Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's been a long time.

Some people are so bad at cooking they burn water.  Some people are so bad at driving, they get a ticket for recklessly operation of a tricycle.  Some people are so bad at drawing that you mistake their self portrait as a landscape of an oily puddle on asphalt.  I'm so bad at social media that I posted less than a dozen entries on this blog in a year and a half, then completely forgot it existed for 4 years.

I'm not even going to attempt to cover all of the changes, successes, and failures that have happened since January of 2010.  The important facts are:
  • I'm still alive
  • I'm still making paper
  • I'm still selling my paper on Etsy
  • My personal computer has fried its hard drive no less than 3 times in the past 4 years, so some length of absence from this blog was inevitable.  I now have a (currently) functioning (if cranky) laptop.
Given those true and important facts, I think it's time to resurrect this blog.

Today is Small Business Saturday.  It's the response to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when some camp out in front of or get up early to go to major retailers to take advantage of the offered door prizes, huge discounts, and special products.  Small Business Saturday evolved in order to turn that intense shopping focus onto a group that often gets overlooked because they aren't a household name.  Small businesses vary widely.  Some businesses are so small they only have one joint owner/employee.  Some have one or two designers that outsource work to larger companies and have the items sent back to them to finish and ship to customers.  Some have many employees and large inventories, and gross hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales every year, but by legal definitions are still considered "small."

Regardless of the type or size of the small business, the motivation behind Small Business Saturday is the same: shop small.  The Big Name retailers that we all know are ubiquitous across the country, or across a region.  Chances are if you ask, "Where can I get a flat screen TV today?" you'll get the same answer from many people.  That's kind of the drawback.  It's the same thing from place to place.  The next person who asks will likely get the same store suggestion and the same TV.  If you want unique, you need to find a unique place to shop.

Small businesses are nothing if not unique.  Every story behind a small business is different.  Among the handmade market, there are often similarities from shop to shop.  Someone somewhere saw a gap in the market.  Someone saw the need for a product that was similar to what everyone else was selling, but they wanted it a little bit different.  So they made one for themselves to fulfill the need that the mass market wasn't providing, and gosh it was so much fun, they made another.  Or maybe their friend at their day job saw it an asked where they bought it.  Oh you made it?  How much would you charge to make me one?  Then another and another, and the person thought, maybe there are a lot of other people who would like these.  Thus is born a new small business.

White Dragon Paper did not have such creative origins.  This small business was born entirely out of boredom followed by desperation.

One summer between semesters in college, I somehow stumbled upon an online tutorial about how to make handmade paper.  I needed a blender, a picture frame, some window screen, fabric, a plastic tub, and some paper to recycle.  I went to the thrift store and got started for less than $20.  Soon all the sheets of handmade paper were stacked on my shelf and I had no room to put more.  I heard about Etsy through the YouTube based series Threadbanger that showcases a ton of great DIY projects, often from people who sold their creations on Etsy.  I signed up and listed some the paper I had made.

Turns out, people REALLY like handmade, recycled paper.  I don't blame them.  It's gorgeous, environmentally friendly (because it uses paper that would normally go to the landfill or to commercial recycling centers), and the texture isn't something you can achieve by mass-producing papers, even high quality decorative ones.

Six years later my business has grown so much larger than I ever imagined.  I'm still in touch with my roots, making paper by recycling discarded copy paper and cardboard, but I've expended into making journals from scrap leather and handmade paper, or upcycling thrift store books into new, blank journals (with handmade paper pages of course), and upcycled paper beads, paper sculpture, ink, and envelopes.

My small business is by no means a way for me to get rich financially.  I'm still working several part time jobs that have nothing to do with the degree that I'm paying hundreds of dollars each month to pay back.  I still have to save money in case of freak accidents like when my dog jumped the fence and somehow managed to cross 6 lanes of traffic unscathed, but broke a leg when he heard me calling for him (because I hadn't seen him cross the street) and got clipped by a car.

Or when my one and only vehicle decided to throw a piston through the engine wall, totaling the whole thing.

My small business helps pay my bills.  It fills the gap my other part time jobs leave while allowing me to do work that is meaningful for me rather than something that just passes the time while whittling away at my soul.

I won't wake up on a milestone birthday wondering what I've been doing with my life all these years.  I'll wake up and realize how much good I've done and how thoughtfully I've spent my time.  I'll wake up and realize what this small business has allowed me to give back to the world.  I've given back landfill space.  I've given back fresh air that won't be polluted by processing the papers in a large recycling facility.

I've given back a week of my time (so far) volunteering at Camp Sunshine teaching kids to make paper.  I've given back the money I've donated so far to help sponsor more activities and help bring kids to the camp.

So on Small Business Saturday, consider where you are spending your money, and what impact it is having.  Consider forgoing the mall shopping and instead finding out more about businesses that are unique to your area, or about any of the thousands of small businesses on Etsy that will use your hard earned dollars to help further their business's mission, whether that is simply buying more supplies to keep the business going, or to help the business's owner to pay household bills, or to generate money to donate to a cause.  There are so many small businesses that you're sure to find something that lines up with your values and goals and also has a wonderfully unique product for you to give someone this holiday season that surely won't be exchanged because someone else at the office gave the recipient the same thing you did.  Find a gift that will not only be as unique and memorable as the person you are giving it to, but that will also have a meaningful impact on the person you are buying it from.  Shop small this Saturday, this holiday season, and all year round.

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