Years ago, I was struggling in my finances, struggling to stay in college, and looking for ways to earn money, you know, a side hustle. Being between jobs and being responsible for another life had its challenges. It was October 2009, and I’d remembered a pastor reminding me that my gifts would make room for me and place me in the presence of important people. Using the scripture as my springboard, what followed next were late nights and pre-sunrise brainstorming sessions. The search was on! What could that one gift be? Sure, I had many talents, but what was I so gifted in, so experienced in, such a natural at that people would pay me?? I figured it would have to be something that was introduced to me as a child. The sooner I’d been exposed to a skill the better! Music had been my life for probably half of my life, but I was so out of practice… and I knew what it would take to get me back on point. That kind of time wasn’t a luxury. Plus, the late-night performance opportunities weren’t suited for my particular lifestyle. I needed to be home.
Then I remembered sewing. Hmm… Sewing and I hadn’t done the tango in some time, a little bit of hand sewing custom doll clothes with my mom when I was age 8, and an attempt at an unfinished quilt top on my first sewing machine at age 18. That experience wasn’t really enough to make money. Also, as much as I needed more money, the servant in me believed that my efforts and business would not be as blessed if I didn’t make this about more than just me. I couldn’t be selfish. After a month of praying, researching and modified fasting, I believed I had God’s approval to pursue a business in sewing custom clothing for women.
The idea stemmed from my own painful shopping experiences. This is the part where my story gets emotional. Have you ever gone to clothing store after clothing store after clothing store after clothing store (add in as many as you need to) only to find that nothing fit right or looked right? Pants don’t have your back. Thighs give pants the hand. Ankles play hula hoop, or heels tuck themselves in all warm and cozy. Hips put up a wall of resistance or need a rescue team because they went missing. Rolls pose for mental pictures. Cleavage (if this applies to you) feels extroverted. Armpits choke to death, or shoulder seams look like they’re on muscle relaxers. Bra cups (if this applies to you) play peek-a-boo behind swinging arms. Swimsuit bottoms hold the lap at knife point. The list goes on and on, and my tears have witnessed these true life experiences. Back then, still growing, I allowed myself to entertain low-self esteem. I truly felt that the fashion industry didn’t care about girls like me. It hurt. I still mattered. Not everyone looks like the traditional model, and frankly, I don’t think I want to. No offense. This emotionally debilitating shopping experience happened one too many times. A righteous anger took over me, and it became the FIRE behind Ebony Elice Fashion “Because IT Should Fit YOU!” That business is still building and improving and has seen satisfying success for the most part, by the way.
So there I was in now November 2009, armed with God’s blessing, a mission, a business name, a slogan and a plan to gain the skills and resources I needed to accomplish what morphed from an idea of how to earn money into a passion and ministry!
Fast forward to 2012, I was working in a fabric store earning minimum wage. Even though the feeling of being overworked, underpaid, over-qualified and under-appreciated nagged at me, the journey still seemed on course. Fashion Merchandising and Home Furnishings Merchadising were my concentrations. I’d obtained the first sewing machine that I’d ever bought. (The one that was gifted to me when I was age 18 broke down and went M.I.A..) Plus, I was in fabric heaven! Every day I worked was an opportunity to touch and feel beautiful fabrics from 100% cotton prints to more expensive bridal lace and brocade. This is where my story really gets interesting. *wink*
Dear reader, as you know, the branding of my blog site is Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE. Let me share with you how I found God in a fabric store. Being a dreamer and a doer, it was nothing for me to walk the store when traffic slowed down and feel and note all of the fabrics I would buy when I had the money and what type of garment I would make out of it. Heaven! The $6.99+/yard fabric always gave me pause because of my low income at the time. It would take at least 3 yards to make almost anything I wanted to make, so there was much to consider. Waiting long enough for prices to drop while not waiting too long that the fabric was bought by somebody else was a true art that I had to learn. Sometimes it was hit or miss. Timing was a factor. Plus, what could one do about the ones who had the money regardless of the retail price? Oh, well… Wasn’t meant to be, right? We weren’t allowed to really hide anything for sale that we wanted to buy as an employee. Plus, it might have been months before I could save for a decent amount of nice special occasion fabric!
There is a particular work day I will always remember. I’d had my eye on a gorgeous bolt of robin’s egg blue brocade with different pastel-colored blooms scattered over it. Talk about heart eyes emoji! Checking its availability daily and praying for it quickly became a habit. The yardages slowly decreased, and the praying and watching increased. Then the test came. There was only so much fabric left on the bolt, and I still could not financially afford it. A lady walked in the store and brought my brocade to the cutting table where I was stationed and assigned to cut fabric… Let that marinate for a moment.
