You can spot her dresses in a crowd with their playful prints, flowy lines and unique pattern compositions. So stoked to feature Shannon of MachineMachine this month because she takes entrepreneurship to a whole new level. It is her avenue of exploration for all the things she is passionate about and she has strategically woven a business that creates art, is mindful of the environment and honors legacy together in a thoughtful and powerful way.
You do a number of different creative pursuits: dresses, art, printing press, mu’u mu’u preservation, shop curator - how do all these roles work together and what is the relationship between them?
My clothing line is the motor that runs everything else I do. It’s the platform from which all kinds of side projects and experiments emerge. When I first began the company, 12 years ago, it was the nearest and dearest thing to me. After all these years it has become easy----and as a result, I find myself throwing new creative projects into the mix to keep myself challenged.
If you could break down your business into a few chapters what would they be and how did each lead to the next?
Ch.1 The Experiment: Fresh out of college, jobless, and somewhat lost, in 2007 I moved back home to Kauai. I moved into my parents' house to help take care of my grandfather who was very ill---while he slept (which was most of the day) I played with fabric and sewed, something my grandmother taught me to do when I was a teen. Etsy had just launched and I opened an account and happily made a bunch of sales, but absolutely zero money! Even so, my confidence slowly grew. After grandpa passed I began leasing a workspace down the street (where the Yoga Garage is now located) so I could concentrate on my craft.
Ch.2 The Hustle: A year into the business, I met someone while on vacation in Bali and moved to Oahu for love. I had fun building a network with other hustling creatives. Yet doubts began to surface. I seriously considered stopping and going back to school for my Masters Degree so I could teach---looking back I was scared about committing to entrepreneurship and all its uncertainty. Could I really have a creative career and make ends meet? Yes I could! I just needed to work hard! I wholeheartedly threw myself into selling my designs and vintage things on Etsy, doing pop-ups, and wholesaling like crazy.
Ch.3 The Settling Down: A few years later my relationship ended and I moved back to Kauai with a newfound creative wild streak. I opened my shop in Hanapepe, launched a website separate from Etsy, and as retail sales increased cut back on wholesaling. I also became infatuated with the mu'umu'u and on a whim in 2012 declared January "Mu'umu'u Month", wherein I wore a different vintage mu'umu'u everyday. Around this time I met my husband (Josh) and a couple years later we had our daughter. My work hustle took a backseat during this time of my life, knowing that this was a special season for us, I let myself relax and enjoy the start of our family.
Ch.4 The Grindstone: I love what I do so much that Josh and I decided that he would be the stay-at-home-parent with our daughter Charli (now 3). I opened my current shop in Lawai at Warehouse 3540 and with the pressure to be the breadwinner for our family re-committed to my craft. My main challenge is learning how to work full-time and be Mom to a little one. My current shop is also my sewing studio, which is really important for me so I can be out of the house. Its better for me to simply be away from Charli rather than having her hear "Mommy's busy" over and over. I struggle with bouts of mom guilt and we've had to grapple with the unexpected consequences of reversing traditional gender roles. But Im proud of myself for providing for our family and growing my business to the point where I can hire help, take long trips every year, and hang tight to my original passion for handmaking one-of-a-kind things.
What has changed this last year and what are you working on right now?
Last year I was finally able to hire a couple sewing assistants to help with production and shop-keeping. That drastically improved my creativity; I'm now more free to experiment and focus on creative play. When I went on vacation for a month this October I didnt have to shut the whole operation down, which is historically what Ive done with travel. It was a relief to get home and not be overwhelmed by orders stacked up or the holidays looming ahead.
Right now I'm adjusting my shop/studio space to accommodate even more Small Craft Advisory's (my nickname for my crafting/sewing workshops) by setting up one-on-one creative learning opportunities; Basically, an alternative to my group workshops. Students can book time to come in during our open hours to learn a variety of customizable sewing or printmaking projects (my father has a printmaking studio in my shop--specializing in letterpress and blockprinting).
What does creative flow feel like for you?
Drunkeness. Not sloppy drunk. Happy drunk! Time goes whizzing by. It feels also like I have to pee. Like a huge excited butterfly in my stomach. Im probably emitting a small high-pitched squeal when I'm in the midst of creating things.
What obstacle created an opportunity in your business?
I was an extremely shy kid/young adult who gravitated to the arts because it felt so good to be at home alone, quietly making, not having to talk to anybody or socialize. Just me, my introversion, and my crafts. As my business grew I was constantly working, but it was too much of a good thing. I found myself listening to a lot of NPR, for the news but also simply to hear other humans talking to me! I forced myself to open my shop in Hanapepe (now Lawai) as a form of self-prescribed exposure therapy for my shyness; It was a surprise that it was also a good business decision. Thanks to my brick and mortar Ive met a ton of awesome people and feel authentically connected to the community. Now I'm eager to push my shop beyond its comfort zone by inviting others to create in my space. Talk about full circle!
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
So much! First of all, the fifth annual Mu'umu'u Month begins on Jan 1st. I've got my own 31 piece collection I'll be wearing everyday, and I'll have about 70+ other vintage mu'u in my shop for sale, in what I'll call a Mu'useum. Every year more and more women are participating and its amazing to celebrate Hawaii's unique fashion history and this beautiful dress style with other wahine. All the profits of the sold mu'umu'u will go to the Kauai Historical Society (last year we raised $1300 for them). Like last year, I'll have t-shirts, patches and stickers in a mu'u theme too. We're also planning some fun mu'umu'u events during the month---such as a mu'u repair sewing clinic, lei po'o making, historical tours, etc---stay tuned!
I'm also looking forward to booking clients for my one-on-one sewing and printmaking workshops. Each month I'll offer a specific project and open up my calendar to book private lessons with me in my shop during our open hours. I'll continue doing group workshops, however lately Ive been focusing on leading private group workshops for small parties and team building.
2019 will be the year machinemachine commits to Do Better in terms of waste elimination and environmental sustainability. Half of the products I currently make are created using recycled and thrifted materials---yet I believe I can Do Better by re-purposing even more, throwing away less, and hunting harder for gently used materials. It means a lot more work and thought put into each and every garment we make. This goes back to what I said earlier about creating a new challenge when things get too easy. I'd also love to work with the County of Kauai on pioneering repair/fix-it clinics for clothing, so that our community can learn to mend rather than toss their clothing.