Beehive Positions of Power Series: Introducing Steph Carton, The Eli Monster
As part of the journey to our 15th Anniversary in 2021, the Beehive Boutique and Spa is recognizing women business owners and those that hold other positions of power and influence in Mancos.
Our mission is, in part, all about celebrating WOMEN - and our lives and businesses in the wonderful Mancos community. This month, we are honored to introduce Steph Carton, owner of an online business, a wife & mother, and girl scout troop leader.
Steph Carton is the owner and the genius behind The Eli Monster, a downloadable sewing patterns company. The Eli Monster’s patterns break down intimidating techniques into smaller steps to walk even absolute beginners through each pattern. The Eli Monster combines the look of vintage with modern, time saving techniques.
What brought you to Mancos?
My husband's job required us to relocate every few years and two years ago, it brought us to the Durango area. Our realtor wanted to only show us houses in Durango and Bayfield but we stayed in a yurt in the Mancos State Park while we were house hunting and wandered in to town one morning. We loved the community feel of Mancos and fell in love with the house we ultimately ended up buying. It's a great community to raise children in; they can have the same freedom that we did growing up. And the fact that it's a Creative District definitely lured me to this town. Being surrounded by artists is awesome!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I bought an older Jeep (we named it George Splashington) that seems to enjoy bumbling around the mountains with us. It seems like we try to find the highest elevation to have a picnic (12,640 as of last fall). We also are suckers for National Parks and Monuments and I'll drag the kids on hikes around any park that is nearby. If I have free time alone, I will totally watch horrible TV and eat all the snacks though.
When have you been most satisfied in your life?
Hmmm. I think there are different types of situations that could be the answer to this. We spent a summer in Huntsville AL in an empty apartment and had the time of our lives. We were a bike ride away from both a Target and a library so we were good to go. That was an extremely satisfying summer and we were able to see a lot of things that we never thought of doing (4th of July fireworks in New Orleans, for example). On another hand, I used to run a picture framing shop and it was DEEPLY satisfying to design and build these frames for various museums and clients and know that my work was going to be enjoyed for decades. Yet, in a totally different way, making that perfect grilled cheese sandwich is extremely satisfying. Never underestimate the power of the perfect grilled cheese.
What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?
I read "Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)" by Jeff Tweedy over the summer. It is highly enjoyable if you're from Southern Illinois and also a Wilco fan (which I am both). It might not have been the best book, per se, but his vernacular is so very similar to mine so it was like talking to a lifelong friend instead of reading about some random famous guy's life.
Do you keep a journal or sketchbook?
I keep what started out as a sketchbook but ended up as more of a list of To Do lists. I live in a world of bullet point lists and check boxes.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a dance studio. I always knew I could never work for anyone; that I always had to own my own business. The dance studio became a photography studio in high school and college and ultimately turned into a design studio after college. I knew I just needed to create. And not have a boss. I never did well with people telling me things.
What have been your greatest sources of joy?
My kids. Even on the days where I want to run away and join the circus. And creating. It's a pretty kick ass feeling when you've made something with your own hands.
Where did your creative spark begin - can you trace the path/timeline that got you to where you are today?
I've always been making things. I cannot remember a time when I wasn't making little costumes for myself or my dolls or hand sewing tiny blankets, etc. I was helping my mom make things to sell at craft shows my entire life.
Why does sewing and making patterns interest you and how did you get started?
I had my great grandmother's sewing basket when I was a child. I'd always pull from it and make little outfits for my Cabbage Patch dolls.
How have you grown your business/organization from an idea to where it is now?
When my oldest was born, we were fresh out of college and had NO money so I decided to cloth diaper. I took my birthday money (because who's grandma doesn't still send birthday checks to their 20-something grandkids, right?) and bought enough fabric for our own needs plus a bit more. Etsy was brand new at the time so I quickly made a shop and forgot about it. But I got a sale notification the following week. And another one a few days after that. I made cloth diapers for about 8 years and grew sick of being chained to the sewing machine in our basement 6.5 days a week because my assistants and I could not keep up with the orders which, by then, came from our main website and less from Etsy.
