Balancing Act: Small Business, Big Life in the Big Apple


As a small business with limited staff, we are always firing on all cylinders – all three, two, and even occasionally, one of us! We work and work to move the ball forward. Recently, we launched a new site for our business and are in the final stages of editing a documentary on which I have been working for the past three years. Running the business means a life of late hours, sacrificing time with family, learning every part of the business instead of just doing the one thing that inspires me, and so much more. Leaning on friends and family for support is necessary to keep the balancing act – and the dream – alive. The Big Apple is a tough city, and as the great Frank Sinatra sings, “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York!”

Outside of the business, I am a mother and wife. Balancing it all while building a brand, and a business, certainly has its stressful moments. However, the inspiration and energy of this city is what I thrive on. New York’s status as a fashion capital, complete with a famed garment center, where one can make a sketch and carry it through to sample and production, all within a few city blocks, certainly helps. To the consumer, New York is all glamour, but it has grit, too. Behind the scenes, starving artists are busy creating; just as they do around the world in other great cities like Paris and Milan.

Recently, I read an article which said that Christian Louboutin lived in his studio for eight years while he built his business empire. Who would have ever imagined this is how his global empire had evolved? I shouldn’t have been too surprised, knowing the challenges I have faced in keeping my business going over the past seven years. It takes tenacity and a fire in your stomach that roars. In the beginning, for every good thing that happens, there are 20 other issues that come up, but as time goes on, the gap does start to narrow. You have to have a very stiff upper lip. And when the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you do not win the award, or land the account or the magazine editorial, you have to dig deep. Then there is that moment: a moment that literally just happened, when a magazine calls and asks if they can shoot your bags for the September issue! That is the moment that gets you high and gives you the strength to keep fighting!

Each of us has our own story, woven with trials and tribulations. These stories bring us together and serve as inspiration when we question if we are on the right path.

We started the business in December 2006 with a small investment made by my husband. The idea popped into my head one night while I was getting ready to go out. I did not like the way my jewelry looked with my outfit and I turned to my husband and said, “Why hasn’t anyone created a line of bags with removable hardware?” He answered, “Why don’t you?” I responded, “Are you crazy?” to which he said, ”We are going to invest our money somewhere, what better investment than my wife?” The business started like that and we were off to the races, with my husband learning code in order to build our first site, and also learning to photograph product while I scoured the city to find the best factories to produce the bag I had worked hard to create. And once we had orders coming in to the business, we packed and shipped all of those boxes on our own. He even spent one of his birthdays, up until 3:00 a.m. preparing an order with me.

I have carried huge boxes of business inventory up and down stairs and in and out of storage. I have fought with customs agents to make deadlines with minutes to spare. I have waited at a factory until midnight to collect samples for a photo shoot which is scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m., but starts at 1:00 a.m. instead and winds up going through the night. Just as I walked in the door, I knew my infant would soon be waking.

I have spent nights in tears upon finding out we did not get an editorial for which we had just produced, and I have stayed up all night partying after finding out a major celeb was photographed wearing my bag! The business grew all the while I was managing a baby and going through a second pregnancy, which resulted in a baby with the dreaded colic! Then there were toddler classes, nursery school, grammer school, hockey, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, birthday parties, and so much more. Balancing family and business was key for me. I wanted to have it all; my business and as much time with my kids as possible during the early years. I committed to drop off and pick up, instead dedicating the wee hours of the morning to my business in order to follow through on my commitment. It was a tough gig, but I survived.

Seven years later, here I am, still standing, and with a successful business for which I worked hard! I hope readers can identify someway with the story of my life as a wife, mother, and business owner, and that it inspires them. Now get out there and conquer the world!

Written by Michelle Vale

Life Experience

Image by Colin Harris  ADE – Flickr License

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