Ed. Note: The original title of this story has been changed to accurately Renee Crumley’s business name.
With emotion in her voice, Renee Crumley of Eagle River recalls fond memories of being a little girl and visiting her Great Aunt Clara on the weekends and learning how to sew.
“She really stressed that I be able to sew by hand and create something beautiful before I was allowed to sew on the sewing machine. As a little girl, I really wanted to sew on that sewing machine.” That’s how the love for sewing began for Renee, growing up in Marion, OH.
Fast forward to today, Renee reflects from her home-based sewing studio in Eagle River, “I look back on that now, it was a good, good experience. I take that now and try to put that passion into the things I sew for my customers.”
The path Renee has taken to get to be a small business owner has taken some unexpected twists and turns. Her journey started in high school where her focus and desire was to be a dancer. Her passion for dancing led her to Point Park College in Pittsburg, PA where she majored in dance. As a freshman, things took a terrible turn.
“My freshman year I hurt my knee during a performance on stage.”
It wasn’t the first time she had sustained an injury, but this time she was told she could no longer dance. She was devastated.
Renee chose to focus on school, where psychology piqued her interest. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology then went on to Edinboro University earning her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology.
It was during her time at Edinboro that Renee met her husband, Stephen. Stephen was studying geology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which would mean a move for Renee.
She visited Alaska and fell in love, but “I didn’t want to move to Alaska without a little more commitment.”
With a shy grin and a chuckle, Renee said, “So, he came home at Christmas time with a ring, and we moved to Fairbanks in 1992.”
Renee worked as a Clinical Psychologist in Fairbanks for about fifteen years. “It was a great experience but a difficult job, it takes a lot out of you.”
Renee and Stephen started a family. “Having two young boys and working with severely emotional kids was tough. After a few years of that, we decided a move to Anchorage was in the best interest of our family.”
In 2007 Renee, Stephen and the boys moved to Eagle River.
It was then Renee decided not to continue working as a Clinical Psychologist and started to homeschool their children. That too was a wonderful experience for both Renee and the kids. As the kids got older and went to the public high school, that freed up more time for Renee to rekindle her passion for sewing.
“I set up my sewing machine in a tiny room in the basement of our home and would sew while the kids were at school, really enjoying it.”
As the kids got older and closer to graduating from high school, my husband looked at me and said, “I think you need to go back to work. We need to pay for these kids to go to college and you need to help out.”
For Renee, going back to work meant going back to clinical psychology, which she didn’t want to do.
Then, Stephen said, “Stop giving away the beautiful stuff you make and start selling it.”
Renee decided to go for it. In 2017 she went to the Alaska Small Business Development Center in Anchorage. With their help, she developed a business plan, and in April of 2017, she officially opened her new business, The Winning Stitch Custom Sewing and Embroidery Studio. Renee recalled her first order with a broad smile, “My first order was from the Chugiak High School soccer team to embroider their team jackets with the kid’s names, jersey numbers, and logo.”
As with any new business, Renee wasn’t sure if this was going to work or if people would be willing to buy the items she was making. Staying small and humble, she went to bazaars to promote her business. She worked her way up to larger events, like the Alaska Women’s Show at the Alaska Airlines Center just hoping to at least cover the registration expenses.
After making lots of contacts and handing out many business cards, the orders started coming in.
“One of my favorite things to do is take someone’s old T-shirts or baby clothes that they have been saving and turning them into a keepsake. Like a blanket or even a stuffed animal.”
Renee will sew just about anything. Custom dresses, blankets, personalized embroidery, and quilts.
She even offers sewing classes to help people set-up sewing machines and learn how to sew.
The sewing machine in her little basement studio hummed along, making a customized baby blanket with an embroidered pink and blue hippo, “I have to say sewing is truly my passion. I truly enjoy working with all my customers… hearing their ideas, then bringing those ideas to fruition. Then they have something they can give to loved ones, family members or friends… I’m truly loving what I’m doing right now.”