Defining Her Own | Catelyn Silapachai

One of the amazing things about living in a digital world is the incredible people you get to know who may've flown under the radar otherwise. Austin local Catelyn Silapachai is one of those gals for me. She runs the online boutique The Distillery alongside her brother Clif Claycomb. The Distillery specializes in vintage, handmade and specialty goods, and their finds range from unique pieces found at local estate sales to uncommon objects picked up while traveling the world. If you have yet to check out their shop, do it now! I definitely have more than a few of their pieces on my want list, including this set of vintage porcelain rice bowls

What follows is a glimpse into Catelyn's day-to-day life and a bit about what keeps her inspired, as well as some great advice for ladies thinking of starting their own business. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Catelyn!

 Catelyn Silapachai of The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.

How did The Distillery come to life?
My brother Clif and I always talked about working together one day, I just didn't know that day would come as fast as it did. I studied finance in college and worked as an analyst for a few years. Personal reflection and burnout led me to start considering other careers. When I decided to move to Austin, it made sense for Clif and I to actually try to make this company happen that we'd always talked about. We grew up going to flea markets with our mom (she's sold antiques off and on for 20 years), so we decided to center our business offering around highly curated vintage and antique accessories. We built our website and sourced our first batch of vintage goods over the summer, and by the fall of 2013, we officially launched The Distillery.

Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
It is. 

How has the transition to self-employment been?
It's been a huge adjustment, and I love working for myself. I couldn't have done it without the support of my husband. It was very much a team decision that I would reinvest back into my business for a while. I love not having a rigid work day. I work more than I ever have, but the flexibility to run errands or walk the dogs during the day is so great. 

What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different and varied, but I've been working on standardizing my mornings. I learned in a Tim Ferriss podcast that successful people know what to expect from the first hour of their day, even if the rest of the day is crazy. I think there's some truth to that, so I've been working on eating a regular breakfast and doing some reading and praying in the morning. After that point, my day could include any combination of the following: product photography, cataloging / cleaning items, emails, estate sales, flea markets, meetings, and uploading items to my shop or the other online shops where we sell vintage goods.

 Austin-based mercantile, The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.
 Austin-based mercantile, The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.
 Catelyn Silapachai of The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced being self-employed?
I find it frustrating to have so many ideas, yet be constrained by time and finances (as we all are). I tend to greatly over-estimate how much I can actually do in a day. I'm constantly working on being more realistic with what I can accomplish. My husband told me to write down the three "top priority" things that must be accomplished that day. Three seems like such a small number, but it's true that sometimes you get bogged down and don't actually get to the MOST important things on your to-do list. Writing down three things keeps you honest about that.

Another big challenge has been seeing myself differently than I used to. Before I started The Distillery, I must have found much of my identity in my job title and salary. Transitioning out of a corporate job to something as unstable as starting an online retail business, I've learned a lot about myself. I'm still very much going through this process, but it's forced me to redefine / re-examine my ideas about success.

Any advice for women struggling with similar challenges?
Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that really illuminated some of these identity issues for me and helped me start to work through them. It turns out that finding one's identity through a career is something a lot of people do (at least in this country). It means that career mistakes and failures are seen as a reflection on you as a person, which makes them much harder to absorb, learn from, and move on. I would definitely recommend that book to anyone who struggles with this. It also talks about authenticity and intimacy, and how we cannot truly connect with others until we stop pretending to be something we're not. Words to live by in life and business. 

What keeps you inspired and moving forward?
My favorite part of my job is hunting for unique finds at estate sales. I try to find out as much as I can about each item I find: how it was made, where it was made, who owned it previously. The stories are fascinating. For example, I recently found some gorgeous 1940s barkcloth kimonos at an estate sale. They belonged to a woman from Okinawa who met an American soldier in WWII and the couple settled in Austin after the war. I stumbled upon them and couldn't resist. I like the opportunity to learn little history lessons as I find items. 

Do you consider yourself more of a dreamer or a realist? How do you feel like that influences your professional life?
As I mentioned, I struggle with having more ideas than I have time or money, but I actually think I'm a realist at my core. I notice this when I'm around extreme dreamers. They have no sense of urgency, no sense of limitations. They create art for art's sake. That's not me. I may try to squeeze more into the day than is humanly possible but I'm always aware of deadlines and budgets. 