My husband was offered a fellowship at NASA one summer so we all packed up and went with him; it was perfect timing to stop sewing actual items and start digitizing all the patterns I had developed and sold the actual patterns. Work smarter, not harder, right? Selling the pattern and tutorials helped satisfy that need to problem solve and actually create new things and ideas instead of just being a one-woman sweatshop. This past year, I participated in the SCAPE program which helped create a better foundation for the actual business side of the business. Now I am officially a CEO which is pretty cool to say.
Tell me a story behind an interesting item you sell.
All of [The Eli Monster's] patterns are named with Dutch words. They sound fun and exotic but if you translate them, they are very boring. "The Driehoek Dress" just becomes "The Triangle Dress" because it has some triangle cutouts. Or "The Vlinderaas Blouse" becomes "The Bow Blouse."
What would you say to someone considering pursuing a career in your line of work?
It is a labor of love. I chose this particular business because I needed to be mobile while building a career. We've settled in a bit more nowadays and moving is not in our immediate future but it's also nice to continue to work while you're roaming. I can be on vacation and spend a few minutes each morning taking care of administrative stuff and keep my shop open instead of shutting everything down every time we leave town.
Could you describe your workspace or part of your creative/work process?
I have a lovely sewing room that's always a work in progress. My commute is a pleasant 10 second walk from the main part of the house to the commercial addition. It's light and sun-filled and always has music (or bad television) playing. It's also where our Girl Scout Troop is storing cookies right now. And where the kids have their own desk to draw at. And where all our bicycles live. And where home renovation projects get stored. It's a busy, busy room.
Pinterest really evolved the way I work. Instead of sketching a million details, I now make digital mood boards on Pinterest that I can organize by project. There is definitely a reason why I majored in cinema and photography in college; I can't draw my way out of a paper bag and Pinterest has (for the most part) been a life saver. I can add pins and notes like, "remember the way this seam is angled against the armscye" and that helps me more than my chicken scratch sketches.
I flat draft my patterns, meaning I make the shapes on flat planes and then assemble them instead of draping fabric on a dress form and then unassembling the 3D draped fabric. Once I have the basic shapes, I will grade my sample into all the sizes needed in my software and start writing the instructions. Then I make the illustrations or photographs to accompany the instructions and package it all together into a file. Then it's off to my testers who will make their own prototypes and find all the silly mistakes I made (it's a very humbling process). What comes out of it is a finished pattern that's ready to sell on my own website and a few other online sewing stores.
How does living and working in Mancos influence the way you run your business/provide your service?
Mancos makes me plan ahead. It's not like in a city with all those handy resources. No place in Montezuma or La Plata county even sells specialty garment sewing supplies. I have to order online. Thank goodness for fast internet. That was a requirement. You can't operate an online business with slow internet.
Mancos is also right in between desert and mountain. The best part of making the whole pattern is photographing it at the end. I used to do a lot of environmental portraiture and it's AMAZING to have all these different backgrounds at my fingertips. One dress might pop against a dark green backdrop so up a forest road to some pine trees, it is. A jacket might scream to be photographed against some rocks so we're loading up the Jeep and heading West into Utah for the morning.
How can people connect with your business?
What can you offer to enrich our community?
Since I work from home, I can get into the habit of burrowing down and not leaving the house for days at a time. To combat this, I volunteered to be a troop leader for my daughter's Girl Scout troop. I think that is harder than any regular job I've ever had.
What life knowledge would you like to share with other women?
If the job needs to be done, roll up your sleeves and get to it. You've got this.
What is your favorite thing about the Beehive?
I love all the events! For such a small town, Mancos has a lot going on and Beehive is definitely an active part of that.
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