North Revere resident finds success — and strength — in her home-based sewing business
|Photo Credit: Ana Paula Massoni of Massoni Photography|
By Seth Daniel
September 28. 2011
When Crystal Evans surveyed the challenges facing her two years ago, she realized she had to turn somewhere.
She was battling a degenerative neuromuscular disease, Mitochondrial Myopathy, and had become confined to a wheelchair. Her disease prevented her from holding a regular job. She was struggling to keep her health insurance in effect. And she and her husband couldn’t get legally married because it would cancel her health insurance. Meanwhile, they were expecting a baby.
For that long and complicated list of problems, the last solution she would have thought to pursue was starting her own business, but that is what she did and it’s what ended up changing her life for the better.
In fact, sewing children’s toys for her one-woman company, Little Free Radical* – based out of the family’s North Revere apartment – has been just as therapeutic for her illness as it has been successful.
“Sewing is actually very therapeutic for me and I’ve gained a lot of my strength back since starting my business,” said Evans, whose pieces were recently featured at a Celebrity Gift Lounge event associated with the Primetime Emmy’s in Hollywood. “This business has helped me therapeutically and helped me get out of the situation with my health insurance, all at the same time. Running a business also helps emotionally when you’re dealing with chronic illness. A lot of my friends with this illness get down and it’s hard for them. They look at me like I’m insane because I’m happy. The business is my motivation.
As an aside, she said Mitochondrial Myopathy is a disease that’s in the same family as Muscular Dystrophy. Over time, the illness weakens the muscles and prevents the body’s cells from turning food into energy. It results in a debilitating condition where complete major organ failure is possible at almost any time – simply because the body does not have enough energy to keep them going.
Evans entered her entrepreneurial endeavor quite by accident. About two years ago, Evans and her husband moved to North Revere’s Overlook Ridge community from Somerville. After having their first baby, she began sewing some stuffed balls and other toys for her daughter to play with. Sewing was something she could do in her wheelchair and was also something she had learned how to do many years ago in high school.
One day, while hosting a friend, she was asked why she didn’t sell the toys she was making. That’s when the gears started turning. “I would sew little stuffed balls, and I made a tu-tu, some stuffed animals and some dresses,” said Evans. “My friend thought they were the best thing ever and the other people she showed it to saw them and started asking me to make the same things for their kids…The problem with a regular job was that I’m in the hospital, sometimes once a month. You can’t hold a job when you’re constantly sick or don’t feel well a lot. So, I decided to run with this and start something at home.” Getting the business off the ground, ironically, proved to kill three or four birds with one stone.
Evans said she and her husband had been prevented from officially marrying because it would have caused her to lose her state health insurance – which she desperately needed for her illness. One of the issues was that if she married, she had to work 40 hours per week. Obviously, she wasn’t able to do that at a traditional workplace, but working full-time from home could very well be done.
“I approached the people at MassHealth and they loved the idea,” she said. Once everything was set, she and her husband finally tied the official knot. Two birds down. Once she set up her business, displaying items in a boutique in Cambridge and setting up a high-visibility online store via the Internet, she began to get several orders. Pacing herself, she began working on the orders and it began to help improve her physical and mental condition. Her Internet store, which is on the well-known crafting site Etsy*, helped her find materials and get orders. “I have to pace myself because if I get too strained, I could have complete organ failure,” she said. “However, maintaining a certain energy level is good for the Mitochondria.” Third bird.
Finally, the icing on the cake was that Evans’s business really began to take off. After being invited to join The Artisan Group, Evans was asked to make items for a Celebrity Gift Lounge event at the W Hotel in Hollywood, an event that preceded the Primetime Emmy Awards earlier this month. Celebrities such as Cloris Leachman and others were seen playing and endorsing her toys. It was tremendous exposure and similar opportunities will be available to her in the future, she said. “It was pretty cool because the event organizer’s daughter liked my toys and picked them up and started playing ball with a lot of the celebrities,” said Evans. “So, my products got a lot of exposure that was totally spontaneous and unexpected.” For now, Evans has stuffed balls available and cloth stacking toys. She said she has plans to add toy elephants and baby bibs.
The remarkable part is she’s still sewing circles around the competition. “I was in the ICU in 2009 and they told me they didn’t expect me to last another year,” said Evans. “Well, I had a baby, was finally able to get married and I have my own business. I’m still here. I am still in the hospital a lot of times, but I am still here.”
*spelling of Etsy corrected from Etsi and business name corrected to Little Free Radical from “Tiny Free Radical”