Welcome to Week 28 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"Sacrifice was a big topic when I was growing up and I realized that I couldn’t afford to sacrifice my creativity because my sanity would suffer. It was a tough realization, and I had a difficult time convincing myself that I really couldn’t do it all. Or at least I couldn’t do it all at the same time."
Amy Tan got her start as a creative entrepreneur in fashion design. After unexpectedly selling her first line to a boutique, she quickly moved on to her hand-crafted t-shirt line being carried in Bloomingdales, Barneys New York, and Neiman Marcus, among many others. Though she's still a fashion designer (she only does custom work now), her main business is now scrapbooking and she has created many product lines in collaboration with American Crafts.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Amy - can you please describe your family?
My fiance, JC, and our son Jack, 21 months old. And if you count dogs like I do, two rambunctious Jack Russell Terriers - Buster age 10 and Bamboo age 9.
What is your business?
Amy Tangerine, a creative company with a twist. It started out as a small production company for photo shoots when I was a freelance stylist in Atlanta in 2000. Then it was a tee shirt line sold to boutiques and department stores. It has since evolved into a line of scrapbooking products in collaboration with American Crafts. We also do scrapbooking for clients and events, creative consulting and recently launched my YouTube channel - www.youtube.com/amytangerine
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved arts & crafts and playing with my friends. We would play really fun games like “bank”and “school”and “grocery store”. My fascination with paper products and supplies also prompted me to convince my friends to play “office”. I probably filed a little too much as a child, so when as an adult I had to actually do it, it came pretty naturally.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
As an only child, I often found myself saying to my parents that I was bored. They would always encourage me to go do something, to go make something. As an engineer, my dad was also planning projects and building things. He was industrious and I was always excited to help him if I could. My mom was super crafty and spent a lot of time sewing. She also loved going to the craft stores and experimenting with various weekend projects like bracelet making and tie dye.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
While I always knew that I wanted to be a mom at some point, I also was keen on making sure I lived my best life no matter what my situation was. Somehow I thought having dogs would be good practice for motherhood. And while it did teach me a lot about taking care of little beings, the reality of the overwhelm that came with being a mom hit me like crazy after I gave birth. I thought because I could juggle so many things before Jack was born, that being a mom would come more easily. But yes, I always knew I wanted to be a mother.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
In the first few months I naively thought I could take time to make creating a priority. But I had never experienced such sleep deprivation! So I would try to carve out pockets of time to create, but the moments were few and far between. I did realize though that it was so important for me to really try and do something creative everyday - whether it was as simple as posting a photo on Instagram or creating a scrapbook page - I needed to make it a priority. Even if it was for 15 minutes a day, I had to make it a priority for me. I had to do this so I could thrive and then feel like I was being the best mom. Sacrifice was a big topic when I was growing up and I realized that I couldn’t afford to sacrifice my creativity because my sanity would suffer. It was a tough realization, and I had a difficult time convincing myself that I really couldn’t do it all. Or at least I couldn’t do it all at the same time.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I started my business when I was 21. I became a mom at 35.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
It started off sort of on accident. When I was styling photo shoots, I asked my mom to teach me how to crochet arm warmers. I made them and wore them when I went to a store opening party. The owners complimented me on them, asked me where I got them and when I told them I made them, they asked if they could place an order for the store. The next day I went back for a meeting and then a week later I delivered their order. I sold a pair right out the bag and then 3 hours later, they called me and said, “You’re going to think we are crazy, but we’ve sold out of half of them and want to order more.”After getting press in WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) I got a few more stores locally to order them.
Then on a fluke, Lucky Magazine did a little piece on me. In the spring, the boutique owners asked me what I was going to make next. I decided hand embroidered tank tops. Fast forward a few months and I was selling to Fred Segal in LA and several other boutiques around the country. Then a store called me and asked if I saw Glamour Magazine…Cindy Crawford was wearing one of my tank tops. Then I decided to take it to the next level and developed a capsule collection to take to a tradeshow for emerging designers in New York.
My parents had always dreamed about having their own businesses. And they always encouraged me to do the things I love. These things probably helped instill the need to be creative and the hope to make it into a job.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
After realizing that I really needed a healthier balance for everyone’s sake, I made it a priority to carve out time to be creative. Sometimes it just had to happen when it needed to happen since our scheduling was sort of out of whack for the first 6 months. I did everything from carry Jack around with me in a baby carrier while making something to pumping while editing photos on my phone. I also enlisted the help of my “village”and have been fortunate enough to have family close by who are more than willing to help.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
Before becoming a mother, I had routines, but didn’t realize the importance of them. If something came up, I would just switch gears and take on that aspect of work. Now I’ve learned that being adaptable is one of the most valuable strengths to have. Patience is another one. Also I used to like to set work hours and be pretty strict with adhering to them. Since I was a workaholic and overachiever for much of my adult life, it was important to set boundaries of when to stop working. Especially as a small business owner, there seems to always be something that needs to get done. Prioritizing for certain hours is essential but also realizing the need to go a little easier on myself if I was only functioning on 4 hours of continuous sleep.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
Not sure if it has changed anything, as my products have always had a whimsical, happy and positive undertone. I think that has stayed about the same.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
Jack has shown me the importance of being present. If I only have 4-6 hours of work that needs to be done, I really need to prioritize and focus. That way when I am with him, I am fully present and engaged. I used to like to mix business and pleasure since I love what I do, and still get to do it, but I also understand the importance of setting boundaries. The other day things were hectic at work, but I saw an opportunity to take Jack through a drive thru and then have a picnic at the beach. We were only gone for an hour and half, which was just enough for Jack to have a fun adventure. When I came back to work in the studio, I felt refreshed and reenergized.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
I hope he will see and understand that it’s important that I work. It’s not a sacrifice, but something that has to happen for me to feel like I am a good mother. Inside my own mind I had a battle for a while when I questioned why I never even considered ever being a stay at home mom. That is hard work too! Also I hope that he will learn that it’s ok to have work that feels like play on occasion.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
Working in a creative business is something that helps me thrive, and I hope he will be able to see that the lifestyle we live is partly because of it. Work is not only essential to contributing to the family, but a pursuit that I hope to have as long as I am enjoying and evolving.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Give yourself permission. Go a little easier on yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in feeling guilty about this or that. Instead of wasting time feeling that way, recognize that the time could be better spent. Maybe doodle in a sketchbook, or just paint freely. It’s all a phase, so if you’re struggling to find the time or ideas, know that it won’t be like that forever. With that being said, when you can find pockets of time to create, it’s important to do just that. I realize that not all of us can complete an entire scrapbook in a week, but maybe you can create part of a layout and then build from there. Recognizing that you’re just doing the best you can with what you have is important too. I found myself feeling like I hit creative blocks quite often and I wanted to hone in on what I did to overcome that so I could share with others. I actually developed a free handbook (available on my website/blog) with tips and prompts that anyone can read and complete in a short time frame. Or in a long time frame. Do what works for you and try to enjoy the process!
Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Amy in the following places: