Looking back at 2017
Last year, I was writing about Urban Southern’s 2016 highlight reel from my friend’s dining room table in Tokyo, Japan while Facetiming with Regina back in Tennessee. We were trying to figure out how we were going to accessorize two runway shows at New York fashion week. It was exciting and nerve-wracking.
From the early beginnings of building Urban Southern together, we vowed to be honest and open with you because that’s how human beings connect and learn from each other. At the end of the day, whether you carry one of our leather bags or not, we hope we are bringing value to your life.
When I see a successful brand that I admire, I’m not as interested in their highlight reel as I am in knowing how they overcame their struggles or got back up after a particular defeating failure. This year may have looked like a walk in the park from the outside — all while we were dealing with a few storms behind the scenes.
WHEN THE FAIRY DUST SETTLES
In nearly every wedding card I’ve ever written since 2006, I write “May you still be dancing after the fairy dust settles.” Beginnings are fun and exciting, but what matters most is how you continue to act once things no longer feel that way.
Our magical fairy dust feelings settled early in the year.
As the stress of preparing for Fashion Week weighed on us, we quickly began to realize that we had both come into business together with a few different expectations. We didn’t have time to iron out our differences before we found ourselves in the whirlwind that was fashion week, during which we fully supported each other.
New York Fashion Week, Spring 2017 | Photo Credit: Orville McEachron Photography
Not realizing just how strongly we felt about our differences, we kept on moving as Urban Southern’s momentum started swinging. We were both taking risks and sacrificing in different ways, and we both wanted to make this work.
As the founder of the brand, Regina had yet to see a clear profit from Urban Southern which was disheartening, even though she had her husband’s full support. As a single mom and the sole provider for my daughter, I felt that I had no other option to turn to if this didn’t work out.
The distance between us wasn’t helping our working relationship. Regina lives in Muddy Pond, Tennessee and I live in Denver, Colorado. Working solely from home sounded great until I was surrounded by the same four walls 24/7 and it started to feel like a prison. I began to feel really disconnected from what was happening in Tennessee.
By April, I knew something had to give.
Our sales had been surprisingly high all year, but that month they were dropping off and we heard crickets. I had a hunch that pushing sales wasn’t the answer. We needed to find a way to nurture our audience.
I hopped on a call with Shauna Armitage from Making Moxie. After a few minutes of discussing ideas about how to bring more value to our audience, she asked what we were doing to nurture our email list.
Besides setting up a welcome series for our welcome list and sending out occasional newsletters and sales updates, I had done nothing more with it. I felt frustrated. I knew I could be doing more, but how? As Shauna and I were talking, the idea of doing a weekly encouragement email came up.
I decided to send a #WinWednesday email out to our email list the following Wednesday morning. The response was incredible.
The #WinWednesday emails are paused for our Holiday Break, but they’ll continue on January 3rd!
Since then, our email lists have exploded. They grew from less than 400 subscribers in mid-2016 to more than 4500 subscribers by the end of this year.
When we find a way to take our focus off of our misery and inspire others instead, everything changes.
BUILDING A BRIDGE
Honestly, we don’t wake up in the morning to sell things. I may be Urban Southern’s marketer, but that’s not my sole purpose in life. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reaching sales goals, but that’s simply because I need to provide for my daughter and me.
I’m driven by being creative and building relationships with people. If I had no bills to pay, I would choose to style creative outfits, write a book, paint my art, teach art therapy, design book covers, and connect with people around the world through traveling and speaking. I already get to do a couple of these things with Urban Southern.
Regina is an incredible designer, and she loves what she does, but selling a bag isn’t her ultimate goal in life either. For both of us, Urban Southern is slowly but surely becoming a bridge to do more of the things we enjoy.
Connecting with you is the best part of what we get to do.
Since we started working together, we’ve published a lot of blog posts. Guest contributors have also been excited to share value with our audience. In the beginning, we weren’t sure if anyone would read these posts, but we published them anyway. The more we wrote, the more we began to discover the heartbeat of what our audience needed.
Creating consistent content and distributing it on social platforms has brought a lot of people to our website.
Thank you for reading and sharing our blog posts.
