The Unthinkable: Taylor Made Volume 2

Posted by Taylor Barkin on

Welcome to Taylor Made Volume 2: The Unthinkable.
A month ago I was sitting in a hotel room, joyfully enjoying a few glasses of wine as I excitedly sat down to unleash volume 1, the first real look into my life as a business owner. we were on our way to Phoenix to hustle selling our goods at the Phoenix Flea. Everything was as normal as our life could be. 2 days after returning home, our business was turned upside down in a way we never imagined was possible.
Every time I sit down to write this, the facts change. First we were dealing with a few event cancelations and a few thousand dollars lost. It sucked but we figured things would be fine. Less than 2 weeks later, our anticipated losses were sitting in the 6 figures, and not really slowing down.  There was simply nothing we could do.
The heartbreak set in and a cloud of anger rolled over me because there's nothing any of us did to deserve this but now we're sitting here experiencing one of the weirdest, most confusing times we might ever go through. When It was all said and done, the reality of the current situation is that if we didn't do something, we'd tank.
2 weeks ago, like many businesses we feared we wouldn't make it out of this alive and in full transparency, we still don't know what the next chapter will look like. All of our retailers shut their doors, our events were canceled and overnight we lost 85% of our revenue streams. Within a week, our losses surpassed $150k because of future cancellations and closures. Ouch.
And it's not like one day this will suddenly be over and everything will just go back to normal. This is going to be a long haul full of all types of twisty turns. 
The world in many ways was put on pause, yet we are still forced to pay all of our bills as normal. We still have to send in our hefty shop rent check to our landlords that are still working on construction projects and continuing like it's business as usual. Something seems off there.
Without any relief and bills still due, we had to make a decision: Give up on what we've spent a decade as husband and wife building together or fight for everything we've worked for.
A week ago today, I sat in the bath, blankly staring at the wall. I couldn't get out for hours, despite the water getting cold because I was nearly paralyzed by the fear and sadness that hit all at once. Through the past month, I kept it mostly together and despite the terrible situation, I felt like I was navigating it okay. But then all I could think about was how near impossible it would be getting out of this mess that we couldn't control. And then there's the fear of getting sick on top of this. It could happen at any point, and if it does, I don't even know how we'd get through this.
I had spent the past 3 weeks educating myself and applying for the loans and grants for small businesses like ours. But then the reality set in that getting any help in this regard was now like winning the lottery. That, for many weeks was our only chance at getting through this. I was putting all my waking hours into applying for relief because all of our bills were and will continue to still be due. And we've got a big overhead.
I felt like this only hope of relief just wasn't going to happen, and it hasn't and I don't think it truly will. Create a mandatory shutdown, hit pause on the world but still require us to pay our bills in full as if we were in the same financial situation as we were prior to this? Thanks government.
It became time to pivot like mad or die a slow death. But I didn't know how to make that happen.
Then I started thinking about the products we sell. I realized we are selling something people would like to have but really don't NEED. So once again, I thought-how the HELL are we going to get out of this mess?
I cried all night long.
I haven't felt sadness like that in nearly a decade. I didn't know what to do but knew SOMETHING had to be done.
With challenge comes opportunity.
I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. I slowly got out of bed, started applying for yet another grant and then It hit me. I looked at Tanner and said "go get one of your shirts, we're going to try making a mask." A MASK! PEOPLE NEED MASKS! AND WE CAN MAKE MASKS
I went to the CDC website and one of their first recommendations for material was a t-shirt. We had boxes and boxes of shirts deemed unsellable because of misprints and holes, but we've kept them for years, knowing we never wanted to just toss them. I thought-if we could just figure this out, we could actually make this work.
We spent a day prototyping the best fit and use of the material and came up with a mask that we felt would best protect people with the resources we had. We posted it up for sale and within 2 days, we had hundreds and hundreds of orders. My phone would not stop going cha-ching. Tanner and I looked at each other in disbelief.
"We've found something that could SAVE us!"
Overnight, we turned our t-shirt factory into a mask making factory by taking hundreds and hundreds of t-shirts that were deemed unsellable and turned them into high quality masks. It's going to be a work in progress, but we're on our way towards saving our business and saving lives.
We knew there was a mask shortage and wanted so desperately to help but didn't initially know how. When our business went from being profitable to gasping for air overnight, we knew we had to pivot to accommodate to the new reality we were faced with.
We know that masks are vital to helping people survive COVID-19. We are desperately striving to flatten the curve so we have remained dedicated to working around the clock to manufacture masks to get them out to people as fast as we can. We have recruited a group of remote sewers to help us with this mission.
