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Pt. 2: Our Story & Plans

Pt. 2: Our Story & Plans

Flux Bene has developed quickly since our first designs in 2017. To my great delight, people liked the pieces right away! I took them to markets and people bought them! I opened a brick & mortar shop in Pittsburgh in 2018 with two wonderful partners. In late 2019 I signed a lease on a studio & production space and in early 2020 I moved the operation out of my tiny apartment. Later in 2020 our brick & mortar closed & all markets were postponed, so I developed and grew our website. Our offerings have grown from two distinct designs to seven + a rotating cast of botanically dyed and zero-waste accessories + original artwork for your interiors. I have found a most wonderful person named Lindsay who adds her talent, energy and brilliant ideas to this small-but-growing project two days each week! 

It feels like my dream has come true. I am helping to de-stigmatize used garments, and share the beauty of reuse. I am creating original art that I am proud of every single day, and to date, we have rescued over five hundred garments and many yards of upcycled fabric. It is happening!! 

As things moved along at this clip, from 2017 into early 2020, I continued to work an events-based catering job on the weekends, and taught sewing & surface design classes when the opportunity arose. When those income streams disappeared in 2020, it became clear to me that while I thought that I was “augmenting” my income with those jobs, I was in fact working those jobs to subsidize Flux Bene. Long story short (I know it’s too late for that)- I haven’t been paying myself, and I certainly haven’t been creating security for myself or for the business. 

When things changed so suddenly in 2020, I had nothing to fall back on- to cover my personal expenses or Flux Bene expenses. I kept things going on credit and the web sales that I was able to make once I got the site up and running (thank you all!!!), but it was a struggle. Not a hard-work-will-get-me-through feel good hussle like it had been in the past, but a legitimate struggle. I was disappointed in myself, and depressed, and the uncertainty of everything really had me on the verge some weeks. Filing for PUA unemployment was… a nightmare. I applied, they denied, I begged, they obliged, then they asked for it back. After this rollercoaster, I ended 2020 nearly debt-free (other than student loans) with the help of a grant and a modest final return-on-investment from Make + Matter closing, both of which came through in December.

All of us struggled in 2020, and I know that for many, the struggle has not changed or diminished with the start of 2021. We each have unique pressures and pain points, and have to find our own path toward feeling at peace and secure in the future. 

Flux Bene has grown into a project that means very, very much to me, but it isn’t everything to me. I have a small family to love & support, friendships to nourish, a garden to plant & grow. At this very moment I am attempting to purchase my first home with the help of my sister as a cosigner on the mortgage - which I hope goes through soon because I am losing my mind waiting!! All of these things: my work, my family, friendships, the garden, and the possibility of owning a home- they are incredible gifts. In receiving them, I am faced with the task of finding a life balance that appropriately shows my gratitude for each one. 

I want to continue what we have started at Flux Bene, but in order to do so, it needs to be financially viable, and I need to be able to pay myself. I have done a lot of calculations, I am up to my ears in spreadsheets and figures, I have consulted with experts. Here is my strategy for the year ahead:

  1. Pricing: We will be raising the prices of our original clothing pieces to reflect the time & materials going into each one. Each piece that we make is one-of-a-kind. There are literally no two that are exactly alike. I love the one-of-a-kind aspect of our work, and ultimately it can’t be avoided within our mission, but it is time consuming. Our process is very, very different from traditional clothing manufacturing, in which some steps can be batched together (for instance layering fabric & cutting multiples of a style at one time). Because our pieces require more labor hours, and our materials are comparably priced (or more expensive once our surface designs are added), they are investment pieces. I have been very carefully recording each step of our process over the past few releases, and moving forward I will be basing our prices off this data. 
  2. Closed Loop Program: We will be launching our Closed Loop Program, in which we will buy back original Flux Bene clothing pieces that you no longer wear. We will offer you webshop credit for your item, which we will then rehabilitate (a second, third, or fourth time), and re-sell at a lower price than our first-round pieces. This is important to me as a way to offer our work at a price point that is accessible to individuals of more income levels. It also falls directly in line with our mission, so it is a no-brainer. The implementation is taking some brain work though, so please give us a month or two to get this up and running. 
  3. Varied Offerings: For those of you who connect with our mission but are more interested in decorating your space than your body, we have just released our first collection of one-of-a-kind original art for your interiors.
  4. Collaborations: Our 2019 collaboration with artist Atiya Jones remains one of my favorite Flux Bene projects to date. I love the feeling of working with another creative and feeling all of that energy colliding, morphing and exchanging. My goal is to develop and release two major collaborations each year. The first of 2021 is already in the works with Vandalia Made, and it is shaping up to be both fulfilling and gorgeous. 
  5. Sewing Patterns: This is a big one. I have been talking about developing Flux Bene sewing patterns for two years, and it is finally happening. We will have two digital Flux Bene sewing patterns released by July of this year, and two more before the end of 2021. It is incredibly important to me that if this work stops a year from now, there is something tangible left behind that will continue to be of use. We are currently maxed out at producing 18-24 clothing pieces each month, but imagine how many garments can be saved if all of you are empowered to do it on your own! I would love to teach classes and workshops using our patterns in the future. I get very excited about sharing this with all of you. 
  6. Expand Our Reach: Our goal in 2020 was to participate in markets in NY, DC, and on the west coast. All travel and markets were cancelled, obviously, so this goal has been transferred forward- to whenever it is possible. I know that there are a lot of folks who want to know about Flux Bene, but haven’t found us yet. It is our job to be a bit more visible this year. We could use help with this. If you are someone who can help, I’d love to hear your ideas!
  7. Mentor: I believe that we are doing important work, and I believe that there is plenty of room for more people to be doing similar work in their own style. I would like to offer mentorship / apprenticeships to designers of any age who connect with our ethos and are interested in working with us while developing their skills in upcycling, garment construction, surface design, pattern making, photography, the list goes on! 
  8. Pay Myself: Continue to work hard & pay myself a salary of $35,000 before taxes by the end of 2021. That is roughly $2500/ month after taxes and $15.49/ hour if I were to work a 40 hour week. I work more than 40 hours nearly every week, but as a small business owner I expect that. I can continue to do so, as long as I can pay myself. I believe that this salary is modest, and possible. 
  9. Make a Profit & Give Back: Giving back should be a goal of every business. I feel that I was able to do this in 2020 through the fundraisers that we organized. In summer of 2020 we raised $1245 for Color of Change, and $725 for Crafting the Future in the fall. In December, you donated 26 toys and 7 coats to the children of Pittsburgh service industry workers as entries into our gift card giveaway. These are meaningful contributions, and I would like to continue to fundraise in that format from time to time. Holding that style of fundraiser too frequently though would be exhausting- for me and for you. Once we are profitable, I want to use a portion of our profits each quarter to support the dreams of others. I am working out what this looks like, but I have some good ideas. Stay tuned. 

Ok! That’s my plan! It feels good to finally share all of this. It has been heavy on my mind for months now. I suppose my greatest fear is that the market won't be able to withstand our price increase. I’m not sure what the general financial climate is like right now, and I don’t know how many people can prioritize ethical art into their budget. 

I do know that if the price change renders our work unfeasible in its current form, it will be obvious fairly soon. This is the year that I will finally learn whether Flux Bene is a sustainable project with the power & momentum to make it a few more years or even decades. If this isn’t possible, I will pivot accordingly. I don’t know what is ahead, but I do know that I will see the next turn in the path when I need to. 

Thank you for reading and for following along, and for sharing this vision with me. 

Love,

Rebekah Joy