2020 was a rough year, especially for small business owners. Sarah Herrick-Smíšek doesn’t own just one small business, but two. She tells us how taking care of your mental health in the midst of a pandemic is a hobby all its own.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a full blooded Duluthian, born and raised on the shores of Lake Superior. I have only spent 4 years away from this city and can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else; the lake fuels my soul and I feel extremely fortunate to have a view from my home that allows me to watch the sun come up over it each morning. I have two children with my husband, Mike. Our daughter, Piper is 4.5 and our son, Isaac is soon to be 2. Because we seem to like things in twos, we also run two businesses together: DLH Clothing where I’m the lead operator and receive phenomenal assistance from Mike and our team; and Šek Design Studio, where Mike is the creative director and keeps a steady flow thanks to our team and me (doing a lot of behind the scenes work).
How did you get involved in your work?
It was a team effort by my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I. We were both working full-time jobs, but we wanted to create something that was ours and we wanted it to be something that celebrated Duluth and the surrounding area. Mike had the design skills (a Fine Arts major working as a Graphic Designer) and I had the people skills (a Public Relations major with a job that was teaching me a few skills about starting a business). When we started brainstorming what we wanted to create, I had been booking a lot of travel for my current job and the name DLH Clothing popped in my head. DLH is the airport code here and a nice abbreviated change from the numerous touristy shirts you could find with ‘Duluth’ splashed all over them. Mike got to sketching and created a handful of different logo variations, the final version that we landed on not being too far off from one of the originals.
We found a small local printer to work with and received validation that we created something people would want when a local shop ordered 60 shirts based off of a mockup. We had a Facebook page, an Instagram account and soon after a website. I was able to connect with other business owners, who allowed us to pop-up in their spaces around the holidays. After my day job, I would sometimes drive around town to meet people to deliver their orders and I frequently sat on our living room floor in our small apartment folding inventory and packing orders.
Between 1.5 – 2 years into our businesses, we moved into a small office space that we were able to set up for local pickups and holiday shopping, but still not big enough to allow for regular retail shopping. When we moved into this space I was 7 months pregnant and 2 months away from both having a baby and leaving my full-time job. It was terrifying and freeing at the same time and when I look back, that tiny space gave me so much joy. I have pictures of me working at my desk with Piper sleeping in my lap. There was even a time during holiday shopping where I was sitting down breastfeeding her and checking out customers at the same time (I knew then that we had amazing customers because they didn’t flinch at that sight).
Another year later and we moved into the space one door down from ours. Both of our businesses were growing and the demand for a retail space was becoming evident. Another 7 months later and we took the spot another door down. It was in that space that I felt I was able to really watch our businesses grow. I had my own office, with great light, beautiful energy and places to actually put things to keep me organized! During these years of growth, I continued to connect with more and more business owners and was a regular at our local Rising Tide Society meetings. As I am now, I frequently focused on DLH Clothing, as that has always been the business that I’ve had my hands in daily, but I loved plugging Šek Design Studio as well because even if I am biased, my husband is ridiculously talented, something that took me a long time to not be intimidated by or jealous of.
Fast forward to April of 2019 and I signed a new lease for DLH’s own space with our 2 week old son in my arms. I thought I was terrified leaving my full-time job, but this was far more terrifying. This was a giant (necessary) leap and the timing seemed perfect and horribly wrong. Looking back, it truly was both. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to have this space, but it felt like we were starting a new business. While our new baby was sleeping, Mike was at the shop sanding floors and assembling our displays and I was trying to find staff, get internet setup, order new product, searching Facebook Marketplace for tables and chairs and the list goes on and on. We did it and it was worth it and also I would be lying if I said I wished those first few months with Isaac could have been a bit less chaotic.
Now, here we are in 2021 (we survived 2020 – yay and thank you). I prefer working from my newly made desk at home, while my staff runs the shop and Mike continues to work at our office downtown that has been reconfigured again to be a great design studio full of natural light. I am still involved in every aspect of DLH, but I like that I now have a team of people that I can rely on, freeing up my time to dream and connect and not only create designs/products that give back, but to give more of my time to organizations as well. I do still put myself on the schedule from time to time though because connections with our customers has always been my favorite part of the job!
How have you been staying connected to your community?
Instagram. I’ve honestly never been more grateful for that space than I have been the past year. I’ve cultivated such an amazing community of people that inspire me, make me laugh, lift me up on tough days and I believe that I’m able to do the same for others. I’m looking forward to Galentine’s Day as well. For the first time in 20+ years, I didn’t send out holiday cards. I felt a bit guilty, but I didn’t have it in me. However, I do feel great about the intentional cards that I’m writing to friends and acquaintances that bring positivity and joy into my life.
Have you picked up any quarantine hobbies?
Do either biweekly therapy sessions or filling out PPP/grant applications qualify as hobbies?! If so, then yes, I have mastered a few! Honestly though, no, I had high hopes that I would find a new hobby, but I haven’t had the space or time for it. 2020 was a very stressful year sprinkled with some very magical moments. Taking care of my mental health was my top priority while navigating the continual changes and pivots of living life with 2 young children and 2 small businesses in the middle of a pandemic.
Who inspires you?
I feel like there is a consistent change in who inspires me based on my phases of life, but my constants are my family. My parents for continually working to be the best version of themselves and for always being available to give sound advice. My Grandma (who is my only living grandparent) for her stubbornness, which can be frustrating for my mom at times, but I love that she still exudes an ‘I can do it myself’ attitude. I also admire how she so fiercely loves her grandchildren without judgement. My children who are such amazing little humans, both so creative and full of light, even on the toughest of days. They constantly push me to be a good role model for them. My husband, for whom is interwoven throughout this entire interview, for being a true teammate and for having visions that usually scare me, but are almost always attainable. We are successful because we believe in each other.
What is your favorite form of self-care?
A hot cup of tea: black spice or chamomile are usually what you will find in my cup. Yoga, especially yoga retreats, which I used to attend a few times a year pre-pandemic. I also really enjoy reading. I’ve been cozied up with the Obamas lately; I’m near finishing Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and have Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” on deck. Finally, I love writing and over the past year have learned to accept that I don’t always have to spend a lot of time writing, but instead enjoy jotting down the highs (and lows) of my days.
What does it mean to be a Ladyboss?
I believe it means knowing your strengths, having confidence in yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and understanding when you need help. We can be super-heroines if we want, but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything by ourselves. Grace is a word that I feel gets used too frequently, however, I believe allowing yourself grace also makes you more productive in the end, therefore only adding to your Ladyboss-ness.
What do you think women need right now?
Each other. Community over competition has been the best motto introduced to me. I want to raise up the women around me and hope for the same. We need the confidence to reach out and connect with those that inspire us. And we need to raise our voices a bit louder for those who aren’t being heard. We have so much power and we have to believe in that power.