February 20, 2021
We’re thrilled to announce the $10,000 January Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Stephanie Dean, Founder of StepStitches, a home-based sewing business. Stephanie is the second qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
What started out as a hobby (in 2016) soon became a growing business. To date, Stephanie has hand-made nearly 900 unique dolls.
Here are Stephanie’s words (via the StepStiches website):
I make the Raggedy Ann doll that I wanted as a child growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I have always loved dolls, and my mother, an elementary school teacher, went to great lengths to find African American dolls for me. She felt it was important for my self-image to have a positive reflection of myself during playtime.
Cinnamon Annie® Raggedy Ann doll is a vintage-style handmade doll with a modern twist. Instead of the pinafore apron worn by the traditional Raggedy Ann doll, Cinnamon Annie dons beautifully colored dresses and styles fashioned for today’s modern little girl. She is a keepsake doll that can either be played with, used for decoration or can be collected.
My customers seem to like the nostalgia of the Raggedy Ann dolls they remember from their childhood as well as the modern styling that a contemporary little girl would like.
Stephanie’s plan is to create a full product line built around the dolls. This product line will include children’s apparel, room décor and more. She’s also in the process of publishing a book titled Annie and Me: A Children’s Book about Imagination and Friendship. The planned release date is March 1, 2021.
Among other designations, grant funds will be used to upgrade sewing equipment and hire an illustrator for upcoming children’s books. A portion will also fund distribution of dolls and books to charity and school events.
Stephanie shared more in an interview with our own Marcia Layton Turner.
WomensNet: Welcome everyone to a chat with one of WomensNet’s winners of the Amber Grant. Today, we’re speaking with Stephanie Dean of StepStitches, who’s the Amber Grant winner for January 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner and I’m one of the members of the WomensNet advisory board. So, Stephanie, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Why don’t we start by you telling us about your business, beginning with why you started it?
Stephanie: Okay. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to talk with you today. I started my business, very organic. I was doing crafts and all that kind of stuff before, and I made some dolls really by accident just as a hobby, for fun cause’ I just liked the soul and I was just moving toward that direction and I made this Raggedy Ann doll and all I saw one on Pinterest that I liked and I was like, Oh, okay. And I made this Raggedy Ann doll all, you know, my own Raggedy Ann, my own version of, and I just posted it on, on Instagram, just you know, how you post and stuff? And I, I couldn’t believe the response people were like ‘I want a doll, I love that.” And it was so shocking to me because I figured who else would want a Raggedy Ann doll? You know what I mean?
It’s like, you know, so that people were really wanting those are kind of vintage-style doll and that it was whatever. So, you know, went from their friends and family and whatever and then I posted it on it Instagram and then I listed her on Etsy, listen to dolls on Etsy, you know, as I went on and you know, it just kinda went from there. This is the flagship doll, I guess, um, you know, the first one that I’ve made, um, here. And so, you know, I think a part of the appeal is that it’s a Raggedy Ann Doll, you know, an iconic American classic doll was kind of like a modern twist on her. She looks more like a, kind of like a modern, like I think raggedy, you know, would look today if she today.
So, they wear kinda children’s clothes, you know, what a child would, a little girl might wear. And so, then I, that one and I had a request for a grandparent who had biracial grandchildren and she asked that I make one and then I was a little bit lighter skin tone. So, I made this one. Yeah. And, um, I had a girl I used to work for as for a more Caucasian doll. So, I always did want to make that classic red head doll. She would look so cute. Okay. And then somebody wanted to know if I made boys? And I didn’t for a long time, it took me a while to get the boy doll the way I wanted him, but then I’ve got the boy and they come, and he comes in all skin tones. So, they come in three different sizes too. And also, at Christmas time I had started making the ornament size doll. So, they’re about 10 inches tall. That’s pretty much it.
WomensNet: Wow. So, it sounds like you have sort of a product line, but then you also take custom orders?
