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What I’ve Learned: Lupine Swanson, Co-Founder, Modern Domestic

Lupine is co-founder and owner of Modern Domestic, a sewing studio and fabric store in Northeast Portland’s thriving DIY community. She is also a mother of 2.  Follow Modern Domestic on Twitter and Facebook for more info. 

My business is called Modern Domestic.  We are a sewing machine dealer, fabric store and studio and we also offer sewing classes and modern styling, which is unusual in this industry.  There aren’t a lot of shops that sell modern fabric and machines.  I actually didn’t start sewing until after college.  I sewed a bit when I was a kid but always got frustrated with it.  After college I moved to Eugene, OR and had always wanted to try it so I borrowed a friend’s machine.  After a while I bought a Bernina – which is a really good machine – and started taking classes.  I loved it.

Michelle and Lupine, Co--founders of Modern Domestic

Michelle and Lupine, Co-Founders of Modern Domestic

In my 20’s I was a sales rep. I went from store to store selling sewing machines and craft supplies.  I actually never wanted to open a retail store, but then I did. It’s a bit different, though, because having a high end product is not the same as just selling fabric. It’s a better business model.  When we first opened our shop we just had Bernina’s, and we were selling them through dealers.  Then we grew and expanded. We doubled our size twice in 3 and a half years. Now we have 4,000 square feet and 2 classrooms.

I have a 5 and an 8 year old, Bina and Dorothy. Bina is in kindergarten. They’re super funny. Bina has a great sense of humor. Like just the other day I was dropping her off at school and she faked that she was asleep in the backseat because she was cold and didn’t want to get out.  Dorothy is a sewer- she actually has her own machine. She loves to read and is very bright. She goes to a special school for smart kids.  They’re creative, fun to be around, silly, all that cute stuff.

Bina loves hanging out at the shop. I pick her up early on Friday’s and she comes into the store with me.  She helps me with filing and she loves playing with label makers.  She helps me with little projects and talks to the customers. I love having her come in on Friday’s because I can give her more attention. Sometimes we run errands together.  Dorothy comes in sometimes but she normally just reads the whole time, she doesn’t enjoy it as much.lupine swanson smartmom

I sew with the girls at home. Dorothy made a skirt for her cousin.  She likes to sew things for her dolls and stuffed animals, and she also sews gifts for her teachers.

As my kids have entered their school years it’s been a lot easier to balance work and home responsibilities. I have an awesome business partner and we pretty much build our shifts around our individual schedules.  Also, now that we have a staff I have quite a bit of flexibility.  I really like that I get to pick my kids up from school and make dinner every night.  And we still have solid family time.What I've Learned: Lupine Swanson Smartmom

I’m sure that as the girls get older they’re going to want to do lots of programs and sports and stuff but right now they’re still really little.  By the time they get home from school there’s just enough time to play, do homework, and eat dinner

I was a sales rep when my older daughter was born.  After the first year, she would come to work with me.  I was at cute fabric shops every day so I would bring her in with me.  The ladies would hold the baby when I was demoing the machines.  It was awesome while I was breastfeeding because I could take a break whenever I needed to.lupine swanson smartmom

I think it’s common for working moms to spread themselves too thin and constantly think they’re doing both things poorly.  What I like about this job is that it is more integrated with my life.  My business partner is a mom, too. Her daughter is 19.  In the summer, when the kids were out of school, we worked it out so that I didn’t have to hire a nanny.

lupine swanson smartmom

Dorothy and Bina

The best thing we ever did for our marriage was hire a house cleaner. It’s been so helpful! Just delegating that one thing made a huge difference.  She only comes every other week, but it has reduced the stress in our marriage so much.

We’ve also integrated our morning routines. My husband does breakfast and packs the lunches, and gets them ready while I get ready for work – he’s really involved.  He works from home so the minute we leave, he’s able to start working.

My husband does lunch and breakfast every day, and I make dinner.  That definitely helps me be more inspired to cook in the evening – it makes a huge impact in my attitude about dinner.  When you make all the meals you get pretty sick of it.lupine swanson smartmom

I’m a bit of a neat nick.  Some people can just relax, but I can’t.  If it’s messy, I can’t feel comfortable. Having a house cleaner sets the cleanliness bar just a little bit higher.  I think being a small business owner has helped me feel enabled to delegate household responsibilities as well.  I realize how valuable my time is and I want to spend it on the things that matter.

The busier I am, the better I do in life.  If I don’t have anything going on, I become less effective.  Being a field rep helped me become a more independent worker.  I was paid commission, so the harder I worked the more money I made. 

The biggest challenge is how much our finances our impacted by the business from month to month.  When we have a good month we’re so proud, but if you have a not-so-great month you say, “Oh, dear. We did this, now what do we do?” lupine swanson smartmom

The other big challenge is finding time for myself.  I really prioritize my professional development and being present in my kid’s lives – but that doesn’t leave much time for myself.  Establishing self care is a challenge.  I don’t get to see my friends that often – for example – or have a fitness routine.  And it is unbelievable how infrequently I get my hair cut.  That kind of self care is hard to find time for.lupine swanson smartmom

I need to spend time at the shop because so much of the charm of a small business is created by the personality of the owners.  You create the feel and the ambiance.  A business is very much a product of who created it; if your’e not there it has no personality.  Therefore it’s very important for me to be physically present in the store.

It has it’s challenges but it’s fun.  There’s always something new and exciting going on.  Honestly, with my personality, if I ever had a real stagnant environment I’d get bored very quickly.

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