We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Van Der Water and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My business started as a hobby. I designed a rocking chair cushion after receiving a chair as a gift. After opening an Etsy shop I was surprised at the demand for my cushions. Shortly afterwards, I received requests from family and friends to do more “quick fix” furniture covers so they could renew their well-loved IKEA chairs, instead of replacing them. So now I focus on custom covers for IKEA furniture.
What should our readers know about your business?
I was given a gift of a rocking chair about 10 years ago. I love interior design and I couldn’t find a cushion for it that matched my decor. So I decided to create one myself. I learnt to sew in my family business and I made pillows etc as a hobby. After I opened my Etsy shop, they started selling quickly. Then I received requests for IKEA covers and to my surprise, it was an untapped market that people really responded to. Custom IKEA slipcovers are made by other companies, but because I didn’t have the same capabilities, I stuck to smaller items like chairs, bench pads, kids items, rather than big sofas. It was a very slow transition over a period of 5 or 6 years to commit to it full time. I was also bootstrapping it, so having funds to scale was never an option. In 2020 however I received some financial relief and was able to leave Etsy and open a Shopify store which is much more advanced for e-commerce. I was like a big fish in a small pond and now I’ve jumped into the ocean. Problem solving is really what you’re doing every day you run a business. I love it, but it is a constant hustle. Joining a support network helps, such as Hello Alice, or Ifundwomen. It’s nice to be part of an entrepreneurial community. Some lessons I’ve learned: 1. You are your business – not your product 2. Follow your instincts, don’t get led astray by trends or other people’s visions 3. Stick to what you do best and outsource the rest 4. Never stop learning – read up on how to do everything before delegating it 5. Use the many free resources available online, including funding opportunites 6. Business is constant trial and error – don’t commit to any big decisions before testing the waters 7. Listen to your customers I pitch my product as the filling the gap between custom upholstery and off the rack offerings. I’m passionate about environmentalism, so my product was created to stop furniture from ending up in landfill prematurely. We even have a subscription box filled with products we make from our leftover fabric scraps (https://www.cratejoy.com/subscription-box/repurposed1) With our covers, you can change your furniture as much as you want, to fit any decor you choose. We are aligned with IKEA’s full-circle policy, you no longer need to buy something completely new to have it look amazing in your home.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Breakfast/ lunch: Zinc cafe in the Arts District, DTLA: https://www.zinccafe.com/ Republique on La Brea: https://republiquela.com/ Sycamore Kitchen: https://www.thesycamorekitchen.com/ Drinks/ dinner: Mama Shelter rooftop: www.mamashelter.com The Well: https://www.thewelllounge.com/ La Fonda: https://www.lafondamexicanrestaurant.com/ OB Bear – best korean fried chicken https://obbearla.com Chapman Market Koreatown: https://chapmanmarket.com/ Dama: https://damafashiondistrict.com/ Events/Places: Jazz nights at LACMA in summer Huntington Gardens and Art Gallery in Pasadena (and Storrier Japanese Garden) Annenberg Space for Photography KCRW’s summer night events (Hammer museum, Natural History museum, Chinatown) Manhattan beach, Santa Monica Pier Wii Spa koreatown Smorgasburg http://la.smorgasburg.com/ Larchmont Farmers Market The Getty Griffith Observatory
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
www.ifundwomen.org got me my first grant through their fundraising platform. Erika Rogers of Elevate Lyfe: https://www.elevate-lyfe.com/about-us Allison Shaw: https://www.linkedin.com/in/allison-shaw/ Bharath Chekuri: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bharath-c-44583440/
Michelle Van Der Water