Debbie Cartsos is the founder of dance apparel business D.Webb Designs. A talented dancer herself, Debbie’s apparel brings the energy and excitement of the dance world to the streets of New York City. With a firm commitment to the local economy, Debbie’s business is a proud member of the Made in NYC initiative, which promotes and champions such organizations.
Small business owners like Debbie have built up their operations, worked so hard and made so many sacrifices, yet the impact of Covid-19 threatens their foundations. Driven, passionate and determined, Debbie is confronting an uncertain future. But at the heart of her business lies a hidden strength, a desire to give back and a genuine adoration for her ‘tribe’: her loyal customers and followers who share her love of dance and have become extended family. Here, Debbie shares her journey and offers advice to small business owners.
Stay true to your values
Producing apparel in New York City is incredibly important for Debbie. It’s something she feels very passionately about, but it hasn’t always been easy. “We design and produce, locally, apparel that is versatile, practical, consistent quality. Our designs are universal, unisex and come in a wide range of sizes. But as a small business, we produce small quantities. From time to time in the past, production rooms prioritized brands which require higher quantities of goods to be produced.”
Buying fabrics is also a challenge for a smaller business. Achieving consistency in fabric quality, requires her to commit to higher volumes, meaning she needs to be able to store, produce and sell more items. Debbie makes limited edition items in-house with her seamstress. While that provides more flexibility, it also costs more to create. “Covid has changed my business and I feel like I need to be more vocal about things,” she explains. “I’m not producing overseas. I’m supporting the local economy.”
Giving back is something that, as a business owner, Debbie has always wanted to do. As part of the dance community, she has seen the impact of the pandemic on artists unable to perform and generate income. Looking for a way to give back to this community, Debbie has sponsored a number of virtual dance shows, providing followers a discount code for D.Webb Designs. A percentage of every purchase goes directly to performers affected by the pandemic and its economic impact.
“My husband – a strong supporter and help in the business – found an app for an ambassador program. Dancers that love our brand and are influencers can sign up, advocate, promote, and earn a commission based on each sale they’ve referred. It’s another way to give back and helps us grow.”
Reach out for help
Debbie’s business is a family affair, with strong support from her husband. Her mother – based in Greece – is one of her designers. Never underestimate the importance of your community, friends, family and customers, Debbie advises – particularly at this point in time. Collaborate and exchange skills, she suggests. “Reach out to your community, to your friends and family, ask for advice, try to get financial help. Seek professional advice to find out the right steps to take during this pandemic, to work things out during this time. “
When discussing the impact of the virus on her business, she admits, “It’s overwhelming. I love my business so much and am trying so hard to stay positive.” She recommends following business guru Marie Forleo for guidance. “She has great advice for small business owners, for women owned businesses and she’s very current.”
Do things differently to overcome the ‘domino effect’
While small business owners may be doing all they can to overcome the negative impact of the virus, there will always be matters beyond their control – the domino effect, as Debbie aptly calls it. For example, Debbie relies upon a seamstress partner and friend, who usually travels to the City to work with her. With her seamstress’ safety top of mind, Debbie doesn’t want her traveling on public transport and risking infection. Earlier in the year, Debbie’s assistant had to leave the business as she relocated to the West Coast. Since then, as well as managing her usual workflow, Debbie has been managing marketing, social media, styling, photoshoots, finding models, customer service, inventory and shipping – and has been unable to recruit an assistant. The virus also has an impact on the production room she collaborates with, limiting production.
Throughout this time, Debbie has looked to do things differently, finding new ways to engage with her buyers, adjusting sales and marketing strategies and working closely with vendors and partners. The business has participated in online sales in place of attending events in-person. Social media has also played a key part. On May 4th – known as Star Wars Day to fans – D.Webb’s buyers generated a buzz on social media around her popular ‘shimmy’ branded apparel. “May the shimmy be with you” snowballed into a campaign for Debbie’s ‘tribe’ to post images of themselves wearing the products, which Debbie reposted, bringing life and excitement to the brand. “I like how other people wear the product!” says Debbie with pride.
Stay confident to overcome issues faced by woman-owned businesses
Debbie has experienced first-hand inequality and prejudice. It has made her more vocal and more determined. “As a woman-owned business, sometimes you don’t get taken seriously,” she states. “I worked with a supplier once and I was doing everything – but when I paid him, he thanked my husband. He would talk to my husband and not me if we went to see him together.”
“I had challenges years ago with a company that wasn’t paying attention to me,” Debbie continues. “They didn’t take the impact of their actions seriously and treated me like a child. They were using certain terms and speaking to me in a certain way – I knew they wouldn’t speak to men like that.”
“Sometimes, when you’re starting out, you tolerate things that you shouldn’t. Don’t be apologetic, don’t overexplain yourself and feel confident,” advises Debbie.
Don’t give up on your dream
“My dream is to enter the wholesale market,” says Debbie determinedly. Positive customer reviews and feedback have given her the confidence that going into the wholesale market will be the right thing to do. “I’m deeply touched that people have continued to shop through this time, and for the reviews that I get. I want to continue what I’m doing but in a better way.” At the moment, her priority is to keep things afloat and to grow, but she has a Plan B. “I’m also very much involved in dance, to continue teaching classes online and training. It’s my backup plan. I can’t imagine life without dance.” Debbie perfectly captures the uniqueness of her business, and the spirit of small business owners across America. “This is not just a business,” she says proudly. “This is an entire family that fills my heart with joy.”
Find D.Webb Designs on Facebook and Instagram.