We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Stephenson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
What was your thought process behind starting your own business? I never imagined that I would be running my own online Etsy business. It was my coworkers that pushed me to start my business. They encouraged me, told me that I should start selling and charging for my items, instead of just giving them away. They told me that I was good enough to have an online business and that there are others out there that would purchase my items. Around that same time my cat Dexter became diagnosed with diabetes and the cost for his insulin was not cheap. I knew I needed to make money fast to pay for the insulin, so I started making and selling more Colorado beanies to my work friends. I was doing really good with those in person sales, but was still hesitant about starting an online business. But I knew I had to get the insulin monthly and I needed that extra income. So I started to read online blogs and watched YouTube videos about starting your own Etsy shop. I created my page and made it live, then waited for that first order to come through. I came up with the name Dexterously Made, because my cat’s name is Dexter. I wanted to incorporate his name somehow. One night at work we were playing with names and for some reason Dexterously came to mind then just added the Made and there we have it….. Dexterously Made! What’s one thing about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of? One thing that people outside the “yarn craft world” do not know is that crochet and knitting are not the same! Crochet you have one magic stick and in knitting you have two magic sticks! I have learned over the years that when people refer to one of my crochet items as knitted that I just let it go, because to them it is the same thing….. an item made from yarn! Outsiders are also probably unaware of the cost and time it takes to make the items. Many people assume that it takes one skein (ball) of yarn to make a blanket. In reality it takes multiple skeins of yarn, and hours of time to make that blanket. Plus the cost of the pattern and any other items needed to make that blanket. The time alone is the biggest factor in all of this. We as makers want to charge a fair price for our hard work, but sometimes that price just does not sit well with the consumers. Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success? I think that my friends, family and coworkers have contributed to my success. They are the ones that listed to me talk about crochet and yarn day in and day out! They then would ask me to make particular things because they knew I wouldn’t say no. They pushed me to start my business and they have continued to encourage me each and every day. I also think that my own mind set of ‘I can do this’ helped contribute to my success. Just knowing that I am good enough, that my items are good enough, that people are willing to pay for my items helped my mind realize that I can do this and be successful. I knew I made it when my first order came inform overseas. It was a set of cat butt coasters to Thailand. Over the years I shipped packages all over the world, and knowing the people in other countries are finding my products and paying that shipping cost just for my products is worth it. To me it’s the little things in life that contribute to my success. What is the most important factor behind your success / the success of your brand? My first item that launched my business was a Colorado beanie. I had a friend I worked with that asked if I could make one. I of course set out on the mission of making that Colorado hat for him. I remember making it and it took a few tries until it looked decent to me. The “C” was the hardest part for me back then, crocheting in a circular way…..ugh! I took a picture of the hat and posted it to Facebook and then the requests started rolling in from all my friends. I would look on Pinterest and Etsy at other similar hats and felt that mine did not compare at all to what was out there. I felt that people could get that hat from another maker, but my friends wanted to support me, they believed in me and my talent. Fast forward 5ish years, my Colorado hats are rocking and rolling! I look back at my first Colorado “C” to where I am at now and am proud that I stuck with it and did not give up. Dexterously Made is known for the Cat Butt Coasters. That is now my identity and I have even came up with my own hashtag: #Catbuttsarelife. One summer I just had a hunch to make a cat butt coaster and well I did. I decided to make a set of 4 in different colors, after I completed the set I sat there and laughed so hard! I thought to myself, who in their right mind would buy a cotton yarn cat butt coaster!!! After posting to Instagram and Facebook…..yet again the requests came rolling in like a wild fire. I could not keep up with all the direct messages. That got me thinking, maybe there is a market out there for cat butt coasters. I again pride myself on only making and selling the best quality product I can. Work life balance: how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance? Work life balance is difficult sometimes. But for me I have managed to find that balance and have been able to keep both going. I have my regular full time job in which I work 3-4 nights (7pm – 7am) a week. Working nights does have some benefits, but then other times is hard on the body. But I have been making this work for 5 years now and it actually helps me with my business. I have 3 or 4 days off each week in which I then get my errands done, gym time in, and of course Etsy orders done. I feel that my work life balance over the years has become better, because I know how to prioritize my life and work better. I keep my Etsy business as a side hustle because I enjoy it. I do not want it to consume my life and stress me out to where I hate making things. I enjoy my full time job and having my side hustle, so for now it will stay that way. Why did you pursue an artistic or creative career? I taught myself how to crochet. I worked at a job and saw everyone in the center with yarn and crochet hooks. I would watch them each night make things and show them off to other coworkers. I inquired about the hobby and that’s what sparked my interest of crochet. I would look up patterns online and print them out, watch YouTube videos and everything I could to absorb all the information I could. I made my first scarf and was so proud of it that I sent it to my grandma because she used to crochet in her younger years. I laugh now about her response: “Well the color is pretty, the purple and white go well together!” My lines were so off, my scarf was some weird shape, there were gaps everywhere and it was just a hot mess!!! But the colors were pretty! That made me want to get better, to keep practicing, keep getting better, and make her a scarf she would be proud to wear. I was on Instagram one day and kept seeing this hat and was in love with it. Unfortunately it was knitted. I knew nothing about knitting, but had a background in crochet, so it couldn’t be that hard could it?! Wrong! Again I used YouTube as my main source of information to teach myself how to knit. I threw the knitting needles and yarn across the room so many times I can’t even count, I became so frustrated and irritated that I could not understand what I was doing. I set it aside for a few weeks and then came back to it. I was determined to learn how to knit, because I wanted to make that hat! Just like anything else it takes time to perfect an art, to become good at what you do. I practiced and practiced and finally one day it just clicked! I then made that hat I was drooling over and have loved knitting ever since. Now when people ask me if I knit or crochet, I say both!!! I never gave up on learning either, I never told myself I couldn’t, I have speed bumps in the road, but I overcame them and kept going. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember about you? I want people to remember my smile, my friendly face, and my quality items. And of course my cat butt coasters! I strive to make good quality products that people can use and if their friends or family see that item and ask “where did you get that?!” they would say “I got it from Ashley at Dexterously Made!” I want to be remembered for my great customer service and prompt shipping.
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.
In my professional life I am a dispatcher for air medical helicopters and critical care ambulances. I have been in this roll for 2 years now, but with the particular hospital for 12 years. I have worked in a hospital all my life but never wanted to expand my career within health care. I went to school for criminal justice and dabbled in that for awhile but it just was not for me. I love my job I have right now. The medical crews and pilots are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I have learned thru my career at the hospital that live is precious, tomorrow is never promised and that happiness is contagious!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to my coworkers from my previous position and current job. They listen to me talk about crochet and knitting all day and night!! They all pushed and encouraged me to start my shop, they tell their friends and family about my items and help support my shop. They know that I started selling all this because I need to afford the insulin for my cat. Without my coworkers support I would probably not be where I am today.