April 16, 2021
In many ways, Ada Asenjo’s foray into decorated apparel exemplifies the quintessential journey on which many nascent business owners in this industry embark. Well, there’s one distinct difference: Her journey is happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
Understanding Asenjo’s journey begins by understanding her background. Founder of Louisville, Kentucky-based Pétalos by Ada and FreshPressedDesigns.com, Asenjo worked as a bilingual (Spanish and English) interpreter for almost 20 years and taught elementary-level Spanish. However, when the country — and the economy — was crippled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her income was drastically reduced. In response, she turned to her love of art and found a way to showcase her designs.
“I have dipped my toe in the artist community in Louisville, showing my pressed-flower designs in a local exhibit and at art fairs,” she says. “I also sell cards with my art in a few local boutiques. I decided I wanted to try selling my designs on apparel as a way to make additional money and also to share something beautiful during this difficult time.”
Asenjo chose flowers as the central motif of her designs because they reflect on the ephemeral quality of life, she says.
“I have grown up picking and pressing flowers, always admiring the incredible beauty contained within each,” according to her business website. “Often, however, they are taken for granted and discarded when they are past their prime. Imagine this gorgeousness spent on something so temporary. To me, this confirms the potential we all possess for limitless possibilities.”
Similarly, Asenjo is banking on limitless possibilities for her business. She eschewed the inclination to invest in expensive, complicated and bulky equipment that would’ve necessitated a larger workspace. Instead, she first tried to outsource production.
“At first, I outsourced my production, using companies that offer to put artists’ designs on a variety of objects and apparel,” she says. “Most of the time, the products turn out very nicely. However, these services only provide a very small profit for the artist.”
Next, she tried print-on-demand services, which provided a bigger profit margin, but still wasn’t suitable. Plus, having a say in product sourcing was important to her and was a tentpole for the business.
“It was also very important to me to be able to use sustainable fabrics for my products,” she says. “I really wanted to create beautiful things and do it in an eco-friendly way.”
Ultimately, Asenjo bought a Roland DG VersaSTUDIO B-12 direct-to-garment (DTG) printer and put it on a table in her home studio. Training was simple; she watched a webinar and relied on support from the distributor. The small space required for operation helps her keep things simple, even as she has started offering different apparel types.
“The inks are really rich and vibrant,” she says. “I’ve been able to print every color I need for my designs — and they come out looking great.”
As for the product mix, Asenjo started with T-shirts. “I researched sustainable T-shirts and sourced them from a company called rECOver that produces ecologically sustainable garments,” she says.
Next, prospective customers started requesting tea towels, which she delivered. From there, her product line grew to encompass onesies, tote bags and, most recently, a scarf with two sewn-in ear loops so that it can be worn as a face mask.
“My sister-in-law, who is an art teacher and fiber artist, helps me with the hemming,” she says. “I also think it’s popular because I never print the same scarf twice. I put different designs on them and sometimes I include an affirmation.”
With e-commerce being a crucial sales channel, partly as a result of the monumental change in the way consumers shop in the wake of the pandemic, Asenjo’s business is well positioned. She sells via her website, petalosbyada.com and FreshPressedDesigns.com; via social media; and through Etsy. In-person sales are done at a microenterprises booth maintained by Jewish Family Career Services at a local market.
“Perhaps more than ever during this time, people need beauty in their lives, and I think I provide a little of that,” Asenjo says.
Product sales have steadily increased, particularly with items and designs that are pertinent and current. “Sometimes one of my designs has a spurt of popularity,” Asenjo says. “For example, I recently sold a lot of totes that had a design in flowers spelling out the word ‘Resist.’ That particular design seemed to relate to the times.”
Marketing & More
The marketing arm of the business has largely been a family affair. Asenjo’s son and daughter have helped her with website development. “I try to take the advice of a marketing guru who said, ‘Done is better than perfect,’” she says.
Lately, Asenjo has been taking online classes to learn how to boost her business, while also exploring marketing tactics such as establishing a mailing list. She says her favorite thing about owning her own businesses is realizing that she can print anything. As such she’s always in the process of expanding her horizons to see what else she ca accomplish with her DTG machine.
Of course, she enjoys getting the opportunity to put her art on different types of apparel, and relishes the chance to inspire people to notice beauty in the world around them.
“I’ve always thought that you really have to pay attention in life,” she says. “If you don’t pay attention you are missing out. I wanted to show people the beauty in something as ephemeral as flowers, so maybe they would start to see the beauty in everything.”
Despite challenging times due to the pandemic, Asenjo remains focused on her business and uses any spare time she has getting fully acquainted with her Roland BT-12 DTG machine and learning its capabilities, as well as learning more about marketing. She says she has no plans to open a bricks-and-mortar location, given her business’ scale, e-commerce capabilities and the inroads she has made with local boutiques selling her products.
Asenjo also says she hasn’t considered adding additional decorating techniques to grow the business. However, she would be open to partnerships. “The way I would grow my business is by inviting other artists to collaborate with me, or possibly by starting a cooperative,” she says.
More Build Your Business
May 9, 2023
Shop Talk’s Rick Roth sat down with industry veterans Zahir “Zach” Sait, John Rusk, and Adam Walterscheid, of the popular Fairweather Johnson brand, to discuss Textisle, their new, effective method of recycling fabric waste to create more sustainable apparel.
April 27, 2023
Born in Belize City, in Central America, John Pinnington’s early childhood was not an easy one. But he has since gone on to make his dreams a reality by going into the printing and decorated apparel business, where a combination of hard work and a no-nonsense emphasis on service and quality had led to continued success.
April 18, 2023
Shop Talks Rick Roth recently spoke to Jed Seifert, co-founder of Stakes Manufacturing, about the benefits—and joys, literally—of hiring disable employees in the decorated apparel sector.