Shop Small is a bi-weekly series highlighting small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go deeper than your typical product roundup, diving into the inspirational stories behind some of our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at how their shops came to be and highlighting the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to put a deserving spotlight on these marginalized business owners.
“Oh, wow, where did you get that?” is the reaction Casey Alberti hopes people have when they see her macrame planters and wall art hanging in people’s homes or her earrings from their lobes.
But back in 2019 when she first took up the handiwork, macrame was meant to be a distraction. “I was a stay-at-home mom and had suffered a pregnancy loss, so I was just looking for something to do with my hands so that I could be creative,” she says. After learning a few basic techniques from YouTube, she decided to teach her friends at one of the crafty girls’ nights she enjoyed hosting at her home outside of Portland.
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In the past, they’d made holiday-themed accessories and candles—but macrame night was kind of a bust. “They were not getting it and I said, ‘I feel like it’s not that hard.’ And they’re like, ‘No, you’re just really good at this.'” says Alberti. “Oh, I have something here,” she recalls thinking.
She opened her Etsy shop, Sweet Home Alberti, that same year and began selling her handmade fiber art — from rainbow-colored plant hangers and coasters to tribal-patterned earrings and DIY patterns.
What started as a hobby turned into an unexpected journey of entrepreneurship and, maybe more important, personal fulfillment. “Macrame has actually really shown me that there are so many different levels to art and that I am an artist, which I still have to affirm myself,” Alberti says. “It really has been not only healing personally but also very eye-opening, discovering that I have an artist within me.”
Here’s how she learned to foster both at the same time.
Growing Confidence — and a Business
“So what are we going to do with all these plant hangers?” Alberti’s husband, Anthony, had asked after they found their home filled with her new obsession (she thanks Pinterest for the inspiration).
Alberti had laughed and came up with an idea she never truly considered until that moment. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to sell them.”
When first starting out, Alberti sold her crafts at farmers markets. “I was so nervous because I didn’t know if anyone would want to buy my things,” she says, recalling her first event. “I had never sold anything in person.”
With Anthony’s help, her section was beautifully set-up and she was flooded with encouragement and a sold-out table due to her customers’ support.
“That was when I was like, Oh, I’m actually gonna do this,” she says. “I can actually, not only be creative, but also, get paid for it.”
The 37-year-old describes herself as being organized, vibrant and introverted. While she loves showing up in color and applauds her ability to stay on track with her work, she never imagined she’d be an entrepreneur, especially when it comes to marketing herself and learning the ins and outs of running a small business. So when Etsy reached out to her for an online feature last year, she found herself not only gaining confidence, but an influx of sales that left her working on 20 to 30 pieces a day.
“Running a small business, especially on social media, makes it actually easier for introverts to show up as themselves because you can kind of just show up and then be done,” Alberti says. “Macrame may also help because it’s a quiet thing to do by yourself when you need that time to recharge.”
Lessons She Wants You to Know
Find Your Tribe and Identity
Alberti stresses the importance of finding your community within your craft, something she was able to do despite it being a predominantly white space. She formed a group chat with six to seven other fiber art creators of color where they support one another by sharing opportunities, advice and insight on challenges they’ve experienced (not to mention their monthly Zoom meetings). This is part of the journey that Alberti cherishes, especially since she yearns to connect more with the Black side of her identity after being raised by a single white mother.
“In the past probably about five years, I have really been able to discover that identity I was missing then, which is why it has been even more important for me to find the community on Instagram and the friends that I now have,” she says. “It’s been really important to me, especially on my social media, to surround myself with Black women.”
The group members even motivated her to post her face on Instagram, where she has more than 100,000 followers and more than 500 posts on her creative process and how she brings her art to life (one reel even has more than 25,000 likes).
“I didn’t want it to be the reason why someone decided not to purchase my products,” she explains. “I would say that just surrounding yourself with whatever you feel like you might have been missing can be so eye-opening and can really help you find yourself.”
While trying to grow her presence online, Alberti struggled with gaining followers and a consistent audience, to the point where she described her actions as being obsessive. “I used to run around this house sweating, trying to be relevant and make funny or beautiful videos,” she says. She realized social media was similar to having a full-time job and decided to keep things simple, interesting and more effortless than she did before. “I noticed that the videos I don’t really try too hard on are the ones that do the best.” Some even have more than one million views.
Take that break.
While Alberti was grateful for her new customers after the Etsy feature, the increase became overwhelming. To deal with current and future burnout, Alberti put her shop on pause and took a vacation with her family. She took time to relax and process how she would work going forward, including deleting products that were too time-consuming to make for customers on deadline. “It’s been nice to be able to take a step back and just do the things that really make me feel creative instead of just kind of churning things out,” she explains.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Caring for the kids and the house while working on growing her online business, especially during the rush of sales, became too difficult to do on her own. Luckily, Alberti had Anthony’s help, who she says, “picked up all the slack without complaint” when she needed to work around the clock for seven days a week to fulfill orders. Along with shouldering the housework and bringing her lunch, he continuously gives her ideas based on his marketing expertise. His support proved that whether it’s your partner, family member or friend, having someone physically and emotionally support you as an entrepreneur can make a difference in your health and well-being.
What’s Next for the Macrame Artist?
Now that her business has gotten back to a normal pace, Alberti wants to focus more on education and tutorials. While she already sells instructions and patterns on her Etsy shop and personal website, Sweethomealberti.com, she yearns to give it more focus (along with taking time to listen to her favorite podcasts, Therapy for Black Girls included). “It’s really fun to be able to watch people who follow my tutorials make their own stuff and how proud they are of themselves,” Alberti says. “That’s more exciting to me than making the plant hanger for them myself.”
While she’ll still offer some regular stock items, she also plans to spend more of her time creating custom pieces that will have a special place in customers’ homes and hearts. “I want them to feel like their pieces are specifically unique things that they can show off in their home,” she says. “Not just something that you can find in the store that everybody else has.”
Mariah Thomas (she/her) is an assistant editor for Good Housekeeping, where she covers home and lifestyle content. Mariah has more than four years of editorial experience, having written for TLC, Apartment Therapy, Women’s Health and Avocado Magazine. She received her master’s degree in journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and published her first book, Heart and Soul: Poems of Thoughts and Emotions, in 2019. She’s also the founder of RTF Community a platform for creatives of color to connect, learn and showcase their work.