Words: Susan Fletcher
Photos: Becca Simonds
Jenna Hilb and Theresa Whitman opened Stitch Studio in April 2014 to teach sewing classes. The business partners met in 2013 when they were instructors at Fabric Bliss in Old Colorado City. Both women helped spark a sewing revival in the city and attracted a dedicated community of people interested in sewing, knitting and crochet. When the Denver-based Fabric Bliss closed its Colorado Springs location last February, Jenna and Theresa decided to capitalize on the momentum of their growing community and start their own business. They opened Stitch Studio only six weeks later.
I first met both of them at Fabric Bliss, where Jenna taught my Sewing 101 class, which was the first time I had touched a sewing machine since middle school home economics. I followed them to their new space and can testify to their excellent teaching abilities and energetic personalities. Theresa taught herself how to sew to make projects for herself and eventually transitioned into running her own business specializing in custom formals and costumes. She and her family moved to Colorado Springs two years ago. Jenna, a native of the Pikes Peak Region and self-taught seamstress, has a strong business background and works in franchise support. In preparation for the workshops’ one-year anniversary, they sat down to talk with me.
Describe the process of opening Stitch Studio.
Jenna: We got it open in one month, from the idea to opening day. When we got to this space it was a mess - concrete floors, wooden paneling. We worked day and night for months, nonstop. Everyday, painting and sweating. Her husband helped us a lot . But it was fun … When we started we wanted to do classes and to do retail to facilitate classes, and then the retail ran away from us. We started doing more and more retail but at the turn of the year we decided to start focusing more on classes.
How did you choose your location?
Jenna: They were willing to work with us, being a new business. They gave us just a year lease. We wanted to be downtown because downtown is so artsy, but it was hard to find affordable space in the central business district. We wanted it to be affordable because we didn't know how it would go.
After operating with both a retail and class space for about nine months, they decided to scale back the retail section in order to focus on their class offerings. Theresa focuses mainly on teaching students how to sew clothing and is the Sewing 101 teacher. She teaches brand new sewers how to use a machine and they take home a finished project at the end of their first class. Jenna enjoys teaching the classes on bags, crochet and clothing, among others.
Jenna: We teach classes that are fun and modern projects. We don't do quilting because there are other businesses that do that kind of stuff. We try to do clothing that is current, and independent patterns. We support the small independent designers … I'm doing a jeans series which is super fun. If you name it, we'll do it. We'll give it a try.
We always make sure that you will finish your project. We have workshop time available to finish it with our help. We want to be a resource for people with questions. We do have a lot of repeat customers. It's fun teaching adults and it's fun watching everyone get so excited. They come in and are a little nervous and think they can't do it, and showing them that they can do it, it's a good feeling.
Where do you find your patterns?
Jenna: For my job I get to travel a lot, so everywhere I go I visit fabric stores and bring a bunch of fabric back. Pattern-wise, we try to do mostly all independent designers. I try to stay on top of what's current and trendy in the sewing world and fashion because that's the kind of stuff that people want to make. With our target market that's what they want to make.
Fabric-wise we try to find stuff that we know is trendy and cute. Gingham is coming into style.
We do a lot of research. It's a lot of research and instinct. Our customers tell us what they want and ask for stuff. For students who are members of The League and ask me for what they want, I'll find it for them. We're kind of like your personal fabric shopper. We provide a good service. If we learn something new, we always show it to everybody.
Describe your typical client base.
Jenna: 20s or 30s. A lot of moms and school teachers and professionals who are wanting to get out of their house.
There's been a resurgence in handicrafts and I think part of it is the Internet where you are able to access information. Theresa says they want to get off their computer and do something. Everybody's in the digital age.
Do you find that there is a generation gap in terms of knowing how to sew?
Jenna: Yes. For every adult who comes in. Their mom might have tried to teach them and it was a horrible experience. They come in and have anxiety.
Do you have any advice on starting a business?
Jenna: Just do it! It's never going to be the right time. You're never going to have all your ducks in a row. You just have to jump in and do it and figure it out as you go. If we had taken a lot of time to plan we would still be planning. We're just doing it as we come. You just do what feels right. We didn't have a lot of resources. We didn't take out a loan. We had no money. You don't have to have a huge business plan or a lot of money. Take advantage of the resources out there like the Downtown Partnership.
There's a lot of ways to get business going without spending a lot of money. Social media is great. A lot of quilting and fabric businesses don't have a good website, which is our big advantage. Do what you want to do. When it was starting to feel like a drag, we changed things up. Keep the customer in mind of course, but at the end of the day, do you what you want to do.
Over the next two years, Jenna and Theresa envision their community growing. They have plans to create events such as fabric dying during the summer months, and hope to expand The League, which is their new membership structure.
Jenna: We would like to grow the sewing community here. There are a lot of people who craft who don't know about us that I would like to get to. It's so exciting to find other people who craft or sew. (I want to) get the word out to people who are making stuff at home by themselves with their dogs who are bored and want to meet other people. That's another thing - because Colorado Springs is so transient I’ve had a hard time as an adult making friends here because people are always in and out. It's nice to have a constant influx of people who are interested in the same things who are around your same age. I do feel like all of our die-hard customers consider us to be their friends. Sewing related stuff, but we're more than just business owners to them. We're friendly people.
What does your community of sewers mean to you personally?
Jenna: Who are excited and want to talk about it. We had a girl who told us, "You guys are the only ones that I can talk sewing to."
What are your most triumphant moments of your business?
Jenna: Opening it was great. We had a holiday open house one Saturday in December and it was a huge success. We had a ton of people in here and a couple people (brought) in handmade things to sell. We were busy and it was a good time. Right at the Christmas season. Obviously that's the busy season for crafting because people are making things for gifts. That's when we felt like, "It worked! We did it!"
Stitch Studio is celebrating its one year anniversary on April 12. For the spring and summer they have a full slate of classes, including the popular Bombshell Swimsuit class, Sewing 101, a Downton Abbey dressing gown, boxer shorts, wallets and much more. They also hope to have a fabric dying class and other events for their members. You can information about the store at www.stitchstudiocoloradosprings.com.