Women Who Do What They Love - Jen Leheny

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Who is this woman? Jen Leheny

What is her passion called? RED INSTEAD handmade

Where can you take a squiz at her stuff? www.redinstead.com.au (shop) and www.jenleheny.com (blog)

What does she actually produce? I started off selling kids and children’s clothing but I soon grew to… well, anything I wanted to try my hand at, really. I have read that you should focus and become known for one product or style but I have always thought there was way too much out there that I wanted to sew and make. I could not imagine sewing the one style of handbag for years and years – I think it would bore me to tears. I have made and sold everything from jewellery to art, screen printing and ceramic painting, cushions and belts, as well as clothing for women and children and soft toys.

Why does she do all this? I joke that I have to keep doing it so that I can get through the big piles of fabric and other supplies I have collected, and that is partly true, but of course the other reason is that even now that I have gone back to (part-time) work and have a lot less time, I just can’t picture myself not making things. I figure if I am going to make them, then I better pass them on to other people via market stalls and online shops, or I will run out of room.

How long has she been doing it? I blame the pregnancy hormones. When I was pregnant with my youngest (in 2002), I started sewing like crazy, after a break of some years. Prior to that, I had sewn clothing for myself but I soon tried toys and kids clothes and started my fabric and notions ‘collection’. I knew that I wanted to stay home for many years and I thought making and selling things would be a great way to do that.

When the subject of a house extension came up, I put my hand up for a huge room for all my creative stuff and I haven’t looked back since. While pregnant, I sewed a whole bunch of baby and kids clothes and had my first market stall at Kingston when I was extremely pregnant and about to pop. It was exhausting and I didn’t sell much that day but I knew it was what I wanted to do. Once I had the baby, I took her along to my market days (with my husband to help) and I just kept going back. Sewing from home has always been great to do alongside raising kids.

What is this talented woman’s story? I’m happy but busy. I have recently gone back to paid work (part-time) and now I have more money but less time, so I squeeze the making and the blogging in where I can. Prior to that, I was at home with the kids for eight years and running my handmade business on the side. And before that I was making websites in Sydney in the dotcom boom - and then crash! I have been blogging before we even called it that and I love to code and design.

As well as my first love: sewing, I also enjoy mixed media and collage and I have a million things I want to do but not enough time. I have a great studio and a garden that needs a lot of work. I like to take photos, and I recently bought a new digital SLR. I try to make time for the serious shots, but I also take lots of images of things I have made!

How has her journey been so far? There have been a lot of times when I have questioned what I am doing. I still don’t consider my business a big success in terms of sales but I am quietly plugging away and hoping that my time will come. I figure that I might as well make the mistakes (and learn from them) while the business is small so the mistakes are on a small scale, too. I enjoy what I do and people buy my stuff and that’s all it really comes down to in the end.

What pesky obstacles have tried to block her progress? I have wasted money on advertising that did absolutely nothing for me. I have a stack of things in my garage that just don’t sell. I find pricing hard work. It is really hard to keep your chin up when things go wrong, but as long as you learn something… then it’s not a waste.

Another big obstacle for me personally (in the beginning) was underestimating how hard it can be trying to get a business off the ground, sewing all night and looking after a baby all day. A home business is great for the at-home mum but you do need to be realistic about just how much you can do.

What are her greatest joys in doing what she loves? Being my own boss - setting my own hours, doing it my way and at my own pace. Seeing people spend their hard earned money on something I have made and loving it is always a great feeling. To be perfectly honest, I love buying fabric and craft books and knowing that it all is a tax deduction!

What is she loving most at the moment? Handbags are great because there are so many fun styles and fabrics. I loved the teapots that I hand painted a couple of years ago. Cushions are always fun.

What is her inspiration? There is SO much inspiration out there (blogs and magazines) that it can be a little overwhelming sometimes. I have a stack of magazines by my bed and about a million blogs in my bloglines, but I am hopelessly behind on both. I love pattern and print and I keep notebooks of things I love and pull them out and drool every now and then.

If she could do anything in the whole wide, entire world – what would she do? I would like to do what I’m doing but I would love to be more organised and less of a procrastinator. I enjoy doing local markets and sewing all the things myself. I’m not sure if I would ever like to go the production route – I kinda like keeping it small and keeping it real, but I forget that when I am sewing 30 of the same thing all at once and there’s only two days left before a big market.

Where would she escape to if she could? I am not really into travel that much – we are working on making our house just exactly how we want it and we love to hang out there. I would like to get to Sydney or Melbourne for a long weekend in a posh hotel, though.

What would she buy there? Clothes, magazines and craft books. Tragic.

What are her secret aspirations? I think I am just gonna keep going as I am for a while. I am still adjusting to part-time work – loving the extra money, not loving the reduction in time!

What is her greatest achievement? I am very proud of my kids and my family. I have a super-wonderful husband and we are still so in love after more than 12 years and three kids. That’s a real achievement. I am proud of my dedication and of what I have learned running my own business. I am proud of all of the things I have made over the years, well, most of them anyway! I love that I can set up awesome websites for my business and I’m so glad to have those skills and use them in my craft business.

What would be her absolutely perfect day? A leisurely sleep-in, a hotel-style breakfast where you can choose anything you like and go back as often as you like (extra hollandaise please!) some shopping, a movie, more good food, some wine and of course my husband to share it with – sorry kids, you can go to Grandma’s! Of course, another kind of perfect day would be taking my kids to the movies and lots of cuddles and fun with them.

What five words sum her up? Loud, persistent, adventurous, loyal, committed. In no particular order.

What really fabulous advice does she have for others wanting to Do What They Love? Think and plan before you jump in. Be prepared for setbacks and mistakes and learn from them. Remember why you are doing this in the first place – for me, it was to be able to stay home with my children and that had to always be the priority, not growing the business beyond what I could sustain while still giving the kids what they needed. Focus on what you really want, and the best way to get it for you and your family. Reassess as things change and time goes on. Be flexible and adventurous.

Catch up on Jen's creaftive happenings...

Jen also has an etsy shop...

Are you doing what you love? Please contact me here if you would like to tell your Do What You Love story. I’d love to hear from you – no matter where you are in the world.

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