I believe that prior to her bringing that piece, I’d been helping her locate other choices, answering her questions and chatting with her. She seemed nice. I couldn’t go too far from the cutting table and especially not for long, so I went back to my post to wait for her to make her final selections. When I saw that bolt, my baby, at the cutting table, it seemed like everything went into slow motion. Voices were distant and drowned out, the blinking of eyelids seemed like windshield wipers on the lowest setting, the gulping sound in my throat filled my head and ears, and my heartbeat sounded like a loose bass drum. To say that my life flashed before my eyes would be too dramatic and untrue. At the same time I was seriously freaking out inside! Don’t ask me why this particular piece of fabric was so important to me, but it was. It was like my heart was tied to it. How humbling it was for me to have to measure and cut this fabric I so desired but couldn’t afford! I’m sure my demeanor changed when I had to cut the fabric, but the lady had been so nice to me and we’d chatted previously, so naturally she wanted to continue that as I cut her fabric. My face ratted on me and sang like a canary. I could sense that the customer noticed a change in me. Here I was about to cut and hand over my baby. In this moment, I had a choice to make- either remain professional and take the blow like a woman or let my customer service suffer. Silence and short responses weren’t going to cut it. Plus, my facial expression betrayed me, so I was forced to be absolutely transparent with the lady and tell her the truth. She found out about my passion, my dreams, my college major and concentrations, my faith, my love for that fabric and my hope to own enough of it to create a garment masterpiece one day. She was so compassionate, understanding and also shared my faith. With consideration for me, she decreased her original yardage request. I felt kind of bad because as an employee, I didn’t want anything I said to come between a shopper and an item for sale. Prayers flooded my mind pleading for strength, grace, mercy and favor- anything to keep me together. Finally, her fabric was cut and there was maybe less than 4 yards left on the bolt. There would not be as much as I wanted left. I just knew that the remainder of that bolt was as good as gone. We weren’t going to be getting anymore of that in. The fabric would not make it to see another price drop. My finances hadn’t improved.
What happened next was worse. The luck of the draw had me picked out as the one to ring up the customer who had my fabric! At this point, I looked upward and mouthed, “Why, God?” My palms started sweating though I don’t sweat easily. The customer kept encouraging me, our apologies ping-ponging back and forth across the table and counter to each other. Finally, the transaction was complete. My feet must have forgotten their purpose because I couldn’t move. I just stood there watching the brocade through its clear bag waltz right out the door. My eyes met with my co-worker’s. They all knew how much that fabric meant to me and had watched the whole ordeal go down. My heart and mind tried to make sense of what just happened. I was grieving, literally.
Just when it seemed all hope was gone, the lady unexpectedly came back in the store seemingly with purpose. She was looking for me. I thought to myself, “What now? Coming back to finish me off?” (I know. I’m a comedienne, maybe even a dramatic one.) She patiently waited until I finished with another customer. Then I joined her on the other side of the counter. What she had to say blew my mind! She expressed that she wanted to buy the fabric for me, but I politely declined. She was adamant and shared with me how God had stopped her before she got to her car and told her to turn around and go buy that brocade for me. (My eyes are teary just writing this.) I was taken aback. Cheerfully smiling, she kept reassuring me. I raced to the back of the store to ask my store manager if it was okay and let her know that it was of the customer’s own free will which aligned with policy. Approval was given, but I believe my manager had to cut employee fabric. The customer asked me how much I needed. 3 yards would have allowed me to do something with the brocade. Again, there was less than 4. She bought the remainder of the bolt for me and maybe even got an end-of-bolt discount. I cried. She too was emotional. We talked about God’s love, care and faithfulness, and she left. Standing there, squeezing my bagged gift to my chest, I cried and thanked God. I was a sobbing mess! “Who am I, God, that You would bless me with a want and not just a need?!” I felt God’s love that day. Putting things in perspective, it was just fabric. God didn’t have to do that for me. I wanted it so badly, but it wasn’t a life or death situation. I’m sure there were more pressing prayers that needed God’s attention- like healing diseases and snatching people back from their death beds and rescuing crash victims who were all alone on the road. God is EVERYWHERE, and though HE was at all of those named and unnamed situations, HE also stopped by a fabric store. Who can fathom the mind of God?! That day, I learned that God cares about the small and the big. Why? Because HE cares about us. Look for God. #HEISEVERYWHERE