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Meet Grace McIntire of Swatch Color in Santa Clarita

Today we’d like to introduce you to Grace McIntire.

Grace, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
To tell the story of how I got started in business, I have to first tell you a bit about my family. Family is everything to me, and family is ultimately how I got to where I am today…both personally and professionally.

I had an extraordinarily awesome + chaotic + nontraditional upbringing. I’m a first-generation Korean-American, born to immigrants in the heart of the charming Midwest. I’m an Iowa girl, through and through. Even though I’m 100% Korean in nationality, Iowa is in my blood and in my bones. {GO HAWKEYES!} My siblings and I were immersed in the most amazingly beautiful mix of both Korean & American culture, home cooking, language, and blended traditions. I was the youngest of 6 kids, raised in a three-generation household where manners were kept, elders were respected, and you worked your ass off (surpassing child labor) – or else saw the end of a wooden spoon (or worse).

I’m a small time Iowa girl who will never forget her roots, cherish the people and culture from my Midwestern upbringing, but much prefer the California sun. Both here on the left coast and back in Iowa, you can guess which of me and my white husband, Jason, people think is the one from the Midwest. Funny anecdote: When we were first dating, I brought him home to show him where Field of Dreams was filmed (he’s a big baseball nut). The sweet older lady at the concession stand kept speaking slowly and loudly at me (as if I would have difficulty understanding her English) and kept asking where I was from. Even after explaining to her that I graduated from the same college and lived in the same campus dorm she just explained her daughter resided at the University of Iowa, she kept deferring to Jason about his familiarity with Iowa City.

Of all the qualities my dad instilled in our strict and rigid upbringing, a ridiculously superhuman work ethic is probably what stuck the most for me and my siblings. I’d venture to say this is one of the most important qualities required if you aspire to become a self-made entrepreneur. Through all we endured in our childhood (for better and worse), I couldn’t be more grateful to our father for this trait. Interestingly enough, many of us turned out to become entrepreneurs.

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with making things. I was always a geeky tomboy who loved tinkering with and building things. My dad (typical Korean parent) forced me to be extremely active in all things (piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, classical music, etc.); but he also pushed us into extremely technical and scientific activities as well. He trusted us with a soldering gun (unsupervised) at a dangerously young age. He taught us the inner workings of all sorts of mechanical gadgets jimmy rigged throughout our home. My brother and I were dragged along to Ham Radio meetings and classes.

Back in the 90s, there were five different Ham Radio license levels, and I obtained the first three by the age of 10. I remember when I surpassed even my dad’s license level. I recall rigorously studying radio wave frequency theory and FCC regulations to pass a difficult knowledge exam as well a separate Morse code proficiency test (where you had to listen to and transcribe it back at 13 wpm when they still required that component). I was the pride and joy of our local Ham Radio Club.

In middle school, my absolute favorite time was spent in all of Mr. McGregor’s shop classes: arc welding, small engines, woodworking, drafting, and more. Carving, building, and racing a CO2 car from scratch was one of the highlights of my life. Taking apart and putting back together a lawn mower engine all by myself was my idea of fun back then. In short…yeah, I was a total nerd and I LOVED it! This still completely rings true today. My garage is filled with power tools and DIY projects to the hilt…and working on projects still brings me back to those same giddy emotions I had in my middle school shop room.

Fast forward to today…I guess I was extremely fortunate to grow up in the exactly right generation because these days – it’s freaking cool to be a nerd. Secondly, in the era of Pinterest + Etsy, it’s REALLY cool to be able to figure out how to make and build things.

Although my business, Swatch Color, offers many different products and services, much of what I create are things custom designed and built from an idea. People come to me and say, “I want X & Y, but somehow I want it in the form of Z.” Often times, this thing doesn’t exist, yet undeterred I excitedly dive into the project and reply, “OK, what’s my budget limitation and how much time do I have to figure out how to make this?” 🙂

From the most common projects to the crazy outside-the-box endeavors, this is how I approach everything I do. I look at what I have to work with, what my client wants, and how I can make it the most amazing, unique, kick-ass version of that thing within my given parameters. My goal is take everyday objects that people want or need, and come out with something that evokes emotion and “wows” by making it extraordinary and unique.