We have committed to donating 15% of sales to Feed the Frontlines so that we can keep medical workers fed and our favorite local restaurants cooking so that they, too can stay in business. We need to save ourselves, but we also need to save our communities, including the restaurants we love and the people working tirelessly in the medical field.
I never anticipated a month ago that my new full time job would be spending 12-14 hours a day at a sewing machine manufacturing freaking face masks but here we are.
We quickly had more orders than we ever anticipated and we're so grateful for that. Without it, I don't know where we would end up in a few months. I still don't truly know, but at least we're on to something and will work endlessly to survive.
We've always hustled hard and have been used to the constant roller coaster as business owners but never have we had to hustle like this before. In many ways it triggers anger that we are breaking our backs and working 14 hour days hunched over at a sewing machine just to make sure our bills get paid but in many other ways, I feel a sense of complete joy knowing that the thing we're spending every waking hour on is helping people. 
It hasn't just been the back breaking work to get out of it, we had to figure out what that thing would be to help us get out of this alive. We spent weeks trying to figure it out. We had to pivot every day, while fighting the constant stress and anxiety to get through it. The days feel like a blur and every day feels like I'm in a not so great dream. But there's hope and beauty in this situation too. 
We've been able to see our community shine right now and that makes me want to cry because I'm moved and so happy to see that. We've seen amazing people step up to the plate to also contribute to the mask mission, we've seen our customers show up to support in ways we haven't before and we're humbled by that.
Do I think we can get through this? Yes. Do I think it's going to be one of the hardest things we will go through? Yes? And I'm writing this to let you know that whatever you are going through, you can know you aren't alone.
Prior to our mask making pivot, I wrote a few things that I still want to share:
How to feel right about now.
There is no rulebook and no right way to feel right now. My best advice? Feel your feelings, let them happen and be okay with whatever comes out.
My sister sent me a really good article about how many of us are experiencing grief that can be found here. The next thing you read should be that. After reading it, everything made so much sense.
During those days when we had cancelation after cancelation, I was in literal shock. We went from hearing about a disease in China to realizing that our business was without a doubt in complete turmoil. Shock was the only way to put it. I oddly didn't panic but the next day I felt it. I was still at the shop fulfilling every order I could before we potentially went on complete lockdown and for all we knew, we didn't know what that meant, could we still ship? We weren't sure, so we hustled to get everything out. At the same time that we were physically drained from rushing all of these orders, we were dealing with internal shock, stress and grief but kind of had to put it aside for a second.
The next day I could not stop breaking down. Everything was a trigger and I could not stop crying. A random electrician walked in our door because he was entering the wrong unit and saw me crying and awkwardly left and that triggered even more. This was the first phase of grieving.
That day was really shitty. One of the shittiest to be frank. But had I not let myself feel that and break down in that day, I don't know if I could've moved forward in the same way. Same for the day that we started making masks.
Once I was able to move on and accept what was happening as best as I possibly could, I was able to move forward. I stopped dwelling on the reality of the things I couldn't change. The days have still been tough, but we were able to move forward.
I really deeply tried to take this time as maybe a recharge or a time to get ahead on projects since for once I wasn't on the production floor all day. I thought how can we get ahead in this time? oo maybe I can take this time to get farther on the book I'm writing. Maybe I can plan all these strategies for when we get out of this. People around me were saying the same thing-do something productive! But how the hell can you, honestly?
For about 2 weeks, I did the minimum of what I had to get done. But honestly was emotionally wiped every day. I was EXHAUSTED and there was nothing that could push me towards a creative project.There was nothing I could realistically plan because the future of our society is so unknown. The last thing I wanted to do was create all these plans that would be totally irrelevant in a few weeks or months. So I just didn't. And I classify that as OKAY.
I listened to myself and that was the best thing I've done and will continue to do. I needed to feel what was happening and if it meant work wasn't getting done for a bit, that's fine. People are out there dying, I think it's okay to just stop for a second, feel the feelings and just be okay with that.
The reality is that I don't know what's going to happen, none of us do. I don't know when we will truly come out of this. I don't know if the year will end okay or if we won't be able to make it. I just don't know.
What have been my coping mechanisms?
-Self care
-Crying and being okay to talk about it and feel it
-If I just can't one day, I don't and I accept that
How have I been able to keep my chin up?
