiasm. At first, I was primarily doing online workshops. This was like six months into the pandemic. And so everybody was like, really hungry for Zoom classes. And so I kind of jumped on that bandwagon for a while. I did a couple of workshops for public libraries. And then things kind of started to veer more than the in the direction of sewing patterns, which was appealing because I really liked designing the patterns. And also as a business model, it’s kind of appealing because [they are] passive assets. So once you make the pattern you can continue to make sales off of it, as long as it’s like up on your website, but it’s pretty low maintenance, right? Like – especially digital patterns, you don’t have to pay shipping, you don’t have to deal with like, any logistics besides finding like a good PDF delivery service. So that was very enticing. But anyway, I realized that I basically had burned myself out, that it had been all I was thinking about – I just like living, breathing Spokes and Stitches for a year and a half, and kind of neglecting a lot of other aspects of, of who I am and what I want my life to look like, and work/life balance – all that stuff. It can be challenging when you’re self employed, it’s just you and there’s nobody to really, like, reflect back to you what you’re doing. So, yeah, so I think we – I talked about it with you, I talked about it with a couple other people who I’m close to in my life, and everybody was just like, “Yeah, take a vacation”, right? Like, if this were, if this were a desk job, if this were an office job, you would have accumulated a lot of vacation now and you should use it. So I was like, Okay, I’m gonna do this. And you kind of walked me through the really important step of like, how are you going to communicate this to your audience. And so that was very helpful. And I thank you for that. I basically – I wrote a blog post, I sent an email and I just said, I’m gonna just be a little quiet on social media and on email for a couple months. I’m actually having a a very belated (due to COVID) wedding reception at the end of this week, and so this month has been sort of building up to that. And then my partner and I are taking a three week honeymoon to Ireland, so I just thought it would be really nice to take a step back from my business, kind of use the time off to reengage with what I like about it, reconnect to my love of the craft, because I do still really love it. I kind of wanted to do it in a way that was like, just for me, and not necessarily for an audience. And my plan, as of now, is to come back in June, hopefully feeling pretty refreshed from all the travel and all the time off and just kind of excited and ready to, to reassess and dive back in.

Kelly
So, I love that. I have noticed that the clients that I work with are running a small business, they worry about taking breaks. And it’s almost always not because of the income. They usually have a plan – it’s not the actual dollars and cents, they worry about people being pissed about it. And – you know from taking my course that I really try to empower Creatives to do what they want to do on their terms, and then to communicate that with consistency and tact to their followers. And so not to cultivate the type of followers who think that you owe them X, Y, Z, right?

Kelly
So let’s shift and talk – I’m the worst about talking about the course because I, every time I get one of you on here, I start wanting to ask a lot more questions about – we’ve touched on some pretty big, amazing topics, like size and gender inclusivity in the selling world, something you could probably have, like, several Lives about on its own. So shifting to the course, I guess – you have a master’s in gender and human sexuality, right?

Ruby
Yeah.

Kelly
Had you taken a business course before we got together and you took mine?

Ruby
Um, that’s a great question. I actually did like a – I did, like a continuing education program back in – it was a long time ago, like maybe 2013. After I graduated from undergrad. But it’s honestly – I think a lot of the stuff I learned is pretty out of date now. So this was the first time that I had that I had really kind of seriously engaged with a business course, especially when I actually [already] had a business, kind of like already up and running.

Kelly
Yeah, that’s – then it’s not just a theory, right? Exactly. You’re already in the foxholes, like having problems or having some successes. So what would you say – what’s something that the course changed your mind about? Like something that you’ve thought and now you think differently?

Ruby
Oh, that’s a really good question. … I mean, I think again, I’m gonna go back to the financial thing. Like, I think that was just really that piece was really huge for me. I know at one point, I think there was like a, there was a lesson on something, it was like a triangle. And it was like Price, Service … and oh, gosh, I’m blanking on the third one –

Kelly
Product. It was “Price, Service, Product”.

