DCFunemployment: Tell the people – Who are you?
Hey! I’m Amina Ahmad, owner and sole operator of Handmade Habitat, an all natural soy candle and beauty goods company proudly based in the District. I grew up in a hugely DIY family. My childhood was filled with sewing doll dresses, painting murals on the walls of my bedroom and blurring the lines between art and the space and ways in which I lived. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Environmental Science and during college, I started making eco-friendly candles, the foundation for what my business is today. Today I call Takoma Park home where I live in the most perfectly imperfect apartment with my husband, Brad, and pup Rosie. In 2015, I co-founded the Unofficial Hand Lettering Society of Silver Spring and over the pst four years have worked with artists and vendors producing events around the DMV.
DCF: What does being funemployed mean to you & what was your path to funemployment?
AA: Funemployment is my life! I first started my business in 2010 when I took the masses of bags, clothing, accessories and home goods that I had made over the years to DC area markets. It was a Summer sometime during college where I didn’t end up landing an internship, and instead of grinding at a Starbucks all Summer, I figured I’d see what kind of other world I could live in. Turns out, market life was quickly addicting and that’s what sparked me to really pursue my business. I loved meeting people, especially other makers, getting feedback on my work and getting to make more things without having it all clutter up my closets. It’s six years later and I’m still doing it.
DCF: Who was your first cheerleader?
AA: Both of my parents always encouraged me to be creative. They are both engineers but love art and DIY projects. My mom is always working on something whether it’s building a TV stand or sewing pillow covers to match a couch. Her parents owned a curtain-making shop when she was growing up and she would spend her Summers and weekends helping out there when necessary. She always made things with us growing up and as I got older (and still to this day) she’s my number one consult when I’m trying to build some kind of intensive candle display for a show.
DCF: What experiences in your life prepared you for where you are now?
AA: I’m the oldest of three and learned to be pretty self-reliant growing up. Both of my parents worked full-time by the time I was in middle school so I would watch out for my siblings after school and help take care of stuff around the house since they both worked at least 40 minutes from our house.
DCF: Where do you get your inspiration and/or motivation?
AA: Yoga definitely recharges me. I’ve been doing yoga teacher training this year and the requirements are draining me, ironically, but every time I go back to practice on my mat I feel so relaxed, energized and in control of my life. Running a small business totally alone can be super exhausting and stressful, but yoga keeps me balanced and sane. Having down time and me time is so important. I love spending time at home in the yard with my dog and enjoying hot cups of tea in the evenings.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find balance?
AA: Balance is a constant struggle for me. I’m dedicating 2017 to finding a little more. This year I tried to separate my work from my home by getting a studio outside the house. I spend three days a week in the studio to pour candles and ship out orders and two days a week at home on the couch with Rosie to answer emails and catch up on marketing, organizing and planning. I’ve been trying to define home time from work time by separating it with cooking more! If I get up, put on music and cook a meal, I immediately feel more homey, relaxed and at ease at home. I can settle into the evening and let go of work.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
AA: I had the chance to have a traditional career path. I interned at FEMA for a while but I left to pursue new opportunities. I dabbled in journalism but the classwork didn’t feel right to me. I’ve been running my business for six years now. It’s been four years since I’ve had a regular desk job and now I worry that I couldn’t go back to normality. I feel like I’ve set sail on this journey and there’s really no going back at this point.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
AA: UGH. Being a woman in any career field is hard. But running a business as a woman is particularly tricky. I take meetings with people and often feel like either due to my age, race or gender, they feel as if they are entertaining me more than taking me seriously. People also love to make odd assumptions about my background and act surprised when they learn I don’t just work for the company, I am the company. People also feel like they can just tell me what I should do when they have absolutely no idea what running my business is like. I try to think that maybe they’re trying to be helpful, but I doubt the same happens to men who have businesses similar to mine. Selling at markets can be tricky too. Before I started wearing a wedding ring everywhere I go, I would get lovely little creepers that wouldn’t leave me alone. My magic ring keeps them away though. Or at least, at bay. You just have to be a little cautious. There’s a lot of information about me on the internet and my business, and when it comes to safety and security, I try to be a little more cautious about what I present about myself because there are just a trillion ways people can use your well-intended information for harm.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
AA: I had an art teacher when I was a senior in high school who was amazing. One day we got around to discussing art as a career, where she said the whole point was to make money. Someone asked her “But do you make things that will sell or make things that you want?” She said “Good question” and nothing else lol. I always thought eventually she’d tell us the answer, but there is no answer, honestly. It’s a constant struggle. Best when what you want to make and what people want to buy collide, but that doesn’t always happen and is this constant question I ask myself.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
AA: I haven’t made one epically huge mistake, but I have made plenty of smaller mistakes and learned from them along the way. For example, always order the sturdy shipping boxes when shipping glass! Never ever trust USPS to do anything correctly – make sure you get receipts and document everything. Drink water at markets so you don’t faint! Keep some of your best ideas for yourself- don’t always share them with people. Don’t overcommit to projects and events. But I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that you are the only one who is looking out for yourself truly at the end of the day. You have to take care of yourself.
DCF: What is your proudest moment?
AA: I’ve nearly survived a full year of self-employment! I’ve paid my bills, I’ve done new things this year, I found a studio and am paying rent there and at my apartment and I haven’t had to sell a kidney or anything! This year was a year filled with insanely bad luck in the selling world paired with a crazy election year. Never in a million years could I have predicted what 2016 would bring, but it will be a full year of this adventure in November. It will hopefully be the beginning of a great holiday season and January will bring the start of a new year with a) way better planning b) way better perspective and c) hopefully a whole rack of new opportunities!
DCF: What’s next?
AA: Our Fall / Holiday collection is coming out this month! I’m so so excited about it. It’s my first really cohesive Fall / Holiday collection and I’m so pumped to share it with the world. I’ll also be debuting special limited edition holiday ceramic candles in November; I’m having my first candle making workshop right before Thanksgiving; and I’ll be speaking on a panel about finding your creative niche at Ringlet Market in DC in early November.