#WEW: Veronica Steunenberg, Owner and Designer of Uniform Handmade

For many entrepreneurs, the idea of starting a new business stems from an innate passion. It starts as a hobby or something that’s done during off days or free time and then slowly but surely it blossoms into a career.

For Veronica Steunenberg, Owner and Designer of Uniform Handmade, this was her truth. Moving to Canada without a clear direction of her career, Veronica managed to get a job as a seamstress with a local label that held values true to her. Today, in this #WEW blog, we’re sharing her journey from seamstress to complete business owner.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to help build Uniform Handmade and eventually purchase it. 

My name is Veronica and I was born and raised in Costa Rica.  I met my Canadian husband when he and his family were in my country on a mission trip.  To this day, I have lived in Canada for six years.  When I arrived in Canada I had very limited English and found it very difficult to find a job.  One day, I was notified that the, then owner, of Uniform Handmade was looking for a seamstress.  It was the perfect opportunity; as I had trained in Costa Rica, post-secondary, as a seamstress and pattern maker, for three years.

When I attended my first meetings for Uniform, my mother in law would come with me to ensure that I understood what was being said, the expectations of the job, the payment I would receive for my work, etc.  I was very nervous but eventually, my English got better and better and I was understanding on my own and feeling very fulfilled at my job.  I not only sewed garments but I also designed and made patterns for Uniform. 

As time went on the owner decided that the business was no longer serving her and decided to close the doors.  This was when my father in law said “Veronica, this is an amazing opportunity for you.  Ask if the business is for sale.”  You see, years before this I told my father in law that I wanted to own my own business, and he said, “ First you must work under someone and learn your craft.  It is important that you learn and train first, so you understand how to operate a company, what is involved so that you will have success.”  This is exactly what had happened.  I had worked under my boss for two years and now I felt ready to take the leap and become an entrepreneur.  It is a dream come true for me.  I grew up watching my grandmother and grandfather work their sewing craft. My grandfather made suits and my grandmother made wedding dresses. I remember watching them and knowing that one day I also wanted to make garments and create beautiful things with textiles, thread and needles.

As a business owner, what does a typical day in the life look like for you?

Most often I am in my studio by 9:30 in the morning, after my husband heads off to work and my dog and cats are fed. I start up the iron, the machines and look over the list of orders that need to be fulfilled. By then, my mother in law arrives and begins the task of cutting garments and packaging items for the post box.  I have realized that running Uniform requires more than just myself.  I design patterns, make samples, test samples, and sew the garments, while others manage the social media aspect, and customer service.  I work till dinnertime and depending on the work- load, I may work into the evening as well.  I try to take Saturday and Sunday as days of rest, refreshment, and family.

When you started as the active owner, what were some of the biggest hurdles you faced? Is there anything you wish you knew when you started? 

Probably the biggest hurdle was the managing of social media and being more public than I usually feel comfortable with.  Uniform is a IG based company and this is a platform that I had used very little.  I was confident in my pattern skills and my sewing, but when I had to make my first IG story video, I was terrified.  It has been a real learning curve for me to be public, cause my natural instinct is to sit in my sewing room, being creative, and alone. My solution was to surround myself with people who excel at my areas of weakness, it’s a win win! Another hurdle is prioritizing time for family and rest.  Sometimes it is really busy and I have had to learn that even amidst the “busy” I must make time for self care, family, and rest. Balancing all those things is something I try to be intentional about. 

As a designer, when you find yourself in a creative block, what are some things you do to help you get out of it?

As a designer, I actually don’t find myself stuck in creative blocks. I just do what needs to be done.  Make a pattern, sew some slacks, feed the cats, do some laundry, sew some more and then sew a little more.  Hahaha, I really just do what is before me and I am flexible to switch it up when switching it up is the required action.

“Sustainable, natural, organic, ethical, and slow” are some of your core values. Why was it important for you to have these values at the pinnacle of your brand? 

To be honest, before becoming an employee of Uniform, these were words I was very unfamiliar with.  Perhaps I watched my grandparents invest hours and hours of time perfecting the suits and wedding dressing for their clients, but I did not understand the term “slow fashion.” Growing up in Costa Rica, I lived most of my life in poverty and need.  I didn’t have the luxury of choosing ethical, natural, or organic.  I was given clothes handed down by my cousins and I would ask my grandmother to sew them so they would fit me, as they were not my size.  We made due with what we had and were happy to have what we were given.  As an employee of Uniform, my job was to sew, so even in that environment, I wasn’t really learning about the core values of the business.  When I purchased Uniform, these core values were the core values of a business I purchased, I did not yet own them for myself.  My mother in law and I would discuss, what did it mean to be ethical?  Why does natural and sustainable matter?  We read about and educated ourselves on the tragedies of factory workers, poor working conditions, poor pay, and the cost to human life when money becomes the motivation and the care, love and welfare of people doesn’t matter.  As we read and understood these terms we began to realize that these important values were already core values that we held, so it was a perfect fit! 

Another aspect of your brand that we love is your inclusivity. Can you talk to us a little bit about your decision to have a more inclusive size range.

I really believe that every body is a beautiful body and deserves to be dressed beautifully!  I find it very fulfilling to provide clothing for clients of all sizes.  Including all means that we have taken time to value all and recognizing the worth of all.  Our goal is to make a space where all body shapes and sizes are celebrated, and every one feels thought of, loved, and embraced!  We aren’t 100% there yet, but we have been working hard to create more patterns, and  more sizes, to create a space that all feel welcome.

 What does success mean to you?

Success is about growth.  Success is making mistakes, learning, changing, and working toward the desired goal.  Success is NOT the absence of failure.  Success is remembering that people matter more than things, money, or fame.  What is business success if I don’t have my family in the end?  I can be rich in money but poor in love, kindness and justice.  It is balance.  It is remembering what really matters in life and fighting for it!  Success is using our growth to create a beautiful, balanced life and also, to champion the lives of others!  Another area of success that matters deeply to Uniform is the relationship we build with our clients. We love to see the smile and read the messages that come when clients have opened their packages! We work hard to get that smile! That is success!

What are some small, everyday sustainable tips/practices that you can give to those who are trying to become more sustainable or eco-friendly?

One of the biggest ways that we practice sustainability is the “Scrappy Tid Bits” program that we developed.  We take all our extra fabric pieces, end cuts, etc and we give them away to other people or businesses that use small fabric pieces in their craft.  We have seen our Tid Bits be made into a patch- work quilt, doll clothes, fabric ribbon, jewelry packaging, and scrunchies.  It is really rewarding when the Tid Bits don’t end up in a landfill.  Our “garbage” fabric becomes the beauty in another’s craft!   

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be first and foremost to take the time to sit under someone and learn all the aspects of the business.  This is key.  You need to enter with eyes wide open and fully understanding what is involved in making success. 

Don’t let fear rule you.  There is always something that wants to create fear but fear is a paralyzer, disabling you from moving forward. Caution is never bad, but give fear no room to take control.

Be open to hearing a critique or evaluation, without taking it personal.  At Uniform, we find that when we put our heads and ideas together, the best results come.

Don’t be afraid to adjust the direction and course.  Be willing to change when something isn’t working, and find what does work.  This might take a few tries, so don’t get discouraged, just keep trying.  

Be easy on yourself.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, pick yourself up, learn from the mistake, and keep going.  Take care of yourself and remember you, your health, your family and fun, are just as or more than important than business.

Note: This Blog was originally published on July 23, 2020 and has moved to our updated site. 

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