Ruby
But you know, I remember you saying like you can compete on any one of these, right? And to realize that, like, you don’t actually have to compete on price was a revelation to me, because I had just never really thought about that. I was I just, – and a lot of it too I think stems from some insecurity of feeling like, “Well, I’m not good enough to not and have to compete on price.” And so I think, just having some really solid resources provided throughout the course, to just really help, the whole, the whole lesson on pricing in general, and just how to build out like a feasibility study of like, what you should charge for something. That was so helpful. And I had never done anything like that before. I was always just sort of guessing how long I thought something would take. And I would always kind of round down. Yeah. And yeah, so that was, that was a real game changer for me. I think that really helped me to kind of do the work in a different way.

Kelly
Yeah, and I know that early on, I don’t even know if you’re were in my course yet, we had talked about you – because one of the things you do that’s pretty amazing and pretty cool, and I want to give you major props for – is you pay your pattern testers. And even today, there are lots of perfectly lovely little pattern companies that don’t do that. So I remember you were trying to launch a pattern, and you had several things that were like, either difficult or annoying-  or whatever. And I had suggested you’d crowdfund to be able to launch a pattern and to be able to pay your testers and really – actually, you paid them very well, I think. Can you speak to like anyone out there who wants to start a business? And who worries that they’re either going to have to borrow a bunch of money? Or they’re gonna have to hustle, hustle, hustle? Because this is what I want people to realize: you have more choices than that, right? Because crowdfunding – great choice, right?

Ruby
Yeah, yeah! And that was so helpful.I think that was actually before the course. I think that was just a coaching session. And I was like, I don’t know how to move this product forward. And the crowdfunding was a wonderful solution. And I think I was afraid that I wouldn’t get enough money from it. But it actually worked out incredibly well. What happened was that I offered the pattern for pre-sale. So I said, “Anybody who thinks they might want this pattern, order it now, you’ll get it in three months, once it’s been tested, and developed and edited and everything!” But if you order it now, you’ll allow me to actually pay my testers. And I think I gave my testers – I gave each person like $100, I got 10 people to test across the size range and across both fits, which was really awesome. And I think in terms of like, the startup capital, there [are] so many ways to launch your business. And I think this is something that you covered so beautifully in the course, but it’s like, some people will fast-track things and take out, get a loan or, maybe apply for like a really big grant or something, and use that money to kind of like jumpstart, purchase equipment and get everything – get a web designer – all that stuff. I definitely took a much more DIY approach. Honestly, I have a lot of college debt still. And I was like, really not ready to get into more debt. And so it felt like to me, I was like, well, I need to come up with a way to to fund this that won’t – that isn’t going to feel like I owe anybody anything besides like a pattern, obviously. But yeah, it was a really – it was a really affirming experience. I think I actually met my crowdfunding goal within like, a couple days after launching.

Kelly
Yeah, you got well past the goal. Right? Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah, give yourself major credit too Ruby because like lots of people launch something like that, then they don’t follow through on their part. And they go “Oh, I meant to get this out. But I haven’t got it out!” but you – one thing I did try to impress on the course is like: tell people what you’re going to do and then do it! No matter what! If it’s something little that’s fine. If it’s something big like like that, where you promise a pattern? Is it the end of the world if you end up having to renege or offer some kind of discount? No, it’s not. But it’s like a kick to your nuts when that happens, right?

I did a Live about – I don’t know, four weeks ago that was talking about the respectability of nine to five. I was saying when you’re nine to five, the world has a place for you. And the world tells you what your little title is. And you get a little check and you get all of this validation that you’re in the right place, whether it’s a good job or not – you get constantly validated for having that job. And when you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t get any validation except for your Instagram likes or somebody purchasing a pattern. And every single day you have to make decisions or stick to decisions that you’ve previously made. So I do think entrepreneurship is pretty tough actually, even when it goes well. I think it’s pretty tough. Do you ever miss the nine to five life?

