Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, I am so excited to introduce you to our new guest this week. I actually found her via some good old-fashioned Instagram stalking, and here she is! Why don’t you just go right straight, introduce yourself, tell us about your business, where you’re located, all of the things?
Xochil: Sure. Thank you. So my name is Xochil Herrera Scheer. My company is the Chicago Pattern Maker, and we work with brands of many different sizes, but mainly small businesses and mid-sized businesses to help them with their product development needs, which includes sketching and tech packs, to pattern-making, prototyping. We also help them source materials and factories to work with so that they can get their product out in the world.
Julia: So here’s the thing, and this is why you’re here, is because I didn’t even know this was a thing!
Xochil: A lot of people don’t!
Julia: And so everybody, this is why Xochil is on this episode, is because when I discovered your Instagram page, I think I found it through a hashtag or female entrepreneur or something like that. And we actually have people in common, because you go up to Madison a lot, and I have a lot of friends in Madison.
Xochil: I grew up in Madison.
Julia: Oh, really? No way! I used to live there, and love it, and miss it sometimes, except in the winter. But anyway, I was like, wow, I did not even know this was a thing! How did you start this? How did you get into this? Did you grow up knowing that this was a job you could do?
Xochil: Actually, I did not. So I learned how to sew when I was very young. My grandmother taught me first on doll clothes when I was seven years old, just sewing by hand. And then I was in 4-H, and so my 4-H leader, she was an avid sewer, and she taught me how to make my very first outfit. She was teaching me and her daughter, around the same age, at the same time. And that got me into just wanting to sew and make things for myself. So I did a lot of that growing up, like making outfits for school dances, and would sometimes make stuff for friends. I would cut apart things I owned and kind of make them better and stuff like that. And it wasn’t until later though in high school where I kind of realized like, oh, this is an actual job. It’s not just something I can get patterns at Joanne’s and alter them, or make them up in whatever fabric.
So I learned that this was a job that you could actually go into making clothes and designing clothes for people. So at first, I thought, oh, I’m gonna be a designer. I’m gonna go in and be the designer, be the creative person, and I started taking classes. Actually, while I was in high school, I took community college classes and sewing and patterns to get more immersed in it, because my high school had one home at class, so that wasn’t enough. But then I went to a four-year art school for fashion design, and I went to the Element Institute of Art in Chicago. That’s what brought me to Chicago, and I went for fashion design. But very quickly, my classes kind of discovered I enjoyed the problem-solving and the drafting of patterns. And a lot of my classmates, not everyone, but a lot of them, were more into the creative side, the mood boards, the sketching, all of that stuff, which I enjoyed a little bit, but I found the technical side was a lot more interesting to me. So that was kind of an epiphany moment there.
And then my first job out of school after graduation, I worked for a small boutique where they had an in-house line. We also did some custom-tailoring, restyling of garments, and I started dabbling in freelance work a little bit, and then it became, oh, I’m gonna start a business. Here I am!
Julia: That’s awesome! So I don’t sew, so we’ll just put that out there. My grandmother tried to teach me, I made her a pillow, she still has it. It’s ugly! So on a day-to-day basis, are you sewing? Are you drawing? Tell me more what it actually looks like.
Xochil: Sure. I often get asked, what’s a day in the life? And every day is totally different, so there’s not necessarily an average day. However, definitely in the beginning when I started out, I was just myself. So I was doing everything from drafting the patterns at that point by hand on paper, cutting and sewing all of the prototypes for people, myself, and also creating the tech pack, which is sort of, we get more into this, but the flat sketch and the instruction manual, so to speak, of how the garment is put together. I’m doing all of that by myself. Now, I have a small team, so I don’t do as much sewing. Personally, my love is really the pattern making side, so that tends to be my focus. These days, I’m using a CAD system, which helps things go a little bit faster and smoother, same processes, but more efficient. And then my assistant pretty much handles most of the sewing, although I’m still teaching that aspect, and certain projects, I’m hands-on with it as well.
Julia: So are other designers hiring you? Who’s hiring you?
Xochil: So I like to call many of my clients more creative directors versus a traditional designer, because many of them didn’t go to school for design. They understand it. They aren’t necessarily doing it themselves though, so most of them are coming with the creative vision, this is what I wanna make, not sure how to do it. They don’t have those hard skills to do that, and I’m helping them navigate the process as well as actually create the sketches and help them choose what fabrics make sense for the design, and how to put it together.
