From Hill Staffer to Garter Girl

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Former Capitol Hill staffer Julianne Smith, pictured with her family, started Garter Girl. She started a second business, United With Love, which she sold after 5 years to focus on Garter Girl. | Courtesy Julianne Smith.

Julianne Smith’s story begins much like other D.C. stories. A politics major in college, she always loved government and history. With an internship on the Hill under her belt, Juli returned to the city and started working on Capitol Hill and in politics, specializing in media relations and strategic communications.

“It taught me to multi-task and how to juggle more than one thing at a time,” she said.

Finding politics to be intense and stressful, however, she ended up pursuing her creative side when she left the political field to have her daughter. She soon transitioned to the wedding industry, where things became a little easier.

“I don’t take it all so seriously and get myself all stressed out over little things,” she said. “It is fun to be surrounded by people in love and celebrating a happy time in their lives.”

Always one who made things on her own when she couldn’t find what she was looking for, Juli took that creative spark and started up the Garter Girl, a business focused on designing and hand-making wedding garters.

“My business was a slow build over time,” Juli said. “Every year, I took on more and more and things just grew organically.”

Five years ago, Juli took a hiatus from the Garter Girl to launch United With Love, a wedding blog specializing in all things nuptial in the D.C. area. “I was doing two businesses for a few years and I just sold [United With Love], so now I’m back to the Garter Girl full-time,” she said. “It is hard to take things slowly and grow them carefully, but really that is what had made it manageable and enjoyable all these years.”

Since things were taken slowly over the years, Juli still calls herself “in love with her business.” Now a busy mom of three, she called the Garter Girl “a creative outlet from her home life” and said that it “challenges her in ways I never would have dreamed.”
Her only frustration? Not being able to do it all at this very moment. By nature an impatient person, Juli said that owning a business taught her to take things slowly and not beat herself up too much when things don’t happen right away.

“Of course I work hard and am always growing and evolving the business, but for me I’m more balanced on the ‘life’ portion of the work-life balance right now,” she said. “I know that will change in a few years when my kids get a little older — and I’m okay with that.”

Being a mom to three young children and a small business owner, there isn’t really a typical day for Juli. “I try to live in and around the chaos of my life and instead of going day by day, I try to go week by week,” she said, starting each week armed with a loose set of tasks to be accomplished over the five days.

Juli has managed to continue her strategy of slow and steady. At the Garter Girl, there are rarely any last minute orders. “It is hard to say no to that type of business, but quick turnarounds just don’t work in my life right now,” she said. Production time is three to four weeks, which gives her enough time to make the garters perfectly and still handle unexpected issues at home that may arise.

Asked about advice for other moms who are small business owners, Juli hesitated. Citing how “we all need to find our own unique way,” what works for her may not work for others. “The way I get through a week is so specific to my life right now and from the outside probably looks very messy and complicated,” she said. “It’s my life and I’m just making it work, as I think most women and moms are doing.”

For those thinking of starting their own businesses, Juli recommended taking risks and having the confidence to make a change. A risk-taker by nature, she allows herself the room to make changes or abandon ideas if they don’t work. She gave the example of United With Love, which she began in 2010 and sold in January. She took a risk in launching it and growing it, but when it was time to move on she had the courage to say “enough” and let it grow without her.

Wondering what a D.C. mom and small business owner does to relax? Juli goes so far as to uninstall the apps on her phone just so she won’t check it. To unwind, she also likes to practice yoga or go for a run. “Doing something that is the opposite of my work is the only way to de-stress for me,” she said.

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