The journey to here has been a wild one. Through costly mistakes, breakthroughs, failure, and bliss…I wouldn’t change anything. The steps I took which brought me to LA eight years ago, and ultimately to what I’ve built has been more exhilarating than I could have ever imagined. Here is that story.

After several years of managing various Print & Design shops, I FINALLY found a job that was too good to be real. I worked with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life (to date). While doing so, I was empowered to do work that I was not only passionate about, but was also ridiculously good at. I worked in Las Vegas designing and producing F&B projects for the biggest casinos in the world, for the most prolific brands in the liquor/brewing industries. We worked hard, played hard, and had a lot of fun doing both. We were the type of shop who would work ourselves senseless in the busy times, and when schedules allotted we’d take 2-hour lunches at a local bar to have drinks and play Golden Tee in the middle of the day. All of us would grill out and play beer pong in our warehouse on Friday afternoons. Pretty much living the dream.

In 2009, I made a huge decision. I voluntarily surrendered that crazy-awesome job of my dreams. It was the middle of the recession – a time when you were lucky to have ANY job, let alone one as amazing as this. However, I had been processing some tough issues in my personal life for a while, and it was time to make a jump in a big way.

A couple years earlier, I dropped everything to take a job in Vegas (never having even stepped foot in the city) to launch a Signs & Graphics retail production hub for a large, multinational corporation. The reason for the big change? My sister, who was one of the most important people in my life, took her own life. My then boyfriend was with me when I found her body, and my grief style of choice was to stoically hold it all together for my family, take care of everything that needed to be handled, and then flee to something…anything, far far away.

That boyfriend and I trekked across the country and settled into our new life. I worked myself (nearly to death) opening that new store. It took 8 long months before I burned out. I was working 100-120 hours per week. Sometimes two whole days would pass before I went home to eat, sleep, shower, or change clothes. My employees would come and go and come back again, becoming accustomed to me still there working from the day before. I’d get blisters on my feet from long shifts of operating industrial equipment which contained lamps that burned your retinas without protective gear, and required being trained for handling hazmat chemicals. One day, right around the 36th hour of what ended up being a 42-hour shift, I lost it. Very fortunately, I quit and found the aforementioned dream gig.

Even though we were young, resilient, and our new life in this new city was fun and exciting, everything wasn’t exactly rainbows and unicorns. The abrupt move couldn’t have come at a worse time for me financially. Although my new job and the job I had left back in Iowa both paid well, before all this started I’d done what I presumed was the super responsible, forward thinking, common sense thing that most successful 21 year olds don’t think to do. I laid down some roots and purchased a home. I remember being so proud when I did this completely on my own. Genius that I was, I bought at the height of real estate prices, before bubble burst. Not the end of the world if you intended on living there a long time (which I had planned), but horrible if you decide to uproot your life and quickly get the hell out of dodge.

Even worse, I was in the middle of renovating it when I rushed off to my new job in Vegas. I slapped the property on the market and left it behind. Then the bubble burst. It sat on the market over 2 years while I lived in Vegas. All that time, I dutifully made the mortgage and new hardwood floor payments with a sinking hope that shrank with every month. The only offers I received on my property were for less than what I owed on it. Lawyers, financial advisors, everyone told me to just stop paying the mortgage. Apparently, it was all the rage at the time…the “thing everyone did”.

To not make the mortgage payments, even though I had rent and bills to maintain in Vegas, was unthinkable to me. I was too proud and felt too responsible to simply neglect my obligations. When I think back to my hubris, I wish my older, wiser self could have slapped some sense into me. Ultimately, this left me with foreclosure and bankruptcy years later when I couldn’t keep up with payments on a property I hadn’t set foot in almost 2.5 years.