Julia: So they might come to you with a mood board, per se?
Xochil: Yes, exactly!
Julia: Or here’s my color scheme ideas, I want this sort of effect or things like that, and then you’re basically making it come to life?
Xochil: Yeah. They’re coming with mood boards, Pinterest boards sometimes, they’ll bring in physical garments, like, “I like this about this one, but I don’t like this. We like something from a different garment”, and we extract that information and then create the design sketch that goes like, “Do you like this?” Sometimes it’s yes, sometimes it’s yes, but I wanna change X, Y, Z about it, and we arrive at the design.
Julia: And then that’s when you create a prototype for them so that then they can see it. Are there other people who do this?
Xochil: There are. There are not a lot of pattern makers out there in the country. There used to be many, many years ago, but there are fewer of my kind, I suppose. But yes, I’m not the only one. There are people who do product development and patterns.
Julia: So what made you wanna start your own business rather than working for somebody else?
Xochil: I always knew that I wanted to have my own business eventually. I probably started a little sooner than anticipated just due to timing, and the economy, and different factors. I graduated from college in 2006, and then I had my first job for a few years. The store I worked for, unfortunately closed in 2009, so I was at a crossroads of like, well, do I look for another job? I’ve been dabbling in this freelance thing for a little while. So I decided rather than work retail or work whatever job I could get at that moment, I would go for it and start my business then. I’d also gotten a graduate certificate in entrepreneurship knowing eventually that was my goal, so I felt prepared to do so. At the very beginning, I kind of cobbled together; I was doing some tailoring and working with a personal stylist, I was working for another brand store, but only twice a week working on their product development. They didn’t have a full-time need, but a part-time need, and then I would work with my clients, but then built it into slowly taking those things away.
Julia: That’s awesome! I feel like that’s kind of how most journeys go, for one. I feel like I’ve heard from a lot of people, I started at maybe not the best time, but it just worked out that way. And really, when is the best time to leave a full-time or a secure a paying job? Who knows? So wait and see! And then also just cobbling things together until you figure out what you wanna do. I was just talking to somebody and saying, it’s really nice when you can test things and realize, okay, I tested it, didn’t like it, we can toss that one. But then you can keep on doing things that you love. I love your social media, I love what you’re doing on it. How have you figured out what to put on social media?
Xochil: A lot of it is just trial and error, I feel like, and just consistency too. I had started doing some speaking a few years ago, like workshops and talking to either school groups or other adult groups, entrepreneur groups, things like that. And I started filming or having someone film me, and I found myself very uncomfortable on camera. So I really started using Instagram stories as sort of more just a challenge and experiment to myself to get used to being on camera and getting used to hearing your own voice recorded, as was weird for everybody, take some getting used to. And then there wasn’t really an objective other than I’m like, I’m just gonna talk about my day, and it’s gonna be for me, and who cares if anyone watches it, or there are five people watching the thing?
And so, I wanna say I’ve been doing stories consistently for probably like four or five years, which is probably about how long they’ve been around too, honestly. And I’ve gotten really great conversations, and people DM me from a story, and we’ll have a great conversation from that. I’ve gained clients, and I feel like people, they get to know me a little bit before they maybe reach out as a project inquiry. So I just talk about what’s going on, and the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, being a mom, juggling all these different things. And I feel like I work with obviously lots of small businesses and entrepreneurs, so they, I think, resonate with some of the same things I go through even though they’re different.
Julia: Well, it seems like you’ve made some really cool connections with people via social too.
Xochil: Yes. Thank you! I’ve gotten to meet colleagues through it as well. I think it’s a really cool tool. And yes, there’s pros and cons to it, and things like that, but I’ve found it to be really beneficial for myself, for my business to grow. And then as far as posts, I post a mix. I know some people have a train of thought, of like, my business has to be my business, and my personal has to be my personal. I tried that for a bit and was like, I don’t wanna manage multiple things. I’d rather like, this is me, I’m the business! I have a team, but I’m the business. I know people are resonating with that as well. So I’ll post stuff about my life, about going to yoga, about things I do with my family, about places I’m traveling to, conferences, whatever’s going on.
Julia: That’s awesome! I love it. So I’m curious, you’ve been in business, you said, four to five years. Yes?
Xochil: Longer than that. 2009 is when I officially started my business. I took a break from it to work for an agency for a couple of years, and then went back to it when it was really closed.
