Sarah Millstone is a Brooklyn, New York-based graphic designer who wanted to find an outlet for her own personal creative work. She had toyed with the idea of starting an Etsy store, but wasn’t sure what the right product would be to bring to the online marketplace. Two years ago, the lightbulb went off: she would combine her talents as a graphic designer along with her passion for animals and thus Louisa and Me was born. Today she makes custom pet portrait tote bags and donates 15% of all her profits to animal rescue organizations. While she still works full-time at her day job, she is hoping that as Louisa and Me continues to grow she can make it her full time gig.
Millstone’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
To so many people, especially during this time, our pets have been so important to our mental health. To have that companionship while stuck at home, makes all the difference! Also so many people have welcomed new pets in their homes for the first time. My Custom Pet Portrait bags make the perfect gift for anyone with a pet, and will no doubt make others smile when it’s taken out in public! I also donate 15% of my profits to animal rescue organizations so they will also feel good knowing their purchase/gift is helping rescue animals!
I had always wanted to start my own Etsy shop, but never really knew what I wanted to sell, because it is such an oversaturated market (especially as a graphic designer) and I wanted to make sure that it would be a business that I could sustain creatively. I am a huge advocate for animal rescue and I adopted my first dog (my pit bull Louisa for whom the company is named for) when I was a volunteer at the Animal Care Center in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve always loved dogs, and I immediately fell in love with Louisa the first time I walked her. So much so, that I decided to foster her as she was sick and was in danger of being euthanized, and within one night I knew that she was meant to be with me. She means the world to me.
[Related: How to Seriously Make a Difference Through Your Work]
I have also always wanted to have a company that gives back, to put my skills to good use for not only my customers, but for the community. Combining my love for animals and animal rescue, and my skills as a designer made the most sense. Through much brainstorming, research and experimenting, my business eventually evolved into a tote bag company (easy inventory to store, and tote bags are popular, especially with the recent plastic bag ban). I offer completely custom digital pet portraits which are then put on a tote bag, and I also offer a variety of dog related designs, so customers can spread the love they have for their dogs. Fifteen percent of my profits are donated to animal rescue organizations, which is the main purpose for my business, so customers can feel good about the purchase they are making as well!
My definition of success is feeling satisfied in the work and products that I am producing, which in turns means happy customers; and because I donate some of my profits, it makes me happy that I can make even just a small impact on the animal rescue community. Louisa and Me is a side hustle for me. I work full time, along with taking on other freelance projects, so I started this business as a means to fulfill my need to have a creative outlet unrelated to my job. For me, it’s not about the money. I take pride in the work that I do, and I always make sure that my customers are 100% satisfied with the product they receive. I understand what it means to be a pet parent and the intense love we have for our pets, so I wanted to provide a product that pet parents would love, and in turn be able to donate money to animal rescue organizations.
Since I opened in April 2019, Louisa and Me has donated over $700 to animal rescue organizations! I am so proud of that. I have donated to a variety of organizations from local ones in NYC big and small, to a tiny rescue in Puerto Rico that I had the opportunity to visit in December 2018. It felt great to make more profit in 2020, because it meant that I was able to donate more money. I post on my instagram account when I donate, so my customers can see who their money is going to and the impact their purchase is making. And I can only hope that in 2021 that number can be even higher!
[Related: How a NYC Business Owner (and Dog Lover) Is Coping]
My top challenge is just figuring out to how to run a business while working full time and how I can generate more sales, so not only can I become more profitable, but so I can donate more. It’s a very daunting task! My goal in 2021 is to invest some time in understanding the various marketing tools out there. I’ve dabbled here and there in SEO and social media advertising, but have never fully invested in applying the information I’m learning. Now that I’ve been running my business for two years, I am able to see trends and understand better what potential customers are looking for. So I want to take the opportunity to educate myself on building a successful e-commerce business, as I do hope to one day grow my business and brand enough so I can start to truly make a huge impact on animal rescue organizations.
In terms of my role models, I wouldn’t say there was anyone in particular, but I love seeing badass women running their own businesses and succeeding! It inspires me to keep pushing and to keep growing and to know that even if it takes time, it is possible to grow from basically nothing into a successful business. I would love nothing more than to have Louisa and Me be my full time job, to expand my product line, and to partner with animal rescue organizations and be an ambassador for the cause. And I see day in and day out women who are making their dreams a reality, and it gives me hope!
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