Ruby
No. I can say that pretty confidently. I will say one thing, one thing that I have sort of missed is just the camaraderie of coworkers. And I will say that your Discord server has been a really lovely kind of substitute for that. For for anyone who doesn’t know, Kelly runs a really wonderful Discord server for Creatives. And a lot of folks who have done the business course have kind of stuck around and are hanging out in there, as well as other folks who are hobbyists, or maybe will consider doing the course at some point. But that’s a really lovely community. And I often find that when it’s the middle of the day, and I just kind of want to talk to someone, or see what everyone else is up to – there’s not really that like watercooler chat in my studios so I tend to kind of like go to Discord. And I actually was inspired and encouraged by you to start my own Discord channel as well called the Sewlarium, which is for sewists at all levels from hobbyists to professionals, and everything in between. And it’s a slightly different flavor, but it’s still about people just encouraging each other, sharing tips and tricks. And that’s been a really nice source of community as well. 

When you were saying before, about people in my DMs, like asking me sewing questions. It’s actually been really great to have that and be like, Oh, well, you can join this community. And I don’t have to be the only person to answer your questions, like, maybe some other people in there will have some suggestions or something. And that feels kind of like a nice way to sort of like create a container for for those types of questions and that type of interaction. Because sometimes people will follow through, and then they’re like a wonderful member of this group. Or they don’t follow through, in which case, like, I don’t think they really cared. 

Kelly
Yeah Ruby, the world of Internet community has changed so much in the twenty-ish years, I’ve been involved in it. And we kind of have Facebook and Instagram, sort of take away some of these little communities that we used to have the little forums and the Yahoo groups, right? And now – and at some point, Facebook, Instagram started putting the squeeze on us with economics, right? You have to hustle your ass or pay for boosts, or whatever to be seen. So now those communities are becoming less satisfying – like Facebook communities are becoming less satisfying. So now you’re seeing these little kind of independent, like the Discord scenario – I know that some pattern companies have like Patreon membership. So they’re running the community out of Patreon, or whatever. And I love  that solution of “I’m happy to help you with this. Here’s where you can ask that question. And there are other people there!” And if that person isn’t serious about kind of focusing on logging in and typing their question, there’s a way that they were really cheapening your time, because they were like – 

Kelly
I have people do this all the time. “What sewing machine should I buy?” And I have to tell you, Ruby, I get pretty annoyed with that. I tell people all the time, “come join the server and look at the rules. Make sure you like the rules. You don’t like the rules, you’re not gonna like the space!” And like you say, some people trickle on through and become members. I feel like the ratio is one person out of fifteen, who is ready to sort of focus and ask that question. Everyone asks us that they couldn’t google. Right. Right. Like – “What needle do I use for my sewing machine?” It’s like – they want *me* to go research for that. It’s like, No, man, you can use Google, right? So – I think that’s just part of being a semi-public figure in this, at a high standard of quality. That’s just gonna happen. So – I’m just kind of a bitch and I get annoyed. 

Ruby
[laughs]

Kelly
So I think we’re – we got about fifteen more minutes. Let’s talk about the community in the course. So I don’t know why but I can never remember who took summer who took fall because they were like *this*. But you I think you took the fall cohort.

Ruby
Yeah, I was in the fall cohort. We finished right around Thanksgiving. All right. I almost took the summer cohort and I had to hem and haw about it a little bit. So if anybody’s out there hemming and hawing – just do it, just do it.

Kelly
Just cannonball in!

Ruby
You know what happened was I was in the server and as soon as the summer cohort started and they were talking about it – like, people were in there talking about it, I was like, oh, I really wish I had just done it –

Kelly
– the FOMO!

Ruby
[laughs]

Kelly
You know, I’m gonna teach a yoga class called Yoga for FOMO. And I think you were the person who kind of engendered that idea, because you were talking about – a different topic but that concept of FOMO – and social media wants us to feel FOMO, right? So we’re kind of habituated to feeling it all the time. It’s terrible.

So you took the fall cohort. So how did you feel about your co-students? Did you feel like they were invested in you? Did you feel like they paid attention to you? Did they give you valuable suggestions?

