Ann Kelle Designs: An Interview

Please welcome Kelle of Ann Kelle Designs. In the year 2002, she quit her day job in public policy and, on a leap of faith, started a creative business. Today, Kelle creates for big names, such as Target, Barnes and Noble, and QVC.

Dive into her colorful and well-designed blog for friendly inspiration. I loved her recent post, Fabric Sighting: Holiday Decor, in which she links to great handmade shops on the Etsy marketplace {I love this about Etsy, you think you’ve found all the greatest shops, yet there are thousands left to discover}. Kelle says, “I love, love Etsy. I shop there ALL the time.”

Kelle inspires you to believe that childhood dreams were meant to come true. Enjoy the interview:

 ”I started drawing this girl when I was eight or nine years old. I would draw her over and over in my sketch pad. She was a ballerina, always wore her hair in a bun and loved the color pink. It’s such a sweet feeling to see her on fabric.”

{Photo courtesy of the Ann Kelle blog, taken by Kelle}

Ann Kelle Designs

In 2002, you launched Ann Kelle Designs, and within a week you were being presented to Target. I know handmade artists around the world are wondering the same thing I am, how did that happen?

I launched Ann Kelle at the National Stationery Show, an annual trade show for the stationery industry. On the last day of the show, it was pretty slow. I was a bit bummed that I hadn’t reached my unrealistic goals. So, I walked over to a manufacturer’s booth that I had spoken with prior to the show. I gave them my catalog and told them if they needed anyone to design their packaging or that kind of work, I was available. I didn’t think much about it, and was pretty sure they probably threw away my catalog. At the close of the show, I returned to my hotel even more bummed. It was a low moment. Just as I sat down to have a good cry, the phone rang. The manufacturer I met had looked through my catalog. They had a meeting with Target the following week and wanted to include my designs in their presentation. From there, I entered into the world of licensing.

Today your designs are featured at Barnes and Noble, Office Depot, Target, and Wal Mart, among many other stores and online locations. Did you start with a business plan, or did you just allow the possibilities to unfold?

I just let it unfold. Licensing my artwork allows me to just concentrate on what I love, designing.

Your designs grace fabrics, holiday cards, and stationery. What’s your favorite finished product?

I don’t have a favorite product. But, I can share my favorite thing about being a designer. I love seeing people use my products. I’ve been at a restaurant and looked at the table beside me to see the baby has a burp cloth made from my fabric. Or I’ve seen people out walking around with one of my journals. I always get this goofy grin when this happens. It’s cool to see how something I created is part of other people’s lives.

Ann Kelle Designs | Interview with Marketing Creativity

Please describe your “zone.” What’s the atmosphere like in your studio? And what’s the mood when you’re creating?

My work space was the first room I decorated when I moved into my loft. I knew I’d spend the most time in there. It’s very bright and happy. All white furniture, with pops of color everywhere. I have a lot of accessories in my space that serve as inspiration as well. And when I need some fun, I have bubbles and water squirters sitting close by.

Design days are the best. My mood is usually over-the-top giddy. I’ve typically already done research on whatever project I’m working on. So, all I have to do is get “lost” in designing.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

My mornings start with responding to emails and putting up a blog post (if I have one for the day). Then I work on various design projects for clients. I also have a blog that keeps me pretty busy … planning sewing tutorials and projects, fabric sightings, etc., which requires photo shoots, editing photos, and writing content.

In your artistic career, what has been your proudest moment?

Being able to design full-time.

What is the one biggest tip you would offer to handmade artists just starting out and looking for their first sale?

Be patient, don’t give up and be sweet.

Thank you, Kelle! Your success is absolutely inspirational! Click here to see the many places you can shop Ann Kelle Designs. Thank you for reading! Until next time~

Interview with Jill of For Strange Women

Jill McKeever is owner of the Etsy shop For Strange Women, and I found her for the first time when I read her thoughts on making 6,000 sales after only two years of business. Her writing style is refreshing, earthy, and honest. Here is just one of the many helpful tips she gave:

If you are not beginning your business with $10-20K in startup revenue (I didn’t), the first 10-20K that you earn with your art/craftwork will need to be reinvested (in better tools, materials that may need to be bought in bulk, things that will make your production faster/more efficient, independent contractors to do easy but time consuming tasks, hiring a designer*, etc.) before you start making a profit and paying yourself. This is just an estimated price range, and maybe not necessary for everyone, but this is what I did for myself.

