I Am Fighting Every Day to be Taken Seriously

Confessions of a Female Small Business Owner

When I first moved to Portland, Oregon, I lived in a small house with limited space to create my art. So, I began collecting clothes to exercise my creative juices. At first, I utilized these clothes for photoshoots as well as my personal wardrobe. By the time COVID-19 shut down the world, I had such an amazing collection of clothes that I decided it was the perfect time to create a pop-up shop and see what came of it. As a result, Alien Mermaid Cove was born. Alien Mermaid Cove is a retail shop that promotes an eco-friendly lifestyle by providing sustainably sourced up-cycled clothing, jewelry, art, and home goods. A portion of the company’s proceeds are donated to art classes for low-income individuals. This business was not only inspired by my 25 years of styling experience, but also my overall love of fashion. I am especially inspired by the process of thrifting and the excitement of finding a treasure within a mess of vintage clothing and goods. Additionally, I love the creative aspect of fashion with which I can combine various styles and pieces into one spectacularly unique outfit. It is this approach to fashion as an art form that led to the formation of my in-house brand: Altered States.

Altered States is an exclusive line that re-purposes clothing and lifestyle goods into beautiful, one-of-a-kind-pieces, while protecting the world from waste. A portion of the proceeds from this brand go towards art grants for women, a cause that is dear to my heart. The Altered States brand came about when I started to mess around with the clothes in my collection that were unusable because they had a stain, rip, hole, or some other significant blemish. These pieces acted as canvases that allowed me to play with my artistic practice without the fear of mistakes or guilt. As a result of this freedom, I created some beautiful pieces that I felt proud of. I introduced the Altered States line to the world as part of a runway show and the brand eventually became the number one seller in the Alien Mermaid Cove shop. Soon, the mission behind Altered States expanded beyond keeping clothing out of landfills to also encompass supporting female artists. As I have discussed over the last few blog posts, female artists are extremely underrepresented and under-supported. This desire to help other female artists in my community overcome the obstacles I have battled throughout my own career drives me to continue expanding the Altered States brand. As my business grows, I will be able to help other women succeed more effectively.

This ability to empower and uplift other women in the industry is one of the main benefits of running my own business. I often seek to hire and work alongside other women so that I may help them advance their career and confidence. Over the years, I have been preparing to become a leader in this way and I feel that I often thrive in these positions. One of the primary reasons I have had to push to be a leader is because I have a disease that affects my spine, wrists, and body, making it difficult for me to sit, stand, write, type on the computer, and do most things other people take for granted every day. Due to this, I have worked hard to carve out a space within my career where my body is supported. Running my own business has allowed me to construct an environment where I can take it easy when needed and receive the support I require. As a result, I can concentrate on my personal talents and give back in my own unique way beyond the barriers of my disease. However, while being a female small business owner has enabled me to overcome my disease in important ways while also empowering other women, it has also presented some extraordinary challenges.

As a female small business owner, I am fighting every day just to be taken seriously. My biggest obstacle is simply receiving the financial support I need to continue pursuing my dream. I often get passed up for loans and grants simply because I am a woman. For example, on numerous occasions I have applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and have been denied time and time again. Meanwhile, many of my male counterparts who own small businesses have easily received this funding and been able to grow their businesses. Unfortunately, this is a universal experience for female small business owners. While it is nearly impossible to get necessary funding as a woman, male small business owners are easily awarded with multiple loans and grants throughout their careers. This gender inequality in funding makes it extremely difficult for female small business owners to grow their businesses and achieve their desired impact on the world. Yet, this lack of financial support is not the only obstacle women encounter.

Female small business owners also face immense obstacles when it comes to balancing their family and career, to the point where most women must choose between one or the other. You see, women must work twice as hard to maintain successful careers when compared to their male counterparts, which leaves less time for their personal lives. Since the burden of caring for children and a family also frequently falls on women due to conventional notions of motherhood, it is extremely difficult for them to maintain both a career and family. Even with a supportive partner who takes on majority of the responsibility, the demands of caring for a family in addition to building a career as a woman are overwhelming. Thus, many women, including myself, have had to choose between having a family and running a business. For me, it has not been easy having to sacrifice my dream of a family to achieve my career goals. I wish I didn’t have to give up one in order to purse the other, but the realities of being a woman is business makes this into a seemingly inevitable decision. And unfortunately, life as a female business owner is only getting more difficult.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic almost completely destroyed me and my business. Over the last two years, I have had to not only endure being physically sick with coronavirus, but also losing most of my business. It has been an extremely devastating experience and while I am proud of myself for surviving, I am still healing from it all. Yet, the repercussions of the pandemic expand far beyond my business and personal life as I have watched COVID-19 impact many small businesses within my community. These days, when you walk down Alberta Street in Portland, where Alien Mermaid Cove is located, you will notice that forty to fifty percent of the businesses have shut down. As I am personally in the process of starting a business, this is a really discouraging sight. The effects of the pandemic have made it nearly impossible for small businesses, especially those owned by women, to survive. For this reason and others, female small business owners need more support if they are to succeed.

First, there needs to be specific funding for female owned small businesses, such as grants and loans. With the necessary financial support, women will be able to more effectively grow their businesses so that they can have a significant impact on the world. However, it doesn’t end there. Even with increased funding, women need to support each other. Currently, I see some female small business owners trying to break other women down. These individuals believe that in order to succeed, other women must fail. This is the kind of attitude that I don’t understand, yet I see it constantly throughout the art and fashion industries. Thus, if there is one message that I hope to send to my fellow female small business owners, it is this: there is room for everyone to succeed, so you don’t have to bring other women down to lift yourself up. In fact, women in business need each other greatly. We need to empower each other to continue despite the obstacles. We need to share our wisdom so that we can all realize our dreams. Most importantly, we need to love and support each other because, despite what society would have us believe, we are not alone.

With these changes, female business owners, including myself, will be able to readily take the next steps in their business plans. Personally, Alien Mermaid Cove is the fruition of many of my lifelong passions and I hope to make it into a place that everyone in my community can enjoy and be a part of. With this, my next step is to relocate the Alien Mermaid Cove shop to a new retail space that will allow us to expand our school and photo studios while also providing a home to develop the brand. This new space will be a place where the community comes together to support the arts and meet new people. Each person that enters the store will be given the tools to learn, grow and thrive in the arts. The arts should be accessible to all and the realization of this new dream for Alien Mermaid Cove will allow me to do my part in making this inclusion a reality.

I want to thank all the people who have helped me get this far. I am extremely grateful for my team as they work every day to help me achieve my dreams. I am never alone, there are so many people that care about bringing recognition to women in the arts who have supported me throughout my journey. All my love goes out to the individuals who have been coming into the Alien Mermaid Cove shop and buying our products as well as those who have been re-sharing and supporting our business online. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am excited for the next step in my adventure and will continue to ask for your support as I chase my goals. With this, be on the lookout this week as I announce new opportunities to support Alien Mermaid Cove and its mission!

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Join me here on Wednesdays at 12pm to learn more about my personal journey and begin an exploration of your own. If there are specific topics or issues you would like me to respond to, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @teresaflowersphotography or @teresaflowers. Or tune into my weekly Instagram Live stream on @teresaflowers where I will be discussing these topics in more depth and answering your questions!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years. I am excited to continue this journey with you!

Teresa Flowers is an internationally recognized multimedia artist based in Portland, OR. She is also the founder of Alien Mermaid Cove and Altered States.