2008 just wasn’t my year. Aside the ugly business with my financials, two even uglier things hit me pretty hard. Battle #2 was a six-month undiagnosable stomach ailment. Come Memorial Day…hello pure acid vomit! Several times a day. Multiple times a week. No joke. Life was f*ing miserable. If you know me…you know that I DO NOT miss work, so I just powered through.

Even though at the worst of it I completely nixed alcohol from my list of guilty pleasures, my stomach was not having it. For that duration, it was as prickly as a porcupine. It became so bad that after clean results from rounds of tests from multiple doctors (chest x-rays, blood work, allergy medication, doctor consultations, CT scan, etc.), a gastro specialist finally put me under and went in to poke around.

They found the pesky little bugger. The culprit was H. Pylori. A final round of meds (which rendered me sicker than the infection) was supposed to make me home free. Turns out I was allergic to one of the many drugs in the over 3000 mgs of required daily meds. I was prescribed what felt like 8 horse tranquilizer size pills for 14 days straight. On day 8, my entire body broke out into massive hives. They didn’t itch, so I did the logical thing. I went to work.

My boss immediately forced me to the doctor. Good thing. They started to itch by the time my appointment rolled around, and the look of concern on the doc’s face was a bit alarming. If they didn’t shoot me in the ass quickly with a plethora of steroids, antihistamines, and god knows what else, my throat would swell shut and cut off my air supply. They proceeded with shots and mandated the immediate halt of antibiotics for the bacterial infection. To boot, she found an ulceration at the back of my throat (likely caused by the scope from the procedure + irritated by my acid vomit). Yum! (I was wondering why it hurt so much). It only took 3 days for the hives to clear, but apparently 8 days of meds was enough. After that, my stomach was solid as a rock.

Phew! Those two train wrecks behind me, I was optimistic. It was only October. I still had 3 months to eke out a great year! Oh wait, scratch that.

Things fell apart with the seeming love of my life, the man with whom I thought I’d spend all my years. Just barely in time to rain on the meticulously planned parade of birthday surprises I had spent months planning: 2 weeks in Costa Rica with friends. The week before I unveiled the surprise, I discovered he’d spent at least a year (of our 3 together) with another woman. Pretty much the entire beginning of our relationship until shortly after we found my sister and moved across the country, he had been cheating on me.

Bankruptcy, breakup, and a nasty bacterial infection hit me all at once. I picked up the broken pieces and came out stronger than ever. With this trifecta of turmoil behind me, I decided it was time to pursue many absurd passions that I had put on hold far too long. I was tired of working my ass off focusing on a career while also trying to squeeze passions in on the side. I chucked my delightfully successful, lucrative career out the window to plant the seeds and chase these silly dreams of mine. I moved to the most breathtaking (albeit tiny) studio space Koreatown Los Angeles. I spent literally every single penny I had (and THEN some) to take a huge risk. What’s more, I spent way more than a few pennies borrowed from friends and family who believed in me.

This small-town Iowa girl proceeded to experience the most thrilling, crazy, unpredictable and invigorating summer of her life. I moved to LA to become a writer, do stand-up, write and perform music, go on adventures, and make an ass of myself trying my hand at the things I loved while living life with zero boundaries. Experiencing wildly entertaining (many unbelievable) trials and tribulations…it was (without a doubt) the greatest decision of my life. It was the best summer I had ever known, and it will forever be my summer to remember. I’m sure it will someday be the stories to my kids… “That summer Mom did a bunch of crazy shit.”

Every single hour of all my days and nights were filled with insane freelance projects. I did stand-up and sketch comedy, worked on documentaries, blogged, performed at open mics, wrote, wrote, and wrote some more. I did things like impromptu waitressing a high-profile party in a castle in Beverly Hills, crazy video diaries of my experiences, modeling, personal hostessing, wrote & composed music, and so much more.

Somewhere along the way I accidentally became a top finalist for the reality series “Big Brother” and met some really cool (and really crazy) people too. I pranced around every inch of Los Angeles like a mad-woman. Not even I knew where the next project or gig would take me.

