Conversation 02: Fine Life Co
Our new series features refreshing conversations with Tucson’s makers, creatives, and small business owners via long-form interviews. We aim to share their multifaceted stories, processes, and inspirations through the lens of beginnings, risk, and creativity.
Photography by Meredith Amadee
Emily Tartaglia / Owner
Tell us about your path to what you’re doing now; how did you start Fine Life Co? What is your background?
There are so many factors that drew me to owning an online shop. Through high school and years after, I worked in retail (both local and corporate) and grew a passion for the ecommerce industry. This was during the rise of internet shopping and the concept of being able to shop from anywhere at anytime fascinated me! I left retail to work for my family’s plumbing contracting business and go to school, where I studied and learned more about the workings of business, retail, and ecommerce. During that same time, I was really into blogging about fashion and lifestyle, which gave me the spark that this was something I wanted to do.
How has your style developed as you’ve grown?
I’ve always loved trends and watching styles recycle over time. However, since opening the shop, I’m constantly learning what sells well (quality made goods with timeless style) and what items I feel my best in personally. The two go hand-in-hand, as I can’t sell something that I don’t love to begin with! The shop—and I—will continue to grow and try new things, but always stay dedicated to bringing well-made products to our customers.
“The shop...will continue to grow...but always stay dedicated to bringing well-made products to our customers.”
When did the idea of starting your business feel like something you could achieve? Was there an “aha!” moment?
I thought about actually starting a business for a solid year (plus more years of dreaming). It felt like the natural path for me. At the end of 2013, with the support of my loved ones, I finally decided...this NEEDS to happen. I created a business model, started working on the website, contacted brands I wanted to sell, and started promoting like crazy through social media. Once products started rolling in, everything felt so real! I can still remember unpacking clothing from our first collaboration with Hackwith Design House (a designer in Minneapolis) and candles from P. F. Candle Co.…it felt like Christmas!
If you weren’t running Fine Life Co, what would you be doing?
I’d probably like to do these things even while running the shop, but I could see myself getting more involved in photography, interior design, and working in the community (with children in some capacity). I’ve always wanted to get involved with an anti-bullying organization. One organization in particular that I admire and would like to work with is Kind Campaign, a nonprofit focusing on awareness surrounding girl-against-girl bullying. No dream is too big, right?
Now that you’re running your own business, does your process come pretty naturally or do you find yourself fighting against creative block at times?
I do hit a creative block from time to time, which I think is completely natural. I use that as a sign that it’s time to step back and seek out new inspiration. That usually involves an adventure around town with my friend/model for new photo locations, or scouting out new product to bring into the shop. Opening up Instagram or my email is the best way for me to come across new items to sell—the internet is a beautiful thing!
“Being able to merchandise product and have a shoppable space for locals has been so rewarding.”
Have you taken big risks to move forward? Do you see a connection between risk and creativity?
Every aspect of owning a small business feels like a risk—it’s all a major responsibility! Having known I wanted to be an online-focused shop, I never thought I’d need a space outside of our second bedroom (who doesn’t want to work in their PJs?). However, that quickly came to an end when product was accumulating in my dining room and beyond. I was hesitant to move to a space that would add rent and utilities, but it was the best decision! Being able to merchandise product and have a shoppable space for locals has been so rewarding. And, of course, getting our second bedroom back has been really nice!
Have you had any memorable collaborations? Why do you think it’s important for creatives and small businesses to come together and collaborate?
There is so much individual talent out there and I love being able to offer all of it to my customers through my curation of products in the shop. One of my favorite and most special collaborations has been selling a photo my mom took of a desert scene as a wall print. I had it hung in my living room for awhile and kept getting requests about purchasing one. I finally brought the prints into the shop and have sold well over 1,000 prints to customers all around the world.
Another favorite is the collaboration with “Market City Totes,” created by the brand Apolis. They work with a co-op in Bangladesh to create exclusive totes with retailers in different cities around the world. Apolis aims to create jobs with living wages and supports women’s rights, education, and much more. We’re getting a new/updated run soon and I can’t wait!
“One of my favorite and most special collaborations has been selling a photo my mom took of a desert scene as a wall print.”
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out? What’s one thing that has surprised you in running your business?
Don’t give up and never stop working towards the goals you set for yourself and your business. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s amazing what can happen! It took a lot of research to fully grasp the multitude of what owning a business entails.
In just a couple weeks we’ll be celebrating three years since I opened the shop. Typing that out even made me stop to think about where the time went, but after endless lists of goals, to-dos, and ideas, here we are.
One thing I didn’t expect to gain, but cherish so much, are the friendships and camaraderie I’ve built from owning this business. Between customers and fellow business owners—both near and far—it’s been so much fun to be a part of something where I’m able to meet so many wonderful, talented people along the way.
Outline the 3 greatest attributes you need to be a creative small business owner:
01. Passion. Passion for the product, people, process—everything! Being able to speak on your business and communicate with customers is so pivotal. If I didn’t love this field and the merchandise I sold, I wouldn’t be able to successfully run this business.
02. Drive. Being a small business owner isn’t a walk in the park. The shop has very much become a part of my everyday life! Most of my days are spent working on the business or thinking about the business. I feel like that’s what it takes in order to succeed. It manifests in the Monday night when I’d rather spend binge-watching Netflix, but instead get lost in a daze brainstorming new products to bring in. Or the weekend that I spend traveling to a new place, and I find unexpected inspiration, which eventually leads to a new collaboration or product launch. That’s when the realization hits: this is a 24/7 commitment. But it’s those little realizations that make it so fulfilling and motivating to run a business.
03. Patience. Most businesses don’t open up on the first day and see instant success. Work hard and don’t let slow days and creative blocks bring you down. Create attainable goals that you can celebrate along the way and notice the strides you are making in your business.
“If I didn’t love this field and the merchandise I sold, I wouldn’t be able to successfully run this business.”
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger? What type of legacy do you hope to leave?
At the end of the day, I’m selling women’s merchandise. But if I brighten one person’s day with a package they receive in the mail or an interaction in the studio, then I’m happy. It’s not entirely about the material aspect, but the experience that you get shopping at small businesses.
Around a month ago I received a package from a customer with a sweet letter and box of desert themed cards. She found the cards at a local craft fair (in Arkansas!) and said it made her think of the shop and thought I’d love them. I never expected something like this, so I was completely touched. For someone to go out of their way for someone they’ve never met is incredible. It’s the little things like that which mean the most to me and that make it all worth it.
“If you can wake up every morning loving what you do, and help and inspire others around you to be better than they were yesterday, then you know you're doing something right in business and in life.” - Ashley Bodi
What brought you to Tucson? How does living in Tucson influence your business?
I was born and raised in Tucson! Growing up, I never thought I’d end up living here as long as I have. But since starting the business, I’ve used the city and desert elements around the shop’s visual presence and it’s really made me appreciate this place. From incorporating desert landscapes in photos, to selling desert themed products, my surroundings truly inspire my business. Although my husband and I often dream of living elsewhere, it’s hard to imagine leaving, as it is such a big part of the business now!
How do you stay creatively inspired?
Adventuring in and out of Tucson with my camera keeps me creatively inspired. I love hiking Saguaro National Park, walking around downtown and the Barrio, or heading out of Tucson to get different ideas flowing. I like to find different color palettes, plants, and walls that I can use in photos to convey something unique. Of course, a great deal of inspiration also comes from Pinterest.
“I love opening up the studio and connecting with customers face to face...If I could, I’d sit and chat with customers all day (and have been known to do so).”
What does a typical day look like for you?
Monday through Friday I work at my family business during the day, and I do studio appointments, order packing, take product shoots, and purchase product in the evening. Weekends are for getting anything and everything done, while opening up the studio when I can. I love opening up the studio and connecting with customers face to face—that’s one thing I miss about working in the physical retail world! If I could, I’d sit and chat with customers all day (and have been known to do so).
What are you trying to learn right now?
Balance, always. Recently, my husband has gotten every other weekend off, so I’m trying out the same thing (or at least fewer trips to the studio throughout the day). That means working extra hard one weekend with shooting and promotion in order to slim down the amount of time I’m in the studio the next weekend.
Although it’s not the most fun task, taking time away from the shop to deep-clean my house does wonders for resetting my week or month. It’s the little things like coming home to a clean house after a long day that really make a difference!
Seeing where you are now, what are your ambitions for the coming years?
I want to continue growing the business and retire from the family business to focus on Fine Life Co. I’d love to be able to open up the studio more and meet more customers. That being said, I’d love to remain mostly online-based and continue to grow our online presence.