STEUBENVILLE — Pat Bailey got her first sewing machine when she was 10. She’d asked her mother to get it for her for Christmas, and mom didn’t disappoint.
“I taught myself to make clothes,” she said. “I didn’t have anyone to teach me — I just thought it was something I wanted to do. My mother would take me to get fabric and patterns, that was when I found out how creative I was. I started when I was 10, making my own clothes, not what my mother liked. It all started there.”
By the time she was 13, Bailey was working for two major cleaners in Chicago, doing alterations. Two years later, she was making prom gowns and wedding gowns.
“It was a passion, it interested me,” Bailey said. “I would do anything that interested me. Once I got into high school, I trained in tailoring.”
She became proficient in machine work as well as hand work.
“From then on, anything that interests me, I take on the challenge because I’m interested,” she said.
Bailey said she doesn’t remember how old she was when she started re-making hats.
“I started redesigning hats my mother would make me wear,” she said, adding she’d go to the millinery store and buy “different things” she wanted to add to them. “I’d take the nozzle of the radiator and put the hat in front of it and all the steam would come out, it would change the shape of the hat. Or I’d get tired of a hat and I’d make it a new hat.”
Bailey said her do-it-herself steamer method worked, “until one time I got caught with steam coming out of the bedroom.”
“I didn’t stop designing hats, I just didn’t get caught reshaping them anymore,” she laughed.
It was during those early years that she also developed an interest in what doctors were telling people to put in their bodies.
“At 12 I was babysitting and didn’t take a book with me,” she recalled. “I looked around the lady’s house and the only book I found was a ‘Physician’s Desk Reference.’ Once I started reading that, I didn’t like what I (was reading.) We were not raised to go to the hospital for everything — my family used a lot of natural remedies. What I found was crazy. You’d get a small paragraph of what it was used for, what it was prescribed for, then pages on (the side effects, interactions and warnings) … If it can do more damage than good, why bother with it? Why take those chances, that was my question at 12 years old.”
She convinced the woman to let her take the PDR home with her, then proceeded to call “every neighbor and family member I knew who had prescriptions.”
“I made appointments for them,” she said. “I let them come and I told them about that medicine. I just didn’t believe grown people” would put those medicines in their body if they knew what they would do to them.
Bailey said she has no idea if the information she gave her friends and family made a difference in their lives, but it definitely shaped hers. Prone to allergies, Bailey said she developed a lifelong interest in skin care and “being able to make products for people with immune compromised issues.” She did her homework, “studying ingredients, trying to narrow down” what was causing her allergic reactions.
“I was always inquisitive. I did a lot of reading from the time I was little,” Bailey said.
She also took advantage of cosmetics training offered by manufacturers at a store in her native Chicago where she’d worked as a cosmetician and started making her own, all-natural products.
“I did all the research myself. I’d started at a young age, buying one-ingredient products and introducing those, until I found out, ‘Stay away from this, that causes that,’ but as long as you have cocoa butter you’re fine.”
She also learned how to make shoes and has everything she needs to make her own.
“I’ve made a couple pairs,” she said, though it’s been a few years. “I used to go to a ball every year and I’d make my own gown and shoes to match.”
In 2014, Bailey would marry those early passions — sewing, crafting and skin care — into her own business, Vontries Couture, at 739 N. Fifth St, Steubenville. She started out sharing sharing her expertise in essential oils, manicures and pedicures with area residents, specializing in assisting people with autoimmune diseases when the pandemic hit and people social distanced.
It forced her to rethink her business model. She started making personalized face masks and was looking online for designs when she discovered new kinds of design files, svgs and pngs.
Crafters will recognize those files as the kind that work with electronic cutting machines like Cricut and Silhouette, but Bailey admits back then, “I didn’t know what those were.”
Not knowing never stopped Bailey from finding the answers she needed, though. She did her homework and ended up buying herself a cutter, a Silhouette. She figured out how to use it and, more to the point, what it could do. Once she figured out it would cut vinyl, she got herself a heat press and started making T-shirts.
“I had no problem learning, l love to learn,” she said. “Anything that interests me, I’ll learn it. I enjoy it. I enjoy a challenge.”
She made the jump from vinyl to sublimation printing to transfer designs to clothing, mugs, signs and more. Sublimation printing uses heat and special inks to permanently apply designs.
“I’ve been doing sublimation a little over a year, it’s much easier than the other things, like the vinyl, the embroider and tailoring,” she said. “It’s instant gratification, you see it right away and it’s permanent, it doesn’t get messed up in the wash like vinyl does, it doesn’t change at all. And it’s fun to do. I’m always looking for something I can sublimate — mugs, tumblers, notebooks, journals, mousepads, coffee cups, coasters, wine glass coolers, dishes, wine bottle caddies, ties, dresses, any type of clothing, even shoes. I’m just trying to incorporate sublimation with making shoes.”
Bailey said you’re only limited “by your imagination and your pocketbook.”
“Some new items I’m working on are lunch totes, little carriers. Yesterday I was looking at a laptop bag you can sublimate on. Earrings, bathroom sets, a toilet seat, rug and the mat that goes in front of the sink. Wooden signs,” Bailey said.
“I do things that interest me — if I buy something, I buy it in my size and (gauge) the need. If there’s enough interest, I’ll carry it in other sizes. I don’t look at it like ‘someone will buy this,’ it’s got to be something I like.”
She admits she came close to quitting when the pandemic sent her customers into isolation.
“I was ready to give up, quit,” Bailey said. “I was in the process of shutting down because I didn’t see how I could survive after the pandemic hit. I just didn’t have any interest in trying anymore, it was so rough. I just didn’t care – then I found something that interested me, the sublimation printing. A client stopped in, she mentioned she was on the way to a meeting that was going to help with her business.”
That meeting was with Thrive in Steubenville, a business incubator program aimed at breaking barriers to entrepreneurship. Paramount Pursuits, the Pennsylvania consulting firm behind the program, helps income-eligible entrepreneurs build a foundation for their business by creating business and marketing plans, providing them with digital marketing assistance, helping them understand financials and identify and obtain funding and networking.
Participants must be Steubenville residents and the business they operate or want to operate must be based within city limits. They also must meet income guidelines.
Once approved, they’re assigned mentors who meet with them twice a month. They learn how to write a business plan and network with other small business owners. If they have questions, all they have to do is ask and if Paramount’s staff can’t answer they’ll find a professional who can.
Bailey said her friend was in her shop, “buying things she needed for her business, essential oils, and I was helping her. She asked me if there was something I needed and gave me information (on Thrive), I’ve been there ever since.”
Thrive in Steubenville forced her to rethink her business model.
“They encouraged me, taught me how to run everything, all the things that needed to be in place that I didn’t learn (earlier in my career),” she said. “They cover every aspect of your business, they’ve encouraged me to go further, taught me how to develop this into a business. There’s just a whole lot you don’t always know and you don’t always know the people to ask.”
Thrive, she said, gives her access “to all types of resources I would otherwise have not been able to afford, or would not have known where to get information from if I’d even known I need it,” she added. “They’re teaching the foundation of starting a business — what should be done at each level.”
Bailey figures if it weren’t for the incubator, she’d be at home, “having fun on my own, at my house.”
“I would never have expanded to this level, without Paramount,” she said.