TIP: If you have a small business and you’re wondering if blogging is a good idea, we can assure you that it is! Just be aware that creating content takes time and consistent effort before you can expect to see it creating some form of traction for your brand. I love these content marketing tips by Garrett Moon from Coschedule.
“OUT OF THE BAG”
In June, we started taking turns showing up for weekly live videos on our Facebook Page. The idea was to bring value to our audience on a platform where they already hang out. We shared childhood stories, style tips, recipes, travel tips, featured other small businesses and did quite a few fun giveaways.
For our last video of this year, Regina took us behind the scenes at the leather shop to answer questions and watch her sister Ruby sewing leather bags.
In the second half of 2017, we started getting more opportunities to create awareness for Urban Southern.
A COLLABORATION WITH VINTAGE VOGUE
The Carrollton Circle Tote when to Paris for a collaboration with Vintage Vogue!
SPOTLIGHT FEATURE IN SOUTHERN LADY MAGAZINE
Behind the scenes of Regina’s photoshoot for Southern Lady.
FEATURED ON FOX BUSINESS
Behind the scenes of our interview with Fox News for our Fox Business feature.
WORKING WITH AN AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHER
These two women captured the heart of our vision and translated it for us in the very first photo shoot for our spring collection.
They created magic again for our fall photoshoot and the launch of THE BLACK COLLECTION.
Nancy quickly became a close friend to both of us. From late night texts brainstorming around inspired ideas or laughing about something hilarious we found, we loved bonding with her. Nancy probably doesn’t know this, but she often reminded us of the reasons we started doing this together in the first place.
Nancy introduced us to many of her friends and got them to be models for our photoshoots. When I flew to Tennessee for our interview with Fox News, she hosted an amazing luncheon for us.
Nancy and Alex blew us away again with a beautiful holiday photoshoot.
MADE SOUTH HOLIDAY MARKET
Each year since Urban Southern launched, it’s been part of the Made South holiday market at The Factory in Franklin. Made South curates the best southern makers and artisans in the southern U.S.A. and brings them together in events each year.
This year we had a blast celebrating our Fox Business feature together and connecting with all the people who came to the market. Meeting people who felt like they already knew us because of the transparent content we create was a beautiful experience.
SPEAKING AT WORDCAMP US
This summer I pitched several topic ideas to speak at the annual international WordPress conference, WordCamp US. They received over 500 speaker submissions and somehow one of mine made it into the final stack of accepted titles.
My topic was chosen for a 15-minute, TED-style lightning talk. 1800 people were attending the conference at the Nashville Music Center from December 1-3.
On the night before my talk, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had gotten myself into. I felt like my presentation slides were a disaster. However, with a little coaching from two experienced keynote speakers, I pulled it together.
The next day I got up on stage and shared some of the strategies behind Urban Southern’s success and the power of owning my own story.
WE DON’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES
The truth is that no one has what it takes right away when they start something new.
“You may not have all that it takes right now, but you will receive everything you need along the way. What you do have, however, is grace and grit… You may not have all that you need to get from point A to point Z right now, but you have what it takes to get from point A to point B.” —Sarah Jakes Roberts
This year has been encouraging and humbling at the same time. It’s been encouraging because Urban Southern’s growth has been so momentous. It’s been humbling as we’ve become aware of the many things we don’t know and situations we don’t know how to handle. Each of us has faced a different set of challenges.
We didn’t know what this journey was going to take when we got started. We had to be willing to embrace the chaos of creation and take risks, not knowing how everything was going to turn out.
A year ago we would not have been prepared for what we’re experiencing today. We implemented great strategies, and we worked hard, but at the end of the day, we recognize that we’ve been favorably blessed beyond measure by God and our community. For that, we are so grateful.
Our friendship has definitely been put to the test. Again, we didn’t know everything that we were getting ourselves into when we started, even though we knew many of our weaknesses from past experiences.
Transitioning as friends to building a brand and working together came with a unique set of challenges. With our different strengths, we have different ways of communicating that we’re still learning to navigate. Through our struggles, we have created an excellent balance for each other that has made Urban Southern what it is today.
We’re learning as we go and we can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!