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Meet Michelle Van Der Water

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Van Der Water.

Hi Michelle, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I moved to LA from Australia to pursue a career in acting. I started a side hustle making pillow covers which I sold through a shop on Etsy. One day, I was given a traditional rocking chair as a gift and decided to make a cushion for it, as I couldn’t find anything I liked online. I put my design on Etsy as well and people really responded positively to my bold, patterned fabrics. I then started getting a lot of requests for IKEA slipcovers, and slowly things grew from there. Eventually about eight years ago, I decided to prioritize running my business full time.

The fabrics I now choose focus on current decor trends, such as Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Eclectic, etc. People love to transform their IKEA furniture into an accent piece which looks unique. We fill the gap between buying a new upholstered piece of furniture and the current IKEA cover offerings. We also hope that a new slipcover will save your “disposable” piece of furniture ending up in landfill. I feel strongly about reducing waste and with my covers, I aim to offer people a very easy and affordable way to stay current without a big financial commitment.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I was pretty naive in the beginning about running a business. Etsy is a very simple platform that takes care of the basics and you feel like as long as you’re selling, you’re doing well. When my shop was unexpectedly shut down via an algorithm error, I was suddenly flung into starting from scratch with my own website. I switched to Shopify, which is leaps and bounds beyond what Etsy offered as an e-comm platform and it was (and still is) a steep learning curve. Not only do you need a lot of capital to get things going, you will need to invest in SEO to attract traffic, CRM and continual website maintenance. And this is just the storefront. Behind the scenes, I’m dealing with printing textiles, developing new products, off-shore manufacturing obstacles and general supply chain issues. It’s a lot for one person!

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I received a degree in graphic design before I started my business and I had no idea that it would essentially make up a core component of my work. These days you can create content easily via apps such as Canva, but having a design background in my pocket has allowed me to easily do things like social media posts, images for my website and graphics for marketing. It was surprising to me because manufacturing and business are completely different industries, but I guess you never what skills will come in handy as an entrepreneur.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
As an entrepreneur, you automatically take on a lot of risks. Unless you make raising money a priority, you may never know if or when you can pay yourself and most of the time, you invest more in your business than anything else. I’ve learned that there really aren’t such things as mistakes. Rather they are lessons that you need to learn to help you make good decisions in the future. Without mistakes, you can’t make progress. Embracing this mentality is difficult but essential. You need to plan for 30% of your business to fail so that 70% can succeed. But at the end of the day, whatever risk you’re taking, it needs to be fulfilling and meaningful regardless of the outcome. I don’t want to be on my deathbed wondering why I didn’t do something out of fear when it could’ve been the best thing to ever happen to me.

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