I loved this quote very much because it’s something I’ve always wanted to say, but have never been able to deliver so directly. I had to know more about her, so I checked out her shop and visited her blog, Craftressing. I soon discovered that she is one of the neatest people I’ve ever met on Etsy.

Among other things, she lives in a duplex: half of it is a home she shares with her boyfriend and his son; the other half became her own personal studio. She schedules and completes new projects by following the moon cycles. She’s been featured on O Magazine.  And she makes Kansas City, MO sound like a wonderland—this is what she has to say about her hometown: “We live in a diverse neighborhood with a great energy, full of indie restaurants that I can walk to and get much needed rice pudding, seaweed soup, wine, and coffee.”

Enjoy the interview:

Dark Heart Amulet | For Strange Women

Describe your “zone.” What’s it like when you’re creating the perfect potion?

I’m usually alone, half-awake, half-asleep on a no-coffee morning (coffee is great on hard work days but ruins my creative process if I am making something new), during the first quarter moon, with no distractions. Not even music. I have paper everywhere with recipes scribbled out and a pretty big mess in front of me on the table.

I really appreciate your brand. As you said in your advice article, you are a reflection of your art, and vice versa. Would you say that your identity is ever-evolving?

Thank you! My identity hasn’t changed but the branding does evolve as I get closer and closer to being able to express who I am. It takes time to find yourself in a medium, and learn how to present yourself to the world through it. Design and perfumery are both relatively new concepts to me, so these have evolved over the last few years.

An Interview with For Strange Women | Marketing Creativity

I was looking through your blog, and I noticed a change in your artistry right about the time you quit your day job and went all-in For Strange Women. It seemed everything suddenly got a little more sophisticated. What gave you the confidence to make that decision?

Good question! My design career began in a very un-inspiring and frustrating day job. Before I had this job (pre blog) I was just out of college and much “darker” than I am now. My music and other artwork that I made was so strange that I don’t think many people were able to connect with it. I was broke and living in a creepy century-old basement, and decided to get a real job because being a starving artist had taken its toll on me. Of course I took the first good paying job that I could get, because most employers could see I was unfit for the corporate world. I stayed at the job for 2 miserable years and bought a house to keep my mind occupied. No amount of home renovations or shopping or craft projects or cases of wine could really make me feel at ease, and I knew I had to find myself again, which is about the time I started my blog. I had nearly lost myself and wanted to come back to the person I was, but by that point I had changed. The blog was just for me, so that I could see my work, my life, and myself from an outside perspective. When I started For Strange Women I was still at my design job (for a school district) and was not able to fully change gears from the design I did there to the design I did for myself. It takes time to cleanse your system of that stuff, unfortunately, and I think I still have further to go. Although I have realized that I am a much happier person now that I am doing my own thing while earning a living, so although my current work has a little of an “edge”, it is nothing like my old style, and instead, yes more sophisticated. So to summarize, the design change was not a decision so much as it was an autobiographical bi-product.

Thank you, Jill. It’s been inspirational! You can view the original interview in its entirety by clicking hereStop by  For Strange Women and she says: “Thank you for visiting my shop. I love that there are others out there who connect with my aesthetic and appreciate the immense thought and creative energy that goes into every recipe.” We sure do!

How to Sell the Roof Off a Craft Show

If there’s only one thing I know about Jan Szklennik of Sunlit Soap (by the way, there’s only one thing I know about Jan), it’s that she knows how to set up at a craft show with her beautiful array of handmade soaps. A couple of years ago, I witnessed her sell the roof off a lovely community center at a local holiday show. I had a front row seat from my Energy Shop booth and plenty of time to watch the magic of her day.

How to Sell the Roof Off a Craft Show by Sunlit Soap | Marketing Creativity

Hello, Jan! Your soaps are extremely beautiful and they smell delicious. How long have you been making them?