Stephanie: I’d say yeah. Take ‘em more personalized orders. You know, I do put, uh, if people were asking, um, to put the name, the child’s name on the dresser, so I started embroidering the names on the dressers. So I do that. I, um, I will like, I’ve had people want to send me a specific fabric, you know, for that they want to use for the dress for whatever reason. So, I’ve done that. Um, and uh, you know, sometimes we’ll try to find a specific fabric if I can, you know, for someone who had a request. Someone had a request for a little doll, the girl’s name was Sailor. And so, they wanted to know, could I make a doll with a dress? So, it had like a sailor thing. So, it was turned out to be really cute, to make a doll with a dress that had like little sailboats and put her name on it. So, I do kind of personalize them, you know, if I can.
WomensNet: Yeah. And so, is your Etsy store StepStitches?
Stephanie: Yes. Yeah. You could go to Etsy and type in StepStiches or you could also type in cinnamon, Annie doll, you know, and she’ll come up and you can even type in raggedy Ann doll, she’ll be on the page somewhere, but yeah, the search like that.
WomensNet: Wonderful. Well, so, uh, obviously you’ve been very successful. What do you think has been the secret to your success so far?
Stephanie: Um, I think a couple of things as a business, my first priority is customer service. I try to be as customer service oriented as possible to, you know, do you know, try to try to ship on time, try to be very clear in my listings and you know, and, uh, photographs of, you know, photography is come, you know, come along over the years, but, you know, try to be as, as clear as possible answer questions is, you know, be polite as possible, you know, um, and just be, you know, try to, um, do the best I can for her, you know, for the customer to have a good experience. And I think that’s key, you know, particularly in this kind of business, you know, is that it’s key. And the second thing I think is kind of having, having a fairly product, um, that I don’t know, just a unique take on a product.
And I think that that’s, but as a business, I do think the customer service pieces is really, you know, cause that’s what spreads the word. That’s why, you know, that’s where you get good reviews. And if you’ve got a site like Etsy, I’m not on Amazon, but if you’re, if you’re on Amazon on a site like those reviews are everything reviews are everything. And even in real life, they might not try bothering you. But of course, I’ve had people, you know, buy a doll based on what someone had told them about it and what they saw. So, let’s try to make my, my dolls as, as, as, um, as, as good, you know, as a quality as possible. Um, and the enchanting and provide good customer service. I think that’s the secret. Yeah.
WomensNet: So, what made you apply for the Amber Grant? Did you have a particular need in mind when you applied?
Stephanie: Um, I was kinda at the point, well, I did. You know, I was kind of at the point of wanting to, increase production and expand a little bit. Okay. And the increase with production is to keep up with demand. Um, so to do that, too, you know, to invest in better sewing equipment basically, um, so that I can make a product that’s quality in a shorter time. As you know, you start off of, you make, start off with, you know, what you can get from the store, buy cheap equipment to get started, and that’s fine. But as you go along and you need better, more per, you know, you need to increase production, there’s no getting around good equipment. It makes I’ve learned, I’ve learned, it makes all the difference in the world. So, I want to invest in better sewing machines that will do things quicker with less headache, not having to stop and do this, that or the other. So that kind of thing, even better, you know, scissors, all those kinds of things that require an investment, not what you can get from, you know, a big box store or something that requires a bigger investment. So that’s, that’s, that’s a, that’s a chunk. And then I wanted to expand out into, um, writing a book and, and, and, and that type of using the money to, uh, uh, you using the money to pay for illustrator, to writing a book.
WomensNet: And, um, so tell me a little bit about, so it sounds like, you know exactly how you’re going to spend the $10,000 that you won new sewing equipment, getting some help and illustrators, anything else you’ll be using it for?
