We had the good fortune of connecting with Becky Gutsell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Becky, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
From an early age I always knew that I’d like to be my own boss/have my own business. I studied languages at school and specialised in French at University, so that was where I thought I’d find my career. After finding a role as a Personal Assistant to the head of a record label in Paris, France, in 2000 I continued this role when I moved to London in 2003. It was after a few years that I realised, however I wanted to do something creative. My mother has always made clothes and jewellery – as a hobby, not professionally – so I’ve been brought up with that in the background.
I went on holiday to Hong Kong to visit a friend’s parents and we had some shoes custom made by this local shoemaker. This experience set my mind whirring about why this service wasn’t available in the UK and could I somehow do it myself? This in turn led me to doing a 2 day shoe making course in London, which I absolutely loved! I then did various other part time courses (around my day job) including product illustration, production design as I was thinking of having my shoe designs manufactured. I then did some more in depth courses such as pattern making, bespoke shoe making, etc. At this point I was pregnant with my son and the plan was that I would design women’s shoes during my maternity leave. Instead, what happened was that I ended up making a pair of shoes for my baby son, when he started toddling about, as I couldn’t find any that I liked in the stores. I made a few pairs as gifts for friends’ babies and then I designed a changing clutch for myself, which also became a great gift for friend’s new babies. And so, these two products finally gave me the business idea I’d been searching for all of those years!…
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I design and make bags/purses and baby shoes here in LA. I made the first pair of baby shoes for my son and then I designed a changing clutch for myself, instead of having to lug around the big traditional changing bag. I always road test my products before I sell them so that I know that they work and are made to a high standard and long lasting quality. I then went on to make “normal” purses as a customer said she loved my changing clutch but didn’t have a baby!
I try to make baby products that do not fit the traditional stereotypical colour schemes of baby blue and pink. I like to make them in edgy, stylish and sometimes unexpected colour ways or patterns.
I make everything myself and was really pleased when initially one of the Ten Women Gallery members asked me where I got my pieces manufactured, as they thought I must be getting everything made in a factory. I am really hard on myself when I make a mistake, which can make life difficult (!) but it also means that I only sell what I think is the best I can possibly make.
An initial challenge was when I started out, I made collections (e.g. 5 navy blue leather, 5 black, etc…) but found that sometimes I’d be left with extra stock if one particular style didn’t sell. I decided to only make one of each colour or pattern, and then make another if it sells. This is not only easier for me to manage as an individual, but it’s also great from a sustainability perspective.
As is the case for many people, I have found the lockdown difficult on a creative level as I work in our family dining room. I used to work out of the garage in our previous home, which meant that I could go and work in peace and leave my tools out when I stopped working for the day. Now, however, I have the family around while I’m working and space is limited so I can’t spread out as much as I used to. I have learned to work with the noise (I now have a good pair of earphones to block out the noise!) and accept that I can only do so much while helping my son with his school work and entertaining both kids in the afternoon.
I have so many ideas whirring away in my brain and I still get a real kick out of making something new. Even making a pair of baby shoes, which I’ve made many times before, is exciting when I’m trying out a new colour or leather/fabric combination. I love creating one off pieces with leftover scraps or leather. It’s a mix of not wasting things and the joy of the puzzle, fitting the parts to create something completely unique.
My Mum has always resisted selling any of her clothes or jewellery that she makes as she was worried that she would lose the enjoyment of making if it became a “job”. I am delighted to say that so far, I’m still excited every time I get to create something new. I would love to grow my brand into something bigger, be stocked in various boutiques in California, and I’m determined to still be involved in the making, even when I can justify employing other people to join me. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of creating!!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We always have to fit in a bike ride along the path between Venice and Santa Monica. We often will bring a flask of tea and croissants and do an early ride with breakfast on the beach. We love to watch the skateboarders at the skate park and get a slice of pizza from Big Daddy’s or an amazing ice cream treat from Turn Dough.
When I finish my shift at Ten Women on Main Street, Ashland Hill is the place to go – never disappointed with the menu or service. We love to eat out so we try to get to Paradise Cove for a beachside meal or Coast at Shutters on the Beach if we’re in Santa Monica. Hiking is a real treat for our UK friends so we like to do Runyon Canyon or drive along the PCH to Point Dume and watch for seals and dolphins before popping in to the Sunset Cafe.
I also like to wander along Abbot Kinney for a bit of retail therapy and a cuppa or bite to eat at one of the many places along there. We also really like Maxwell’s cafe, which is slightly off the beaten track on Washington Blvd and Nick’s coffee shop on Pico, near to West Hollywood. Nick’s is a family run diner, where the service is just so welcoming. They’ve been closed during the pandemic, we really hope they open again soon. El Coyote is another family favourite of ours for Mexican food and a really fun atmosphere. We spend a lot of our time with guests visiting all of the different beaches; Malibu Lagoon, Zuma, and Abalone Cove in Palos Verde is one of favourites, so pretty.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like a Shoutout to go to Ten Women gallery on Main Street. It is thanks to Ten Women (TW) that I finally got back into my making and selling after our big move to LA from London, England, in 2015.
I’d found my business idea around 2012, the year my son was born. I started really forging ahead with it in 2014 and I had various craft fairs lined up over the Christmas period, in London, England, when my husband got a job transfer to LA. I then had to spend months packing up our UK life, moving to LA, finding a preschool for my son, finding somewhere to live, entertaining all of our friends who were visiting from the UK. And then, I found out I was pregnant with our daughter who was born in 2016.
In amongst all of that activity I did manage to find leather suppliers, someone to service my sewing machine etc, in LA and do a couple of craft fairs, but I struggled to balance work and family life as we had no family here to help out with childcare. I decided to take a break while my daughter was a baby until she could start preschool. I found it difficult not doing anything for myself, so I was thinking of starting up again when I got a call from Shelly Shwartz from the gallery as she’d seen my work on Etsy. She invited me to jury in (applicants present their work before the TW members at the monthly meeting, at which a vote is taken to accept/reject). I was terrified about presenting and really didn’t expect to be successful, so I was delighted when I found out I had been accepted!!
It is so nice to be part of the TW cooperative. As a team of one, it’s hard not to have anyone else to bounce ideas off and ask for advice. (My husband is an accountant and hates it when I ask him for his opinion on things I’ve made!!) The TW group gives me a sense of community and we can really help each other out with pricing, or different skills, marketing, etc. I also really enjoy working my shift in the gallery as I get to meet our customers in person and chat about my work with like minded souls.
Tiffany Luong Photography took 3 photos: 1. the different stages of my changing clutch 2. Me holding the changing clutch in front of the blue fence 3. Me working at the dining table