The Ms New Brunswick series continues. Meet Chavah Lindsay, owner and operator of Chavah Designs, a custom garment design business located in Saint John, New Brunswick. Chavah designs and creates unique clothing for women, especially dresses for any occasion. Her pieces are truly works of art, and her skill extends to her curated Instagram feed which features women from all over wearing her one of a kind designs.
I met Chavah at Second Cup in uptown Saint John for our chat, and was delighted when she brought her three year old daughter. That is such a familiar thing to me. I bring my kids everywhere with me, which of course means we hardly go anywhere. Part of the reason I started this project was to learn about how other mothers manage their time with kids in tow. To my utter shock and disbelief, Chavah's daughter sat quietly and respectfully through our whole conversation, with only a few crayons and a blank piece of paper as her entertainment. She was also awarded a cookie midway through, which she very much earned as far as I am concerned.
I want you to remember this scene later, because parenting and our lack of confidence therein is a theme that emerged in our conversation. I would offer to you that the proof is in the pudding, and if the benchmark for success is a toddler sitting quietly for forty minutes with a couple of crayons then Chavah need not worry.
*In the beginning, I simply took notes during my interviews with women, so Chavah's answers are sometimes paraphrased based off of my notes. I’ve since upgraded to an audio recorder for more accurate re-tellings*
How did you get started?
My mom taught me to sew when I was seven, even though she hated sewing. I sort of became addicted and basically wanted to be a clothes designer ever since. I ended up going to the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton, and later went to Humber College in Toronto for fashion design. I worked retail for years after that though and never thought about starting my own business until my husband really encouraged me to. My business really started with the convertible dress design. I made a few for some people for weddings and it just took off. It basically shaped my business into what it is now. I primarily do custom work and a large portion of that is still the convertible dress, which is very popular for weddings.
How many convertible dresses do you think you made last year?
Oh geez, hard to say...maybe 300?
You must love the convertible dress!
Oh yes of course, and I absolutely love working with brides, but at the same time it doesn’t really let me design new things. I try to make sure that I design clothes for my online shop, myself and the occasional charity event to sort of satisfy that craving I get sometimes.
Are you talking about your work with Heart Truth?
Yes! I love working on that project, and I have most years since 2009. Even before I had a business. Last year was the first year I got to attend and it was so much fun. A truly great event for a really wonderful cause. My Mom used to do work with them so it’s really close to my heart.
**The NB Heart Truth is a gala style event that supports the NB Heart and Stroke Foundation every spring. This year's is in May at the Moncton Casino with headliners Walk Off The Earth. It is already sold out!**
Do your kids let you design for them?
My older two not as much, maybe every now and then, but my youngest daughter does and she loves it. She is always asking me to design her shirts or dresses for school. I am actually working on a dress for her right now. She designed the whole thing and even picked her own fabrics. She loves to watch me work on it and see it come to life!
Speaking of kids, how do you manage to balance your work life and home life?
Balance is so hard. I work around my husband’s schedule, but my youngest is home with me fulltime and my studio is in my home so the lines can get a little blurry sometimes. Evenings and Saturdays are my workdays. My kids are so used to seeing troops of bridesmaids come to the house for fittings after supper. At the same time, when I’m with my daughter through the day I am committed to spending time with her. I put my phone away and just enjoy her. I really try to manage my time as best as possible and only do work after supper or after hockey or dance or whatever, but every once in awhile we have to spend the day in the studio so I can work on some orders. I really feel a lot of Mom guilt over that too, because I just can’t do everything and there’s only so many hours in a day. My family is the most important thing; my business wouldn’t even exist without them.
Do you feel supported by the community?
Yes totally. I was reluctant to officially open my own business, because I just thought that no one here would want to buy custom clothing. My husband really encouraged me and told me to go for it, and it’s been so amazing. Most of my customers are local, and I feel like I have the best clients. A lot of business comes to me by referral so that tells me that people are happy with my designs and telling their friends about me. People have been so incredibly supportive that I am really looking to expand my business next year!
Tell me more about that, how do you plan to grow your business?
Well I am really hoping to hire a seamstress to help me this year. I would also like to expand my line and look into wholesaling clothing to shops. I am a one-woman show at the moment and I’ve pretty much maxed out on what I can accomplish alone at this point, but I can see that there is enough business out there to justify bringing someone in to help.
What difficulties have you encountered?
I struggle with the time management aspect. I feel like I prioritize and I am not disorganized, but there is just so much to do and not enough time. I have a difficult time sourcing supplies and materials here. We have limited textile suppliers in New Brunswick and so most of what I work with I have to order from away and it can be costly to ship. I also find that I routinely have to justify my pricing to people. Custom always costs more, and I deal with supply issues that designers who live in large cities just don’t encounter. Overall though, I would say that after an initial conversation regarding cost, 95% of people decide to move forward on their project, so that is really encouraging.
What advice can you give to other women trying to start their own business?
Surround yourself with people who make you better and who encourage you, and find whatever works for you and just do it. That can mean anything, but I really feel like the best way to be happy is to do what you love, whatever that might be.
I find it particularly interesting that women like Chavah feel guilt over their success, as if it came at the expense of her family. From our meeting, it is quite obvious that she has raised a delightful and considerate young girl, with the ability to self-entertain (without screens) for an impressive amount of time. What is it about being a woman, or mother, that makes us feel as if the way we do things is the wrong way? As if we can't or aren't taking care of those around us when we are taking care of ourselves by chasing down our dreams? Is this something only Chavah and I grapple with or are there others as well?
I was so impressed by Chavah. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and can't wait to get invited to a gala so I have a chance to support this amazingly talented woman - and look fabulous at the same time.
The Ms New Brunswick project is about taking a title back for all the women who really embody the heart and soul of our province through creative endeavours and entrepreneurship. The makers and doers who are sharing with us their time, energy and talents, and carrying us forward. Full-time or side hustle. Big or small. At home or in an office. Products or service. Crafters, moms, entrepreneurs, shop owners, consultants. Whatever. If there is a woman in our province giving life to an idea or product, I want to know about it.
If you or someone you know would be right for the Ms New Brunswick series please fill out the Nomination Form!