Back in 2013, I chose the name Truly Charis to represent truly grace. Charis is a transliteration of the Greek word χάρις, pronounced khar'-ece in Greek. In English the word is more accurately written cháris and pronounced khä'-rēs. (Side note: Ariel, my husband, studies / studied biblical languages plus a little French, Japanese and Arabic.)
I began making cloth diapers in late 2013, and by February 2014, I had fallen in love with and switched completely over to wool. I started with making AI2 diapers, but my love for wool grew quickly after seeing the healing it brought Benjamin’s eczema-plagued skin. In the beginning, I started TC as a hobby and means for adult conversation while raising 2, then 3, kids during a season when my life was much slower, since Ariel was working full-time and going to school full-time. I hardly ever saw him during this time. Fast forward to November 2014, Ariel was fired when I was 8 months pregnant with Amara, and I developed severe postpartum depression. As a result, he did not feel comfortable returning to work outside the home, and since we did not have a support system with our family, friends or church family, he decided to join me in my Truly Charis endeavors. We worked over 10 months before receiving our first "paycheck". We only made enough to eat, and got behind on all our bills during that time. It was terrible.
Over the course of 2015, I improved my pattern drafting skills and worked to build up the equipment we needed one piece at a time. In June 2015, we were ready for our first large wool run. How exciting!! We borrowed the money and felt we were on our way to becoming successful and finally getting paid weekly! Ariel and I worked up to 45-60 hours for a combined $300 per week. Not exactly what I had in mind, but it was better than nothing. It was then that I realized just how little we knew about the true cost of business. Up until this point, we had focused on making quality wool affordable to all, but it was costing us severely. Over time, after much toil and struggle, I slowly started becoming more familiar with each business expense one at a time and began understanding how absorbing $0.02 per tag seems minuscule and doable on a small scale, but quickly added up to large expenses as you scale.
Black Friday 2015 was a huge success!! We received way more orders than we were expecting and hired our first 2 employees, entering us into the world of payroll taxes. The problem was that Truly Charis was not set up to scale this quickly. We had to scramble together to create a production system and develop processes that would allow us to fill these orders. Couple this with the fact that I sent out over a hundred samples of Unicorn wash which was causing the dye to practically run from our hand dyed wool leaving me in a huge bind. I worked closely with Unicorn, as I had already built the relationship when deciding to use and retail their products, to determine the cause. In the end, we had different thoughts on why this was happening and closed that chapter with Unicorn recommending that we not use their products on our hand dyed wool, which is a recommendation we still hold today. I attempted to remedy customer issues by offering a 50% credit if they kept the item or offering an exchange. This is when we began extensively testing Sweet Tea N Biscuits wool care on our products, which we eventually began wholesaling.
Around December 2015, I started preparing for my next large order of wool interlock. I ordered a smaller portion and noticed that the quality had diminished significantly since my last order in June. During testing, I began receiving messages that children were wearing holes in their woolies prematurely. Ariel and I were faced with either finding a new source or choosing to close down because we were unwilling to offer a product that we could not stand behind. This was our intro into milling our own material runs. The timing was perfect as Woolybottoms was stepping out of the industry, we stepped in to continue their material runs. Now, milling your own material is EXPENSIVE and very time consuming. So many things can go wrong and do, but the benefit of producing the best material you possibly can while ensuring proper treatment of everyone, including the sheep, makes it worth it.
In 2016, we attempted utilizing a cut and sew, which didn’t go well on so many levels.
Moving onto February 2017, Ariel and I were in desperate need of paying for the remainder of the wool run that was scheduled to complete April 2017. I had this bright idea of attempting a Kickstarter, which no one really thought would work, but ended up bringing in over $30k!! We immediately paid off the remaining wool expense which was over half of the total, and ordered the hemp to make the free flats. (In case you are wondering, lots of people like cheap wool and free flats, but building a business this way will leave you with a large payroll expense, shipping expense and most likely a greater material cost than estimated causing you to possibly work for years to offset the loss. Trust me on this one.)
First week of April 2017, I suffered from a stroke (or stroke-like episode) shortly after running this “successful” Kickstarter campaign, and within months, became pregnant with our sixth child. I suffered from debilitating pain much of my pregnancy (which I continue to live with and manage to the best of my abilities). On top of that, we also had material suppliers that continued to misinform me regarding material completion and ship dates. That wool which was scheduled to ship April 2017 did not arrive until June 2017! There were so many hardships that were beyond my control. As a result of my health and business struggles, orders were delayed and we hit up to an 8 week turnaround at the end of the year, back when our standard was 2-4 weeks. I am thankful that many of our customers dealt with us in a supportive and understanding way; however, many others were frustrated and banded together to spread their frustrations far and wide. I completely understood their frustrations and resolved within myself to continue learning and striving to do better, while understanding that quality and creativity are my strong suits and a quick turnaround is not.
In 2018, also known as the year of our “Great Wool Shortage”, Truly Charis became know as “The Woolie Company with No Wool” as our supply chain faltered. I, then, worked to develop the wool we are currently using now which easily took 6 months to develop, test and create. To fill the gap and feed my kids, I expanded into Merino Jersey clothing. I worked hard to create an interest for it: testing patterns, securing material and shifting the entire established production line, all just to keep us in business. In December 2018, Holly with STNB approached me with the offer to purchase her wool care line and formulations, and this is where Charis N Ewe came in!
In 2019, I realized the employees were costing me A LOT of money in errors, mistakes, possible employee theft (which we never found solid evidence of, but multiple employees noticed / suspected), running the clock and so forth. Managing the employees while being lead seamstress and raising my own 6 children became impossible. As a result, Ariel and I scaled back down to a small shop and restructured to produce the bulk of the work ourselves once again. It’s been a really hard transition, but we are finally settling into a rhythm that is matching our previous production levels. (Another hard lesson learned: Producing a lot doesn’t mean much when you’re losing money each transaction as we were last year.) Ariel and I moved with an enormous debt load. We have worked for over the last year to pay back the costs of all our mistakes, which means forfeiting our own pay when necessary. Im happy time account that we have finally reached a new chapter in our journey towards profitability and sustainability! There are brighter days ahead!
Since 2015, I have tried a variety of production styles including a cut and sew, a contractor team, and employees. In the end, none of these options took the company in the direction I wanted to go without compromise. Over the years, I have grown as a person, as a wife, as a mom, as a seamstress and as a business owner. I have learned from my mistakes, persevered and become resilient. I have grown Truly Charis with the addition of four TC babies!
The dedication, care and passion we have for what we do is the driving force behind Truly Charis as we work with our hands to support our growing family. Truly Charis provides handmade, semi-custom items designed by you to provide you and your family with comfortable, durable and sustainable clothing. As a company, I strive to create ethically made and sourced products with the best materials I can find, even if they are more expensive than the less expensive routes. To me, Truly Charis is here to provide more than just handmade clothing. We also aim to connect and create a space where we can all grow, learn and journey alongside each other during the tough season of raising our families. I hope you find our community inviting, loving, supportive and encouraging! Thank you for being here! 💕
Love, Grace and Peace to You,
Destani De La Rosa
Wife, Friend, Mother of 6 & WAHM