What makes you feel like you've had a productive day?
If my day includes a solid day of work, sending off some orders, a yoga or spin class, some good reading, and a home cooked meal, I am supremely pleased with myself. 

 Catelyn Silapachai of The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.
 Austin-based mercantile, The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.

Being self-employed, how do you strike a balance between work and play?
I have the philosophy that, since I'm self-employed, if I'm not loving what I do and how I spend my days, then it's my own fault. That's basically how my blog developed, as a way to fold some of my personal interests into The Distillery in an appropriate way. I blog about great books I've read, create mini city guides of places I've traveled, and I have an interview series as well. I love meeting other creative people in the Austin area and definitely don't consider that work, even though I've met most of them through The Distillery. I recently heard somebody say that Americans in today's culture are obsessed with finding balance. It's the ultimate goal. But if you're passionately running after something, you will inherently be unbalanced in your pursuit. And if what you're pursuing is noble, good, and worthwhile, is it a bad thing to be unbalanced? I don't have the answer to that question, and I totally idealize balance, but I thought it was really interesting. 

What are your passions outside of The Distillery?
I'm a crazy dog lady right now. I have two retired racing greyhounds, and adopting them really opened my eyes to the world of greyhound rescue. It's funny, 3 years ago I didn't know anything about greyhounds and now I have two as pets and volunteer about 10-20 hours a week a local greyhound rescue group as the foster coordinator. I love finding foster homes for the dogs and seeing them make the transition to life as a pet. I get so attached to all of them. My dad says it's off-putting how much I talk about greyhounds, but I can't help it. :) 

Do you have any advice for women considering self-employment?
Have a marketing plan. How are you going to get the word out about your amazing products and brand? How will people find you? Some books that have been really beneficial to me are Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. They're really short but really helpful when thinking about being original, building a brand and collaborating with others.

Other advice: Don't compare yourself to other brands. It would be worthwhile from the outset to think about your goals and what you want for your business. Do you want to build a business that generates $50,000 in revenue a year and allows you to pay yourself modestly and reinvest a bit back into the business? Or do you want a business that generates millions and allows you to hire employees, build offices, invest in infrastructure, etc? Or something completely different?

If your goal is the first kind of business, you probably shouldn't compare yourself to companies that have major investors and PR strategies consistent with the second type of business. The trick here is that it can be really hard to tell the difference from just a website or Instagram profile. That's why it's best not to feel down based on what somebody else is doing. You don't know the whole story, how hard they worked to get there, how long they've been at it, etc.. 

 Catelyn Silapachai of The Distillery. Photo by Nicole Mlakar.

Visit The Distillery.
Photos by Nicole Mlakar taken at Hacienda Austin.

Defining Her Own is an interview series featuring designers, bloggers, shop owners and other creatively-minded women who are forging their own paths based on individual passions and dreams. Is there an inspirational gal you'd like to see featured? Send us an email - we're always looking for women who are following their hearts!

Defining Her Own | Brittany Pigorini

Even if I weren't in the vintage clothing game, the concept of Birch & Brass would be right up my alley. The Austin-based company specializes in event styling and vintage rentals, with a dreamy selection of antique and mid-century modern pieces as well as eclectic finds from around the world. What I love most about owner Brittany Pigorini's story is that Birch & Brass was an unexpected love child born of her passion for collecting antiques and her background in event planning and marketing. Sounds like a pretty great way to start a business, right? 

Needless to say, the love and hard work Birch & Brass has been nurtured with since day one has the company growing at a wildfire pace, and I'm amazed to hear how Brittany has kept up with the rapid rise - she basically hit the ground running, after all. What follows is a glimpse into her day-to-day life, a few of the things that keep her going and some great advice for ladies thinking of starting their own business. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Brittany!

 Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.  Photo by  Kate Anfinson  .

How did Birch & Brass come to life?
As I was planning my own wedding, I wasn't locating the pieces that I was envisioning from traditional rental companies. I decided to collect everything on my own, even the napkins and flatware. I spent days upon days at thrift stores and flea markets trying to find the perfect cake stand or barware. Many items I used were family heirlooms or pieces I'd collected since childhood, too. As everything piled up in my house and I eventually needed a few storage units to house it all, it was one of those "aha!" moments. I knew this is what I was meant to be doing!

Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
Yes.

How has the transition to self-employment been?
My transition wasn't gradual; I'm an all-in type of person. I jumped in headfirst once we'd put together our business plan. Our doors opened much faster than I'd anticipated because I grew my inventory so quickly.

My father has owned his own business for 40+ years, so it's only natural that I would follow in his footsteps of opening my own business, too. While I didn't appreciate it at the time, my father made me start working for him at age 13. I have a very strong work ethic because of him. My prior positions with planning and managing large-scale corporate events were an excellent stepping stone, but nothing could've prepared me for the workload of self-employment. 

What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up early and take a pilates class each morning to get the day started off on the right foot. Lately, my days have consisted of meeting with spring brides, styled shoots, sourcing pieces for clients, and writing proposals. In slower months, I focus on building my inventory and practically live at my upholsterer's shop. I'm constantly lifting furniture; you'd be shocked how much upper body strength I have!

  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .
  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .
  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .
  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .

What are the biggest challenges you've faced being self-employed?
I'm often working abnormally long weeks; I average 80+ hours per week. It's difficult to stop thinking about work when I get home, and I'm guilty of writing emails as late as 11pm or even in the middle of the night when I wake up and can't fall back asleep. Learning to have a life outside of work has proven itself difficult, no matter how hard I try.

Any advice for women struggling with similar challenges?
I've been learning from fellow women in the wedding industry about how they manage their time, shortcuts they've found helpful, and processes that keep them organized. A coffee date with my friends also lets me decompress for a bit and I'm much more focused and inspired when I return to the office. 

What keeps you inspired and moving forward?
I'm surrounded by creative, like-minded people each and every day, so it's almost impossible to not gain inspiration from them. Because my business is a reflection of myself, I hold myself accountable and take great pride in what I produce. This self-induced pressure is a huge driving force to me.

Do you consider yourself more of a dreamer or a realist? How do you feel like that influences your professional life?
I'm a balance of the two. I have grand ideas of what the future will hold for Birch & Brass, and then I have more practical goals; I would love to offer clients more services in the future, Event planning, production, and design is the backbone of my prior careers, so I'd love to incorporate more of it into Birch & Brass. Yet, I'm realistic in terms of what I can do right now versus what the future holds. I think having goals, even far-fetched ones, helps motivate me to be a better person, a better business owner. But, beating myself up over not being able to obtain those goals yet wouldn't be beneficial. I try to take each day as it comes.

  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .
  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .

What makes you feel like you've had a productive day?
I'm a list person. I have lists for absolutely everything. So, checking items off, no matter how small or mundane they may be, indicates productivity to me.

Personally, balancing work and play is one of the hardest parts of self-employment for me. How do you strike a balance between the two?
This is definitely an area where I struggle the most, too. To be perfectly honest, I don't have a balance right now because my business has taken off so quickly. I'm extremely grateful to be this busy so early on, but I'm trying to figure out a way to spend more quality time with my husband and friends. 

What are your passions outside of Birch & Brass?
I love to travel; I will go absolutely anywhere once, and I'm very intrigued by other cultures. I teach pilates part-time and have taken classes for 6+ years now. I also love hiking, reading, kayaking, and cuddling with my bulldog. I'm also a sucker for a really good dinner party!

Do you have any advice for women considering self-employment?
There's never going to be an ideal time to take the leap. You can always find an excuse, but your job is truly what you make of it. Regardless of doing what you love, every job has its ups and its downs. As a business owner though, you take such pride in everything that you do because it's a personal refection of yourself. 

I've also learned to not compare my beginning to someone else's middle. While I'm grateful for how much growth we've experienced early on, I was putting too much pressure on myself to have the best marketing, photos, inventory, website, etc. I'm learning to be content with where I'm at now, while still setting goals for the future.

Working hard and delivering a solid product is very important, but a smile and solid customer service can get you pretty dang far in business, too.

  Defining Her Own featuring Brittany Pigorini of Birch & Brass.   Photo by   Kate Anfinson   .

Visit Birch & Brass.
Photos by Kate Anfinson.

