Empowering Women Through the Lost Art of Sewing
When I first set out to learn how to sew, I was a 23-year-old waitress with a partial degree in nursing and a six-month-old daughter named Emma. Three things defined my path as a mother and seamstress - my daughter’s congenital anomaly, the death of my great-grandmother, and a desire to create a better future for my daughter and I.
Sewing gave me purpose, but my Zipease community gave me a new perspective on how much sewing could impact the lives of others. Our shared stories showed me that sewing could make diaper changes easier, freeing up precious time for us to spend doing the fun side of parenting! I realized that Zipease can be used as a tool not only to uplift other women in my community, but also to provide opportunities for moms to stay home with their children and make a living.
Emma was a special little girl from the very start, 1 in 2000. According to statistics from Brown University, these were the odds of a child being born with their intestines protruding from the right side of their umbilical ring at birth. I was 17 weeks pregnant when a sonogram appointment with my doctor revealed what looked like a strange ball of worms on our ultrasound photos. I cried that day, but that was the only day I cried for my baby. An overwhelming sense of calm washed over me; I felt strong for her and I.
Gastroschisis is a rare defect, but is thankfully treatable. The doctors prepare you well for the game plan at birth and assure you that it will be a simple fix, that the surgery has a 90% success rate. But what they can never prepare you for is an emergency induction at 33 weeks. They can’t prepare you for the heartache and panic that comes with watching your newborn be taken from you at birth. They can’t prepare you for the horror you feel watching your child get placed into a neck-high sterile bag before being whisked away to the Operating Room.
Doctors also can’t prepare you for the immense sense of pride and strength you get from watching your baby recover from surgery in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I learned a lot about my little girl during her eight-week stay in that small hospital room, but I learned much more about myself and the type of mother I wanted to be.
My introduction to motherhood wasn’t “normal” by conventional standards but the love and admiration I developed for this little girl was nothing short of extraordinary. I knew that with her strength, she could have the world. And I wanted to give that to her.
When I was 10 weeks pregnant, I had an unusually vivid dream. I didn’t know the sex of my baby at that point, but I dreamt of a little girl. In my dream, I was with my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother on my great-grandmother’s couch. We were posing for a picture, beaming and joyous, for I had given birth to a little girl and there she was in my arms, completing five generations of strong female warriors.
My great-grandmother, Billie, was in poor health with colon cancer at the time of my dream. She had already surpassed the expectations of the doctors who had given her just six months to live; she was a fighter. I told her about my dream, about how I was going to have a baby girl and about how she was going to meet her. I didn’t just feel it, I knew it, and so did Billie. My dream gave my great-grandmother the strength to live, and the rest of our family hope. Emma gave us hope.
After 23 more weeks of pregnancy and an additional eight weeks of recovery in the NICU, my daughter, Emma, finally got to meet her great-great-grandma. And we took a photo of the moment I had dreamt about months before.
Billie passed away a few months, succumbing to the cancer, after that treasured photo with our matriarch was taken. Her death hit all of us hard, but it gave us an opportunity to remember her. To remember our karaoke singing, ceramic painting, wild animal nursing, lewd joke telling, business owning, garden growing, clothes sewing, Jill of all trades. Packing up her home brought back memories of the holiday karaoke parties, the smell of the kilns at her ceramics shop, playing with the baby squirrels, robins, rabbits, and eagles she would save, laughing at her absurdly inappropriate jokes, and watching her sew. I decided to take a few ceramic figurines she had painted to remember her.
A week later, we had mostly emptied the house when my grandma asked if I was interested in keeping great-grandma Billie’s sewing machine, an old 1954 New Home. My thoughts were conflicted - “Why would I say yes? This thing is old, did it even work? I didn’t even know how to sew. But I guess I could learn. And I can’t really say no?” I accepted the offer despite my hesitation.