Ruby
Definitely, yeah, it was such a wonderful group of people. It was just like – it was really cool. Because people were at really different stages of starting and operating their businesses, like a couple people were a few years in, and a couple people, it was just kind of an idea that they were exploring. And it was just kind of awesome to get to get to work with all these people kind of across this whole spectrum. And different kinds of businesses to I mean, there were definitely some folks there – I think probably because, you know, your own business is kind of textiles-related. Like there were folks in the course who – that was also their focus. But there were also people who were doing totally different stuff. And I think that it was just – it was all people who wanted to have businesses that felt really good. Like it was kind of it wasn’t like that hustle culture. Like I think there’s so much like small business resources and classes and stuff that will just tell you like, work hard, don’t sleep, drink coffee, you’re just going to be miserable for like five years until this turns around, and you can sell off your company and make a bazillion dollars and go retire or whatever. And that’s, that’s unfortunately, like, I think just a lot of the small business discourse is – ignore your own needs, don’t be a person, don’t have friends, don’t have a life. So it was so nice, I think, to find a space and to find other people who really wanted to create something that’s just the total opposite of that – a business that just felt really joyful, and, you know, fun to run and fun to be your own employee of.

Kelly
Yeah, I think when I was first writing the [email] copy a year ago, I was saying “ethical, joyful and lucrative” – because that’s my goal. I would like you to make whatever your income goals are – and everyone has really different income goals – so we start talking about numbers pretty quickly with a spreadsheet and all that. “Joyful”, yes, you should be enjoying it most of the time. And ethics. 

Kelly
Now [the topic of] ethics is what I see missing in a lot of business discourse. Because I’ve taken more than one course at this point. I’ve sat in on several webinars from some of these big free resources at the state level – I won’t name any organizations, but I’ve sat in on webinars, and the very first thing that they’re telling us is to use Amazon drop shipping to make a bunch of money with our products. And I feel like ethics is something I don’t hear the business courses talk about. But then on the flip side – and this is so unfai – is that when you have your business on Instagram, you have strangers come in and tell you, “well, Ruby, why aren’t you putting subtitles on all of your videos? Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you doing that?” So there’s sort of like – poking at your ethics, but they’ve not contributed a single dollar, dime, or any kind of support. And like, I just feel like that puts the ethical artpreneur in a really bad spot. Because they’re not getting told how to deepen their ethics. And then on the other side, they’re kind of getting picked out at by kind of the masses. Like people that aren’t – they’re never going to buy something from you anyway. So I have this like huge empathy for business owners, especially small Creatives. So I’m hoping that in the course, I hit the mark on that and that you felt your ethics were an asset, but also that you don’t owe a certain performative standard of ethics either. That it has to be something that you can do on your timeline, and that you can make goals and achieve them. So can you speak to that at all? Because it’s kind of a thorny topic.

Ruby
Yeah, it is a thorny topic. And it’s tough because I think it’s like we all – people who start small businesses, lots of times like we are idealists, right? Like we do want the world to be better. We do want people to feel included and seen and we don’t want to do things that are harmful to the environment or harmful to other people. But we also are still people and we don’t have all of that knowledge necessarily and all of that training. So I think it is tough because I think small business owners – we can kind of be easy targets because it’s like not – it’s tough. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of conversations unfold in the ethical fashion community of like, well, “Why aren’t we all just yelling at Jeff Bezos”, right? And I really think there’s like space for both. But I also think that for most small business owners, like people really do want to do things ethically, and do want to feel like their businesses aren’t like making the world a worse place. But in terms of like, how to actually implement that, and what skills you need, it takes time. It takes like a lot of time and a lot of energy invested to learn how to how to add captions to your videos, for example, or how to make your sewing patterns more accessible, right, like these things where there’s just not a lot of training, I guess, for the average person who’s just walking in, and being like, “I’m going to start a small business.”

