Life doesn't always turn out the way you planned it. Crystal Cleveland never planned to be a single mother of four kids. She never planned to be laid off from the career she had devoted so much of her life to. Faced with a lot of extra time, she filled it with a lifelong hobby: fishing. She didn't realize it at the time, but that hobby would evolve into a passion, and then, her new line of work.
From pastime to part-time:
Cleveland was born and raised in Texas, and has enjoyed fishing her whole life. So when she lost her job, she turned to fishing for solace. "Fishing is what saved me from being depressed," she told me. Cleveland was laid off from Schlumberger in April of this year, around the same time many Texans were losing their jobs in the oil industry. She left the office and immediately drove to buy herself a new fishing rod, and then headed out to the Texas coast. "It is the sound of the ocean and the wind in your face, the feel of the water when It touches your skin, and the fight you get when you are reeling in a big fish on your line."
When I tried to catch up with her for this interview, she was on her way out to Galveston for a spontaneous nighttime fishing trip. "My passion is shark fishing and wade fishing for redfish and trout. I also love to fish off the pier in Galveston for bull reds," she told me. Cleveland uses a bait caster reel on her excursions. She's fond of the 13 Fishing concept reels and Lew's reels. "My bait caster goes everywhere with me," she says.
"It is the sound of the ocean and the wind in your face, the feel of the water when It touches your skin and the fight you get when you are reeling in a big fish on your line."
While Cleveland enjoyed fishing, she could never quite find clothing suited to the sport that also made her feel attractive. "I blew a lot of money on fishing apparel and could not ever find something that fit right or made me feel good about myself."
"Every woman wants to feel sexy while she is out on the water," she said. "Columbia and Magellan just didn't do that for me, and there is such a small selection that everyone you know has the same thing." So she set out to make her own.
"It wasn't until I got back from a weekend fishing trip in Port Lavaca that I decided to start the company. I had created a jacket that I had worn for months, fishing in it. Several people wanted one and even offered to buy it from me. So when she came back from her fishing trip she posted the idea on Facebook, and got an enthusiastic response. The next day I filed a [Doing Business As] with my best friend, and then we worked to get the name trademarked and the LLC created." And that's how Top Fin was born.
Top Fin Outfitters is a clothing line for anglers, marketed to shark fishers. The clothing is manufactured in Katy, and is meant to be well-suited to fishing needs, as well as being fashionable.
The brand is now available online as well as in several locations across the state, including Hurricane Junction in Port O'Connor and Blue water Boutique in Sealy. Cleveland is also currently in talks to do a documentary television show about women anglers.
On being a single mom:
Cleveland has been raising her four kids on her own for the past two years. She has them during the year and they stay with their dad in the Summer. The kids range in age from 14 to 7, and every one of them enjoys fishing with mom. "It's funny because most kids ask to go to water parks or movies or big vacations, and mine just ask to go fishing." Cleveland enjoys taking her kids fishing and camping on the beach when possible. "We live very simple, and it has kept them very humble at heart and guarded in their decision making and judgment."
Life as an entrepreneur and single mom isn't easy, though. A typical day has her up at 5 a.m. to take care of her livestock (heifers and horses) as well as herself and her kids. After everyone is at school she handles the marketing for her company which largely consists of personally answering social media inquiries, and then spends the rest of the day running from the printer's to the manufacturer and off to the post office to ship orders, all of which she does herself.
Though she seems like the Texas dream girl, being a "single" mom doesn't mean that she's single, guys. She's currently in a committed relationship...with another fisherman, of course.
On how she became a firefighter:
In addition to being an entrepreneur and raising her kids, Cleveland is also a volunteer fire fighter. She works with the Brookshire Volunteer Fire Department on occasion. "What motivated me to do it is the Chief," says Cleveland. "We became friends and he kept asking me to join, but I never had time," she tells me. After she was laid off, though, that wasn't a problem anymore. "It allows me to help the community in which we live."
Brookshire is a small town West of Houston on I-10. At just over 5,000 residents, Brookshire thankfully doesn't have too many disasters. "Being a fire fighter is fun! I've had to make a few calls but nothing crazy like blazing flames in burning down houses. It's a thrill and exciting to know I'm out there helping others."
On how others can do the same:
Considering all this began less than a year ago, it seems incredible that the business came so far so fast.
"If people dream of it then why not do it?" she says. "Maybe I'm just not scared and refuse to live with the what-ifs and regret. I'm pretty good at following my heart and just doing it."
There's been a lot to overcome to get where she is, and there is still a long way to go.
"In two years I got divorced, lost my career and started a business." That's an eventful two years. "People constantly contact me and tell me I'm some type of inspiration. I don't know what to say except follow your dreams. I just fish and try to enjoy my life. If that inspires people, then I'm glad, because you can't be scared to live and enjoy your life. Tomorrow is not promised, so be great today and never let the past hold you back."