Defining Her Own is an interview series featuring designers, bloggers, shop owners and other creatively-minded women who are forging their own paths based on individual passions and dreams. Is there an inspirational gal you'd like to see featured? Send us an email - we're always looking for women who are following their hearts!

Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan

There are so many talented and inspiring women out there who are forging their own paths in life based on individual passions and dreams. It seems I come across a new woman whose life inspires me nearly every day, encouraging me to keep moving forward in my own pursuits as a small business owner. Who are these women? How did they get started? What makes them tick? My mind tends to fill with questions like these, and as such, I've decided to start asking some of them directly in order to gain further insight into their creative lives. Today's post is the first installment in a new series called Defining Her Own, which'll find us talking to designers, bloggers, shop owners and other creatively-minded women about their respective trades. I'm hoping they'll inspire you in your own endeavors as well as open you up to new projects, shops and people. Now let's get started ... 

By day, Maddie Flanigan handles social media for a Fortune 500 company. But by night and on weekends, she pursues her creative passions as a blogger, freelance photographer, pattern maker and seamstress. Her blog, Madalynne, is a testament to her incredible pattern making skills and love of sewing and design. Not only does Madalynne house Maddie's sewing projects and photography portfolio, it's also a go-to site for those in search of sewing inspiration, offering easy-to-follow tutorials and a plethora of resources to boot. What follows is a glimpse into her life and the things that drive her - thanks so much for sharing with us, Maddie!

  Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan

How did Madalynne come to life?
I’ve always been a writer. I often wish I could communicate solely via text. My thoughts come out much clearer. Madalynne stemmed from this natural ability, but came to life when I started a blog to document my freshman year of college. Okay, I secretly think my dad pushed me so he could keep tabs on his only daughter! At first, I focused on fashion, but soon after, I found myself writing about mostly sewing.

When you started Madalynne, did you have initial intentions of turning it into a career or was that something that came with time?
When I started Madalynne, blogging was so uncool! I denied I had a blog for probably two years!

How has Madalynne evolved since the initial launch in 2006?
Madalynne has become iconic, a symbol for something. At least I think it has. Cher is a symbol for show-stopping entertainment and the Virgin Mary is a symbol for eternal love. Madalynne has become a symbol for sewing, showing that me-made garments can be feminine, well-made and cool.

With a full-time job in addition to Madalynne, how do you strike a balance between the two and simultaneously maintain time for yourself?
I don’t have a balance. Like mother to child, Madalynne is my baby. I dedicate more time than I should caring for it, feeding it, nurturing it and growing it. But I have a passion and I believe in the growth of Madalynne. So while I might not live a balanced life, I live a fulfilling one.

Any suggestions for women trying to find balance between the above?
Find a passion and you won’t need balance.

  Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan
  Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan
  Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan
  Defining Her Own | Maddie Flanigan

What makes you feel like you've had a productive day?
If I’ve sewn, I’ve had a productive day.

Do you consider yourself more of a dreamer or a realist, and how do you feel that influences your professional life?
I’m a dreamer. I believe realists miss the potential. Bill Clinton was from Arkansas and grew up in a trailer. He got the idea to become president after visiting JFK in the White House. I’ve always dreamed big so I could succeed big.

What keeps you inspired and moving forward?
The spirit of my late mother.

What does happiness mean to you and how do you channel it into your life?
Happiness comes from imaging your future and then creating it. It is the constant striving towards achieving a goal. It’s not about finishing - once something is complete, it’s not as fun or rewarding as when you were pursuing it. In my own life, I try to not focus on the final garment, but on enjoying the process.

What are your hobbies outside of Madalynne?
Photography. If I don’t have a camera in my hand or in my purse, I feel as if I have lost a limb. I see life through a lens.

Do you have any advice for women who want to take their passions to the next level?
If you have a passion, it will naturally grow to the next level. 

maddie_flanigan_madalynne_12.jpg

Visit Madalynne.
Photos courtesy of Maddie Flanigan.

Defining Her Own is an interview series featuring designers, bloggers, shop owners and other creatively-minded women who are forging their own paths based on individual passions and dreams. Is there an inspirational gal you'd like to see featured? Send us an email - we're always looking for women who are following their hearts!