BABE #190: SALLY KEISER, Owner, Sally Ann
Sally is a self-employed mama who has been designing handbags under the brand name “Sally Ann” since 2008. This entrepreneurial babe creates one-of-a-kind, sustainable handbags made from primarily recycled textile materials in a zero-waste production space. Her commitment to making fashion a greener, more sustainable industry motivates us to be more conscious about what we’re spending our money on and how our household products are behind made.(Fun facts: she also brews her own kombucha, is a big advocate for the legalization of cannabis, and has an “elf ear.”) You heard it here first.
Hometown: Muskegon, Michigan
Current city: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Alma mater: Michigan State University
Degree: I dropped out after the third year. I was working towards bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
Very first job: Cashier at Kmart when I was 15.
Hustle: Owner/designer, Sally Ann
Babe you admire and why?
My best friend since grade school, Kirsten Ebey. I’ve watched her fight tooth and nail to achieve her goals. She does it all with so much positivity and love. No matter the circumstance, she has a positive outlook and calm demeanor, combined with ferocity and badass bitch. Kirsten just started her own company advising small businesses (Path to Summit LLC) and she travels the world in her free time. It’s incredible having such a close friend that is so smart with business to help me cultivate my personal growth as well.
How do you spend your free time?
I’m currently working on making green things grow in Michigan. It’s a lot more difficult than my Jacksonville years of gardening, but I’m learning. I’m also working on making all aspects of my home paper- and plastic-free. By the end of the year, my pantry will be 90 percent plastic-free!
Favorite fictional female character?
Ellen Ripley from the Alien series. She’s the ultimate badass and one of the first female action heroines.
Current power anthem?
I’m not much for a power anthem, but I’m loving the new Beach House album. I’m so go go go all the time, so my music taste tends to be much more on the mellow and calm side.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Bloody steak and vegetables and the smoked gouda mac and cheese, all from Frog Hollow in Augusta, GA.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I know basic welding, but I would love to dive further into welding and metal work and develop a stronger foundation so I can break traditional metal working rules and build metal sculptures with found scraps and materials.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ricky Gervais. He’s just the best.
What’s something most don't know about you?
I have an elf ear.
Tell us about your hustle.
I own and operate my design and textile company, Sally Ann. I design, draft patterns for and fabricate bags made from primarily recycled materials in a zero-waste production space. My bags focus on functionality and simplicity. Of course, I wear all the hats. From building my website and managing social media and inventory, to developing new designs and customer service. Somehow I stay sane and run it all.
What does your typical workday look like?
I wake up with my daughter and partner bright and early, most days. We’re both self-employed, so we usually have the morning to wake up, take care of Cece and have coffee together before we tackle the day. We have no concept of weekends or weekdays, so every day is unique and different depending on the needs of our schedules. Some days, I’m mom all day while he works, and then I work on tasks throughout the day that won’t interfere with my time watching her. I’ll do things like web design or photo editing while she plays nearby, or planning social media while she eats. Typically, she goes to bed around 9 p.m. and then I work until about 2 a.m. That’s when I get most of my sewing done. I have a board in my sewing room to track the progress of each order, broken into categories of production. This helps me stay on task while making sure they get out in the allotted time for my made-to-order pieces. It’s all about balance.
Have you always had a creative spirit?
At my core, I balance a strong antisocial/outgoing personality. I guess that's the Aquarius in me. At the same time, I’ve always felt a spark to create and do. Use my hands. Move. Make. I can’t sit still, and I enjoy making things, no matter what it is I’m making. My antisocial side, if that’s what I could call it, allows me to hole up for days on end sewing and creating, and I love it. Deconstruction and reconstructing. Cutting and sewing. Then, my outgoing side need some attention. I love talking to people, but somehow the salesman bug never got me. I prefer to make certain I have the best product, constantly pushing for maximizing its design, to prove it is impeccable. Present it, here it is and here’s why it’s amazing. I’m never pushy; I truly believe my work speaks for itself.
When did you decide to start your business?
After dropping out of college, I spent about a year figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with myself. I was living in Lansing, Michigan at the time. I got my hands on a collection of navy blue screen printed T-shirts with bright fighter jets and some really rad designs. I made them all into various tote-style and messenger bags and had the best time utilizing all the fabric. The catharsis in recycling, deconstructing and rebuilding something into a beautiful new piece is so therapeutic. Bringing new life to something otherwise useless launched my company, Sally Ann. My original tagline, even then, was “creating eco-friendly products using recycled materials.” I’ve moved around in terms of products over the years, but always came back to bags. I think it’s that there is no size constraint. They’re universal: They fit all styles and trends, and all people.