Alas…less than half a year of delightful bliss later, rent, responsibility, and “real” life beckoned. I couldn’t bear the guilt of owing friends & family money, and I had bills to pay. And so, my professional career resumed while I continued passion projects on the side. *sad trombone*

In the years that followed, my life became illuminated with an enchanting love story. Bittersweet as it seemed, it turns out that resuming to a “real” job set the stage for the rest of my life. There I met the most amazing person. We were both rapidly swept up and fell madly in love with each other on our very first date.

That first date (a whopping 17 hours long) consisted of 2 college football games (UCLA at the Rose Bowl, followed by the Hawkeyes on the big screen), chili cheeseburgers at The Boat (Clearmans Galley), and exchanges of life stories. I mean…seriously, what more could you ask?! We both immediately knew this was “it” for us.

Diving headfirst into a wonderful family to complete the other half of an eclectic family tree, it eventually became the start of our own addition to those branches. Motherhood welcomed me with open arms. Without a doubt, being a mother is both the most demanding and rewarding job I’ve had to date. It is who I am and what I love at my very core, but there are moments of every single day where it’s a challenge. This, coming from a stellar workaholic who’s always been able to “do it all”.

More than five years since my creative journey in LA began, it was becoming a work-at-home mom that allowed my passion for creativity to thrive…and ultimately developed into Swatch Color. After my maternity leave with my first child ended, I decided not to go back to work. Instead I stayed at home to raise my kids while trying to develop my business. Family and creativity are my foremost focuses in life…and luck would have it that the one is what allowed for the other. I was so grateful to have reached the point in my life to finally open up my own shop.

My husband Jason is my rock…and my entire family (largely, our two kids and my wonderful sisters), where I draw my inspiration. I’m blessed with wonderful family and friends who have showered me with love and support throughout the years to keep me motivated.

Most of all, I am grateful for the love and endless support from my amazing husband, Jason. Our silly puppy love that first glorious date still shines through today. Two kids later, it’s far less romantic, but still strong as ever. I have more ambitious projects rolling around in my head than I know what to do with, but I wouldn’t even be able to attempt any of them if not for my tremendously supportive and encouraging husband. He puts up with my craft and fabric hoarding, entire home space takeover, and boxes upon boxes upon boxes of things he doesn’t even understand why they would be in our kitchen / garage / dining room / living room / guest room / bedroom, etc. When keeping up our commercial retail space was too much during my second pregnancy, he bought me a gigantic house so I could keep up with my business.

He might not understand the madness entailed in my crazy ideas, but he constantly supports it. He puts up with my unique brand of crazy, and loves me in spite of it.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Any great entrepreneur who tells you they encountered no obstacles is a filthy, filthy liar.

Of course, I’ve encountered obstacles and made stupid mistakes, but every single challenge I’ve faced has been a great learning experience. I know…that sounds like a canned response, but it couldn’t be more true.

When I started Swatch Color, I was a just so overly ambitious and came out guns blazing. I thought I could take on the world, but the world has a way of beating you back and showing you what’s what.

Shortly after I decided to start my business, we decided we wanted to start trying for Baby #2, and we also had another joint venture we were looking to start up (completely separate). It never occurred to me that this was way too much change and risk to take on at once.

I started buying inventory willy nilly, as well as some equipment I needed. Since the house we were renting was not big enough for all of my stuff and a new baby, I hastily started looking at commercial spaces. When we found a month-to-month retail space down the street that was the perfect size (but in need of some TLC), my excitement overtook common sense. We leapt.

Within a month of signing our lease and beginning renovations, my husband unexpectedly changed jobs and also successfully knocked me up on our first try.  Lucky us! This is on top of having a very active, very demanding toddler entering his terrible twos. Yippee!

Needless to say, all of that became a bit overwhelming to handle all at once. After sinking a decent amount of money into our new space we ended up having to pull out, pack up, and I put my business on hold until after the baby was born. To this day when I think about how much money we spent on a space we never fully got to enjoy, it breaks my heart a little bit. However, now whenever I’m thinking about making a big business decision, I think very LONG and hard thanks to that lesson.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Swatch Color – what should we know?
Swatch Color is your one-stop blissful shop with everything you need for a refreshing dose of creativity.

