Many successful businesses begin as a dream, buoyed by optimism and wishful thinking. Random Rompers began as an act of desperation. "We had no money,” said Krystal Shaw, founder and creator of an online baby apparel shop she launched in 2015. “None. Less than 100 bucks." Looking back, Shaw said, "I couldn't even let myself feel it all because I would completely break down." The source of her stress was the $1,500 in rent she owed her landlord, who had lost patience with her and her family and was ready to kick them onto the street. Her only hope? A pile of discarded fabric.
Necessity is the mother of invention
While she now rakes in more than $100,000 a year with her business, Shaw and her family couldn't dream of having that much money just three years ago. Her husband had recently joined the ranks of the unemployed, and Shaw had to quit her own job as a receptionist in order to take care of her newborn son, Messiah. With the rent notices piling up and the impending threat of eviction slowly becoming a reality, Shaw began preparing herself mentally for moving her family of four (herself, her husband, and children Kalani and Messiah) into her mother's house, a four-bedroom property which was already home to three others. "It would have been a lot to squeeze in four adults, two little kids and a teenager [the daughter of Shaw's mother and her husband]," Shaw said. The tension began taking its toll on the marriage, with Krystal and her husband blaming each other for their financial predicament. "We still tried to work through things together, but there were moments when it was like, 'If you would have done this, we wouldn't be in this spot'," she said.
Salvation came to Shaw in the form of some leftover fabric scraps she found in her house. Shaw had always sewn and decided to turn that fabric into some extra money, figuring her best bet with the material at hand was rompers. "I know that I spend more money on my kids than anything else," she said. "I guess in my desperation, my mind was still working." Shaw also decided to lean in to the fact that none of the fabric matched, which forced her to incorporate different patterns in each romper—hence the company name "Random Rompers."
##Waiting for the money to roll in
After spending a day sewing the initial batch of 15 rompers, Shaw created her Etsy store and waited for her first sale. "I didn't expect it to do too much. I thought maybe we'll get 100 bucks and be able to buy some more food," she said. "We really didn't have any other choices at the moment."
At first, the results were disappointing. Nobody seemed interested in purchasing, and with her eviction a scant two weeks away, she began feeling the pressure. Shaw thought she could raise Random Rompers’ profile through social media. "I posted them on Instagram, and I started using all the hashtags, like #babyclothes, #babyrompers," she said.
Her luck changed when one of the few people who did take notice of Random Rompers reached out to Shaw via Instagram and asked if her daughter could model one of Shaw's rompers in exchange for some free advertisement on social media. "I had around 10 followers. She had close to 900," Shaw said. After receiving a much-needed bump by the more Instagram-savvy stranger, Shaw started seeing more success. She sold her first batch of rompers, made a new batch from low-cost fabric she purchased, and when those sold out, she finally had enough money to convince her landlord to pause the eviction process. "We got back to our apartment, and I was just like, 'Oh my God, we actually did it,'" Shaw said. "That's when I broke down."
Business is booming
Today, Random Rompers has evolved from a last-minute act of desperation to a full-time job for Shaw. She sold roughly 6,000 rompers this year. Creating that many pieces of infant clothing has put Shaw through her paces, especially since she also finds time to homeschool her son, Messiah. "He's only in first grade, so it only takes two to three hours a day to get through everything," Shaw said. "Still, it's so hard to squeeze in on days when I know that I need to get work done."
The process for most orders begins with Shaw taking a look at what rompers customers have ordered and organizing the different romper patterns in groups of 250 on a spreadsheet so she knows what fabric to buy. This takes about two days before she spends between one to two weeks cutting out each romper with a rotary blade (think of what they cut a pizza with at a restaurant) for 10 hours each day. It's the most physically demanding part of the process, but that's where her husband comes in. "He always gives me foot massages at the end of the day when I'm cutting, so I milk that time for all it’s worth," she said.
After the material for the rompers is cut out, Shaw sews and secures the seams for each individual piece of clothing (which takes about another week) and then ships them to her customers. Depending on how busy Shaw is with homeschooling Messiah, customers can expect to receive their romper three months after they place their order. All of the rompers available for sale on her Etsy store cost less than $30, thanks to Shaw's commitment to working with less-expensive fabrics such as cotton Lycra. The high volume of demand for the rompers has forced Shaw to shut down the Random Rompers website (though she still makes rompers for her Etsy store) for about a month, just so she can fulfill back orders—a problem any seller would like to have.