The sewing machine sat there for weeks in a corner of my living room before I summoned the courage to plug it in; it was foreign to me, an intimidating and unfamiliar contraption. To make our meeting more friendly, I named my new machine Helga. I plugged Helga in, pulled out the manual, and started sewing. Momming by day and waiting tables by night didn’t leave me much time to learn, but I stuck with it.
Soon sewing with Helga became my escape. It came so easily to me - the machine, the different fabrics, using patterns, the lingo, all of it. I could feel myself falling in love, I could feel my great-grandmother, I had found my natural gift.
Zipease is Born
Money was tight when I started sewing. I had recently moved back across the country from the Midwest to Washington State, and was now raising my first child. I was a great waitress and made good tips, but it wasn’t enough. I schemed on ways to save and decided I could start buying fabrics and making Emma’s clothes to save some cash. The first few pieces I sewed for her were absolutely hideous; a pair of booties, a dress, and some leggings that didn’t stretch in the right places. The poor girl had to wear them anyway.
I was a new mom, but I learned very quickly that if there was one thing about parenting that I absolutely loathed, it was baby clothing with snaps. At 3:00 AM, the last thing I wanted to do was play guessing games. Fumbling with snaps in the dark, especially with a newborn when you’re half-awake, is enough to bring any tired mother to tears. I searched and searched, but I couldn’t find any outfits that addressed the snap issue. So I decided to make one. My first attempt was a disaster, as was the next one, and the one after that. But I continued to make adjustments with each alteration until I had created the product I had been searching for online: An easy zip baby romper, ankle to ankle, comfy, convenient, and not one. single. snap. I loved it.
Emma loved the romper too. (Mom win!) I started making more of them in different patterns until almost every piece of clothing she wore had zippers. I remember it only took a few weeks for other moms to start commenting and asking where I had gotten Emma’s outfits - they were blown away by the zipper. “How could no one have thought of this before?” was a question I received almost daily. I wondered the same thing actually. Snaps suck, how could no other mom in the history of momming have thought to solve the agony of snaps? Soon, my other mom friends started requesting custom orders that I happily sewed for them.
At that point, I knew I had to take my sewing more seriously. I did a soft launch of my brand on Facebook and built my own website, and began to sell out locally to moms in my area. In November of 2017, I rebranded and Zipease, LLC was officially born.
Since November of 2017, I have grown my community of loving, inspiring, badass moms (and dads!) who constantly give me the strength I need to keep sewing. And our community keeps growing! Having success as a seamstress and business owner is so humbling and has made me reflect constantly on how I can use Zipease as a tool to empower other women and moms like me to forge their own paths.
As a woman-owned business, I feel an immense sense of responsibility to keep 100% of Zipease produced in the United States and by women. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 69% of married women work in the United States and the ones that do make only 80.7 cents for every one dollar a man makes. It is my dream to flip the narrative and provide women, especially stay-at-home moms, with jobs they can do at home with just a computer and/or a sewing machine.
Right now, I employ four amazing women - two from out-of-state and two in my hometown of Kennewick, WA. On my operations team are Brenna, my virtual assistant, and Kayla, my ads manager. Kayla and Brenna live hundreds of miles away, but we never let the distance stop us from bonding and kicking so much butt. We relentlessly send each other voice messages at all hours to share what inspires us, what creative ways we can show up for our customers, and constant encouragement for each other to keep growing as mothers, wives, and women.
My two seamstresses are absolute queens who make my life, and Zipease, so much easier. From skillset to execution, my production team are professionals in every sense of the word and deserve much more credit than they are willing to accept. Cindy and Diana are the backbone to Zipease and help me ensure that every new member of our community is buying the highest quality, and most convenient, hand-sewn zip rompers available in the world.
With this team of strong women beside me, we conquer the trials of motherhood, life’s roadblocks, and sleep deprivation by leaning on one another with love, friendship, and grit. As our Zipease community grows, so will our team, and nothing excites me more about our future.
Together, we are powerful. Together, we are The Zipease Matriarch.