You might be a bit of a decor geek if you spend your lunch break scouring online home decor shops and your fave DIY YouTube channels to plan out your ultimate living room, bedroom, or bathroom. Perhaps your friends seek your advice for making over a tiny space because you’ve converted your studio apartment into a collection of adorable DIY goods. In this week’s installment of the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Jala Smith-Huys, founder of Seek & Swoon, about how she started an eco-friendly decor brand that specializes in travel-inspired throws.
Meet the decor Pro: jala Smith-huys
Before launching Seek & Swoon, Smith-Huys began her career in journalism and public relations. She previously was a graphic designer, creative director, and social media strategist before becoming inspired to start her home decor brand in 2015. After a two-month sabbatical in Europe, traveling with her husband and two young sons, Smith-Huys came back inspired to take her travels and create a keepsake that would remind her of her adventures. Using recycled cotton yarn that’s regenerated from apparel factories’ cutting room floors, Seek & Swoon makes throws for home and baby, as well as custom wedding throws.
1. Use your past skills. The combination of Smith-Huys’ previous jobs really helped her as a solo entrepreneur. Through her careers in journalism and public relations, she developed a strong writing style. Her skills gained as a designer and creative director not only inform her throw designs, but also her website, labels, and everything visual about her brand. As a social media consultant, she’d worked with startups and big brands. And watching what worked (and what didn’t) in social media influenced how she ran her business. “All of those experiences have come in handy as I’ve worked to build and grow my own brand,” says Smith-Huys.
2. Seek the right partners. Since Seek & Swoon is all about eco-friendly throws, Smith-Huys spent a considerable amount of time searching for the right manufacturing partner. It took her over six months to track down the ideal mill to partner with. “Not only did I need to find a mill who had the capabilities to produce my product, I needed to find a mill I could trust, who would take me seriously even as a startup, and who would be able and willing to grow with me,” Smith-Huys explains. While the search delayed her company’s launch, she’s confident in the decision to work with a second-generation family-owned mill.
3. Experiment and learn. Curating the right balance among trends, what customers want, and designs she’s drawn to is a constantly evolving process. Smith-Huys says that there is a lot of experimenting, testing, and learning that goes on before a throw is made available for purchase. Sustainability was an important part of Smith-Huys’ process, and while her recycled yarn is more expensive than new yarn, she knew she wanted a product that helped keep waste out of landfills.
4. Turn inspiration into a product. Peruse Seek & Swoon’s throws and you’ll see countries attached to the product names. Smith-Huys is inspired by her travels to places she’s been or wants to visit someday. “The Sol Throw is my interpretation of the sunset view we had from our rooftop balcony in the heart of Madrid. The Krona Throw is a take on a traditional textile pattern we found while in Dubrovnik, Croatia. And the Kanna Throw was inspired by the airplane view we had flying over Iceland,” shares Smith-Huys. “It’s hard not to be inspired by travel. There’s a lot of beauty out there — shapes, colors, texture — it’s everywhere.” Once inspiration hits, she draws on her computer. Sometimes her vision comes together in her first attempt, and other times her concept doesn’t translate into a final design. Once a pattern is ready, the mill produces a sample throw. From there, she’ll make final tweaks before uploading it to her online shop and publicizing on her social media channels. “The process can be weeks up to months, depending on how all of those steps fall into place.”
5. You have nothing to lose. Smith-Huys admits that it took her a long time to finally make the jump to start Seek & Swoon. “I spent over a decade fearing the leap. I think I finally got so fed up with my fear (and my own failure to launch) that it lit a fire under me that I couldn’t ignore,” Smith-Huys admits. Her best advice for beating the fear: “Trust your gut, find your tribe, and just do it.”
6. Find your tribe. Smith-Huys revels in how her small business has grown by leaps and bounds with the support of a creative community of like-minded individuals, including key retail partners, Instagram collaborators, and loyal customers. “I’ve met some really fun, creative, kind, and generous people who have shown a sincere interest in what I’m doing. They may not be my close friends and family, but they’ve unexpectedly become a huge part of why I believe in this business.”
7. Trust your instincts. When working as a solopreneur, it can be easy to be swayed by the opinions of others and second-guess yourself. “When it comes time for me to make a decision that I’m struggling with, I reach out to people I trust, but ultimately I go with my gut and I usually don’t regret it,” encourages Smith-Huys.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Intro to Weaving ($29): Try your hand at making a woven wall hanging as a DIY home decor experiment. Fiber artist Meghan Bogden Shimek will teach you the techniques for creating your own piece with simple steps for beginners and beyond.
2. How to Build an Online Store (Free): Self-described “serial social entrepreneur” Liz Powers built her first online store without any HTML knowledge. Learn how to create an online storefront, upload products, and set up shipping in this free tutorial.
3. Build Your Brand on Social Media Online Class ($39): Online personality Melanie Ham has a steady, loyal following on YouTube and will help you start out launching your biz on social media platforms. Understand how an editorial calendar will help you stay on track to grow your base.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos of Jala Smith-Huys via Billy Huys; throw photos via Andie Reavely, Jeremy Pair, and Mikelynn Renee Photography)