Meet Erika Kelly, founder of the Portland Apron Company.
Aside from growing her business, Erika is passionate about the following things:
- Sewing (clearly)
- Swimming and Sun
- Traveling (going to Colombia in April!)
- Eggs (snotty or soft boiled)
- Cats (I have 2 Siamese)
- Portland (although I’m from Grants Pass)
- Books by Elizabeth Berg (and many other writers, she’s just my favorite)
- Whiskey (preferably bourbon)
- Irish Moss (it’s way better than grass)
- Black Leggings (I know I shouldn’t wear them everyday, but I can’t.help.it.)
How did you come up with the idea?
I made myself an apron for work, and I got quite a few compliments on it. I made a few more, and then some more, and put them online. They slowly began selling, and before I knew it, I had a pretty sweet little business going. I’d always loved to sew, so it was kind of a dream come true for me.
Where did you find your first customer?
My first customer was on Etsy, where I first started selling my aprons (although it was a friend, it was still exciting to sell one.)
Etsy is an online marketplace for all things handmade and vintage, if you’ve never heard of the site before. It’s pretty fantastic, you should check it out!
How did you determine your target market?
I’m still fairly new to the world of business, but simply making contact with many of my customers through Etsy has been a really helpful way to figure this out.
I’ve definitely noticed a trend in who buys my aprons. It seems to be mostly females in their 20’s-40’s, typically other small business owners that need an apron for themselves, or their team. I was surprised at the variety of people that use aprons, it extends far beyond the kitchen! Event planners, florists, hair stylists, teachers, gardeners….the list goes on.
I also like to use social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram, to help determine my target market as well. I know I have a lot more to learn, but so far these systems work for me.
What are you currently doing to reach them?
I make sure I tag my items appropriately on Etsy and on my website. This way Google will hopefully pull up my aprons in a customers search. I’ve also done some blog giveaways, and use Instagram to connect and share what I do.
How much did you start up with?
I really had no start up money, because this was simply a hobby to begin with. Selling on Etsy is extremely affordable, so really, it was just my time. I’ve since invested in an expensive sewing machine, and a few additional sewing supplies, but that was 1-2 years after I started. I did this slowly, so there was no rush. I was still working full time at my job and sewing in my extra time up until last summer.
Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
I grew naturally.
What’s the best advice someone has given you?
Stop doubting yourself! The only thing getting in your way is you.
What are your keys to staying productive?
Getting up early at the same time (most) days 🙂 Having an ongoing list of things to accomplish. A big ass whiteboard helps keep me in check, along with one million sticky notes. It also helps to stay connected to other small business owners. I’m on the PDX Etsy Team, and having a network of people with similar goals as myself really keeps me inspired to be productive.
When you started, what was one thing you wish you knew?
I wish I had know about the entertaining power of podcasts.
Working by yourself all day can get lonely. There are ways to fix that!
What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
The Middle Finger Project is by far the best blog in the entire world.
[Editor’s Note: We couldn’t agree more! Definitely worth subscribing to their emails.]
Never underestimate the power of YouTube when you need to learn how to do something.
Etsy is an extremely helpful resource as well. They have a wealth of information for people starting their own businesses. I’ve learned a lot from other sellers and bloggers on there.
Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
Not really, although I was “accidentally” in a commercial with my business over the summer. I thought I was signing up for a free business seminar, but it was actually a commercial! It’s a bit of a long story, but in the end I got some sweet free national adverting. I try to follow as many local business support sites on Facebook as I can, and that’s how I got into the commercial.
What does success mean to you?
Making a living doing what I love, and creating happy customers in the process.
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
I would love to see my aprons in brick and mortar shops around the country. I would also like to connect with more local restaurants and cafes and make custom aprons for their teams. A bigger workspace someday would be nice too 🙂
What do you need help with?
I need help getting my aprons into shops, and setting up wholesale accounts. It’s funny, I could confidently sell someone else’s things, but I get really nervous and shy approaching businesses about mine.
How can people find you online?
Special CAKEpdx.com Offer
Save 10% on Orders at
Portland Apron Company on Etsy
Use coupon code “CAKEPDX” until 12/31/2014