BalletHub interviews ballet dancer Tracy Jones, who founded and runs her own business, Tulips by Tracy, while still dancing professionally full time.
BalletHub: Hi Tracy, thanks for joining us today! Let’s start from the beginning… Before starting your business, how did you get your start in sewing and making skirts?
Tracy: Hello, Thank you for having me on BalletHub.
The shape of a Tulip flower is mimicked in the wrap design of my skirts and Tulip flowers, like my skirts, come in many colors.
Well, I have always loved arts and crafts, sewing and knitting and enjoyed making things with my grandmother when I was a little girl. Back in 2011, I underwent a knee surgery which involved a long recovery period and during that time, I started to crotchet and sew again.
I got my start at making skirts while on Christmas vacation in Kentucky in 2011 (visiting my fiancee’s family). His mom had some spare fabric which I thought it would look cute as a ballet skirt, so I tested my skills and made my first “Tulip”.
When and how did you come up with the idea to start your own business making and selling skirts?
After making my first skirt, I started to wear it in class and rehearsals. Some of my colleagues starting asking where I had got it and when I told them that I had made it myself, I had a number of requests to make some more and sell them. The thought of making it into a business had never really crossed my mind until then.
How did you come up with the name “Tulips by Tracy?”
I thought that if I was designing and making these skirts myself, it would be a good idea to have my name in the product. Tulips came to me pretty quickly and just seemed like the perfect fit. The shape of a Tulip flower is mimicked in the wrap design of my skirts and Tulip flowers, like my skirts, come in many colors. Also I liked how it sounded with my name.
Did orders pick up pretty quickly or did they grow steadily over time?
I was lucky really- Ballet News heard about my new venture and wrote about it on their website. I also had a little article in Dance Europe magazine.
That, combined with having some great photographs of dancers from a number of different established ballet companies wearing my skirts, lead to a lot of orders pretty much straight away.
Do you have any formal business education? If not, how did you learn the ins-and-outs of running your small business?
I studied Business Studies and Arts management during my time at school but not to any further degree. It has always been some thing that interests me so when the opportunity to run my own business came about, it did not take much to inspire me to learn what I needed to know to be an entrepreneur. It is a constant learning process but I try to attend business seminars and learn as much as I can from online research.
What about your ballet training and career have you been able to draw from that to better your business?
Being a professional dancer or full time ballet student requires a huge amount of commitment and discipline and I feel that these are skills that I definitely apply to running Tulips. Time management, preparation, attention to detail – all essential in the world of business and thanks to my training, I have had these skills under my belt from a very young age.
On the other hand, have you learned anything from your business that you’ve been able to apply to your daily life of dancing in a professional ballet company?
I don’t know if I can say that I have learned something that I can directly apply to my dancing life, however, having my own business has given me something else to concentrate on and has definitely given me a better perspective. In a way this has helped me as a dancer as it has allowed me to have more of a rational approach to everything.
The time and responsibility needed to run your own business is a big deal. How do you manage it all and balance it with your dancing career and personal life?
Honestly- it can be tough, especially through the busier time of our dancing season. It seems as though when I do have spare time, I don’t ever have as many orders, but then, during a long run of Nutcracker shows for example, Tulips become really popular as people like to give them as Christmas gifts.
It can be very tiring but I am lucky that my fiancé helps me stay on top of it all. He cuts the fabric into the shape of the skirt and I have recently shown him how to hem so he now has his own sewing machine and helps me out when I have a lot of orders at once.
It makes sense that orders pick up during Christmas with the giving spirit and all, but what about other holidays? Do you have seasonal fabrics for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or Halloween?
I have had some seasonal fabrics before and they have always sold well in the days leading up to that particular holiday. I also like to give discounts or free shipping codes to my customers to celebrate different occasions.
I have never done a Valentine’s Day fabric- but you have given me a really good idea- I think I will try it out next February!
You may see more orders made by boyfriends and husbands during that holiday! What are your hopes for Tulips by Tracy in another 10 years?
I would love for Tulips to have expanded a lot in 10 years time. I hope that they will be on sale in dance stores all over the world. That being said, I also hope that the essence of my skirts remains the same. I want to avoid mass production- Tulips are custom ordered and handmade- that is part of their charm.
I hope there is a way that will allow it to grow without loosing this important quality.
Every skirt is custom? That’s great and must appeal to a huge amount of dancers. Can you tell us more details about the custom process?
I think that it is important for my customers to feel that they have had a part in creating their skirt too, so I like to offer them the opportunity to add fabric to the length of my skirts or to the waist. I try to be as flexible as possible with the request that I get, but I also ensure that the design, cut and quality of each skirt always remains the same.
So does this mean that your skirts, or Tulips I should say, are also available only in limited quanities in terms of the fabrics and patterns?
Being a professional dancer or full time ballet student requires a huge amount of commitment and discipline and I feel that these are skills that I definitely apply to running Tulips.
I only ever order a small amount of each fabric. My idea is that if you purchase a Tulip skirt, and you run into someone else with a Tulip skirt, the chances of you having the same skirt as someone else is very slim.
Tulips are designed to help make their owners “Stand out from the crowd”, so I feel that having limited edition materials helps with this. Having smaller quantities also allows me to keep changing my fabrics and so each time you visit our website, you are bound to see something new.
You obviously have the drive to start and run your own business, are there any other businesses you see yourself running one day?
I would love to use the skills that I have gained and hopefully will continue to acquire through running Tulips by Tracy, and apply to graduate school. Ideally, one day, I would love to manage a company that focuses on the arts.
That’s awesome! You really love the arts and seem to want to stick with it after your performing career, so could you see yourself one day running the costume department of a company?
That could be cool. I love costumes, and I think it would be fun to be in charge of their maintenance- especially the older costumes- they tend to have so much history.
I also think it would be a wonderful opportunity if I got to design some costumes for a production.
To our readers, if you didn’t know already, we’re celebrating the official BalletHub launch starting with a giveaway of a custom made Tulips by Tracy skirt! Tracy, can you tell us a little bit about this particular skirt and how it fits in with the philosophy of your business?
I am really excited about the launch of BalletHub and was more than happy to create a special Tulip for the occasion. I selected this fabric as I felt that the color matched the color scheme of BalletHub pretty nicely. I also really love the tie-dye pattern that it has on it and I thought it would be a great option for a raffle as the pattern is still quite subtle so I am sure it will be a perfect fit for who ever wins it.
I name all my tulips with different names and this one is called “Ballethub Launch Tulip” and will be available exclusively to BalletHub, and not online to buy. The lucky winner will also have the chance to choose which size the would like from Child, Extra Short, Short or Medium, and whether they would like a black skirt tie or a white skirt tie.
That’s great and good luck to everyone who enters and helps spread the word about the launch of BalletHub!
Thanks for chatting with us today Tracy. Congratulations on your success so far and we wish you all the best for the coming years and growth of Tulips!
Thanks so much for having me :)