Tell us about Sally Ann being a no-waste production company.
I’ve been so close to zero waste for years, sorting pieces by size and utilizing quilting techniques to use small pieces to line bags. To be “zero waste” was more of a “build it, and they will come” scenario. I knew if I made it fact and announced I was zero waste, I could hold myself to it. I knew I could make use of the tiny little bit of waste I do create. Instead of throwing away my last little fiber bits, I save them. In the last six months, I have less than a garbage bag of fiber waste. I plan to use this small bit of scrap in place of filling for a collection of stuffed animals that will also be made of fabric scraps.
What needs to happen in the fashion industry in order for more companies to implement the use of sustainable, reusable products?
Customer demand changes everything. Money talks. [Things would change if] customers could cut back on spending at stores that support poor labor practices and contribute to global pollution and excessive waste. [And if there was] more awareness and transparency from the media to show how these companies are polluting and treating employees. There’s so much waste in the garment industry and people ignore it, but they’ll shop organic fruit. If we can comfortably confront this hypocrisy in consumer spending, we can change the textile industry. Your clothing and other textiles are no different than your other areas of consumption. I hope more people are encouraged to be more mindful of their purchases. Also, support fair trade and eco-friendly companies. Embrace minimalism, don’t be afraid to have staple pieces and coordinate new looks around them. Less is more.
How do you balance running a business with motherhood?
Wearing all the hats in a business and balancing motherhood feels like a juggler that suddenly doubles his maximum number of balls in the air—and the floor is suddenly hot lava. Every day is something new, and sometimes I feel like I’m not going to drop any of the balls and others I feel like I’m burning alive. I try to stay positive and focusing on the immediate short-term goals. Being a mom, I have to acknowledge that baby and postpartum hormones will eat me alive, and society’s judgements and expectations are all shit. Remember: No one really knows what they’re doing as a new mom, and that’s just fine. Most importantly, if you're starting your own business: Get a business plan! Know your customer base. And create a damn good product.
How have your past internships, education and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
For as much as part of me would have loved to have finished college and had a “normal” career, it’s just not for me. I beat myself up about dropping out for years as I watched friends start careers, but know I’m just not wired for it. I enjoy being in control of my company and carving out my week as I’d like, running my company. Plus, I’m really good at what I do, and the world needs me to keep this up.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
My first fashion show will probably always feel like the biggest accomplishment. When showtime came and I looked out into the crowd, I was so astonished to see the support of the crowd, all paying to see my work. There was so much excitement and adrenaline. Everything subsequently has been a build-up and a variation of that feeling. When every new publication's feature about me and every purchase of a handbag, I do a little dance when my phone "dings" with a new order. It’s like I’m slowly climbing a staircase of a skyscraper, and if I don’t step outside of myself to see just how high I’ve climbed, it all feels like I have a regular job like anyone else, reaching regular milestones. In reality, this job is pretty fucking cool.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
People place the value and cost of a bag on how long it took to make it—the common business misconception I’m sure many people who fabricate their products run into. They calculate in their mind how long it takes me to physically sew something and divide that by what they think my hourly rate should be in comparison to a regular job. I want to scream like that old lady in the commercial, “That’s not how any of this works!” Sewing, a huge part of my work, is probably a third of the big picture. So much more is prep, cutting, planning, sourcing materials and the same business concepts everyone else who owns a business deals with. Evaluations of my time and cost analysis drive me crazy. But, I told myself to brush off the haters who even broach the subject in conversation.
What motivates and inspires you?
I find inspiration in people; in creating a product and custom piece for someone. It makes my heart so warm and fulfilled. For example, a client recently came to me with a request to make her late father’s coat into a backpack for her. Making it special was the task. When you’re working with a finite amount of “fabric” that also has sentimental nature, it can be a lot of pressure—but also a great opportunity. I utilized all the original aspects of the coat; the front pocket he would have stuck his hand in for years and years is now the main focus of the front of the bag. I cut it out just so, for her bag to be a way to remember her father every time she uses it, carrying a little piece of him with her. Even the interior lining utilized something she could recognize that was her father’s.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Honestly, at the end of my work day, to sort out all the cobwebs and stress in my brain: a hot bath and cannabis. #legalizeit!
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Make friends and form a tribe. Start a network of women in your area who are in different fields. Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate. Connect with each other, laugh, be vulnerable, share you life experiences, listen.
In collaboration with:
Warby Parker designs a trendy and socially conscious eyeglass collection. Our favorite part of WP? Their Home Try-On Program, where you can select 5 different frames online, have them delivered to your door, take 'em for a spin, pick out your faves, then send them all back — all before spending a dime. Learn more about it here.
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