Stephanie: Um, that was the main thing my thing. Other thing is I would like to, when I get the book published, professionally, I want to be able to donate books to charities and things like that, you know, um, more than just the one or two books that I could give, you know, out of my own, whatever, but, you know, be able to donate a set of books to an afterschool program or to a classroom or a school, you know, that has several grades, that kind of thing. So I would like to use a portion of the money for, for that, and even also dolls the dolls a little bit harder because they do take, you know, time to make, but, you know, to maybe make a donation to a doll donation to, um, to am a shelter or someplace like that. So that will also be, that will be a portion also.
WomensNet: So looking ahead to the future of your business, it sounds like it’s going to continue to consist of dolls and then books, anything else on the horizon?
Stephanie: Um, yes. Uh, you know, I want to kind of be a, more of a product line around the dolls, um, the books, but also like, you know, the shirts with the emblem on them, with the dolls face on them, you know, maybe some, um, some of the illustrations. I’m really excited about in the book, cause we’ve already started, we’re actually hoping to have that published by the, by, by the beginning of March. So almost finished with the illustrations. You know, and so, um, so we can use illustrations for art prints and things like that. And so, um, and that’s also, as I said, the money will go to that because you know, that it’ll allow me to, with the book to, um, make a coloring book out of the story, that kind of thing. So, um, yeah, so, so that’s why, you know, that’s that those are my plans for the future. You know, as creating a product line out of the doll, the dolls will stay in the center, you know, because that’s what people want. The other things are accessories things and things that’ll help to bring more passive income. I want to add more of a passive, not real, you know what I mean? That’s not as labor-intensive as the dolls, which are my, which are my passion and will stay the focus, but this will allow me to bring money in that is a little less labor intensive. I can do it one time and then, you know, sell it from there.
WomensNet: Do you have any advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs, maybe anything you’ve learned along the way that might be helpful for, for earlier stage entrepreneurs?
Stephanie: Um, I think earliest stage, you know, really focused on getting, if you’re, I, I can speak mainly for a product or perspective product-based business, but really focus on learning. You know, I’m a lifelong learner, so, and I love to read and research and all that kind of stuff. I think you really do need to do that as much as however you learn best, you know, do that, but there’s lots of information out there now, you know, even more than when I first started lots of information, so read up as much about how to start a successful business, but don’t get caught up in like trends and fads and all this kind of stuff. We’re just building just a successful business by focusing on making your product or your service, the best that you can, you know, use those early years to like work out the kinks, you know, uh, um, work out the kinks with shipping because, you know, that’s a knowledge issue, work out the kinks and how you produce your product, that kind of thing.
So use the kind of you quiet year, so to speak, to kind of, kind of build a firm foundation for your business and learn, you know, um, um, how you want to market your product, that type of thing. Find some way the, the way that it’s best for you to market and get out there. But I would say in the beginning and try to learn as much as you can. Um, just keep going. A lot of times, it just seems like, oh, you know, it just seems like this is not working. You know, you give up, sometimes I give up every day, you just keep going, just keep on going, you know, and at the beginning is also very important to verify your product as much as you can, verify that there’s a demand for that, there’s a need for type of thing, You know, um, um, you know, see what the response is and see, you know, how you can improve it and whatnot. So that’s what I would say, because once you really get started going in and you hit that demand and, and you hit the sweet spot and you keep moving on, it’s kind of harder then to make those kinds of changes and to spend a lot of time trying to, trying to perfect, you know, you want to be able to hit the road running because you built a solid foundation. So that will be my advice.
WomensNet: Makes sense. Thank you so much. So, thank you for sharing your story with the women’s net community and congratulations again on being the first winner for 2021.
Stephanie: Right. I, I just wanna, you know, tell the, the board and, uh, Amber Grant and something that I’ve been following for a while, you know, just kind of following it online for a while and whatnot. So, it just seemed to be the time to apply. So I went ahead and did it, but, um, you know, just thank you all. Thank you. I’m very, very appreciative. And the work that you all do is, is so important. It is so important, you know. And so, I appreciate it.