Melissa Leger interviewed Valerie Drame’ in May 2018. She met Valerie Drame’ at an evolveHer and Women’s Creative Co. summit, and noticed her great bag. Melissa made a comment about the bag and then learned that Valerie’s accessory was her business. It seems in the era of social media and the gig economy, there are fewer and fewer businesses making something physical. We wanted to learn more about Valerie’s entrepreneurial journey.
How did you get started with Drame’?
Like so many new entrepreneurs, my journey began after leaving a corporate career. I needed to rethink how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. I had been strongly creative in my earlier life and I really missed expressing that part of myself. I started exploring by taking classes and one of those was a leather bag making class at the Chicago School of Shoemaking. I had initially wanted to take the shoemaking class but I thought I should go with a lower investment for my first attempt by working with leather, especially since at that time I had no income. It turned out that I really liked making bags. I became kind of obsessed with learning all aspects of fine leather making. The incredible feedback and support that I received pushed me forward pretty quickly. I launched my website six months after taking my first class.
Tell us a little bit about your product and its story.
My product is not trendy but it is modern. There are a lot of handmade leather makers that do a very traditional leather craft look. I really like many of them and I have learned a lot of techniques by watching their instructional videos. However, I’ve taken a fashion approach to my designs and the types of leathers that I use. So I think of my product as modern design using traditional craftsmanship. I pay attention to the details.
What are your biggest challenges as a business owner?
Funding is always a challenge, which is why entrepreneurs are told not to quit their day jobs. Well, my day job quit me so I took a leap of faith and decided to make a go of it on my own. When you don’t have funding, there’s always a push and pull between knowing that you need to scale up to grow and being challenged with scaling up the business because of the lack of funding. Time is another huge challenge. Being organized with your time is really important when you’re wearing all the hats. Time blocking is my friend.
What are some lessons you’ve learned on your entrepreneurship journey?
Get comfortable with networking. I’m a self-professed introvert so introducing myself to strangers used to be a struggle and I still have my days! But it really does open doors. I always try to be helpful to other entrepreneurs as well. Have a good lawyer. It helps to feel the security that your business is in order. Another very, very important lesson – never compare yourself to someone else’s success. Just be faithful to your core values and vision and keep it moving.
What are some of your favorite tools or software you use as a small business owner?
I honestly don’t use a lot of tools although I’m sure I should incorporate more technology! I use Wave for bookkeeping. The free version is good enough for me at this stage of my business. I love Shopify for my website. It’s super easy to use and the platform has a ton of tools and tips. CamCard for business cards. Paper for quick design ideas on my iPad. I still prefer to draw on actual paper.
Where do you see Drame’ going in the future?
I have known exactly where I wanted Dramé Designs to go from day one. I want to have a light manufacturing/production facility which I plan to locate on the far south side where I grew up. My hope is that my business that will spark more business development and job creation in a neighborhood that needs economic empowerment. As long as I live in the Chicago area, my products will be Made In Chicago.
What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
It is an amazing feeling to be able to say I work for myself. When I look at my website I think, “wow, I did this!” Creating this business is the most exciting and fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done. No matter what happens I will always be proud that I took the risk.
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