Julia: But overall, that’s a long time!
Xochil: That’s a 15-year business.
Julia: That’s a long time!
Xochil: But I did rebrand. I rebranded during that time, so in 2017, is when I started to use the Chicago Pattern Maker as my business name versus just my own name.
Julia: I love it! So in those 15 years, what have been some of the hardest things that you’ve experienced or about your business?
Xochil: It varies. I feel like some of the biggest challenges for me have been how fast to grow, how to grow. Growing a team is a hard thing, letting go of some things, or figuring out I could do this faster, but it’s better that I relinquish some control over some things. That’s been a challenge. Easier now years in, but definitely has been a challenge.
Julia: I always tell people growing a team is kind of like building muscle. Like the more you do it, the easier it is. It’s never totally easy! I also have a team, and we’re like, it’s still painful sometimes to give things away, but it gets easier the more you practice.
Xochil: Absolutely! I agree. I’d say other things would be sometimes client management, we’ve got a lot of moving parts, both within a given product. Product development is not a linear process, so there’s lots of variables and changes, and then managing multiple clients, it’s like, changing meeting times or needing to just pivot mentally, physically, sometimes with like, this is how I thought my day was gonna go, and this is how it actually went, and kind of being okay with rolling with the punches a bit. I know that’s not a mindset that works for everybody.
Julia: But I think at some level, entrepreneurs have to do that a little bit no matter what, even if it’s not comfortable.
Xochil: I think I thrive with that, so I’m good, but I know it can be tough.
Julia: What are some of your favorite things about owning your own business?
Xochil: I love the flexibility, number one. Being able to choose projects and people to work with that I’m really passionate about working on and for, getting to make friends with my clients. I love seeing things. I get just as attached, I feel like, sometimes to my clients’ products, even though it’s not my brand that they’re working on, it’s their brand. But I love seeing them launch in the world, and it’s a proud moment to see something that you’ve worked on for many months come to fruition.
Julia: It’s gotta be so cool to see some of your work come to life.
Xochil: Yes. Sometimes that’s the disappointing moments when a style gets drafted that you kind of like, or that something gets shelved. And I’ve had a couple recently that got shelved due to COVID, and they’re like, “Now I’m ready to come back and do this.” Like, “Yes, good!”
Julia: That’s awesome!
Xochil: That’s good to see that the idea wasn’t abandoned, it was shelved for good reasons sometimes, but it’s good to come back to it.
Julia: That’s awesome! So I’m curious, we have a lot of people who are either new entrepreneurs thinking about being entrepreneurs, or might have already been on their journey. Like, if you were to give people a piece of advice, especially when they’re starting out, what might that be like? You have 15 years of hindsight, 2020. What are some things that you wished Xochil from way back when knew?
Xochil: I’d say find a mentor if you can. That’s actually something I’m working on now. I feel like in the past, I had some really good mentors for specific reasons, for a skill. Now I’m getting 15 years in, I’m like, I need another step of a mentor, something I’m personally searching for too. But I think that’s important to have both peers to vent and be your cheerleaders with. I’m very good friends with a lot of my colleagues who outsiders might consider competitors. But there’s plenty of business to go around, and we all do our own thing a little differently, of course. But I love that we can cheer each other on and support one another. So finding a mentor, but also a community. And it doesn’t have to be your direct competitor, but someone in the same space and someone that can understand from an entrepreneur standpoint what you’re going through, versus your family friends will listen to you, of course, but they might not totally get your struggle.
Julia: They might not understand. And I think there is something beautiful about like, when you do find people who might be considered your competitors, they understand – at least I’ve experienced – they understand my problems even better than some of the other entrepreneurs do.
Julia: Because for one, we’re solving the same problem for the world, but we’re also dealing with similar clients. Like even we’ve had where sometimes we’ll be like, this was a bad client, don’t work with them, which is terrible.
Xochil: We do the same thing. No one is particularly bad, which doesn’t happen often, but it’s good to have those people have your back and be like, you know what, “This person didn’t pay.” Or like, “This was a little sketchy. Please be aware of it.” And you don’t wanna officially blacklist anyone, of course not! But you wanna look out for each other, and I’m glad we could do that for one another. Yeah, I agree with you, look out for one another!
Julia: There’s something about it, like where if you have people who are in your corner knowing what you’re doing and can even share what might be “industry secrets”, but saying, “Hey, this has worked for me, it might work for you.” Because you’re right, we’re all doing somewhat different things or we have our own spin on it.
