As with many creative endeavors, what started as a hobby has blossomed into a prosperous business for Sara Selepouchin. She finds inspiration in useful and fun things, and using her degree in architecture + mechanical drawing skills, turns them into diagram format. I first discovered Girls Can Tell at a local market, and left with a tandem bicycle tea towel, and an eiffel tower art print (of course). Her work has received many accolades, both local and international, and in addition to her online shop, she has a brick + mortar boutique in Philadelphia. Occassionette is her retail shop, housing all of her Girls Can Tell line, among other unique goods and gifts. The shop recently won a coveted “Best of Philly” award-toted as the “Best Pinterest Board Come to Life”! Her talent + dedication continues to inspire me…thank you Sara!
At what point did you decide to make your passion a business + what inspired you?
My business became a business over a relatively long time – I had been making gifts for friends for a while. Then Etsy was created, and I joined fairly soon after the site launched. I sold my work as a hobby on Etsy for a few years before I had the opportunity and circumstance to really let it take off. Once I decided to sell gifts featuring my illustrations full time, I really embraced it and ran with it. To be honest, the pressure of needing to make a living – pay my bills and be a productive member of society! – working for myself really inspired me to work incredibly hard at first, and it still does (to some degree). When you’re your own boss, the need to not let your boss down can be sort of life consuming.
What brought you to Philly + how does it inspire you?
I moved to Philadelphia to be closer to my family (I grew up in Toms River, on the Jersey Shore, but went to school and lived in Charlottesville, Virginia). Philly’s a great city, and I’ve often said I really am only able to do what I do because I live here. The cost of living is really reasonable for how much the city has to offer, and there’s a fantastic network of makers and artists here who are really supportive and incredible. It’s also a really tough city in some ways – people really spend wisely here, so it can be tough to sell handmade work locally, but I’ve tried to use that to inform my line and make it smarter… If your work sells well in Philly, it’s probably pretty solid.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The most rewarding aspect of my work is when people come back and tell me that they gave something I made as a gift and it was well received. Thoughtful gift giving is such an art, and when people really love giving and receiving my work, it makes me really, really happy.
What advice would I give someone considering a similar path?
Treat your business as a business. If you don’t take yourself seriously – in your pricing, in how you present yourself, in how you organize everything – it will be nearly impossible for anyone else to take it seriously. Also, that great nugget of wisdom from Conan O’Brien – “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” (Just don’t confuse being kind with being a sucker…)
What is the story behind your business name?
Girls Can Tell is the name of the album I was listening to most when I taught myself how to screenprint.
What projects are you most proud of?
My new little brick and mortar boutique in South Philadelphia – Occasionette. It feels like a dream. It’s completely the culmination of all my professional experiences, and I love it to pieces.
How has social media helped to further your business?
This is where the advice about being kind comes into play… I’ve found that when you’re completely genuine, people respond in amazing ways. If you love something someone else is doing, post about it. If you’re working on and sharing something you love, it shows. I’ve also connected with some amazing makers in this way – and made some great friends! But I strongly believe the root of its usefulness it being completely genuine.
What is the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
Stepping back regularly. Stepping away to maintain work / life balance (most small business owners would somewhat happily work all day every day, which is obviously a recipe for being pretty miserable). So stepping back to relax and remember why you work, which is awesome because it refreshes you and makes you better at what you do. And also stepping back to see things more objectively. Sometimes it’s hard not to take a critique or comment on your business personally, because as a small business owner you pour so much of yourself into what you do. But being able to step back and evaluate the situation without being overcome by emotion is important.
What’s a typical work day look like?
I usually stop to grab a coffee at my favorite coffee shop on my 4 block walking commute, or I make plans with a friend to have coffee in some other corner of the city. Then head into the shop. My retail shop, Occasionette, and Girls Can Tell share a big storefront space on Passyunk Avenue. I try to take care of the most important stuff in the morning before the shop opens – shipping wholesale orders, replying to emails, writing invoices and contacting any suppliers or reps I need to be in touch with.
I open the shop around noon, which means thinking of something fun to write on the sidewalk chalkboard (it’s tougher than it sounds!), turning on the lights and picking a playlist for the day. I work in between people coming in to browse, but I love stopping to chat when people stop by. Then in the late afternoon, one of the great shop girls on the Occasionette team comes in to work the evening shift. We catch up, sometimes we make new displays or go over an order for new products for the shop and then I go back to working on Girls Can Tell stuff. I usually pretend I’m going to call it a day when they get in, but about half the time I end up staying to work in the back until the shop closes anyway. And that’s pretty much it!
When did you know you had “made it” as a creative entrepreneur?
Oh, gosh. Does this ever happen? It sounds lovely. I’m not sure I’ll ever completely feel like I’ve made it. I usually feel like the man behind the curtain pretending to be the mighty and powerful wizard of Oz.
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