Kelly
And time as well, because let’s say that you have a goal to launch another pattern in September, like you have to allocate a certain amount of time resources to that. And so then if you are also going to make a goal to overhaul your website to be more accessible, for instance, that is a timely source as well. So I think it comes down to helping your followers trust you. Like, okay, I’ve heard this issue and this is the issue I want to address. And this is the timeline I want to address it. But also like to take those unsolicited advice, comments with a bit of a grain of salt. I was talking about this the other day in the BINCH NEST in the server, that’s usually the people picking at you with that stuff. But usually there is something to what they’re saying. So even if you didn’t like how they said it, and you weren’t ready to hear it on that day, maybe stick it in an Evernote file and go back to it. And I try – when I’m my best self, I say “thank you for telling me, thank you for bringing that [up].” But then I’m like-  goddammit, like they just didn’t want to hear that today or sometimes they’ll be like, Oh, my God, I’m working so hard on *all of these other fronts*, and now I’ve got this other thing.

Ruby
Mm-hm.

Kelly
But, that is kind of what it’s like especially if you’ve got a commentariat or followership that is aligned with social justice issues. And I certainly do. I mean, that’s kind of who hangs out my space.

Kelly
So – as we close this out, I guess I just want to give you an opportunity, again, to talk about what you do, how people can support you. When you reopen in June – or late June – are you looking for more opportunities to talk with pattern companies about inclusivity? Is that something that anyone watching here could recommend? Throw your name in the hat for?

Ruby
Yes, absolutely. Um, yeah. So I’m still going to be meeting one on one with with folks who want to pick my brain or want my expertise around size chart development and grading across a wide size range, especially for, anything that we would consider like a non-average or non-standard fit, or proportions. And I hope to still be releasing some sewing patterns as time goes on. You can find me on Instagram at @spokesandstitches. My website is spokesandstutcges.com. And…

Kelly
What about your discord, is your Discord in your bio link?

Ruby
It’s actually not, but if you sign up for my email list, you can get a link to the Discord. So if you go to spokesandstitches.com, there’s a little pop-up where you can just put your email in. And then you’ll get an email from me that will have a link for the Sewlarium discord channel. So I’ve made a couple of hoops for folks to kind of jump through to get into the Sewlarium. And that’s kind of intentional. I want to make sure that folks who are joining like really, actually truly want to be there. And it’s not just people showing up to – drop one shitty comment and leave as has happened in a lot of online spaces, so [laughs] –

Kelly
Yes, and I think Ruby that you and I – and several of us who took the course are, are sensitive people and I mean, I joke about that when I’m on my Live with our mutual friend Adam, but – the part of you that makes you so – that got you that master’s degree in gender and sexuality, and that the part of you that engendered this amazing pattern company is also a sensitive part of you. And so when someone criticizes you or me, we take it to heart. So, I’m not speaking for Ruby, I just want to tell people: be gentle, be kind to these Creatives. Ask them how you can support them. Think about how you ask them questions, if you want something different.

Kelly
So thank you so much for joining me, Ruby. And I just have to say, I’m so happy that you are doing what you’re doing. I think you’re the right person for the job. And when I think about your business being out there…. you were a real early adopter with gender-inclusive language, you were the only the second pattern company I’d ever seen do that. I think you’re doing amazing things. And I have a thousand percent faith that you’re going to keep doing amazing things. So I hope you consider me a hundred percent supporter, and thank you for coming on live with me today.

Ruby
Yeah, yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me. And if anybodywants to ask questions about my experience in the WHOLE ENCHILADA I’m happy to – send me a DM or something. That’s a DM I’m responding to.

Kelly
Well, thank you for that. Thank you for the testimonial. And yeah, Ruby’s got all the dirt on me. So go ahead and ask.

Okay, awesome. Have a great time with your – I know you’ve got an event coming up. So good luck with that and I will be seeing you on Instagram and our Discord.

Ruby
Awesome. Yeah. Thanks so much, Kelly. Have a great night. Bye.

***

If you like what I have to share, and you’re willing to invest time in your dream – I’d love to work with you formally!

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