20 December 2012

A Day in the Life of Sarah Norwood - Ohhh Lulu

"Ohhh Lulu..." Isn't that such an enticing name for a business? The business belongs to the next interviewee in the Day in the Life series, Sarah, maker of beauuuutiful underpinnings and more recently patterns allowing you to sew your own. Hurrah! Sarah recently took the plunge into running her business full time, so let's find out what her new lifestyle is like...


"Like many fashion design graduates, I had big dreams but after graduation I had a hard time finding work in my field. I changed jobs a lot, working retail, alterations, a little in the interior decorating and textiles industry, ultimately ending up in administration. None of those jobs were quite right for me, and I found myself in a number of jobs that I just absolutely despised. In 2010, I decided it was time for me to put my real skills and talent to work, and I started my business, Ohhh Lulu Lingerie & Apparel. For the past two years, I have been juggling being a full-time office manager while growing my online Etsy-based business, and just this last October took the leap into full time self employment!

Working two jobs, I've learned that having a structured routine really helps you stay organized, disciplined and on track, and this has really helped transition me into my self-employment routine. My husband starts work early, so we both get out of bed between 6.00 and 6.30am. After having a few sips of coffee, the first thing I do is answer any emails that have come in throughout the night. The amount of time it takes really varies by the day. Now that I have the extra time to devote to Ohhh Lulu, I’m finding myself spending a lot of time in front of the computer! From coordinating photo shoots, to sourcing wholesale suppliers, some days it’s hard to tear yourself away from the computer. My little dog, Oliver, usually gets up around 7.30am, at which time I put down my laptop and take him for a stroll around the block, or down to the park. We live in the loveliest little town in Ontario, Canada, full of old Victorian houses, beautiful parks, and a gorgeous waterfront.

I try to structure my day like a normal day at work. After walking the dog and checking emails, I get dressed. Even though often I won’t see another soul during the day, I like to wear a nice outfit and do my hair nicely to make me feel a little more motivated. Before getting down to business, I do a quick tidy of the kitchen, make myself a smoothie, wipe up any bread crumbs my husband leaves from his breakfast, basically try to eliminate any distractions!

My routine varies slightly day to day. I try to give myself weekends ‘off’, so on Mondays I will have extra emails and customer inquiries to attend to, and will also do administrative things like paying bills, sourcing notions and fabrics, editing photos, and updating all of my social media outlets. The administrative side of running a business is definitely not my favourite part, so I try to get it out of the way first thing during the week! The rest of my Monday usually involves cutting out all of my orders for that week. Cutting is another job I’m not really keen on, so I get it all out of the way in a big batch.

The rest of the week is much more fun. Around 8.30am, the first thing I do when I start my work day is make myself a cup of tea, and switch on the radio. I listen to CBC (Canada’s BBC) radio compulsively! Once I have my cup of tea and the radio switched on, I sit myself down in front of my serger and do all of that days serging in one big batch.

My studio is set up on the main floor of my house, in our open concept living room / dining room area. The space is big and bright, and on days when my husband is home, it is nice because we can still feel like we are hanging out when I am working. Having a studio in your main living area seems kind of strange, but it really keeps you motivated to stay neat and organized!

I take a lunch break around 12.30pm, I let my dog out, heat up some leftovers, and give myself a few minutes to walk around and stretch. Sewing all day can be really hard on the back, so I often get out for little walks with my dog. Being able to spend the whole day with my dog one of the best things about working from home. I am absolutely nuts about my dog!

My lunch is normally short, about twenty minutes or so before I’m back to sewing again. I sew in an assembly line style, so once all of my serging is completed in the morning, I move over to the sewing machine for the afternoon, applying elastic, finishing seams, etc... After about two days of sewing, I usually have several orders ready to pack up and walk down to the post office. Post office days are full of excitement and nerves for me! I’m always excited for a customer to receive their order, but in the back of my mind I’m always wondering, 'Did I trim all my threads? Did I tie my bows neatly...?'

