Ashley Rose is not one to play by the rules. After deciding to take a break from college right before her junior year, Ashley found herself moving first to North Carolina and then to Texas, where a string of odd jobs and few serendipitous introductions led her to one of the best decisions she ever made: to start a DIY blog called Sugar & Cloth.
Five years later, Sugar & Cloth is more than a DIY blog — it’s a creative hub for the modern woman, and it’s a full-time career for both her and her husband Jared. Read on to learn about Ashley’s decision to leave school, why she chooses to be open about her personal life, and the one question people won’t stop asking her.
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My very first job was as a sales associate at Limited Too way back when getting a summer job meant walking store to store and asking for a paper application before school ended and all of the good jobs were gone — ha!
You went to college to study graphic design but ended up leaving. Tell us about that experience. Would you recommend leaving school to someone else considering it?
For the sake of experiences and making lifelong friends, I absolutely loved college. I wouldn’t recommend leaving school, but I also don’t recommend feeling pressured into something that’s just not you.
I was originally going to school for business because I knew I wanted to do something in the creative field, but I didn’t know what exactly. I was really, really unfulfilled there and ended up switching to an arts major for graphic design and photography. As it turns out, I was just lost across the board and decided I needed a break from school the summer before my junior year.
I only planned to take a semester off, but I thought my parents were going to kill me since I had a really good scholarship at the time. Looking back I wouldn’t change any of it, but it absolutely did not make for an easy road to where I am now. It’s amazing what knowing that you no longer have a safety net can do for your motivation and determination to succeed. It was absolutely the fear of failure and God’s grace that made it all line up to the career I have now.
It’s amazing what knowing that you no longer have a safety net can do for your motivation and determination to succeed.
You moved states a few times and ended up away from family and friends in Texas. Why did you move, and what did you learn from the drastic change?
When I quit school that summer, I ended up moving to North Carolina with a few friends that I knew from college, and worked a string of odd jobs there. When the economy hit rock bottom in 2008 and 2009, I couldn’t afford to live there anymore but didn’t want to go back home to West Virginia and let myself settle for less.
The only other place that I had family I was close to and visited often outside of West Virginia was Houston, so I moved here. It feels like home now.
You worked a variety of jobs that you didn’t love. Walk us through the years between leaving school and blogging full-time.
Ironically, my first job after quitting school and living in North Carolina was at a little local camera shop. The guys that worked there had been there for years and they all worked on commission and had lots of clientele. Obviously, I had zero clientele and very surface level knowledge of DSLRs and camera gear, so I had to learn a lot of things really quickly to be able to make sales. It turned out to be super convenient when it came to starting the blog, but it was no small feat at the time.
I also did a lot of freelance graphic design work. I use that term loosely on account of the fact that it hurts me to look back at some of those designs I thought were so awesome at the time! From there I worked as a waitress and eventually started Sugar & Cloth while waiting tables here in Houston. I knew if I wanted to get out of that complacent mindset and the rut that I was in, then I needed to create the opportunity for myself.
I would work night shifts at the restaurant and write/shoot the blog content during the day. I also forced myself to go to as many events as I could in Houston to network and meet other creatives. That’s how I met Brooke Schwab, who ended up getting me the job at Smilebooth, which is where I worked all the way until I transitioned to Sugar & Cloth full-time.
I would work night shifts at the restaurant and write/shoot the blog content during the day.
How did you know when it was time to start blogging full-time?
There became a point when I was working full-time at Smilebooth while simultaneously working the equivalent of full-time hours for Sugar & Cloth. I rode that train for a while for the sake of saving money to have a little bit of a cushion, until it got to the point that I was so spread thin that I was either going to let their company down, or let my own dreams fall. It’s like the saying goes, “you can do anything, but not everything.” I finally realized that I needed to let one go if I wanted to avoid becoming an employee to them that I wouldn’t appreciate having for myself.
How has blogging changed since you first began?
In a lot of ways, blogging has become much more understood now than it was when I first started in 2011. At the time it was really difficult to get eyes on your content because there were so few social channels. Pinterest had just barely started, and Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter were really running the game.
Now there’s a huge sea of social media fish, and with that comes the people that are looking to jump on the bandwagon thinking that it’s as easy and glamorous as it sometimes looks. It’s created a really interesting mix of “new” and “old” influencers that sometimes creates a large gray area in both the business and reader side of things.
How did Smilebooth help lead you to where you are now?
Smilebooth was a really great learning experience for seeing what working for a creative start-up is like. It also taught me a lot about the importance of having company culture from the start, regardless of how big or small a company may be. Most importantly, I met Jared through Smilebooth 😉
Tell us about your team structure now. Do you do everything in-house or hire freelancers? Who’s on your team?
Sugar & Cloth only has three full-time employees. Myself, my now husband Jared, and our marketing and operations manager, Kayla. We all wear a lot of hats since it’s such a small team, and it genuinely feels like family. Aside from that, we regularly have six monthly blog post contributors, one or two in-house interns, and a Houston-based freelancer for creative help at any given time.
Kayla originally interned with us two summers ago, and came on board after she graduated this past May. She handles a lot of the client communications, general emails, setting up strategies for social channels, announcements, and so on. She also likes to dabble in dreaming up photo shoots and cool content for S&C.
Jared handles all of the photography and most of the video content, as well as general financial tasks like Quickbooks, reconciling, etc. He also handles all of our contributor emails and content. We would also have basically zero furniture put together and nothing over 50 lbs. in the studio if it wasn’t for him.
I oversee most everything else, and spend a lot of time dreaming up and executing the majority of the content and projects that aren’t written by a contributor for the blog.
A lot of readers want to know how bloggers make money. Do you mind explaining that for them?
