Climbing out: Taylor Made Volume 5

Posted by Taylor Barkin on

Welcome to Taylor Made Volume 5: Climbing Out
I've been doing a ton of reflecting lately about the past 4 months since COVID-19 hit our small business. As I sit down to reflect on quite possibly the most unexpected life event we might ever go through, all I can ever really think is "what just happened?"
Where are we now?
I sit here looking back at the beginning of this back in early March and wonder how we are still sitting here with business now booming, but still nothing has truly changed and our country is still as fragile as ever. The virus has only gotten worse, which leaves us in fear for what the next chapter truly holds. We've seen the economy open, then close and that has been the cycle. We have started to see our business come back to pre-COVID levels yet we are still very much in the crosshairs so we are constantly confused as to why things are shaping out the way they are. We're relieved to be busy as hell, really because we didn't know if this would destroy us beyond repair in the beginning. It's just hard to comprehend as numbers only continue to climb. It truly feels like we are living in an alternate reality, every single day.
I have so many mixed emotions sitting down to write this. The past few months have felt exactly like this: We see a storm rolling in quite far away. Suddenly a tornado touches down, attempts to destroy all of our belongings and now we sit, picking up the pieces and rebuilding. The sun comes out occasionally but it just keeps raining as we go. We're nearing the end of the storm but it's really not over yet so we are remaining cautiously optimistic. We don't know if it will truly be over right now or if we will get hit again so all we can do is keep our guard up but keep trying.
I wanted this months topic to be a reflection piece on the past 4 months.
I wanted to sit down and ask myself a series of questions so that I could not only reflect on this for myself but also share with you truly what it's been like being a small business owner navigating COVID-19. Upon speaking to so many people about our story, it became apparent to me that unless you know or closely follow small business owners in this time, it can be really hard to truly understand what we are all going through, so I want to continue to tell our story. Heck even if this isn't read by many, I can at least take this to my grandchildren one day and say "want to hear a crazy story?"
We've been in shock, we've grieved, we've had moments of panic, we had moments of anger, disbelief, hope and reflection on our bigger picture. Every single thing about the past 4 months has been unexpected but I'm starting to see that even though it's been without a doubt the hardest challenge we've been through, it's also been one of the most enlightening chapters that I think we really needed. There's beauty in every situation and while it's been difficult, we see so much beauty in this situation too (never thought I'd say this when COVID-19 started!)
We aren't out of the woods yet but we feel close.
I look at the cases every single day and we are only still trending up, yet so many act like our pandemic is basically over. While I try to lead life with optimism, my fear is that we're only going to get worse before we get better. As the cases get worse, we fear another shut down because people refuse to wear masks as COVID-19 keeps spreading. While we couldn't of imagined what an initial shut down would've looked like, I don't know what a second one would truly do, and that's scary because it could easily happen.
What's happened since March?
If you've been following us closely, you've probably seen all of the ups and downs we've been through since March. If not, here's a brief look:
-We see that the virus is a thing but certainly not anywhere close to us
-Virus erupts fast in the US
-We are ordered to shelter in place without completely know what that means
-We launched our Desert Collection that we had been working on for 4 months (We poured so much love into this). Success!
-We had to sneak into our own place of work to ship current outstanding orders
-Our world froze still
-We applied for countless loans and grants. Crickets. Still crickets.
-We turned our Stay at Home Collection around in a week from ideation, sourcing in a pandemic to launch
-It went well, but our losses were sitting in the 6 figures because of cancelations and closures.
-Panic. Sadness. Defeat.
-We figured out how to make a face mask solely out of t-shirt materials that we had an abundance of
-We sold and sewed 3500 masks, recruited a team of 10 at home sewers, dealt with many getting lost in the mail, cut that off when we hit our limit. Ah!
-City of Denver deemed us essential so that we could be open manufacturing masks.
-We committed to taking a break post masks after working 80 hours a week to meet demand
-Social Justice issues exploded, we couldn't just sit and watch
-We launched our BLM campaign and raised $2k to donate to powerful organizations
-Our retailers began to open back up and started to do significantly well. We started quickly getting them supplied.
-Events are still on hold but we have been able to embrace having normal people weekends.
-Normal levels of business have returned but we are still far from the normal world we've lived in.
-Sigh. Keep going.
