April 1, 2015. April Fool’s Day. That was the day I picked to move back to Memphis. I had been gone since 2000. I kept saying, “I’ll return to New Orleans as soon as possible. It might not take very long. Maybe it’ll be less than a year even…” I came back home to work on my new business creating Southern-inspired fabric designs. I thought that there would be fewer distractions than I had in NOLA. The joke was on me.
When I moved away from Memphis fifteen years prior it was a different place. I left to attend college in Mississippi. After that I headed due north to Chicago for grad school. Then headed down to New Orleans to work. During those years away it never occurred to me to return to my hometown. I visited a few years ago to find Overton Square almost completely shuttered. Sad, I thought. What could be next?
What was next came as a complete surprise. Since coming back, I see that Memphis has pulled itself up, dusted off, and chosen to be better, starting from the bottom. The luck that the city didn’t have; it made. The partnerships that weren’t here; it formed. The businesses that didn’t exist; it created. Those businesses brought jobs. Those jobs brought people. Those people brought money, but more importantly, they stayed. They liked it here, and they found good company.
I’m excited to be a part of it, and I no longer have plans to leave. In fact, I want to stay. My business makes sense here. It was shaped here, before I even realized it was happening. My King Cotton pattern came from watching the fields go by when traveling to Yazoo City for family reunions. Many long, hot days fishing with my parents brought about the Catfish pattern. The tall Magnolia tree in my aunt’s yard seeped into my memories and came out decades later as fabric. I have more to create, and I want to do it here, with all of you I’ve met so far and those I have yet to encounter.
Memphis is a great, pan-Southern city in that it is influenced by all the areas around it. Its unique location makes it a crossroads of culture. Tennessee does, after all, border more states than any other in our nation, and cross currents run through it, holding the South together.
That said, the Bluff City is a wonderful place to consider for starting a business. People here largely want you to succeed, because they want the city to keep going forward. This city is also HUGE. At first, it was daunting because I felt I had a grasp on the close-knit artist/maker/entrepreneur scene in New Orleans and here it was pretty much new to me. So, I had to put forth effort to see who had their finger on the pulse of the city, what organizations were being pro-active, and then I started getting involved.
The TSBDC (Tennessee Small Business Development Center) often puts on free workshops ranging in topics from general “how to start” sessions to more specific ones like bringing in an accountant to go over Quickbooks for entrepreneurs. Even the tax representatives are friendly and helpful, so don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. They want to educate you, and they won’t judge you for asking questions. The Renaissance Business Center downtown holds some of these events, and it also houses a resource library open to all.
While I have advice on where to go for business help, one of the most important things I have learned is to prioritize my sanity. It can be hard, especially in a creative field, being alone with my thoughts all day. When I started out I felt compelled to do everything immediately, and believed that taking a break meant I wasn’t doing all I could. Now I only compare myself to myself (which can be hard to do when looking at other entrepreneurs on Instagram). I try to set realistic goals, chart my progress, and spend more time thinking about what I have done than what I haven’t (yet) done.
Rebecca has a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Design and a Master’s degree in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago. She has her own small business called Southern Creed where she makes custom dog collars, ties, pocket squares, and more. She and her dog are the only employees so far. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook for updates.