Hello to you too, Lisa.  I am honored by your interview request, and thanks for the compliments!  I’ve been making soap for about twelve years now.  My “habit” was born the day my Mom (a talented crafter in her own right) gave me this book: The Complete Soapmaker: Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps by Norma Coney.  I was instantly, profoundly affected by the beautiful pictures, and thoroughly intrigued by the process.  I HAD to try it for myself, and after a few initial “learning experiences” (okay, so they were mini-disasters) I got the hang of it and have been smitten ever since.  I’ll never forget my first successful batch – I was thrilled to find a big solid soap in the mold rather than an oily mess, and I quickly cut a piece and thrust it under the faucet to see if it would lather (it did, and I must have looked the fool for the happiness it brought me!)  I love the entire process, from dreaming up new ideas to challenging myself with concept and execution.  I enjoy packaging or “dressing” the finished product in ever-evolving fashion, and if anyone wants to ask me about soap I can talk a blue-streak :)  That’s saying something for a person who is probably recognized by people who know me as being a bit on the quiet side.

I can really appreciate the “sunlit” stamp you put on every bar. When did you come up with that? Do you feel it has helped customers remember your brand?

I put so much energy and love into my soap that it quickly became important to me to give it an identity that linked it to me and would be attractive and recognizable.  I think I had the stamp custom-made by Soap Impressions in 1999, and it’s certainly gotten a lot of mileage! Initially, I just stamped the impression into soaps, which looked nice.  Over time I experimented with stamping colors into the soap and hit upon the copper mica that you see on all the bars now. It’s (I think) unique to my soaps, and plays nicely with the Sunlit theme by really catching and reflecting light.  It photographs well, too.

How to Sell the Roof Off a Craft Show by Sunlit Soap | Marketing Creativity

You know how to attract customers at a craft show, and I had a front-row seat to watch the magic of your day unfold. It seemed like the people were coming just to buy from you! Was that your first year at that show? Do you feel like your customer-base grew year after year? Did any customers come just to get their next supply of your beautiful soaps?

That year marked the fourth time I’ve done that particular show, although the last time was a few years ago so it hasn’t been consecutive.  I’d also been out of the circuit for a while.  The past shows were not as active as this one was, averaging about half the sales I was able to bring in this year.  I couldn’t say if any of my customers year to year were repeat, but I have had people buy from me more than once in the same show.  Sometimes they buy, and as they continue browsing and shopping they realize that the soaps make unique gifts (at a reasonable price point) for all kinds of circumstances: teacher appreciation, hostess gifts, party favors, stocking stuffers, etc.  I’ve found that once people try it, they like it, want more, and are more likely to give it as a gift.

Your display was so tall that you had to stand behind it. Have you ever sat down at a regular table for a show?  Do you feel that the height helped you engage the customers?

My first few booths were regular table-style.  I learned by watching other, more successful, vendors that you need to capitalize on the “footprint” of your space, and use it to its full dimensional capacity.  Eye level is ideal, but can be challenging depending on what you’re selling.  I also think it’s best to create a space that customers can walk up-to (bar-style?), but aren’t forced to walk in-to (u-shape.)  People don’t like to feel crowded or trapped, and most craft show booths are 10×10 or smaller – not enough space for tables, product, vendor and customers.  Another benefit to a “tall” display that sits between me and the customer: I get non-visable space to bag items, write receipts, or put together more gift items to (hopefully!) sell.  Another important component to a successful booth is signage, which can be challenging.  Sometimes I feel like I could staple signs to my forehead and people still won’t read them!  I’ve found that pictures grab people’s attention, and make them more likely to read.

Click here to see this interview in its entirety archived on Marketing Creativity. You can visit Jan and see the rest of her amazing products at Sunlit Soap on Etsy.

Success Interview: Jodi Ohl on Running a Creative Business

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to a fellow artist turned friend, Jodi Ohl. Tim and I were honored to have her as a member of our Build a Better Creative Business course, and that’s where I first met her. Now she’s back to share with all of us how, over the years, she’s expanded her art into a thriving creative business. So without further ado, please enjoy the interview …

Jodi Ohl Success Interview: Mixed Media

You started out on Etsy in 2007; it’s been nearly six years since you opened shop! How has selling artwork online evolved over the years?

