I believe in celebrations. In fact, I celebrate quite often. When it comes to celebrating Ready to Stare's first Etsy sale on February 3, 2012, I've never missed an opportunity to break out the streamers. 

For Ready To Stare's first anniversary, I threw an epic trunk show/party at BLAIR. And last year, I wrote about my biggest hits and misses including the time I accidentally gave someone $90 change. I have prided myself on being able to put a positive spin on all of the ups and downs that I have experienced as a business owner, but this year, I feel not discussing the downs as real struggles is doing my audience a disservice. I want to get real about what running this business is actually like while also sharing an unexpected positive outcome. After talking with my friend Corissa from Fat Girl Flow, who is a huge support system to me, I knew that this is what I needed to do.

When I started Ready to Stare, I had a business plan but I had no formal business training at all. I studied journalism and gender studies in college so I had a slight leg up on PR and marketing but I sure didn't know anything about running a business and designing was only something I had done as a hobby. But I believed in my ability to work my fucking ass off and that was one of my assumptions about running this business that I was not wrong about. I was hungry and I asked everyone I could for help and advice. I worked a corporate day job and used what little money I had leftover from those paychecks to put into this business. I did that for two years. Those years were difficult but they pale in comparison to this past year. 

My goal for Ready to Stare in the beginning was to grow the business large enough to have a retail store in multiple cities and four years later, even one brick and mortar store is still a distant reality. And while I have grown in ways that I never knew possible, there's one thing that has not changed since the beginning: Ready to Stare is still a passion project by business standards. I am the only employee and I use that term loosely because I do not pay myself; every dollar goes back into running this business.

Although there have been a few months in the past four years where I did not work another job, I now work five writing jobs in order to support myself and while my family and friends beg me to go back to a corporate job for stability, I know that doing so would come at a cost to Ready to Stare. The cost I rarely consider is the one that this business has taken on me.

I created Ready to Stare to empower people through fashion and having a mission based in social change has always made me feel like my work served a greater purpose than just being a business. But if I wasn't truly passionate about this mission and stubborn as hell, I don't know that I would've seen this four-year anniversary. In a lot of ways, the everyday operations of this business have become a huge burden to me. I receive messages at all hours of the day and because my main form of promotion is social media, I can rarely unplug. When I started off, I knew I lacked the resources not to do all aspects of my business but I assumed that was only temporary. I assumed that if I just worked hard enough, I would get Ready to Stare to be financially independent to support itself, me and even employees. But this is not the reality and confronting that has shook a deep core belief that hard work = success.

But here's the positive spin to all of this that I just can't resist sharing. I haven't achieve the level of success and stability that I assumed I would, but I achieved one that I NEVER thought was possible: my own freedom and visibility. A lot of people message me and say, "You are living my dream as a designer" and because I know what sacrifices I make everyday to continue to be a business owner, I wish there was a way for me to positively tell them, 'I wouldn't wish this struggle on my worst enemy.' I see so many bloggers whose goal is to design and ironically, my journey was the opposite.

Ready to Stare was the name of a blog I was too scared to start in late 2011. I have told this story a few times but I came up with the name after being publicly fat shamed while crossing the street in Chicago. Someone yelled out their car window, "Hey fat girl, stop trying to look skinny." The experience enraged me. This person was implying that the confidence I had in myself to dress my body as I pleased was something reserved only for skinny girls. That day I went home and got the Ready to Stare tumblr. I wrote a blog about this experience. And while I've told this story multiple times on other platforms over the past two years, that initial blog is still saved as a draft on Tumblr. 

You see four years ago, I didn't have the voice I have now. I dressed how I pleased but even though it was my own personal experience that had inspired this brand, I didn't see any value in my own experience. I realize if you follow me now this probably seems hard to believe. But trust me, starting Ready to Stare seemed EASIER than taking outfits posts in 2011. That fear of my own visibility is the reason Ready to Stare became a business and not a blog. The mission was always about showing how fashion could be a form of personal empowerment and a means to social change but to do so through the people who wore Ready to Stare. Putting myself out there was way too scary for me. 

I always knew that storytelling had the power to be trans-formative; it's the reason that I became a journalist. I wanted to tell other people's stories through writing. My story was never part of the plan and not because I didn't want it to be but because I never believed it could be. At Ready to Stare's inception in 2012, I believed more that Ready to Stare would become a multi-location retail business more than I believed in the value of my own voice. If you would've told me that four years later, I would pen a letter to Oprah sharing one of my most personal experiences of my life, I would've told you to get out of town. Getting back into writing professional and finally starting my personal style blog over these two years has brought me so much personal fulfillment and freedom. 

I used to say that fashion saved my life and while I believe that's still true, I would say that Ready to Stare transformed my life. This business has certainly not made me a millionaire (quite the opposite) but without starting this business, I do not know if I would be where I am personally today in terms of my own freedom, visibility and advocacy. I could've never predicted this or wrote this into my business plan. This process was true, organic growth. 

These days, Ready to Stare is really so much more than just the handmade jewelry brand that it was on February 3, 2012. Ready to Stare as a brand is a lot about Alysse Dalessandro as a person --- something I never thought was possible. It brings tears to my eyes to recognize that.

So what does that mean for Ready to Stare as a business? I will continue to design new collections though likely not as many as I have designed in past years. I will continue to find new designers to carry in #Staretique. You can expect more awesome size inclusive lookbooks. But my intentions will also be directed as well towards growing as a speaker, writer, stylist, consultant and personal style blogger. In the past, Ready to Stare, the shop, has been top priority but now the Ready to Stare umbrella is becoming larger and my efforts will be dedicated towards all of the different ways in which I can further the Ready to Stare mission of creating social change through fashion and helping to inspire self love. 

As always, I feel it's important to stress that none of this could be possible without the people who have supported me and continue to believe in me. There's few too many to name but trust me when I say that I got through this year because of you. And I have comfortable making this leap to expand my brand because you have continued to fuck with me when I branched out from designing. For the first time in a while, I am more excited about what is to come for me personally than I am sad about what Ready to Stare is not as a business. 

I want to end all of this by saying follow your fucking dreams and prepare yourself to absolutely in awe of the way that life works when you take a leap of faith. 

ALSO: IN HONOR OF READY TO STARE'S ANNIVERSARY, USE THE CODE "FOURYEAR" TO GET 25% OFF YOUR ENTIRE ORDER FROM 2/3-2/7 at www.readytostare.com.

 OUTFIT DETAILS

Cheetah Print Faux Fur Jacket, Re/Dress (sold out but similar

I'm Morbidly Obsessed With Myself Plus Size Tee, Ready to Stare

Plus Size Knotted Asymmetrical Skirt, Charlotte Russe 

Ankle Strap Platform Lug Sole Heels, Charlotte Russe  

 This post contains some affiliate links and I'll earn a small commission if you shop through them. 

 XO

ALYSSE