What's it like now, 4 months into COVID-19 compared to when it started?
It's a bit crazy to think that the number of cases is higher than where we were at any point when this started, but the world has felt so much more relaxed about what's going on. When this started, panic set in and we truly didn't know what would happen. It was a genuine fear that everything we've worked for could *poof* be gone. We've seen it happen to so many small businesses since March and it's been heartbreaking. It was easy to think, could we be next? The reality is that if we didn't fight like hell, we would be.
Now, 4 months in, despite the virus being worse than ever, our business if finally doing the volume we're used to. Not with sales of masks, but through sales of the products that have been 10 years in the making. It feels great, but we're constantly on guard. At the end of the day, if one of us gets sick, which is still an incredibly high possibility, we could be done. We wouldn't be able to operate, even if the demand is there. We remain cautiously optimistic but the reality is that every day is hard and full of uncertainty. We have seen just how fast things can change and if we aren't there to change with it, we worry about what could happen next.
What had to happen to stay afloat?
We've had to pivot almost daily. We have had to set every standard and system that we've built aside temporarily just to be keeping up on constant damage control. If we didn't fight like mad and make pivot and pivot, I'm confident in saying that instead of telling this story, we'd probably be closing our doors.
We are only seeing the ripple effects of this virus. If we had (or happen to, in the future) contract the virus, what does that truly look like for us? We are the makers, the creators, the shipping department, the art department, the production team, the accounting and tax department, we are everything. So what happens if one of us as husband and wife actually even gets sick and truly can't even physically run our business after fighting this hard? It's tough to think about but it could still happen, and the chances are only getting more likely as the days go on.
What's been the hardest part in a nutshell?
The uncertainty has been without a doubt the hardest part of all of this. When the news broke that some places were under shelter in place order, all we could think about was when we would get our 24 hour warning. Days, even weeks went by before we heard that we would be sheltering in place so we closed our shop to the public but had to remain operational. Then the question became-what does shelter in place even mean? Tanner's uncle lives in the epicenter in China and his lockdown meant full on lockdown. A security guard stood outside their apartment and prevented them from going anywhere. We heard about this before the spread in the US was even significant so we wondered what this was going to look like for us. Can we ship? Can we operate in any type of capacity? What does this mean for our business? Our business that is literally our entire life that we spent 10 years building? WHAT DOES THIS ALL LOOK LIKE AND WHEN WILL IT END? We simply had no idea. We have sense navigated our new reality but we are nowhere near being done with this. 
What have been some of the hardest moments?
The uncertainty has lead to a lot of really tough moments. Day after day having absolutely no idea what's next and having zero control is difficult. At least prior to this, we knew that our success was a matter of how hard we worked or a matter of how strategic we were and so on. Every year of exhaustion up to this point stemmed from us being so busy because we built the damn thing we always wanted. We were fueled by the people around us crushing it and growing alongside us. The energy to grow and create something with purpose was truly electrifying. Even when we were exhausted, we sat there and smiled because we knew we did something right and created something that excited others. This year every bit of exhaustion has come from defeat. Instead of seeing the people around us rise, we watch them shut their doors. The year has become one of constant damage control powered by fear. If we don't do X, we will fail. If we don't do X, everything we have ever worked for is gone. And X was something we had to constantly figure out. It hasn't been a year of working hard for personal and professional growth, it's been a year of always putting out fires just to stay alive. Now that's a different kind of exhaustion than we have ever felt.
This is an incredibly hard time, what's it been like on our marriage?
I can sit here and tell you straight up that this period has been enough to make any strong person break and it's enough to make any strong marriage break. But the honest truth is that while this has been the most difficult time we've been through as business owners and as a married couple, we are sitting here stronger than we have ever been. We can sit here and remain thankful that we aren't alone in this, because we have one another to get through it with.
We've sat there and cried. We've sat there and questioned if this was a sign to give it all up and move on. We've sat there and lifted one another up when the other couldn't that day. But most importantly, we were able to sit there in moments of defeat and say "what truly can we do?" the answer was never "nothing" it was "seriously, what the hell can we do?." Then we figured it out and we did it.