I purchase my fabrics in small amounts which means items can sell out quickly. I often have to be adding new items, aside from my seasonal collection changes, to the shop to keep it stocked and fresh. Designing new pieces is one of the best parts of my job. I love selecting fabrics, adding embellishments, and seeing a design really come to life! It’s something that gives me a great sense of fulfillment. In the winter months, I need to really make good use of my time because daylight hours are limited and I like to use natural light for my photographs!


Around 4.30pm, I take a break from sewing, tidy up the studio, then get dinner in the oven for when my husband comes home. One of the things I am enjoying the most about working from home is having the time and flexibility to cook a proper meal each night. My husband gets home shortly after 5.00pm and we sit and have dinner together. Immediately after, I usually spend about an hour or so answering emails again, editing photos, or posting new listings.

By 7.30pm I usually call it a day, and try to wind down. I like to end my days with a bubble bath, then snuggle up with my dog and my husband on the couch, read a book, knit, watch a movie, and catch some well-needed rest. I am loving having weekends back in my life again, after 2 years of working Monday to Friday at my office job, then Saturday and Sunday from home. I often spend my weekends hanging out with my family, or fixing up our old house.

It can be difficult to know when the 'right' time is to take a business full time, and for my husband and I, the biggest factor was financial. It wasn’t until Ohhh Lulu had consistently proven to be as stable as my regular job, that I decided to give my notice. The last year has been really challenging with my workload, but incredibly rewarding. In hindsight, I had to put many things to the side to build my business while also working full time, but for us, it was the best way to do it. I am also incredibly lucky to have a husband who has encouraged me from day one. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and have had the aesthetic and philosophy behind Ohhh Lulu floating around in my head for years. When I first started seeing my husband, I told him about my ideas and he really encouraged me to pursue it. With that extra push, I started designing some garments based off of vintage pieces and patterns, drafting my own original designs, and together, we came up with a name, using my nickname Lulu.

Aside from my made to order collection, I am slowly also working on a small collection of PDF Patterns. Nearly a year ago, I decided it would be fun to share some of my patterns with other sewing enthusiasts, so I began digitizing some of my hand drafted patterns. My first pattern, the Betty High Waist Panties Pattern was far more successful than I ever anticipated and I have had so much fun seeing how everyone has used the pattern, tweaked it, what fabrics they have used. Expanding my PDF Pattern Collection is a goal for the coming year.

For me, being able to work from home is one of the best feelings. I get to do something I love every day, and feel like I’m really investing in my future. Being self employed can also be scary, especially when you have very little business background! There are a lot of challenges to being self employed. You need some serious self discipline, work ethic, and most importantly, you can’t be afraid to fall flat on your face and pick yourself right back up again!

If you are considering starting a clothing line or design company, I have three pieces of advice. The first is to have a clear picture of how you want your ‘brand’ to look. This might change and evolve over time, but having a consistent, clear look has helped me make Ohhh Lulu recognizable! The second is to have some financial flexibility when you start up so you can take risks and invest in equipment and supplies. Whether you work a ‘day job’ while starting your business, or are able to save before starting your business, having a little extra cashflow makes life much less stressful. The third, and perhaps most important, is make social media your friend! I have met so many great contacts through my blog; it has really proven to be an valuable source for me.

So, that is a basic day in my life! It’s a lot of work, sometimes stressful, but incredibly rewarding! Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many amazing people; I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I am doing. For me, this is a life-long dream come true!

I really want to thank Tilly for inviting me to participate in this amazing series; I know I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from reading previous A Day in the Life posts. I’ve followed Tilly’s blog for a long time now, since I first started Ohhh Lulu, so it’s truly an honour to be here!"

It's an honour to have you, Sarah! Wishing you lots of success and happiness with your wonderful venture! (And readers - check out her blog.)