Hi! How have you been?
It's kinda a weird question for 2020, isn't it? How do you even answer? Okay, what if I change the question just a little and say, Hey my friend, how has your day been today so far?
Over here in Tobermory, Ontario the sun is shining, the air is cool and crisp and the brief tourist season we had is winding down. It feels like an end of something and the start of something else - Seasons are like that, aren't they?
Maybe you've noticed that I haven't been in touch like I said I would? I'd been meaning to connect with you ever since Spring, but I just couldn't get my words together to tell you about everything. In April, my brain was not functioning very well as the stress of COVID19 began to unfold. And then suddenly it was July and life started moving again. Now, here we are in September, but it's not too late, is it? No, of course not. It's just taken this long to experience, process and make sense of it all. There's a lot to tell you and I think I'll just start at the beginning…
It's Party Time!
If you recall, 2020 was the year I was all set to start a North American tour to attend shows and do POP-up Fitting Parties in collaboration with retailers. I spent a lot of the winter researching vans, trailers, and trucks and had pretty much decided I'd get a Ford Transit van for my big roadtrip, but something told me not to go through with it. In the end, my brother and I did some crazy inside work on my little Kia Soul and fitted it with some racks turning it into a portable closet full of Truli Wetsuits. I also picked up a motorcycle trailer to tow my show supplies and water sport gear and I was all set for my 5 month roadtrip! I told myself that bootstrapping just a bit longer would so be worth it in the long run, but I didn't know how much that would make sense just 6 weeks later.
Then I headed towards Indiana in the USA to launch the first American Designated Fitting Site at Outer Reef Scuba. Crossing the border ended up being a pretty huge ordeal that cost me a lot of time, money, and hassle. It had to do with appropriate paperwork and processes, but it was also like banging my head against the wall. I was trying to follow whatever rules I was supposed to oblige, but nobody could seem to agree on what they were. That is until I met Chris a miracle worker, I mean broker, who was just simply awesome. We never met in person, but he was like an administrative angel that walked me through everything step by step. In the end, I told myself that this was a GOOD growing pain, just a very hard way to learn.
I arrived in time for our scheduled POP-up Party in Indianapolis, which also was the soft launch of Beth and Ryan's brand new dive shop, Outer Reef Scuba! Nothing was exactly as we had planned it, but we had so much fun and got to visit with old and new friends with lots of Truli fittings!
After the super fun pop-up at Outer Reef Scuba, I travelled over to Ohio to crash with friends until the next party. I had about 2 weeks before I needed to be in St.Louis, Missouri for the next POP-up Fitting party which was at Y-kiki Divers. After Y-kiki, the plan was to head back to the East Coast for Beneath the Sea, in New Jersey and later onto New York with Adventure Scuba and down to Florida and beyond.
While in Ohio, everything with COVID19 really started to snowball and get worse and worse. We would be glued to our phones trying to learn as much as we could and then toss the phones aside and go back to just being normal. I think a lot of people were doing that. We were being really careful, but also trying not to be paranoid. Every day I would go out to work on Truli in different cafes and noticed everyone doing their best to disinfect and be safe. My stomach was in knots at how uncertain the future had become and I debated on how I should proceed, but in the end, one show after another got cancelled. And then PM Justin Trudeau was on the news speaking in a very serious tone advising any Canadians abroad to make their way home and self-isolate while we still can. Wow. It felt surreal. My heart was in my throat and my mind went very clear and focused - I needed to get home ASAP.
We said our goodbyes in Ohio and I quickly started making my way back home with no issues…well, with the exception of trying to find a bathroom along my road trip - everything was shutting down! With family on both sides of the border, I was lucky to have support until paperwork when through for re-entry to Canada (and some of my last hugs for awhile!!). All of the broker fees to get in and out of the country were a huge added cost since I didn't end up doing my shows, but it didn't matter at this point. I drove all the way back to Tobermory, left my car and trailer packed to the brim with wetsuits and locked myself in my home to self-isolate for 14 days.