I think because we have both been equally invested and passionate beyond belief about what we do, we were both willing to fight, together, whatever that meant. When we tag teamed coming up with masks and how to make them, we were able to share a huge moment of joy when we realized this was going to be the thing to save us. We both invested our all into getting through this. Tanner has hardly ever even looked at a sewing machine before this. 3500 masks later, he has taken sewing up as a hobby. Somehow, through tough times and not, one of us was able to pull the weight when the other just couldn't, day after day until we could return to a level of normalcy.
This chapter has challenged and validated many things. One of those things is our marriage, and the one thing this time has told me is that I married a damn good man. Through this, I can confidently say that I can't wait to sit in our rocking chairs 100 years from now and say "remember that crazy time, peaches?"
What are some of the things we've come to realize?
Even though we've built something with such a core foundation and worked towards making a business as recession proof as we could, nothing could've prepared us for this. We realized just how fragile and vulnerable most small businesses are. 
We've realized that work shouldn't be our entire life. When we went into full lockdown, we realized what it was like to not work 6-7 days a week and we slapped ourselves on the wrist for never taking that time prior to this and have committed to forever taking it moving forward.
We've realized that the community we have spent year after year connecting with is what has saved our business. We spent so many years deeply connecting with our customers, fellow makers and fellow business owners. With all of that, we've been able to lift one another up, communicate our story and truly see the beauty of our community show up.
And so much more.
What has COVID-19 taught us on a business level?
-Unless you are insanely essential, your business is incredibly fragile at any given point
-Everything as you know it can change overnight.
-The foundation we built saved everything we've worked for
-Community is everything
-Having the willingness to adapt can become your saving grace
-Treating your customers well for so many years will allow them to truly show up for you when you need it
What has COVID-19 taught us on a personal level?
-Life doesn't need to be, and shouldn't be a constant 24/hr hustle. When you realize just how fragile everything is, remember that living is more important than existing.
-The willingness to work hard will always benefit you
-Life could always be worse, truly.
What's next with Moore?
When this all started back in March, we hesitated to launch a collection that was 4 months in the making but we did it anyway. It was our best online launch we've ever had and we were thrilled but we still wondered what the future of our sales would look like when we saw just how many people were being let go from their jobs.
When we realized that our core business was gone for the indefinite future (wholesale and events) we wondered how the heck we'd get through it. We adapted and created products that we NEVER intended on making (face masks). Those products financially got us through the first chapter, even though they drained us beyond belief. We are so grateful for that chapter because without a doubt, it saved everything we had. But now that chapter has closed and we are moving on and getting back to the business we know and love.
All of the launches we had mapped out for this year are now non existent as many were years of thoughts that were mostly related to the one thing everyone is NOT doing: Traveling. We had plans in spring to develop some strong concepts we had been talking about for years but had to immediately pull the plug.
This chapter has drained us. And as you might guess, getting real creative in a time of immense drain is near impossible. We have ideas, but little energy to execute right away. We are working on protecting our biggest asset, ourselves before we get back to pumping out creative products.
We've got many ideas but are still working on when they will exactly come to life. We are bummed that the concepts we were so excited to execute are no longer currently practical, but that's okay, they will be one day. When the time is right, we will be excited to release them. In the meantime, we are planning some smaller launches to release between now and the end of the year.
We are doing some internal restructuring that we had planned for a long time anyway to give us personally some creative freedom back and we are really excited for the change.
What's next with Taylor Made?
I am really glad that I have been able to document our life as small business owners through COVID-19 through Taylor Made even though it's not exactly what I had planned when launching this newsletter series.
I plan on continuing to touch on things as they are relevant because this time next month might feel the same or be vastly different. I want to shed light truly on what this time is like for small business owners but I also want to dive into the reasons I started this in the first place. Either way, I plan to remain open and honest about this time, good or bad.
What's next with Taylor & Tanner?
Ah how I want to spill all of what our next plans are! Despite the challenges, this year has given us all of the clarity that we needed for our next steps in life. We have the most incredible plan of what our next immediate chapter holds for us, but I'm going to keep quiet on that for now because I don't feel like jinxing it and there will be a lot of work to get there to make it happen. When the time is right, I will be beyond excited to share what's next for us. All I will say is that after many months of deeply reflecting, we made the decision that we want to make a pretty big life change.
I can't see life as something to just exist through, I want to keep LIVING the damn thing.
This year has been bleak but bright times are coming, we can feel it.
Until next time,
Taylor

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