Defining Her Own | Catelyn Silapachai

One of the amazing things about living in a digital world is the incredible people one gets to know who may've flown under the radar otherwise, and Austin local Catelyn Silapachai is one of those gals for me. She runs an online boutique called The Distillery alongside her brother Clif Claycomb, and they specialize in vintage, handmade and specialty goods, their finds ranging from unique pieces found at local estate sales to uncommon objects picked up while traveling the world. If 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!