Lockdown and Existentialism
This "quarantine" was such a weird period of life. I felt safe with a roof over my head, running water, food, wifi, and a small local community who would check in on me. But as the days passed and things throughout the world got worse, I felt immense loneliness. I was angry that I had prioritized my business over personal relationships, so that in this time of uncertainty all I had for comfort were these comfortable wetsuits. I tried to laugh at the irony of it, but the truth was that it all felt so sad. I was experiencing the emotional exhaustion without any human contact. There was a lot of staring out the window with existential thoughts. What had I done with my life?
As many of you know, I am sober and have been for quite awhile now (18mo). I've learned different coping skills, all usually relating to water sports, the outdoors and spending time with loved ones to help me manage the harder days. But all of these coping strategies became forbidden - Don't go out. Trails are closed. Don't get together. Stay home. I had a really hard time trying to navigate this new realm. To help myself, I focused on my body and just stretched and moved whenever I felt up to it. I got my Headspace app going and started taking the courses - these actually taught me a lot. Journaled (Who else started a pandemic diary?). I did online coffee dates with friends and some online agnostic AA zoom meetings. But, I couldn't seem to make headway on any of my Truli work even though I tried so very hard every single day. Later I would read that so many people were experiencing a similar kind of "writer's" block with work due to being emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.
I also worried about paying my bills. All I could think of was that my wetsuits were completely irrelevant now. I needed to figure out a back up plan ASAP. I decided to apply for work at the local grocery store. I figured it would be smart to be close to food if things really hit the fan haha. Also, I knew I would have a steady income and that being in touch with people and the community would make me feel like I was doing something useful during a time I was feeling quite useless.
So as soon as my quarantine was over, I went in for an interview and I started working the next day. I was still feeling a pretty strong depression and was surprised at how much anxiety I felt leaving my place to go out in public after 14 days locked in, but I'm so glad I did it. That grocery store job slowly started to breathe life back into me. Tobermory is a tiny tourist town with thousands of people visiting per day from May to October in normal times, but otherwise it's predominantly seniors and has a permanent population of about 4000 people. The team working at the grocery store were a mix of locals and transplants like me and every other establishment in town was closed. The store and town did not have a lot of activity as the entire province was on lockdown, so sometimes we busied ourselves just cleaning the store and restocking shelves full of candy bars. Re-stocking a candy bar shelf during a pandemic was the most therapeutic activity I experienced! It felt good to place small little things in order while the outside world was totally out of order!
The sales associates were safe, friendly, and a source of calm for the community. People connected with us and asked what we were witnessing and how we were managing. They said thank-you for being here. There were bumps along the way with the new safety measures that some customers were better at following than others. My years in scuba and directing divers to follow safety protocols came into play while the badass older sales associates were always there for backup to keep people in line too. We also laughed a lot and comforted each other when sharing concerns. I rode my bike to work every day and home for lunch. It was April and still freezing out, but the fresh air felt good. I also started noticing all kinds of foods in the grocery store that I never saw before and with more time than ever on my hands, I started to finally play with some different meals to fully be vegan, satiated and healthy. I slept with ease each night sometimes 9+ hours. I think I must've needed it.
Back to Life, But in a Different Way
It was sometime in May when I'd check my phone on my lunch break and see that I was starting to get Truli orders again. The orders were not coming from travelling divers and kitesurfers like before, but from women who wanted to go swimming locally because their indoor pools were closed. They said they needed a wetsuit to go swimming or paddling so they could manage their mental health. Many of these customers had never worn a wetsuit before and just started googling and found Truli. Each of the customers during this time was so very patient with me as I juggled being at the grocery store and trying to figure out how COVID19 affected my fulfillment systems. It was these initial customers that reminded me that people need these wetsuits and that I needed to keep going despite such an uncertain future.
In my time off form the grocery store, I fine-tuned my email templates to inquiring customers, I stream-lined shipping and returns and fittings. I researched COVID19 precautions and set-up plans for in-person fittings at the two Designated Fitting Sites. I also worked on updating my website and creating a Buy One Get One sale to empty out the last of the original design.
Soon though, I was getting more and more orders and as we approached the end of May, things slowly started to open up in Tobermory and the province. The marina and boat launch opened and local tour operators put their boats back in the water. I decided to put my notice in at the grocery store and return to my beloved wetsuit world. From June I was back to working full-time on the wetsuits. I also started doing socially distanced visits with family and friends and finally got in and under the water again! What a relief!
