Today we’d like to introduce you to Carla Ross.
Carla, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My fondest memories from my childhood are of attending craft markets with my mother, back in South Africa. She had a small business where she made and sold pickled goods and sweets. I would hide under the table with my toys and play for hours occasionally popping out to sample some of her coconut ice or fudge. It was our time alone together and I liked being her little helper. As I got older, we still attended markets but she later sold candles and herbal soaps that she made for her esoteric book store. I was always happiest helping her set up and then browsing these markets on weekends. Looking back now, it makes sense that I’ve chosen the same path of running my own business where I make and sell handmade goods. But I definitely didn’t start Desert Weaves with that intention. What started as a hobby, making adult-style friendship bracelets, turned into a full-time passion.
About ten years ago, I booked myself a trip to the Southwest. I was living in Cape Town, South Africa and craved some adventure abroad, so I booked a plane ticket and made a rough list of places I wanted to see, such as the Grand Canyon and Sante Fe. I landed in Texas, where I rented a car with no GPS and found my own way driving along Route 66, stopping at weird roadside attractions and sleeping in 2-star motels.
During my trip, I was mesmerized by the colorful Native American saddle blankets and serapes sold on the side of the road, the expanse and isolation of New Mexico and the beautiful terra cotta and turquoise adobes in Sante Fe. I came back to Cape Town sad but motivated to move to America! Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time was easily convinced. We got married in a five-minute ceremony with an Elvis impersonator crooning songs in a small chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Then, we spent three weeks road-tripping through California on our honeymoon. A month later, we would move here and we’ve lived in California ever since.
We got to take another Southwest trip finally together as a couple, years later and again, I was captivated by the colors, style and unique patterns of the Southwest. I remember I had just started making bracelets inspired by southwest patterns and colors, so I made my husband wear several of these woven bracelets throughout our trip. He was happy to oblige.
Having lived next to the ocean our whole lives in South Africa, we couldn’t live inland however, because we’d dry out! But living in Southern California, we are able to travel to Joshua Tree anytime we need a little desert escape. We also took a couple of trips to Baja Mexico, in particular Sayulita – a small coastal town with a very laid back beach vibe.
All these places I’ve visited or lived in have inspired my craft… From my cultural upbringing in colorful South Africa to the cool boho beach vibes of Baja California, to the traditional styles and vibrant colors found in Southwest USA. My personal style is a mixture that is neither one but all. I look for fabric that speaks to me and I bead and weave cotton bracelets that aren’t traditional in any sense but have a bit of each place in them. I carry the desert with me while I live by the sea.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Life has been a great adventure for me, but it was definitely a lot of work and stress to get here. Emigrating from all one knows is scary. Leaving all my family and friends behind to live alone with my husband in a foreign country may not appeal to the faint-hearted. But the most remarkable thing that happened upon moving here was that I discovered my “true” self so to speak.
My whole life, I was led to believe that to be happy one had to be an ambitious career-driven woman. But I was never happy working in an office and it felt forced and inauthentic and I was bored most of the time. I finally realized that the whole point of life is to find your own happiness whatever it may be, so I worked hard to turn my passion into a career.
My first market was a complete disaster and I felt so discouraged. But I continued to try different craft markets, network with other vendors, change up my stall presentation and learn all about Search Engine Optimization to improve my Etsy shop. It paid off in the long run but it was definitely a challenge in the beginning, not knowing anything about running a small business where you’re owner, maker, marketer and bookkeeper!
Desert Weaves – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I make desert-inspired woven goods and jewelry. These include cotton bracelets, seed bead anklets and bracelets, tasseled earrings, cactus shaped pillows and most recently, face masks for Covid-19.
I make all my items from scratch and create pieces that I want to wear. I’m self-taught with the help of some YouTube videos. The first time I received my sewing machine, I was so overwhelmed it stayed in the box a whole year before I took it out and started practicing sewing. A lot of times I will get an idea of something to make while I’m trying to fall asleep, and have no clue where to get started but after a few attempts and errors and a lot of tweaking, I can usually figure something out that closely resembles what I had in mind. I started weaving recently on a large wooden loom – it’s still a work in progress – but I hope to have some beautiful tapestries and wall hangings in the next few months.
My style is a unique mixture of Southwestern patterns and colors, Baja California beach vibes and the tribal boldness of South Africa.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I think success is doing something that makes you happy while making others happy too. So often we measure our lives against others and feel bad when it doesn’t live up to that image we see. True success comes from inside. You have to find what fulfills you and give it your everything.
What makes me happy is creating items every day and then sending them out to be enjoyed by someone else. When a customer emails me to thank me or leaves a nice review, it makes everything worth it!
- Cactus pillows – $25
- Face masks – $12
- Seed bead bracelets – $10 – $25
- Coin purses – $12
- Woven cotton bracelet – $12
- Hoop earrings – $22
- Website: www.desertweaves.etsy.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/desertweaves
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/desertweaves