Just like life, entrepreneurship is about the journey, not the destination. Don’t go into a venture like this with the expectation that these early challenging times are only a temporary state until you achieve success and can finally relax. There is no relaxing, and that’s OK. Be where you are now.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Mark King of Muse Threads.
John Mark King is the co-founder of Muse Threads, a bamboo children’s clothing line based in Washington, DC. Alongside his wife and co-founder Whit King, John Mark turned what started as a pandemic passion project inspired by his newborn daughter, into a successful, sustainable kids clothing line with a growing cult following. The first-time entrepreneurs live in Washington, DC with their two children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a small town in the South and studied literature at the University of Alabama. Even though I don’t have a background in clothing manufacturing and retail (my background is in international education and audio production), I’ve always gravitated towards unconventional professional opportunities. For example, I wrote features and obituaries for a newspaper in North Alabama. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan. I taught English in five countries outside the US. I was a diplomat for the US Department of State. I am also a professional voice actor and music producer/songwriter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The present moment is all that exists.” This isn’t an exact quote, but anyone familiar with the concept of mindfulness will most likely understand its meaning. In life, it can be very easy to relive the past or ruminate on the future, all while the present goes by unnoticed. I have found it both freeing and refreshing to remind myself that neither the past nor the future exists at all…everything we have is what is happening at this very moment, and that is where our thoughts and energy should be focused.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
While there is not one individual piece of work that stands out, to me, there are genres of stories that tend to resonate with me. I have always gravitated toward fantasy and science fiction, primarily because of the opportunity the genres provide to look at everyday life from unique and often very revealing perspectives. By describing lifelike characters in a very familiar setting, and then adding certain fantastical elements, I believe we can understand ourselves more fully. What might the existence of superpowers reveal about society and culture? How might the discovery of an alien civilization help us to better understand ourselves? What effect might time travel have on our definition of personal responsibility? These are the kinds of questions I love exploring.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic, I was focused on starting my own music production company. I had gone back to school to study music production and songwriting and was working with a handful of partners to record and promote music in Washington, DC. The pandemic forced me to put school on hold. Because the live music scene almost completely dried up, the business also drastically slowed down. Prior to working in music production,I worked as a newspaper journalist, international educator/teacher trainer and US diplomat.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Even though my own small enterprise was struggling, I still wanted very much to be in business for myself and run my own company. My wife and I had our daughter in early 2021 and we discovered that she has sensitive skin. Our doctor recommended we try clothing with bambooi fabric. We fell in love with the feel of the fabric but many of the brands we discovered were mostly neutral and pastel and they all looked very similar. We realized there was space in the market for something a bit bolder and more unconventional. This was the nexus of Muse Threads — a bamboo clothing line for children with colorful and exciting prints sourced from independent artists around the world. Once this idea was fully realized, we worked nights and weekends for months to make it happen. And because of the pandemic, we had the time and space to make it happen.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
There were several such moments, but the most significant one was when the idea for the Muse Threads “brand” truly came into focus — the moment we decided to source our designs from independent artists. With our love of bold and unexpected designs, our desire for community and our decision to highlight the artists who design our patterns, we suddenly felt that we had something truly unique and special to offer.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Very well! Since our launch in late December 2020, we have sold thousands of items and can be found in 25 clothing boutiques around the country.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is an easy one. Without the support and creative energy of my wife and partner, Whit, I would not be the person I am today.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Success is never easy…you will lose sleep. The near-constant worry about success and the ebb and flow of sales and opportunities can be very stressful. This is all part of the process and, ultimately, makes your achievements that much sweeter.
- Growth should be slow and steady. While it is nice to have immediate large-scale success, the ideal situation is for your enterprise to grow slowly over time so that you and your partners can get used to the changes one at a time.
- When in business for yourself, you are ALWAYS on the clock. When it’s your money on the line, there is no time clock. If you get a customer message at 9 pm on a Saturday, you will feel compelled to answer it (and that’s not a bad thing!).
- Flexibility is a superpower. Nothing ever happens as you plan it…and opportunities that you never would have expected will present themselves. Be ready to change direction and take risks that you didn’t even think were possible when you started.
- Just like life, entrepreneurship is about the journey, not the destination. Don’t go into a venture like this with the expectation that these early challenging times are only a temporary state until you achieve success and can finally relax. There is no relaxing, and that’s OK. Be where you are now.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
This is a tough one! I have definitely struggled, but found that the more I am able to take time and space for myself, the better I am able to function. This includes listening to and playing music, reading and exercising outdoors as much as possible. Working from home and running a small business can be both consuming and monotonous, and taking care of myself by doing the things that make me happy and help me to relax is the best remedy for my mental wellness and productivity.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to inspire a movement of kindness, but not just one for kindness to others. I believe firmly in the power of self-love and kindness towards oneself. The more you love yourself and take care of your own needs, the more able you are to do the same for others.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Being a huge Beatlemaniac, I would most love to have lunch with Paul McCartney. Though I know I have a better chance of both being struck by lightning and winning the lottery at the exact same time, the chance to ask him to collaborate on a songwriting project is one I would not pass up.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can sign up for our newsletter at musethreads.com. We are also on Instagram (@muse.threads) and Facebook (@threadsbymuse).
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!