So far this year, Moorea Seal left her long-term relationship, moved into a temporary home, closed her retail and online stores, and let go of her entire staff—and it’s only April. Like many small business owners around the world, Moorea is scrambling to answer the question “What now?”. For her, this collective global grief is compounded by personal loss. But she’s been here before. And she is ready.
Moorea is a published author, small business founder, maker, and community connector. She’s also been an influencer since before influencers were even influencers. She is a magnetic, spiritual being with a natural inclination to help and guide others. Above all, she is a master of reinvention—and many of her successes were born during times of crisis.
When she was eight, Moorea’s parents announced, without notice, that she would be moving from the UK to the US, and she would have to sell all of her toys. “I set up my playroom as a shop,” she says. “My first shop.” She was bullied in her new American school, and recounts a childhood punctuated by death and family trauma, relationships with abuse, and the tension of leaving her religion. “There have been points in my life that have been truly, truly tragic,” she says. “Extreme loss and extreme pain.”
College was a struggle for Moorea, too. “I thought at the time it meant I would not be successful in life,” she says. She nonetheless graduated from a college illustration program—in the middle of a recession. Working as a live-in nanny to pay the bills, Moorea was isolated from her friends and family. She taught herself to make jewellery from her tiny bedroom and sold it on Etsy. She started blogging as a way to work through isolation. Her blog connected her to a community—and that community resonated with her story.
The accidental influencer
Moorea was an early adopter of Pinterest where she built a following quite by accident. Her influence on the platform eventually landed her partnerships with brands such as Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and L’Oreal, and she would appear alongside the likes of Martha Stewart and Dr. Oz on Pinterest tastemaker lists.
But Moorea was wary of the influencer world. “After a year or two, I thought, ‘There's no way that the world of influencing is going to last,’” she says. “‘I can’t rely on this for my income.’” In 2013, she built a safety net and launched her online store on Shopify, leveraging her existing follower base.
Her namesake brand, Moorea Seal, became an extension of her Pinterest account—a place to curate her favorite things. She sold goods from over 40 makers, including herself, and focused on handmade and sustainability. “No one was really talking about the ethics of shopping,” she says, “and so my site was very unique at that time.”
Six months after launching the store, Moorea received a call from a Pinterest rep, who told her that affiliate links were being removed—the next day. “For me, that meant an income of about $3,000, $4,000 a month just stopping,” she says.
I was paying myself nothing for the first two years.
Moorea poured herself into her store to make up for the lost income. “I was paying myself nothing for the first two years,” she says. She had a partner and one staff member and they bootstrapped the business from a small room in a church community center. “The irony of being a priest’s daughter who left religion and is building her business from a children’s playroom at a church was crazy,” she says. The trio outgrew the space and, in looking for new digs, Moorea thought, “What if we try and find a space that was also a storefront, kind of a pop-up situation?"
Bricks and book deals
In 2014, the team signed a lease on an affordable space that was on a main Seattle bus line. “I just put my name on the window really huge and made sure the logo looked the same as on Pinterest,” Moorea says. It worked. She gained customers from passersby who recognized her from her online presence, and the business grew, eventually expanding into the space next door. “I was like the sales girl for six days a week,” Moorea says, “in addition to running it and building our team and selling online.”
But Moorea was still nurturing her online community. She landed a book deal based on an online self-care venture and, in 2015, published The 52 Lists Project, the first in a series of a journal-style workbook aimed at encouraging self discovery and increasing mindfulness through weekly list-making challenges.
Soon after, her business began outgrowing its retail space. Moorea’s team invested in a new, larger location that better represented the brand. “I put everything I made from my books into my business,” she says. “It was an expensive space to build out.”
In March 2020, the spread of COVID-19 was ramping up in the US and the entire country started shutting down. In Seattle, Moorea responded quickly, communicating her precautionary measures and offering her customers and followers advice for staying safe. But soon, the local government mandated the closure of non-essential businesses, and Moorea was forced to shut her doors.
My staff can’t leave their homes. I have one person who lives on an island, and they have to take a ferry into Seattle.
Luckily, Moorea already had a solid ecommerce business to supplement the retail space, and she diverted attention to her online store. She bundled books from her 52 Lists series with other self-care lifestyle products—candles, pens for journaling, personalized handwritten notes of hope—into care packages that quickly sold out. But with no staff left to help her fulfill orders, Moorea ended up closing her online store, too. “My staff can’t leave their homes,” she says. “I have one person who lives on an island, and they have to take a ferry into Seattle.”
Moorea talks to me from her Airbnb, where she planned to stay only briefly after leaving her relationship. She was ready to look for a new permanent home when Seattle implemented shelter in place, requiring all residents to stay at home. Now, she’s stuck in limbo. Moorea says she finds herself at a crossroads in every aspect of her life—work, home, relationships. “I'm experiencing a lot of loss,” she says.
But Moorea has a remarkably positive outlook—it was from a place of loss that many of the successes in her life have manifested. With many others in isolation seeking community and connection, Moorea sees an opportunity for her next reinvention. She hopes to amplify her story of overcoming various forms of isolation in her own life and be an example to others. “It literally feels like, OK, Moorea, here’s why you did all the things you did for the last 10 years,’” she says.
Finding her purpose
Before COVID-19 forced Moorea to rethink her strategy, her heart was already pushing for a change. The retail store was a dream come true, but she found it difficult to separate herself from her brand. “Having your name on a business, you can lose your identity very easily,” she says. In the fall of 2019, Moorea already had started to explore what else her retail space could be. She imagined hosting restorative and healing events, music video dance-alongs, and tattoo pop-ups. “I can’t unlink it from my identity, so let’s just make it a true reflection of my identity,” she says.
I need to make sure my business is more about what I care about on a deep, deep level—more than just selling products.
In-person events currently are out of the question while her city is on lockdown. But the brainstorming exercise was helpful in planning her next move. “I need to make sure my business is more about what I care about on a deep, deep level,” she says. “More than just selling products.” With the store closed, Moorea has found the space to explore those things: writing, spirituality, and being a guide to others.
“My purpose,” Moorea says, “is to use my own experiences with isolation, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder and be a resource to people.” Lately, she’s been taking to Instagram to offer messages of inspiration and hope to others. Maybe it will spin into a podcast, she says, and probably more books.
As she has always done, Moorea is staying open and springing into survival mode. She’s offering tarot readings to her Instagram followers, which is helping her generate enough income to meet her basic needs. And she’s looking ahead.
“Seattle’s not going to be shut down for two weeks,” Moorea says. “My storefront's going to be shut down for a couple months or permanently. I have to accept that.” With this new reality, Moorea’s vision for her retail store has taken on a new life. Her Shopify site, in its future form, will be a virtual manifestation of her original plan. She says she might still sell products, but they’ll reflect her overarching goal of creating community and safe space. And anything she builds next will involve bringing back her staff. “They really are like family.”
Sometimes the greatest learning you do in life is uncomfortable.
Whatever post-pandemic life looks like for Moorea, she’s optimistic it will be a chance for a much-needed career rebirth. Until then, she’s focused on her basic necessities: finding a place to live, learning to cook for herself, and navigating a grocery store. “I’m learning some basic things in a weird time,” she says. Her message to others struggling? You can come out of this OK on the other side, she says—she’s living proof—and you may even be better for it. “Sometimes the greatest learning you do in life is uncomfortable.”