Carly Owens Embroidery Celebrates Creating and Growing Slowly
I remember the first time I noticed Carly Owens impeccable and stunning embroidery work. She had posted a photo of one of her now iconic eye earrings and tagged #bigcartel on Instagram. Her talent was immediately apparent in her work - not only in the design itself, but also in the meticulous care and craft that she clearly pours into each piece.
Over the last couple years, I’ve followed Carly’s work and evolution as an artist and also as a burgeoning small business owner. It has been really special to witness her growth in both areas and it felt only right to have a conversation with Carly about her path and experiences as a creator and business so far.
Can you share a little bit about how you got into the world of hand embroidery and what drew you to it?
I first started embroidering when I had the opportunity to study abroad at the Royal School of Needlework in the UK in 2016. At the time, I was studying fashion and fibers at NC State but never really had the intention of getting into embroidery. A good friend of mine convinced me into going with her and I was like ‘Oh this program sounds cool but I’m never going to use embroidery after this.’ However once I started my classes at the RSN I immediately fell in love with embroidery. Everything just clicked and it was like a eureka moment for me - I had finally found my thing. After this, I focused the remaining duration of my collegiate studies onto hand embroidery and its applications. The rest is history.
When did you decide to start selling your pieces?
I decided to start making and selling small pieces during my last semester of college. I knew I wanted to work for myself and really jumped in head first. Granted, I had no idea how to run a business and definitely flailed around for a while but the best way to learn is from doing.
How did you go about selling your work in the beginning? At what point did you decide to start selling online?
I almost immediately created an online shop when I decided to start selling my work. E-commerce is so vital today and gives you the opportunity to reach audiences all over the world which is incredibly important.
What made you decide to choose Big Cartel? What’s made you stick around?
I had a few friends who were using Big Cartel to create their online shops and had seen other artists I admired using the platform so I figured I’d give y’all a try. It felt like Big Cartel was a platform for artists/makers/doers made by other artists/makers/doers. I stuck around because Big Cartel is so user friendly and the support provided by the platform has been phenomenal.
What feature can you not do without?
The website insights on my Big Cartel dashboard are great! They help me keep track of which pieces do best and identify sales trends. But honestly, the whole BC package is a must. It takes out a lot of the hassles out of running an online shop so I can spend more time focusing on my work.
Have you thought about using our new Subscriptions feature in any way?
Absolutely! I have a lot of exciting new things stewing on the horizon!
You’re using our much-loved Luna theme for your shop. Can you tell us why you selected this theme?
I selected the Luna theme because I loved its visual simplicity and clean design. It really helped to make my work sing digitally.
In less than two years, you’ve grown quite a following on social media and your shop has expanded and evolved a lot, too. Was all this growth intentional? How did you manage to accomplish it all?
To find growth was absolutely intentional, but the way it happened was definitely a combination of hard work and good fortune. If it wasn’t for other artists and platforms sharing my work I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. It took years to hone my craft and the difference between where the quality of my work was when I first started posting my pieces compared to now is drastic. It’s pretty amazing being able to tangibly see how far I’ve come as an artist but there’s undoubtedly still a long way to go.
Is running your shop your full-time job?
It is! I am extremely grateful to be able to spend my days doing the thing I love.
What does a regular workday look like for you? What do you spend most of your time focusing on?
My days are usually a little different but they always start out with a big pot of Earl Grey tea. I like to take my mornings slowly and to enjoy the start of my day because I feel that I can be more productive in my work when I’ve taken some time to care for myself. After my tea, I tend to do some of the clerical/business work at home. I like to separate my “work” space from my creative space. Then, I bike to my studio and get started with making. I spend my time before lunch working on making products for my shop and fulfilling orders. Most days, in the afternoon, I devote a few hours to unbridled creativity. I use this time to make large and quick gesture drawings with charcoal, paint, or sketch out new ideas. I’ve found that taking the pressure off of myself to produce pieces to sell and just make with no expectations leads me to a very fruitful place creatively. This, in turn, helps me ideate and helps inspire new designs.
How do you approach and manage social media? Do you feel like it’s crucial to your small business?
I try to approach social media as organically as possible. I used to force myself to post every day but felt like I was posting just to appease an algorithm rather than focusing on creating meaningful content. I still feel like I’m navigating uncharted territory with social media but I’m trying to incorporate more of myself personally into it. At the end of the day, I’m an artist and not a soulless brand and I want that to resonate with people. Creating is really my purpose in life and I’d be pretty lost without it.
What’s your favorite part of running an online shop?
My favorite part is seeing all of the amazing places my work gets sent off to! It’s pretty fantastic to know that there are people all over the world wearing my pieces.
What’s your least favorite part of running an online shop?
Taxes, hands down.
Is there anything you would do differently if you could start it all over again?
Not really. I’m sure there are aspects of my journey that could’ve been simplified but for me personally, learning by trial and error really helped me to understand what I’m doing and why. I’m all about taking it slowly and organically.
What do you think has been the key to your success so far?
I think the key has been perseverance and intuition. I always follow my gut when making decisions. Although I can’t take all of the credit because it’s really been my wonderful partner who has pushed me to keep going during the times when I’ve experienced self-doubt.
On her website Carly writes “My mission is to preserve the art of hand embroidery and practice this craft in a manner that is mindful and ethical. In an age where life and technology seems to be moving so fast, it is important not to forget the beauty of fine craft and the capability of the human hands.” We say mission accomplished.
Article header image created by photographer Olesya Parfenyuk.