I have often struggled with how personal I want our blog to be. But lately, I have been so inspired by a few women who share their lives with us so graciously and eloquently that I decided maybe I would get a little more personal! ... and I will name names: Ashley of Lil Blue Boo, Ms. Amanda Skelte, of Gingersnap Photography, and my sweet friend Cara Serber, these are three amazing women who you should follow!!!
So, HELLO! I am Karen. The owner/designer behind CiCi & Ryann. I know a lot of you have been with me for a long time and a lot of you have just found my line. So hello to all of you, old fans or new! First off, can I say that I am just beyond thrilled and humbled that CiCi & Ryann is such a success, to this date. I say that because I know things can change at any moment. And I am so grateful to be where I am!
So, if you are a long time fan, you know that I started my company, which was formerly named, Two Monkeys Designs, when my daughter was born. Really, it was just a hobby and a way to express my creativity since I had "taken time off " from my Advertising career to be with my son, who was born with Special Needs. So, Two Monkeys, officially kicked off at a Craft Fair at our church in the fall of 2005. I had two whole racks of cute pjs and overalls that I had appliqued and made fun ruffle bottoms on. So that is really the start. From that I booked two more shows and then started selling on EBAY. Back in the day, before ETSY, EBAY had an underground Custom Boutique world with Boutique Selling Groups and Ebay "super" models. I was in two Boutique Groups, which was so fun because we had monthly themes of what our designs would be. I think this is when I fell in love with designing....and it was probably this time, when I designed my actual first collection.
At this point my son was about 4. Now, I mentioned earlier that he was born with Special Needs. At the middle of my pregnancy, 28 weeks, I went into Pre-term labor. And I mean Pre-term labor, full on contractions that sent me to the hospital where I was told I was delivering that night....they ended up stopping the labor with a ton of drugs and 4 days later, when I came out of the drug-induced state, I started my 3 month stay on bed-rest at the hospital. Almost fully effaced, already dialated to a 1 and still have Braxton hicks contractions every 10 minutes, I spent the next few months and the holidays hoping and wishing that my baby would be born okay. I did everything they told me to do because I was scared to death. They had me on all sorts of things, steroids, a terbutaline pump in my leg, sleeping pills...but I just did what the doctors told me. I just had blind faith and no experience to know any better. Anyway, at 37 weeks I got to go home and at 38 weeks my water broke and off we went to the hospital, thinking we would finally have our happy healthy baby, and he was, but that was just the beginning of our journey.
So, long story short, Grayson was born with bi-lateral Club Feet. Not so uncommon but no one in my delivery room knew for sure what it was, just that, as the L&D nurse told us, his feet were deformed. Our world was spinning, we had no idea what it was or if it could be fixed. Looking back on things, if that was the worst of our problems, it would have been a cake walk. Thank goodness we live so close to Scottish Rite Hospital for Kids. We were referred there right away and at 1 week old Grayson started a new "exploratory" treatment for Club Feet, where we would come to Scottish Rite every day for 7 months and do a stretching and splinting program. Along with the trip to Scottish Rite, I would need to do the stretching on his little feet at home 3 times a day. He was put in little plastic splints that went up to right below his knee. Wow, writing this is bringing back a lot of emotions I have not felt in a long time. Well, anyway, this is the reason for my "time off" from my career.
It was at Scottish Rite where they first noticed that Grayson seemed a little behind. He was about 9 months when I was first told that he might need ECI (Early Childhood Intervention). But since he was in splints and his foot strapped to a Constant motion machine at night, everyone thought he was just delayed in gross motor skills and would catch up. But as the months went on, he had all the tell-tale signs of Autism. He did not babble, did not play with toys the same ways other kids did, could not wave or say bye bye. He was so happy though, he would just lay on his back and flap and make a whirring noise. I became sort of frantic trying to figure out what was going on with him and no one would really believe me and then when he was 18 months old, his Pediatrician called and told us that she was pretty sure he was Mentally Retarded. So there it is...Grayson's story. He is 11 1/2 now. He has been in years and years of therapy, special ed in school, tutoring. He is amazing! We still don't have a 100% diagnosis of what he has. As his mom, I think he falls on both spectrums. He is often not thought to be Autistic because he is soooo social and happy. And he is! People meet him and say he is the happiest kid they have ever met. He is definitely developmentally delayed. Meaning, academically, socially and in a lot of other areas, he is more than several years behind. But, he is still progressing everyday...this year we have seen the most encouraging progression and he has started reading. We have had teachers tell us he would NEVER read or write, so this is a huge accomplishment for him and a huge jump for joy for us!
Anyway, back to my story, Grayson was say about 4, when we were told by his Developmental Pediatrician that he should have ABA therapy. This is a very extensive 40 hour a week therapy that is not covered by insurance. There was no way we would be able to afford it and there was no way I wasn't getting him that therapy. This is when I told my husband I would pay for his therapy with my earnings from Two Monkeys. Well, maybe not all of therapy, but at least I would help out. So, I did! And I sewed and I sewed and I sewed. I think I can sew in my sleep, upside down with one hand tied behind my back. Not that I am a great seamstress. I am self-taught so I don't claim to be a master seamstress, but if you had to pick someone for a speed-sewing contest, I am your girl!
So, really that is pretty much how my hobby became a business! I moved over to ETSY when it started and then got my own website. Very exciting times, still sewing everything myself. Sometimes I would be stacked 5 pages on custom orders and it just became too much for me to do all by myself, so I started looking into local sewing houses. And that is pretty much when CiCi & Ryann was born.
It has been a few years of learning the industry, learning about production and how it all works, pattern grading, market. There are soooo many things about the Fashion Industry that no one really knows exists except those of us in it. I am learning new things daily. But, the one thing I know for sure is I LOVE designing. It is funny how a hobby can turn into a passion. I feel lucky to do something I love to do. It is work though, probably mostly because I have taken it slowly and we are a TINY company still. You know that saying, "If you do something you truly love you will never work a day in your life." Well, I don't know what universe that is in. I work 24 hours a day. I work hard at what I do. I still love it, but I don't like to sugarcoat things, it is a LOT of work! I think of the typical stereotype that designers sit around and look at fabric and sketch all day. That is in a dream world!
One of my best friends asked me a few days ago what my overall goal for CiCi & Ryann was, what was my end game? I didn't have an answer. I don't have an answer. I love CiCi & Ryann, I love designing, I love seeing your girls wearing CiCi & Ryann in the pictures you send in. I love my family! But I am following this journey to wherever it is taking me. It has already had a lot of twists and turns and I think you have to be flexible when having a business and know that the plans change and what you think might be the path may not be the path, you might be led down a different path that you never even knew was there. Just like in life! For now, I just want the company to grow, I would love to be able to hire more people so that I could focus on designing more. Oh, and so you do know, we do not have a fulfillment house like most other lines. We tag, package and ship everything ourselves. So, when a package takes a little bit longer to get there then a bigger brand might take, that is why. We juggle a lot of hats around here, but we are determined to keep making clothing that you and your girls love!
So, that is my story, my family's story, Grayson's story, CiCi & Ryann's story.
Thanks so much for all of your support! And this is a picture of my little family. My husband, Travis, me, Grayson and Caroline (CiCi).
Have a great night!