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, Lisa!  When I look back from the time I first started selling my art on Etsy, I see not only how the format has changed but how I’ve changed my approach to selling online.  I think the biggest thing that has evolved over the years is just the opportunity for artists to show their work to a worldwide audience and not depend on having a gallery here and there to be their only outlet.  The stage has grown exponentially since I first started selling online, so of course there is more competition, not that that is a bad thing.  But with that said, if you have a mentality of,  “I’ll list it and they will come”, you aren’t going to be as successful as you can be. Rather, an artist who wants to be successful selling online has to treat the marketing and selling of their work just as if they were running a brick and mortar store. Perhaps one has to work even harder than if you were running brick and mortar stores because you have to convey your branding and merchandising over a computer screen. For me, selling online is just a piece of the whole puzzle for my creative career, where in the beginning, it was my only outlet to getting my work out in the world.

Your work is stunning. I thought mixed media was a newer trend, but you’re clearly quite experienced. How long have you been creating this type of artwork? 

Thank you so much for saying that.  Mixed media has been around for quite some time, dating back to the early 1900’s with Picasso using collage and simple elements like rope and string in his work to later on in the century with artists of all sorts combining papers, paint, inks, chalk, pastels into their abstract or semi abstract work.  I think most recently it has resurfaced into a very popular form of art because in a lot of ways, it’s about story-telling and using what you have or what you can find in your work. Recycling,  repurposing, reinventing, and reworking common objects often heading for the trash and giving a voice to one’s creative instinct without the restrictions of being perfect or working within boundaries  seems to resonate with artists of all levels, and in a lot of ways has made art accessible to both the seasoned artist and the beginner. I started working in mixed media around the summer of 2006 after a fire in my home destroyed all the watercolors that I had been working on among other things.  At that time I had so much to say and needed a new outlet, one that I could comb the yard sales or flea markets for items that spoke to me as I not only had to rebuild my home but also my art. Since  that time, my work has moved from focusing on collage and journal pages to paintings of all sorts which incorporate papers and texture along with a variety of mediums.

Jodi Ohl original artwork

Very interesting! You also manage a blog and run teaching workshops. How do you juggle the different aspects of your creative career? 

At times I do it better than others, the times I don’t do it as well are the times I let things happen rather than manage how my day, week, or year for that matter unfolds.  My 20 years plus of management experience in the corporate world helps me contain the creative impulse to just create all day and hope things fall into place.  What I do instead, goes against the grain of how a lot of creative types operate and that is to really plan, check in with myself,  keep  schedules, impose deadlines,  use spreadsheets,  maintain a planner, and treat all the aspect of my creative career as subdivisions of my business.  They all need attention, it’s about being proactive rather than reactive that keeps them all running smoothly.  I am still learning and tweaking as I go, because there are times when different parts of my business needs more attention than others.  I also am constantly looking forward into my career and seeking opportunities that will keep my pipeline of projects full so that I have the ‘opportunity’ of having income rolling in on a regular basis.  Nothing is a sure thing, but by not putting your eggs all in one basket and by continually filling that basket, you have a better chance at creating a strong and successful foundation for your business.

Excellent advice. Please describe your “zone.” Where do you create and what’s the atmosphere like in that space? What mood do you bring to a blank canvas?

I have a 17 x 20 studio that has three walls of shelves and a big open area for my easels and tables. When I first moved here, it seemed so huge, but I’m even starting to outgrow my studio as I move into creating on larger canvases. The zone I work in changes, in the morning I start off at my desk with an endless supply of coffee (I’m a bit of a caffeine junkie) handling administrative tasks, then around 9 or so I head into the studio. I don’t have a perfect studio, at times it’s chaotic because I often have to work on multiple projects at a time, but when I walk into it, I see opportunity and ideas floating from my head to the canvas.  I like to work with music when I am working at night or on the weekends but during the week I just simply show up and start working. The mood I hope to convey with all of my work is hope, empowerment, and positivity.  There are plenty of times I don’t feel confident or secure, or entirely happy,  but by creating the mood I hope to feel, I in essence become what I create. I hope who ever enjoys my work, feels that same sense of inspiration and in a sense, law of attraction. You are what you put out in the word in so many ways.

