When I was a child in Venice, Calif., I had a best friend whose mother was impeccably dressed every day. I wondered how she could afford to own so many beautiful clothes.

When I learned that she made her clothes herself, I was stunned. Until then, all of the people I knew who made their clothes looked like their clothes were homemade.

I began to spend as much time as I could with my friend's mother. I watched her cut and sew, turning fabric into beautiful garments.

The pivotal moment came the day that she allowed me to accompany her to a fabric store. I was mesmerized by all of the beautiful fabrics and trimmings. My imagination went wild and my creative juices overflowed.

I began to sew my mother's clothes, and then I began sewing for her friends, and that led to sewing for other ladies in our church and community.

An Entrepeneur at Heart

As far back as I can remember, I have had an entrepreneurial spirit.

It began with participating in the candy drives at school, which led to selling greeting cards. I used the money I earned for selling greeting cards to purchase my first typewriter.

When I was 20, I accepted that I was transgender. And then I made an unwise decision to get into prostitution, which led to a three-year prison sentence in Nevada in 1996.

Some Changes in Order

During my incarceration, I decided that I needed to make serious lifestyle changes.

I began to take college courses in business management, offered by a program of the prison system and the Community College of Southern Nevada. After a few classes, I realized that business management was my passion. It seemed to come naturally to me.

Back to California

After my release from prison, I enrolled in courses at the Community College of Southern Nevada. Because I was unable to find courses in fashion at community colleges in Nevada, I decided to return to California and enroll in courses at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.

Even before returning to California, I became aware of AIDS Project Los Angeles and its employment services for people with HIV. In 1999, Rice Russell of APLA's Work Services program referred me to the Wilshire Worksource Center. There, I saw an advertisement for MicroEnterprise Training offered by the Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC).

I attended the orientation for MicroEnterprise Training and was surprised to learn that that program is part of the Welfare to Work Program, which helps low-income clients move from public assistance to financial independence, through business ownership.

When I studied Small Business Management in college, the curriculum was geared to working for someone else. While dreams of large successful businesses are not discouraged, the MicroEnterprise Training focuses on home-based business ownership.

My business concept is a home-based couture (custom-made apparel) business, which will expand into a boutique. During the training, I obtained not only a better understanding of my industry but also a clearer picture of managerial procedures needed to run any business. I also utilized the library of the Small Business Development Center and learned numerous ways to market my business.

The center also has a liaison with the Fashion Business Incubator, which is an organization that provides business and educational services to startup apparel manufacturers. I now have the support I need to not only assist me in my entrepreneurial goals but also support me throughout the life of my business.

Thanks to the Valley Economic Development Center, I have a comprehensive plan to make my goal of self-employment a reality. While I am currently doing couture work for friends, in early 2003, I plan to open my business to the public.

Think About Training

Since its inception in 2000, the MicroEnterprise Training Program has trained more than 190 individuals and introduced 50 new businesses to Los Angeles.

I encourage anyone with a business concept -- even if you think it is too lofty to achieve -- to consider this training. And I encourage anyone who is in an illegal enterprise to consider a legal business. If you have a profitable illegal business, I am certain that you can apply the same practices to a legal business, just as I did. Not only will that eliminate your risk for incarceration, you will drastically improve the quality of your life.

For information on the MicroEnterprise Training Program, call the Valley Economic Development Center at (818) 907-9977 or visit www.vedc.org.

Back to the September/October 2002 issue of Positive Living.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).