When I moved to Columbus in July 2010, I hadn't been able to line up a job in advance. My boyfriend Max (now my husband) had been here a month already, getting started on his graduate research at OSU and making our summer sublet apartment livable. We were so happy to finally be living together—after 3 years together, 21 months of which was long-distance—that at first, it felt like a fun adventure to be living off his student stipend in a horrible apartment and only owning one spoon between the two of us.
But, as you might imagine, that got old fast. Thankfully, I got a job within two weeks of moving here, working at an antique shop in the Short North, Columbus’ arts and shopping district. Hilariously, I got the job because my boss liked how well-written my cover letter was — a skill that would be indispensable as I accompanied him to auctions, moved furniture, and worked the register. The three months I spent working there were essentially a primer on what not to do as a business owner and employer.
My boss, a capricious 30-something, was a huge over-sharer, which was pretty uncomfortable considering the long hours we spent alone in the cab of his truck, driving to and from auctions. He would frequently tell me that his girlfriend was jealous of all the time we spent together—and then he’d laugh and say he shouldn’t say more since I was his employee. (This was especially horrifying innuendo because it was coming from the sweatiest person I have ever met. He literally dripped on me multiple times.) He hired another woman my age when he hired me, even though he could only afford to hire one of us — and then a month later, told me to fire her, since he wouldn’t be around to do it. (And she was my first and only friend in Columbus! I still feel sick thinking about it.) When I strained my back moving something for him and couldn’t lift anything over 10lbs. for a couple weeks, he cut my hours in half on my last day of recovery, because I wasn’t “reliable.” I was paid under the table, and instructed to take “five or ten bucks” each day from the register to buy my lunch. (You better believe I wasn’t taking just $5 by the end of my time there.)
So it’s an understatement to say that I was overjoyed when I got another part-time job, and was able to quit the antique store completely. But it wasn’t just any job — it was at Substance, a beautiful women’s clothing boutique.
Christina Getachew, the founder of Substance, is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. Her years of experience in the fashion industry inform her incredible personal style, but also opened her eyes to the true cost of fast fashion: unsafe, unfair working conditions, and a mind-boggling amount of waste and pollution. Substance broke the mold, and was a shop full of beautiful, wearable clothes and accessories that were nearly all sustainably-made, and made in the USA when possible. Not only that, but a portion of the shop’s profits were donated to DonorsChoose, a charity that supports public school teachers in high-need communities.
Under Christina’s leadership, I didn’t only learn about the value of sustainable fashion — but also about how to build a sustainable company. By following her lead, I learned that the best way to build relationships with customers was to be welcoming, enthusiastic and, most importantly, honest. We wanted women to leave the store confident that their new clothes weren’t just great quality, but actually looked great, too — we weren’t going to lie if something just wasn’t flattering. My coworkers were smart, motivated, creative women, and I was routinely amazed at the work they did, from designing beautiful window displays to taking gorgeous product photos to spearheading marketing/philanthropic campaigns. And though I was just a retail assistant, I was encouraged to learn about any facet of the business that interested me, and to take on creative projects. It was during my time at Substance that I started to play with lettering, taking charge of doing all of the signage for our displays — and I soon became the primary copywriter for the website.
Christina cultivated a fertile creative environment that was rich with warm, female energy, and I thrived during my time there. The 15 months I spent working at Substance are still some of the most professionally fulfilling of my life, and having that experience is a huge part of the reason that I have prioritized minimizing waste, using recycled stock for my cards, and building philanthropy into the foundation of my business. And when I think about what I want for the future of Written Paper Goods, one of my most lofty, treasured dreams is to someday create the same sort of work environment for my own employees that Christina created.