“My entire vision for owning my own business was that single mom or not, this kid deserves a soccer mom. I want to be at every school function. I want to pick him up when school ends. I want to be at soccer. Money was not my motivating factor. My motivating factor was time.”
When you meet Bonnie Lewis, she looks impossibly chic in the most effortless way. And then when you compliment her outfit, she tells you she made it. When you talk to her about sewing she’ll casually slide in that she traveled the world working for Ralph Lauren’s advertising campaigns and fashion shoots for ten years. And in the less than five minutes it takes to tell you all that, you want to know everything about her.
Bonnie calls herself a ‘gig’ tailor and tells about her adventures traveling on photo shoots all over. She’s unfazed when she says it and not bragging one bit. She had been traveling non-stop for ten years when she was blessed with the news that she was pregnant. At the time she lived in NYC and her boyfriend, and son’s father, lived on an island off the coast of Georgia. Knowing her professional life would not suit her life as a mom, she made the move to Georgia and little Nicholas made his debut into the world. When Nicholas was just a year old, Bonnie and Nicholas’ dad decided they were better as friends than partners. So as a newly single mom, she moved to Orlando to be close to family. In a new city with limited opportunities to match her professional life, she had big decisions to make.
She took big uncertainties and turned them into big opportunities, launching one successful business after another. Along the way she met the man of her dreams and has launched the company she always dreamed of, Common Sewing, which turns beginners into efficient makers. Bonnie is truly the answer to every one of us out there that have ever said, “I wish I knew how to sew.” Now eight years old, Nichols is still the driving force behind every decision Bonnie makes.
On fitting clothes to the Ralph Lauren Models:
“I fitted the samples or built special samples for the images. I’m the person that makes you think clothing actually fits models and that something is wrong with you. Really, there’s not that much difference between them and us except for the team (photoshop, makeup, lighting, etc).”
Bonnie’s brother is a mechanical engineer that builds props for Disney. She began her Orlando career by building out the soft goods department of his company.
On what she learned working for her brother:
“It was a lot of hard work but it was a blessing. It let me see that I could hire people to take a lot of the labor off my hands. I learned I could serve a client well. And I could have freedom.”
Eventually she was ready to start her own company, Bonnie B. Tailor. She had Disney contracts and set up a textile design and fabrication workroom in her church. She went from hiring contract sewers to taking on a full-time team. Things were growing steadily until in March 2016, she took on an order that was more than she bargained for. Everything that could go wrong did. The order was huge and they wouldn’t get paid until they delivered. With money flowing out to pay for supplies and staff, things began to look bleak. A look at the books made her realize she needed to do something.
On Bonnie B. Tailor almost tanking:
“Best thing that ever happened to me.”
Common Sewing had been bubbling in her mind for ten years. She cites that rough patch for Bonnie B. as the boot kick to her butt that she needed to get it off the ground.
On what held her back:
“I had the materials, the 12 sewing machines. I had the studio ready. I was just so scared of the weight of my passion to teach people to sew. I didn’t go in there. I didn’t plan lessons.”
Threatened with losing her business she got moving. She was quick to action and not about to fail. The first Common Sewing lesson was held in July 2016. She started by teaching a four class series. Just one year later, Bonnie is now running Common Sewing full-time. As for Bonnie B. Tailor? They did complete that disastrous order and got the business back afloat. Bonnie is now in process of turning over that business to her staff.
On empowering her staff to become business owners:
“That’s been really fun to watch. Tailors are not compensated well. And these are two incredibly talented, focused, hardworking women. And they’re great people. They have a hope for a much better quality of life not being my employee.”
On how Common Sewing works:
“I have many layers of purpose in Common Sewing. My mission statement is I want to bring sewing back into our lifestyle in a way that’s relevant, sustainable, and easy. That’s all I do. I teach very very basic lessons. The six lessons will teach you all the skills to be a maker or a mender, upcycler, or designer and you get six cute projects. But I walk you through the lessons with little rhyme schemes and memorization tools about what to do.”
On why she’s passionate about teaching others to sew:
“We live in textiles. We are all creative beings. We all have unique bodies that do not fit into size categories. And we all want to express ourselves authentically as ourselves. I want people to know how to change things to fit their bodies or make things to fit their lifestyles. I have a lot of passion for people and how they live in their textiles.”