In June, worldwide we were still dealing with COVID, but on top of that, we were experiencing social upheaval with the death of George Floyd. It felt like human kind was at its ultimate breaking point and a real-life wake-up alarm was being sounded non-stop. I couldn't look away. I put a spotlight on myself and Truli to look into my shadows to learn more about what I had been missing in terms of supporting my BIPOC sea sisters. I am a Truli obsessive reader. Sometimes I can't stop. I love words so much and my brain eats each and every one of them up like popcorn. I love popcorn. And I take notes about everything I read. I studied about the lives of Black people and women and their relationship to water. I discovered the concept of Intersectional Feminism. I researched how to be an ally and decided to do more and use my privileges because at the end of the day, at a bare minimum, that's the least I could do. I wasn't sure how to support specific Black water women, so as a start I created a Blog post to feature Black women and their stories in relationship to water. The more we know the better we can understand.
In the meantime, I started to check-in on myself. I noticed I was feeling differently towards "work"; kinda like I was resisting it. After some thought, I recognized that I had been working side jobs, running my own business on my own, and non-stop hustling for so many years now and I was just really tired. I still felt passionately about connecting with women and helping them find a Truli Wetsuit that met their needs, but I also felt a longing for just enjoying regular life. Maybe also after all of this crazy lockdown shit too! Either way, I decided I needed to rest a bit. To work because I loved it. To not always be running around and trying to accomplish something. There was/is a lot of guilt every time I spend time on myself doing something that doesn't actually matter in the grand scheme of things; but a friend said to me, "Who decided that 9-5, Monday to Friday was the way things are supposed to be done?" I don't want to wait until I'm burnt out to rest. Before, my goals were always motivating factors to get things done, but now more than ever, I do the work because it's a lifestyle that I have cultivated for myself in a way that I most enjoy. There will always be harder days and problems, but the results are meaningful to me. I like figuring things out.
After July's selling frenzy and starting to sell out of sizes, August came along as a gift with all kinds of things I had been needing. I travelled to Northern Ontario for kiteboarding, paddling, and camping (with wifi!). I was selling wetsuits from my tent! My whole business model was designed so that I had the freedom to work from anywhere I had an internet connection and I was finally enjoying that luxury I created for myself. When I returned to Tobermory, I had family and good friends visit this beautiful village I now call home that's surrounded by water on its west, north, and easterly sides. Roll out of bed and get wet! I went beyond Tobermory to check-out new dive sites too. It was a strange summer to say the least, but new perspective on work and life seemed to be evolving for me.
With a rested soul and time to reflect, my priorities began to reveal themselves. I knew I needed to make the sizes available in all of the 4 styles. In the short-term, I launched the Sisterhood of the Travelling Wetsuit Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook Group and in the longer-shorter-term decided to pursue a Crowdfunding Campaign where women could pre-order their size in advance. This is coming very very soon! Please help by contributing to the campaign when it's launched over the coming weeks and/or share as much as possible!
The other priority, is to find a co-worker! I've been working tirelessly in setting up all kinds of administrative systems and procedures and I am SO ready to hand these off to a talented individual who is as detail-oriented as I am (or more???). This person will also love social media and do a way better job at keeping up with it than I have these last few months! If you're keen, head over to the Team Truli page and send in your application.
As I focus on the above areas, the design side of Truli will be on hold just for a short while (7mm product development will happen, but not for this round of inventory. More research needs to be done and I just haven't had the time yet). Additionally, I won't be launching anymore Designated Fitting Sites until there is more inventory on hand. Everything is moving forward, but one little step at a time.
And so, nine months have gone by and it feels like…I don't know - I can't even fully describe it. I feel back to normal, but of course different. I am still worried about all kinds of things and not 100% sure I know what I'm doing at any one time, but I'm looking at all of it from a different perspective now. The business is moving forward despite the world's uncertainties and that's a good thing - so yay! And even if that progress turns into a big flop, I am certain I am going to be okay - so yay for that too!
Let's not wait so long to keep in touch again, okay? I imagine if I wrote more often, then my letters wouldn't end up being so long.
Hope you'll be able to contribute and follow along on the Crowdfunding Campaign! Keep in touch!