From custom promotional products, apparel, corporate branding, handmade party invitations & decor, custom wedding products, home goods, to event marketing…we can take care of all your branding, printing, and gifting needs.

Right now, a huge niche for us is custom corporate products & apparel. Typically with apparel, most print shops have high minimums for screen printed shirts. While we have those capabilities for larger orders, we’ve carved a little corner of the world that no other shops like to mess with: custom orders. Quite a bit of what we do is completely custom, so small quantities for custom projects is something we’ve been able to cater to for larger clients.

We also recently expanded into sports apparel and uniforms. We’re picking up more baseball and softball related apparel. It has been a blast since my husband and I are also little league baseball coaches.

Beyond that, there are several other awesome products that have been in the works for quite some time. My biggest limitation right now is time. I have no shortage of ideas and areas we plan on expanding in a big way, but it just takes time for production to catch up with the ideas since my primary focus is keeping up with current orders.

Eventually beyond custom orders, our boutique shop will carry handmade goods in a broad range of categories. We’re building exclusive collections of craft supplies, hand screen printed apparel, wedding + party, home + decor, baby + kids, customized business printing & marketing products, and uncommon finds that will make any avid DIYer’s dreams come true. Our collection of items include pieces made by hand…along with an amazing variety of products hand selected, sourced, and assembled.

What sets us apart from others is the wow-factor. Our mission is to create + inspire that heart fluttering excitement when someone opens their mailbox and sees that something absolutely stunning awaits…a tangible, old-school, physical object that takes your breath away.

There is absolutely nothing like that crazy-in-love feeling you get when receiving something adorably handmade…just for you.

Yeah…that indescribable awe? We like to be the reason that feeling exists.

Another thing that is probably strangely unique about my business is that I turn down a lot of customers. Some days, I feel like too much of my time is spent politely declining jobs. We are not your average shop. Thus, average quality is simply substandard in my eyes.

Soooo…no, we will NOT be the cheapest and fastest shop around. If you’re in a hurry and need something “cheap, quick, and easy”, sadly, we probably won’t be able to accommodate. Let me introduce you to a little website called Google, where you can find thousands of sites to produce your project.

You’ll want to save working with us for the occasion where you want to blow everyone away. Average is dull. Average is easy. We don’t think you should settle for average, and we simply refuse to.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Many of those had been mentioned in the previous question about our story. Namely my husband Jason.

All of my sisters who are all tremendously talented and creative, particularly my sister Angela who is my best friend. She is the single most influential person in my entire life, and has always been there for me in every way imaginable (#1 cheerleader, lent me money, believed in me, let me live with her, and taught me most of the great qualities I have.) She has done so much for me throughout my life and is my guiding light.

My late sister Christine who was the artistic genius in the family who blew us all away in terms of talent. She is all of our ultimate artistic inspiration, and probably the reason I became an artist.

My mom (now with Alzheimer’s) who has always generously showered everyone she’s met with kindness, love, and happiness. She’s one of the strongest women I know, has endured more than most, and is the most selfless person you could ever encounter.

My father (who has passed away) was obviously a major influential role in my life. Although parts of my childhood were tumultuous, I owe a great deal of who I am today to my dad. Every single day I see more of him in myself (for better and worse).

Without a doubt, he loved us so much, sacrificed everything for his children, and he was the best dad he knew how to be. He was our Korean 007!

Thanks to him…today I’m:
– a proud nerd,
– neurotic overachiever,
– have a ridiculous work ethic,
– verbal/written diarrhea life storyteller,
– a semi-hoarding clutter junkie,
– relentless learner of new skill sets,
– adore music and public radio,
– am totally the “mean” parent of our family…ruling with an iron fist and hard discipline,
– super obsessed with recycling,
– almost always back into the driveway parked in “ready” position,
– watched more educational military movies more times than any child under 10 should EVER have,
– have friends from childhood who STILL remember my Ham Radio call sign from when I got my licenses as a wonder kid,

…among many, many, MANY weirdo qualities that I possess!!

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