WomenVenture Entrepreneur of the Month for January
In 2009, Julie Steller purchased some mittens made from repurposed wool sweaters. She liked them so much, she taught herself to make a pair. That decision led to an important discovery—Julie found great joy in creating unique things by hand. “Having beautiful things around just makes life sweeter,” she said.
Using that first pair of mittens as a guide, Julie began making more. She tweaked the design until it was exactly what she wanted. She was committed to using the best materials—100% wool and cashmere sweaters, high quality fleece, vintage buttons—and vowed not to compromise on craftsmanship.
Initially Julie sold her handmade upcycled wool items to friends and family, as a way to make extra money to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition. To her surprise, others were interested in her beautiful, locally made goods as well. “When people I didn’t know were buying my mittens, that was the turning point for me,” Julie said. She officially launched Steller Handcrafted Goods in 2012, offering her merchandise in a few local shops.
Julie was soon overwhelmed by the demand for her products. Dozens of local businesses were featuring her items. She was so busy she could not keep up with all of the requests. Julie enlisted a friend to help with sewing and ended up hiring more staff just six months later. By the end of 2013, Julie and her family decided that if Steller Handcrafted Goods was going to continue to be successful, she would need additional funding.
Julie learned about WomenVenture from her daughter, Katie Steller Schultz, who had received financing for her salon from the agency. “I had a meeting with a WomenVenture business consultant that was life-changing,” Julie said. “She told me that my products were amazing and that I needed help to get more made. She required that I write a business plan—I didn’t even know what that was!”
With her consultant’s guidance, Julie completed her plan and obtained a loan from WomenVenture that allowed her to hire more people, buy raw materials, and rebrand the business with a new logo and website. Today, Steller Handcrafted Goods can be found in more than 50 stores across the country, thanks to Julie’s hard work and keen ability to network. “My relationships with other small business owners have been essential to the success of my business,” she said.
Steller Handcrafted Goods continues to grow and Julie is loving every minute of it. “The most challenging part of being a small business owner is managing my time and not neglecting other things that are important to me,” she said. “But being able to employ other women and maintain relationships with other entrepreneurs has been so exhilarating!”
To learn more about Julie’s business, visit StellerGoods.com