She made it: Entrepreneur turns artistic bent into a living
Stacy Sanchez-Ibarra has been artistic since she was little, though it never occurred to her she could make a living at it, until it did.
“I’ve always liked making things,” said the owner of Artesana Embroidery & Screen Printing. “I’ve been a very crafty person since I was a very young child. My mom’s very crafty too. Her mom was too. I guess it runs in the family.”
Still, not so long ago she was working for a “very large gym” in Brownsville, in a corporate environment that didn’t really suit her, except when she was creating holiday decorations or creating promotional displays. Sanchez-Ibarra called Rick Gonzalez, owner of Comet Cleaners, for whom she’d once worked for a number of years, to see if there were any openings, even if it meant a big pay cut.
“He’s like, well, actually I’m thinking of starting up an embroidery section to the cleaners,” she said.
Sanchez-Ibarra enrolled in an embroidery class, went to work for Gonzalez under the “Artesana” shingle and discovered she had a knack. Soon the shop, located inside Comet on East Price Road, added screen printing.
Her reputation spread, apparently, because in early 2017 Sanchez-Ibarra got a call from an Edinburg shop offering her more money to do what she was doing for Gonzalez. More income would be nice, she thought, but she didn’t like the thought of leaving Artesana and driving to Edinburg every day.
Sanchez-Ibarra worked up her courage and asked Gonzalez for a raise. He said he’d think about it and let her know. Before long he requested a meeting.
“I was, like, oh no,” she said. “This is it. This is where I lose my job.”
He handed her an envelope, which Sanchez-Ibarra assumed contained her final paycheck. Rather, it contained a contract: Gonzalez was offering her the chance to buy the business.
“He’s like, ‘You are Artesana anyway,’” she said. “‘If you leave I close it down, because you are this place.’ I just started crying. I was bawling, to be given an opportunity like that, where I don’t think I would be able to otherwise. Financially, it just isn’t in the cards for me.”
Gonzalez answered all her questions and helped with the transition, as well as getting the business transferred into her name.
“He even went with me downtown to go change it,” she said. “It was cool. He’s an awesome guy.”
One year and eights months later, Sanchez-Ibarra is expanding her client base and enjoying being her own boss in a one-woman shop. Artesana hosts an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 24 as part of Small Business Saturday, a nationwide annual event, and will feature embroidery and screen printing demonstrations.
“Everything’s going so good and I love it,” Sanchez-Ibarra said. “I think before I got into this I didn’t realize how much I really like making things.”
Artesana’s customers are split between large clients with high-volume orders and individuals who just need a few shirts for a family event, she said, adding that customers like it that the person they’re interfacing with is the same one doing the work.
"You’re seeing that person face to face, and they get to know me and I get to know them,” Sanchez-Ibarra said. “I have to be able to look at them in the eye when I’m done making what I’m making, because if it looks bad or something happens, I’m the only one. That hardly ever happens. I don’t want to say it, but I’m kind of a perfectionist.”
She said she’s been able to handle the volume on her own, though things do get intense come August right before school starts.
“Sometimes it gets a little bit overwhelming, but I try to give myself time to do the things,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do. You keeping going and then when you’re done you’re done.”
Artesana offers fabric screen printing in up to four colors and machine embroidery with “up to as many colors as you like,” she said. Sanchez-Ibarra also does some hand embroidery. Her specialty, though, is helping people turn their ideas into reality — even if she’s not always sure at first how proceed.
“I hate saying no,” she said.
Meanwhile, she still marvels that it took her so long to realize she could be “crafty” for a living as opposed to stuck in a “regular job.” Sanchez-Ibarra hopes her experience will serve as a lesson that middle age doesn’t mean you’re out of options.
Also, this piece of advice: “Always ask for the raise, because you never know,” she said.