Dyeing to Help
Columbia Masters swimmers help teammate grow business
Sara Smith was shocked when she saw it.
Sure, her Columbia Masters Swim Team teammate Erin Cassell had given her fair warning when she said she needed help going through the drawer in which she threw the important-looking pieces of paper related to her business, Roll Up N Dye, which sells tie-dyed products and teaches other people how to tie-dye.
But agreeing to help somebody is much different than going through months’ worth of documents laying in a drawer as a volunteer bookkeeper.
“As a Type A accountant myself, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?’” Smith says. “It was definitely a little bit daunting.”
Cleaning out the drawer and setting up a filing system took about 20 hours, though Smith reached a point where she only needed 1 or 2 hours each month to handle the finances of Cassell’s business, which started in the garage of her suburban Baltimore home and grew after she asked her teammates to help.
They were happy to do so. Smith took care of bookkeeping, Maria Steyn put her in touch with a mentor who could help Cassell grow her business, Jess Ayers used her background as a tax attorney, and Angie Kozlowski helped with social media.
“We wanted her to succeed because she was trying really hard to, and she was really very talented,” Kozlowski says. “She is a phenomenal artist. Who doesn’t want to see a really talented young woman succeed in business?”
Kozlowski describes what Cassell can do with tie-dye as “mind blowing.” A few rubber bands here and a few knots there and Cassell can make a T-shirt with a guitar or a breast cancer awareness ribbon or a mug of beer perfect for St. Patrick’s Day.
Cassell fell in love with the art after buying some tie-dyeing supplies in 2008. She used them sporadically over the next 3 years until a teammate on her former team asked if she taught others to tie-dye. “If the scene were a cartoon, a lightbulb would have turned on over my head,” Cassell says. “I had been feeling lost and unsure of a career path. So that day at the pool was a huge turning point for me.”
She wants to turn the teaching part of her business into a nonprofit called Colorful Abandon. “In March of 2016, I figured out that my internal record player kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough, no matter what it was that I was doing,” Cassell says. “It made me scared to take risks and grow because I always felt like a failure. I know that the feeling resonates with many people. So, I decided to offer up tie-dyeing as an opportunity for people to be kind to themselves. When people experience self-compassion, then they develop the capacity to be more compassionate towards others.
“It doesn’t matter who you are. I teach teens who are out on parole, young kids who lack confidence, and perfectionist moms. I believe that everyone is too hard on themselves. People will come in and be like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it’ or ‘You’re better than me, you do it because I’m just going to mess it up.’
“It seems so little, but I think it’s so empowering to watch people change from doubting that they are capable to actually letting loose and creating something that they are proud of. It’s huge. It’s a spark that can make a difference in someone’s life. To me, that’s the power of it. That’s what I find to be the reason I do what I do.”
Cassell has since moved out of her garage and into a studio where she can do her artwork, and her business continues to grow. The events she puts on continue to attract large numbers of people, and there are always orders to fill. She thanks her teammates who helped her so much along the way.
“My business would’ve literally had to close down if Sara had not helped me with bookkeeping, if Maria had not put me in touch with a coach, if Angie had not been supportive, and Jess hadn’t helped me with taxes,” Cassell says. “My teammates kept me afloat when I felt like I was drowning.”
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