On taking responsibility for our consumption:
“Textiles are the most underused of the most reusable resource we have. Textiles do not need to be thrown away. They can be reused into millions of things. We put 15 million tons of textiles in the landfill every single year. And that doesn’t include what we ship overseas, that’s American landfills. That’s coming because we are over consuming and treating our clothes as disposable. We don’t know how to fix our clothes. We don’t want to take them to the dry cleaner to fix because it would cost more than what we paid for them.”
When Bonnie talks about preserving our planet, she’s looking out for her son. And for my children. And for future generations after that. She wants to gift people with the ability to steward what we create. And to be good stewards to our Earth.
On what’s next for Common Sewing:
“It’s designed to reach the nation. I’m building out a program that equips and enables teachers to start their own businesses. I want it to be available and bless more people. Help a single mother learn how to sew and start a business out of her home. I’m teaching them to be a teacher. Training up teachers to bless the people in their community.”
In addition, she’s developing the program and documentation so it’s accessible nationwide. She’s experimenting with webinars and working on a subscription nationwide for the Common Box. Each box has one lesson that you can do at your kitchen table. It has a variety of methods to reach each type of learner: PDFs, videos, and tutorials running live you can log in to do with a teacher via web.
Now a family of three, Nicholas, Brian, and Bonnie are very involved in their church and Nicholas’ school activities. Nicholas loves playing sports, especially soccer. Every night they have dinner as a family. And on the weekends they head outdoors for bike riding, paddle boarding, and camping. They love spending time with family and keep an eye out for local events to enjoy together.
On co-parenting in a blended family:
“Our family life is pretty wonderful for a blended family. I married the man of my dreams. His dad and I are great friends. We have so much love and respect for each other. He married the woman of his dreams. I love his wife. He loves my husband. And Nicholas calls all of us his parents. And we support and celebrate that. So we have a really unique family life. I won’t say it got there without effort. We were blessed with four people who function more on goodwill. And we love Nicholas like crazy. But it did take work.”
P.S. Nicholas spends the summer with his dad in Georgia. When Bonnie and I met for the interview he was heading up to Martha’s Vineyard (can I be Nicholas, please?)
On dating as a single mom:
“Internet. Advanced search. I don’t have time to ‘date date’. No time for meetups. I did not flirt in the grocery store. I am not going to cruise my church. It’s just not who I am. I had a vision that I didn’t want my son to grow up in a single parent home and I was willing to do the work. I didn’t go into internet dating blind, I read every book on the market. Even ones I laughed at in college. My purpose was to find the man of my dreams, fall in love organically, and use the technology at hand that would let me date while Nicholas was in bed.”
On meeting her husband for their first date:
“He walked around the corner and I recognized him from his picture and it was like to me, the quality of light on the street changed. It was like there was a shift in the atmosphere and all of the sudden where it was sunset there was a strange glow over the street. And I was just a puddle. All of my cool was gone. I was just a droopy puddle waiting to have a drink with my future husband.”
On the biggest thing she does different than she thought she would:
“I thought my son would eat all organic. I really did. Because I love holistic nutrition and I’m very nutrition conscious. Heck no, it’s like chicken fingers and french fries every day. We cook dinner at home. But he’s not going to eat [the healthy stuff.] I’m sure there are moms out there that would say otherwise and that it’s a cop out. But he eats very differently than I thought when pregnant.”
On how she builds in time for herself:
“I run every day. And it’s just 30 minutes, I don’t run far or fast. It is absolutely a stress release and it’s absolutely a meditation. My husband and I work with each other to give each other alone time.”
On how she sets boundaries for her work schedule:
“I don’t work past 4pm. Work one workshop at night when Brian and Nicholas are at Trail Life (like Boy Scouts). I hire other teachers to teach the workshops because I’m very convicted that it’s not worth it. Common Sewing is not worth more than my family. I work in the daytime because I’ve got a purpose. I am pushing into it.”
On how her family is evolving:
“We became a family two years ago. And we really enjoy doing everything together. Now we’re giving each other grace, like my husband is an avid reader and since becoming a dad he hasn’t read a book. Brian needs to check every now and again to just read. So I’ll make a plan with Nicholas. It’s new for our family to give each other alone time. But we’re finding a lot of pleasure in that too.”