We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Tao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connie, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I think that work life balance is a goal that we are all trying to achieve. I know that I have definitely struggled with it. As I am sure many small business owners/entrepreneurs will tell you, it is not a 9-5 gig. If you choose the route of starting a small business, you are pouring your heart and soul into this venture and your mind is definitely worrying about it all the time. I don’t think I even considered the option of work life balance those first couple years. There were months where I easily worked on my business for 7 days a week and still had more to do. During those times, I couldn’t shut my mind off and continually tried to work out how to keep things going, how to improve efficiency, how to create projects for my clients that demonstrated the aesthetic and level of quality that I wanted my business to represent. And as a small business owner, you wear many hats so you have to deal with a lot of the business end of things as well as the creative product designing and making side. But that skewed balance is not maintainable forever. I think we all get a little too close to the burn out stage. And I truly believe that your mind needs breaks to work at its peak. When I do feel myself getting too tired mentally and physically, I try to schedule in some me–time to recharge so I can come back at full force. A lot of trying to succeed at work life balance really comes with scheduling ahead of time and being flexible with whatever unique challenges may arise. When the pandemic hit, work life balance really got thrown into the mix, since a lot of people had to work from home. I think working from home makes separating work time and home time even more challenging. During the months we were in shutdown mode, I still made the effort to come into my work place daily so that I could have a clear separation of where work stays and where home time begins. For me, it is really important in work life balance to have an actual separation of where each occurs. I think work life balance will continue to be something I will have to actively focus on. And a lot of the time I won’t be able to have that perfect balance, but keeping in mind things like knowing yourself, what you need, and when you need it goes a long way in taking care of that part of your life. I may be looking at years of a more teeter-totter effect on my work and personal life balance. There will be times when work or an especially big project will take over and there will be times when things in my personal life will take precedence. But I think the best part of it all is getting to continually work on both.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have been very fortunate to be able to start a business custom designing and creating wedding gowns. We get to sit down with brides and help them design “the dress” that they will wear on their big day. We work very closely and personally with each and every customer. And even though, weddings inherently come with a lot of stress, brides are usually very enthusiastic and wonderful to work with. We get to hear all about their love stories and really get to know them so we can design gowns that emphasize their personal aesthetic so they can look and feel their best on their wedding day. I think every step of my path towards opening my boutique was really essential. I started my career in contemporary women’s wear right out school. I was able to learn a lot about the ins and outs of the industry, working closely with a team, and designing for a specific customer. I think school really teaches you the basics and at the same time how to grow your voice and individual creative aesthetic. And work teaches you how to hone those skills and focus them on following parameters to be successful in creating garments that represent a brand. All of those skills really helped me grow an idea of the type of business I wanted to start. Making the jump from working for a company to starting your own business was incredibly scary. It was an idea I worked on a long time before making it concrete. Like many small business owners, my custom wedding gown business started as more of a weekend project. A few wonderful friends allowed me to create their wedding dresses and each project really emphasized how much I loved being able to design a unique gown specifically for them. Each wedding gown is like an exciting new project. And with encouragement and support from my loved ones, especially my Mother, I really made a go at bringing this dream business to life. And now, over 6 years in, every project I am lucky enough to work on is still exciting and gratifying. I feel like I am still learning everyday, how to continually improve my business and creative skills. I have definitely learned to be flexible in everything. You can create a schedule and procedure on how to do things, but be open to always improving how you do those things. Every gown we make is one-of-a-kind and due to the custom nature of the gowns, we get to experiment with different fabrics, textures and even sewing methods. We have worked on gowns with feathers, fabric paints, beading, metallic foils, appliqué, etc. This work has really allowed me to express myself creatively. Although we do have in house designs and gowns for brides to try on, we really emphasize the custom aspect of it. We really want to create unique gowns that embody the aesthetic of the bride. It isn’t about finding a wedding dress that you fit, but having a dress created to fit you. And we try to create an environment that is stress-free at our Pasadena boutique, where you can sit back, chat about the kind of dress you would love to walk down the aisle in. We do all of our work in house so we can accommodate a more flexible schedule. We have helped brides that only had a little time before their wedding (even as short as two weeks!). Each and every project is special to me and it has been an absolute joy creating gowns for brides that they can feel like themselves in.
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.
Having grown up in Southern California, I am a born and bred LA native. There are tons to do in the city. First of all there is all of the food. LA is a mixing pot of cuisines and there are great places that continuously pop up all over town. You can basically try every type of cuisine here. There are the great authentic Asian food places all over San Gabriel Valley, tons of hole-in-the-wall taco places spanning from East LA to West LA, and everything else in between. Whether you want authentic or fusion style, LA has it for you. And you definitely cannot come to LA without enjoying some of that California sunshine. I love going to Huntington Library for their beautifully manicured gardens and history or Descanso Gardens for their more organically wild plant life. And further out are of course our beaches. You can head to wonderfully scenic and more secluded beaches like El Matador and Laguna or more crowded Santa Monica and Newport beaches to people watch . And on specific days there are the flea markets. As a lover of vintage goods, LA’s flea market offerings are many. The big one is of course the Rose Bowl Flea market and the little one include Pasadena City College, Long Beach, Topanga Canyon, and Melrose. And of course you can’t come to the home of Hollywood without catching some movies. If the season is right, you can join many in picnicking and watching an old movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I was lucky enough to catch the original ‘Night of the Living Dead’ there a number of years ago, a perfect setting to watch that movie. If it is off season, you can catch some old classics at a few different renovated old theaters in LA (hopefully after conditions improve from COVID-19 restrictions). Throw in some scenic hikes around town (Runyon, Malibu, La Tuna Canyon) and ending with some artisanal ice cream (Carmela, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Salt & Straw) and iced coffee (R Coffee, Phil’s Coffee, Blue Bottle, Republik, Alfred’s – there is a lot of options) and you would have had a pretty great week in LA!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My business, where we are, and where we hope to go is all dedicated to the powerful women that have come before me. I was fortunate enough to be a third generation dressmaker. My grandmother was a dressmaker, my aunt was a pattern maker, and my mother was a designer / pattern maker. I grew up watching these incredible women creating these beautiful gowns and pieces of clothing that were really works of art. My mother never let me go to a school dance or Halloween party without a unique outfit. She really inspired me to follow her path and continually try to improve my craft. She is still the person I go to when I get stuck creatively or when I need a second opinion on a design. Even after over 50 years of experience in fashion, my Mother still has an enduring love and reverence for exquisitely made garments that is incredible to see.
Christina Mia Photography Peony Park Photography Shane F King Studio