-Once again, I let myself feel and didn't suppress any of it in the beginning and I talked to the people I loved about it
-Tanner & Scout who make me smile
-Knowing we're all in this together helps. if our business was struggling because of something I did, I would be beating myself up but there's nothing I did wrong. There's nothing Tanner did wrong. The beauty sits in the fact that this is completely out of our control. That is unfortunately also the scary part but if there is nothing we can do, why should we let it eat at us forever?
-Accepting the situation. Yes, I'm baffled and never in a million years would think we would be sitting in a world where most businesses can't open their doors. Every day feels like a blurry dream but that is the reality, we're all feeling it and if we can accept that this is the current situation then we can try to move forward.
-Hold on to the good and screw the bad.
-Look at the things you took for granted before this. Now be grateful for them. prior to this, every online order was like cool, thanks. Now every time my phone goes cha ching I feel an extreme sense of happiness and I write a note to the person who ordered, no matter how long it takes.
My top priority has remained staying physically and mentally healthy and listening to myself to make that happen.
If you are feeling like you want to tackle something, do it! I knew making masks was something that we needed to roll with ASAP if it was going to be meaningful. So we just pulled the trigger and did it!
But if you can't or simply don't want to take this time to be productive, don't. There will be a time that you can get back there but when it's all said and done, our world is changing dramatically and that's a big thing that shouldn't be ignored.
-How does this truly make you reflect on your bigger purpose-in many ways this brings you back to your roots and defining what's important. The last few years have been a blur for us truly, we've run so fast and did reach burnout. like what is TRULY important to you?
-How can we really focus on the good? This has brought us closer with our community and people. When you step back and look at the fact that you can't go visit people right now think about why you didn't visit your grandma in the past year and now that you can't maybe that's something you will prioritize moving forward.
-This is the universe sending us all to our rooms for getting too extreme, too greedy, to abusive to the climate, etc.. We are experiencing a forced pause. It's nearly impossible to continue moving in the same way we did before all of this happened. In many ways we need this pause.
What I'm glad we did prior to this time:
-Diversified our revenue channels-we've always known a hit could happen at some point, we just never knew when and we certainly never thought it would be this extreme.
-Didn't selfishly spend so that we could have a buffer.
-Mindfully bought inventory so we kind of have just enough right now but not too much.
-Took time away from our business to see our loved ones periodically.
What I wish we did.
-Cut back on some unnecessary expenses because now I'm kicking myself for not having that cash.
Other things to do in this time:
-Call your loved ones
-Check in on your clients-not from a business perspective but a true humanitarian perspective.
-Pause, it's truly okay and should happen
What we can learn from this
-Maybe it's a time to reevaluate what you're doing in your life. Maybe it's the perfect time to think about a transition. The world kind of feels like it's hitting rock bottom so we kind of don't have anything to lose right now. It's kind of the best time to make a change if you want (everyones situation is different)
-Our society is so focused around hustle, hustle, hustle and if you don't you can be seen as lazy and that triggers all kinds of anxieties to excel. The world is sending us to our room to take a freaking pause so take that pause to do what you need to do for you, truly. Whatever that means to you.
Is there that something you always wanted to do? Whether it's as simple as cooking or starting a company? If you aren't feeling motivated, that's okay! Let your feelings run their course but if you are feeling motivated, take this time to try. If you have been wanting to learn to cook, try some recipes. If you want to finally start your own business, first maybe wait for the shit to get off the fan but use this time to start researching what it takes, because the fundamentals will remain the same. Whether it's a small passion project, simple self care or a mind blowing idea, if it's calling you-now is the time.
When it's all said and done, think about truly what matters at the end of the day.
We need money to survive but the reality is that many of us aren't going to financially prosper right now, unless you are the fortunate heir to a toilet paper empire. If you can accept that and focus on the true why then maybe this could actually be a positive situation whether it seems like it now or not. I don't think anything truly worth doing is easy and maybe that's why I feel like we are navigating this situation okay. I have always known that running a business would always have challenges, this one is just one of the biggest.
Time is weird, it has gotten hard, we are desperate for human connection. If you have read this to the end, thank you for hearing my story. Reach out if you have any comments, want some words of encouragement or just need someone to talk to. I've realized that basic human life is what's the most important thing here and there's no better time to connect with others.
The only constant we have right now is change.
Be good to one another and do what you need to do for you. Remember the basics and know we are all in this together. There isn't one person that is totally fine right now. Put the important things into perspective and know that it's okay to feel like complete shit right now. Talk to the ones you love, do the things that bring you peace and know it will all be alright.
Stay well my friends.

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