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If you told Dawn Eleen five years ago that one day she would be working on her own, doing exactly what she loves—sewing dresses—“I would have laughed at you,” she said.
Back then she was busy building a career at a company that makes network switches. It was a good job: steady hours, 401(k)—the whole package.
Then she returned to sewing dresses, something she’d done as a kid. In September 2008, she opened her Etsy shop.
Nineteen months later, in April 2010, Eleen said goodbye to job security and became a full-time dressmaker. (Fortunately, she could get health benefits through her fiancé.)
“I was pretty excited,” said Eleen, who lives in Canby, Oregon, 40 minutes from Portland. “It was like, ‘Wow: I’m doing things on my own.’”
She was nervous: “The economy was really bad.” Her father died in 2007 and the housing market has been so depressed that she hasn’t been able to sell his home.
Then there were the nail-biting days when there were no sales.
But then there were good days. A lot of them. Eleen, 42, sells vintage-inspired dresses – the kind people wear on their wedding days.
“What I’ve got going for me is that every woman needs a dress and there’s a woman out there getting married sometime in the year.” And she adds, “Women tend to shop even when they’re broke. I know that from experience.”
Today Eleen is able to keep up her own home as well as carry her father’s mortgage and she’s booked so solid, she has to turn down jobs.
“I’ve got people who have postponed their wedding was just so I could make them a dress.”
She figures she spends about 10 to 12 hours a day sewing and another few online, running her Etsy shop, keeping up her blog and corresponding with other Etsy sellers online.
It hasn’t always been as smooth as silk.
“I work ten times harder than I was in the office,” she said. “I miss the stability of a paycheck.” She’s learned a lot of hard lessons, like underpricing her items and purchasing yards and yards of fabric before sending a sample to the customer.
But all in all, she’s thrilled with her business.
“I’m getting to live my dream.”
Janet Kornblum was the Daily Dot's first features editor. She works as a journalist and licensed private investigator in the Bay Area, and she has contributed reporting and photography to USA Today and CNET.