One year ago today, I locked up my apartment in Chicago for the last time and got in my car. I drove to the end of my street where I reached a stop sign, but instead of saying "STOP", someone had replaced the "OP" with an "ART. I took this "START" sign as a message that leaving behind the life I had built in Chicago and moving to Atlanta for the sake of my art was the right decision for both me and my brand.
I spent a total of seven years in Chicago, four of which I spent running small creative businesses. When I founded Ready To Stare, my third small business, in early 2012, my products were sold in a salon where a friend worked before I even set up my online store. By the end of 2012, I was sold in six different boutiques and had participated in a variety of fashion shows, music festivals and craft fairs. The fashion community in Chicago welcomed me with open arms and to an extent, I relied on that local support while I grew my online business.
I am a natural risk-taker who craves change and after seven years in Chicago working and either going to school or running a business, I was ready for a change and a break. In the face of exhaustion, moving to Atlanta became this shiny beacon of hope. I began researching apartments and making lists of possible fashion collaborators. The more I researched, the better it seemed. I thought I would have no problem meeting both professional and personal contacts. It seemed like an ideal fit for my brand.
But one year later after leaving Chicago, I can confidently say that all that glitters is not gold. When I arrived in Atlanta, I received a swift reality check when I was rejected from a small indie craft fair. The e-mail read, "Thanks for your interest in being a vendor ... However, your products do not fit the desired aesthetic for the event." And the rejection continued, boutiques were not interested in carrying my items in their shop either. I had always focused on selling in local boutiques, selling at local shows and selling online. I had quit my steady full-time job in Chicago to move here and now I only had one option: sell online and do it alone.
Over the course of the next few months, I struggled with losing my Chicago support system. I was down on myself and in a negative place. Once the Beyonce album was released in December 2013, I realized that no one was going to change my life for me. Atlanta was not Chicago and it never would be and despite that, I had the power to change my situation. I decided to create the I WOKE UP LIKE DIS t-shirts and the empowerment movement, #ReadyToStareWokeUpLikeDis. I began using myself in my photos.
My connections in Chicago allowed me to hide myself from my brand. I could always count on someone else to collaborate with me and help me make creative decisions, but once I moved to Atlanta, I was on my own. I realized for the first time in my creative career that doing something on my own wasn't something to be afraid of; it was empowering. Confidence and empowerment had always been a part of my brand but my story hadn't been. #ReadyToStareWokeUpLikeDis changed that and it changed me.
The I WOKE UP LIKE DIS shirts and the movement behind them catapulted my business into online sales nearly ten times what they were when I first moved to Atlanta. People all over the world were not only wearing these shirts, but they were buying a plethora of items from my shop. I began doing shows all over the country and selling in boutiques from Phoenix, Arizona to Kuwait. I saw my business transform from a small Chicago urban fashion brand to a world-wide body positive movement.
I came to Atlanta one year ago today because I thought it would be easier here to do the same things I had done in Chicago. I had planned on changing my scenery; I hadn't planned on changing my plan. I came here looking for support from others and what I found was myself. I found that I had the power to do things in a way I never would've imagined if I stayed in my comfort zone.
I'll always have love for Chicago. I miss the people there everyday. The support that I receive there is still unreal. There would be no Ready To Stare without Chicago. When I go back to Chicago now, I get asked "Do you love Atlanta?" The answer to that is simple, "I love who Atlanta made me."
Alysse Dalessandro is owner of fashion brand Ready to Stare. Currently her designs can be purchased at http://www.etsy.com/shop/readytostare.
Follow Ready-to-Stare on Instagram: @readytostare or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/readytostare
This post was originally published on August 29, 2014.