Xochil: Exactly! Clients are gonna resonate with you for a variety of reasons. Your skillset and your services are one, but also your personality, and how you approach things, and how you two jive. I think that all matters, for sure. So I’m not gonna be sure the person for everyone, someone else is maybe better, and it’s great to refer people to one another too if something isn’t my expertise, or maybe the project sounds cool, but I don’t have time to do it in the timeframe that they need, then I know these are people I trust and know well, I can vouch for them and say, you know what? I can’t do this right now, but so and so can do a really great job for you. Keep me in mind for the next time.
Xochil: And sometimes they do come back, and sometimes they don’t. But I feel like that collaborative energy is just a good thing to have.
Julia: For sure! No, I agree completely! This is a random question. We’ve been in business for five years, so not 15. And I know that yours has different parts of its journey, but you’ve been in it for the long haul. What’s something that you’re really proud of from those 15 years?
Xochil: Something I’m very proud of is actually the people that I’ve hired and have seen grow. I don’t have one person stay with me for 15 years, but even having someone under me for three years and being able to teach them and help them grow, and then see what they’re able to accomplish in their career, I think is also super cool. I had an assistant who was with me for three, three and a half years, and then she was looking for more of a life change, really had nothing to do with me, but wanted to move across the country and experience new things. But I was very happy to give her recommendation to her new employer and all these things. But I was very happy that after she got the job and was in it for a few weeks, came back and was like, “Thanks for everything that I learned from you, I’m succeeding here.” It’s great. So I like being able to also give back, and whether they’re employees or whether they’re students that I work with, or anyone, I hope I can impart and inspire some knowledge and stuff like that. That means a lot.
Julia: I think that’s one of the coolest things that I see in entrepreneurs, is that we have experienced, whether it’s freedom or job satisfaction, these things that we sought after, that then we want to impart to other people. In my world, one of the things that happens a lot is we will hire students or fresh people out of college, teach them all the skills for marketing. And a lot of my colleagues wrestle with, why would I train somebody who’s gonna leave? But I’m like, we get to train them, how cool? Like we can flip that on its head too and be like, how cool that we get to give people a foundation that then they can go do? Do I want them to become my competitors? No. But if that’s what they want to do in life, by all means, who am I gonna be, just stand in their way?
Xochil: And it’s the same, I think just a community outlook like that, the more trained people in your field are, hopefully, if you need to collaborate with someone in the future, they have those same mindsets and same trainings that you imparted on them, and they can go on and hopefully spread that as well. So I think the more we lift each other up, the better we all succeed.
Julia: Totally! I love it! Xochil, if people want to follow you and they wanna get to know you, they wanna see your behind the scenes, where should they go?
Xochil: Instagram’s where I hang out the most. My handle is @fashionxochil, (https://www.instagram.com/fashionxochil/), and my website is Xochil.com, (https://xochil.com/). But Instagram’s kind of where I spend the most time. I have Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/XochilPatterns/) and LinkedIn, (https://www.linkedin.com/in/xochil). I’m pretty active a little bit. But behind the scenes, if you wanna know what’s going on on a daily basis or see what new client things are launching or other things we’re up to, Instagram.
Julia: That’s awesome! Well, Xochil, I really appreciate your time. I know one thing that I’m just walking away with is just this idea of community; we don’t have to be afraid of our competition. We actually can help each other in ways that we might not expect. And I am so encouraged by the fact that you’ve been in it for the long run. And even if your story has taken different iterations, I hope that in 10 years, I will also be able to say I’ve been around for 15 years.
Xochil: Absolutely! Stick with it! I’m a big fan of – people argue against this – but don’t fully hash out your plan B. Of course, you could figure out a plan B just in case things don’t work out. But if you focus too much on your plan B, then you might as well just say bye to plan A. So go all in! Make sure your bills are paid, but go all in!
Julia: I love it! And also, obviously it sounds like you’ve been through many stages of life too, and we all have different expectations. I started when I was a very single, solo person who needed to provide for a solo person. And that’s different than when you have a family. I agree, if you focus too much on your plan B, why even try plan A? I love it!
All right. Everybody, we’ll have all of Xochil’s links in the show notes if you wanna follow her and get to know a little bit more about her work. Xochil, thank you for lending us a little bit of your time.
Xochil: Thank you, Julia! It was an awesome thing to be here with you. Thank you!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.