This is definitely the number one most asked question I get. There’s a shroud of mystery around blogging as a money-making career even now, and it’s totally understandable to be curious. I actually broke down all of the ways we make money with descriptions in a recent blog post here which is made up of sponsored blog posts, sponsored instagrams, creating content for brands, sidebar ads, personal appearances, and affiliate links.
How has Sugar & Cloth evolved since you first began, and what do you envision for its future?
I didn’t start Sugar & Cloth with the intention of it becoming a career. Instead, I expected it to be an avenue that would open doors to what I might want to do full-time. Fast forward five years later and it’s become a much more well-rounded source for inspiration with new categories, better imagery and visual content, contributors, and business structure. I also love that people are visiting the blog to get to know me and chiming in with their thoughts as an open dialogue as opposed to it just being a space for tutorials.
You and your husband work together very closely. How did it come to be that he works on your blog with you? How does it work for your relationship? What’s your best advice for couples who also work together?
Jared and I met working at Smilebooth, so really we’ve only ever known each other in a working environment. It wasn’t easy even with that beginning, so I can’t say that it’s something I’d recommend to just anyone. I’d actually recommend against it to most, haha.
Luckily Jared is pretty easy-going about the things that I’m insanely high-strung about, and vice versa. For instance, I might freak out over messed-up cake icing while he looks at me with a blank stare from across the room and then goes on about his business. It makes for a good combination. We still want to kill each other every now and then for sure, especially during the times when pressure is on both of us, but we VERY slowly started figuring out what ways the other received praise and constructive criticism the best, and that’s helped a lot. Not just for us as a couple, but also when bringing new people onto the team.
While I absolutely love our scenario now, I will say that having both people depend on the same income was a very terrifying added stress at times when we both jumped on full-time.
What’s the meaning behind the name Sugar & Cloth?
Originally Sugar & Cloth was just desserts and DIY’s, so the words were a play on the two categories. It’s evolved into a much more diverse space now, but they’re still the most popular categories.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Getting to style the new Amazon Event & Party page that they co-branded to feature Sugar & Cloth was a major pinch-me moment!
What is your greatest professional struggle, and how do you learn from it?
Dividing emotional ties from an education business decision rather than intertwining the two. I would consider myself a people person, and one with a lot of empathy. Sometimes I carry weight for others that I don’t need to and being able to differentiate that and make decisions that aren’t always comfortable for all parties was something I really had to learn the hard way. I wouldn’t say I’m numb to it now by any means, but I’m so much better at recognizing it than I used to be.
If you weren’t a professional blogger, what other career would you have chosen?
I’d love to curate a shop. I have no desire to run a shop day in and day out, but being able to curate the pieces and dream up the displays and branding would be so much fun! I guess that’s more of a dream scenario though, right? Haha.
It’s really scary being vulnerable with people you’ve never met before, or opening up yourself for ridicule from people that feel it’s okay to say whatever they’d like online regardless of how much it tears someone down.
What was your favorite post/sponsorship/series etc. you ever did? What’s one you hope to do in the future?
One of my all-time favorite posts we’ve ever done was the “Be You: You Are Enough” video and photo shoot from the Salt Flats. It was a project I had been dreaming up for a long time, but finding a way to make it work on a budget and with the right people was tricky. It meant a lot of things to me along the way, but it ended up getting completed and published at a time when I think everyone could use the reminder. I’d love to do more projects on that scale in the future that convey a meaningful message just for the sake of creating something beautiful to go along with it.
You’ve been vocal on your blog about your divorce and the subsequent tough times that came with it. Why do you think it’s important to be open and honest with your readers? What do you hope others can take away from your experiences?
It’s really scary being vulnerable with people you’ve never met before, or opening up yourself for ridicule from people that feel it’s okay to say whatever they’d like online regardless of how much it tears someone down. I think people pretending to be — or even worse, convincing themselves that they are — perfect is what created the toxic environments and interactions that we see every day. It’s a healthy and encouraging thing to be able to admit when times are tough, when you’ve made mistakes, and when you’re feeling vulnerable. Not only can it open the door for someone to step in and offer a helping hand, but it allows me the chance to be that for someone else as well.
It’s easy to sell a perfect life in the effort of gaining an audience, but I’d hope that people visit Sugar & Cloth and recognize authenticity for both when things are good and when things are bad.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’d love to see Sugar & Cloth expand offline in a big way and into tangible products and experiences between now and then. We delved into that realm a bit with our Hallmark Collaboration and it such a cool feeling seeing things I’d dreamed up on shopping center shelves. We’re definitely working heavily towards that now, but I won’t say too, too much else just yet 😉
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Not to worry so much. I have a tendency to be anxious about a lot of things. Sometimes it works to my benefit to where I’m motivated to work harder, or be cautious of overly risky business decisions, and other times it’s to my detriment. It’s a terrible season in life when you start to spend more time caring what other people think, worrying about scenarios that don’t even exist, or playing the comparison game. Since 23, I’ve learned a lot about not dwelling on every possible bridge that might need to be crossed until there’s a bridge in sight.
I have a tendency to be anxious about a lot of things. Sometimes it works to my benefit to where I’m motivated to work harder, or be cautious of overly risky business decisions, and other times it’s to my detriment.
Ashley Rose is The Everygirl…
Dog person or cat person?
Both, but we’re only home enough for cats these days!
Last item you splurged on?
A travel camera! It’s been so, so much easier not lugging around a DSLR on trips
Guilty pleasure song?
Currently it’s Swalla or The Wobble. Ha!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
To stick with the creative industry theme, I would say Dorothy Draper. Girlfriend was doing some crazy combinations way back before it was cool!