Village Voices: Snowmass local starts Slopeside Sewing business amid pandemic
For this week’s Village Voices, the Snowmass Sun met with Aimee Ruddell, a Snowmass local who started up her own sewing business, Slopeside Sewing and Services, amid the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say about the challenges she’s faced and how she’s working to help people during the COVID-19 crisis:
Snowmass Sun: So you said you’ve been in the village for 10 years? Where are you from originally?
Aimee Ruddell: Yes, yeah. I’m originally from Maryland and I’ve spent most of my time just up and down the East Coast. I lived in New York City, went to school in Boston, and yeah.
SS: And how did you hear about Snowmass? What brought you here?
AR: My husband brought me out here. He had been working on the Front Range and got recruited to the ski school. We’d left New York City in 2003 and ended up down in Denver and he was running the kids ski school at Eldora (Mountain.) There’s a big connection between Eldora and ski school here, a lot of people kind of start there and then end up working out here. So we moved down here.
I was not into sewing then, I worked for financial services for a firm in Aspen when we moved here in 2008. And then I spent the last nine years working for the skiing company doing a lot of training, I worked in a couple of different departments doing training.
SS: So how did you get into sewing and this business up and running?
AR: I know, my timing is awesome, right? (Ruddell laughs) I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole in large companies, and just as I kind of go through different careers and things like that, it’s just never been a good fit for me. I’ve always wanted to own my own business. My family has all owned their own businesses; I’m actually the only one who wasn’t running their own. My brother and my sister each have their own business, my mother and my father each have their own business, and so everybody is an entrepreneur.
So I left the skiing company in January and I had a couple of different business ideas. But I’ve always been a sewer, a crafter a do-it-yourselfer. And so doing this just made a lot of sense to me. I have been actually hoarding fabric and supplies since I lived in my 500-square foot, New York City apartment, so reusing things and repurposing things and saving things that still have a lot of life in them is just something that I love doing. I’ve been having so much fun with it.
SS: What sort of work are you doing for people through your business?
AR: It is a little bit of everything which is so much fun because each project that walks in is like a research project and a planning project and I have to get creative with how we’re going to solve it. So it’s everything right now from custom drapery to cushion re-covers, to mending alterations. I’ve done ski jackets, ski pants, a lot of zipper work. I’ve also done alterations, hems and sleeve adjustments and things like that, and I just fixed hockey pads and kids shoes. So bring it my way. I have told people I can’t save things but I’m always game to try.
SS: Yeah, and I mean what challenges have you faced trying to get your business up and running and to build your clientele amid this pandemic?
AR: In mid-February I rented this space. I had my first full week in the shop right before they announced the stay at home order. So I packed up things I had just brought up here, took them back to my house and was at home until I had large scale projects and you know the regulations opened up and things like that.
Sourcing and finding items has been really tough. I had some projects that had started before any of the stay at home orders, but for a long time during that each time I placed an order with a vendor I’d have to call them and find out if they were open, if they were still shipping and what sort of delays to expect so that people could have some sort of timeline… with making masks, it was really hard. There was no elastic and there’s still no elastic. So it’s kind of trying to figure out what you could use instead.
SS: When did you start making masks and have you been giving those out for free or selling them or what’s that process?
AR: I didn’t jump right into it, especially in the beginning because there was so much conflicting guidance. So when I decided to start making them, I wanted to go with the experts, so this (shows mask) is actually a Kaiser Permanente (health care company) mask pattern.
So I started making masks originally for my family and my friends. I have a few friends who are frontline firefighters, so I wanted to make sure everybody at least had one. After that, I started charging for masks, and so I sell them for $15 now. They’re very functional masks, not necessarily the fashion masks but they’re actually pretty comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. Every time I think I can put my mask supplies away I get another order and somebody calls up and says, ‘oh can you do this?’ I was only doing men’s and women’s masks for a while and then I got a request for kids masks, so I started doing kids masks and yeah, every time I think I have enough someone calls and asks for six or eight or 10.
SS: How does it feel to be able to make these masks and help people stay more protected during this pandemic?
AR: You know, it’s really great to be able to help people and feel like you are contributing to us getting back to normal, even though this is the new normal.
SS: And was there ever a point where you feared that you wouldn’t be able to keep your business up and running because of the pandemic?
AR: It definitely made me a little cautious about kind of thinking long term, but you know I moved to Aspen in the fall of 2008 in financial services, so I’ve been through kind of ups and downs before and I knew my first few months would be pretty slow. ….
But long term, especially now with people having lost out of a few months worth of income, saving things like ski gear from last year and making it go through another season or two more seasons could really help out a lot of people and make a lot of sense. It’s a great way to also have a huge impact on our environment. There’s so much fast fashion and I’m so guilty of it as well, because I love a new ski outfit. But maybe keep that the same ski outfit for two years or three years rather than get a new one every single year.
SS: So what are your goals for this summer as things start to reopen?
AR: I would like to keep taking in a lot of alterations and mending to help people out. I hear from so many people who say they haven’t been able to find anybody or who wouldn’t do it. Not everybody likes zippers. But I know there are some things people just love or have an attachment to so I want to help save those items. But I’m also looking into some fabrication jobs so hopefully I can get some drapery jobs, some cushion re-covers and things like that, and kind of do a blend of both. I know I’m going to have to specialize at some point but right now it’s just fun that I don’t have to.
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