Jodi Ohl mixed media bookmark

What has been the proudest moment in your artistic career to date?

Oh goodness, there have been so many proud moments. Little and big milestones I’ve climbed over the last few years. I think that some of my most exciting moments have been seeing my work published in international magazines. I’ve  written  about 17 or 18 articles published to date along with 2 book contributions.  Looking at the bigger picture though, the proudest moment overall has been my decision to leave a very good job, an awesome job actually, as a bank manager and take the leap of faith to pursue my artwork full time. It was the scariest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life and I have no regrets at all for pursuing my dream.

What has been your biggest waste of time or money since starting your creative business?

That is a really good question and it’s not one easily answered because even with the things I’ve done that have been expensive and seemingly a waste of money, very often they have proven to present opportunities in ways I hadn’t initially anticipated.

The thing that comes to mind first and foremost is art festivals. They have not been my biggest monetary success, in fact, often times I lose money when doing shows, especially if they are out of town.  A lot of people have the mindset that everything I make at shows goes to me! But the truth of the matter is there are a lot of expenses that go into art shows, from the entry fee which can be as little as 50 dollars or so to several hundred to even a 1000 dollars or more, then you have trailer or truck rentals, hotels, food, material expense, advertising and promotional material, displayers, and tons of time creating inventory for the shows (there’s even a cost to holding back that inventory so that you have a  body of work to show where in fact it could be out in the world elsewhere).

Many times the patrons that come to shows are looking at the show itself as a social event, not necessarily seeking that perfect piece of art for their home…although that could be exactly what they are seeking.  I mentioned before that the shows often times present opportunities after the fact, and what I have found for me is that I’ve opened the door to gaining new students for my classes,  gallery opportunities (you never know who you will meet at shows), future customers for custom work, and  lifetime followers of your work who very often purchase online or in galleries even after the show.

Because I do so much online, I think sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking everyone  must know me but that is so far from the truth, there are many people who haven’t seen the magazines I’ve been in, or haven’t heard of me, or didn’t realize I teach…so in a nutshell, approaching art shows as a marketing event is how I go into each venture. I just have to be prudent on the ones (or how many) I do because I can only afford to do so many marketing events each year.

Jodi Ohl original

What’s the best piece of advice you could offer another artist just starting out and looking for their first sale?

Strive to do the best that you can do with each and every piece of art you create, but don’t let the fear of perfection stop you from putting your work out into the world.  Early on in my entry into my career as an artist, a friend gave me the book “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  In that  book, the authors address how few masterpieces there are in this world,  but yet how less colorful and beautiful our world would be if everyone just waited to put their masterpiece (if that masterpiece even ever comes into being) into the universe. I tell my students that talent is overrated and often misinterpreted. There are people out there that sure, just have that innate ability to create magic with whatever they touch. The rest of us get to where we are through hard work and dedication.

So if you want it, just do it, and keep doing it, then do it again.

The last piece of my advice would be that one needs to decide if you are doing this as a hobby or a business; that in itself can determine how you approach your art and that first sale. It all does boil down to doing what you love and doing the best that you can for where you are in your journey, and to keep on striving to do just a little more with every new work you put out into the world.  There is one more thing … surround yourself with people that support you and encourage you and then give that support back to someone else. It does make a difference and will help you grow then pass on that torch to someone else.

Thank you Lisa for having me, it’s been a lot of fun talking with you!

Thank you, Jodi! It’s been absolutely brilliant. To find more from Jodi, visit her at the Sweet Repeats blog and Etsy shop. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest! Until next time and all the best!

Interview: Cynthia Vardhan Ceramics

Please welcome potter and artist, Cynthia Vardhan! Cynthia’s from Columbus, OH, and she’s been working with clay since she was 13 years old. She loves to create gorgeous little pieces adorned with textured patterns: a delight to the eye and the touch. Today she offers us a behind-the-scenes peek at her creative business. Enjoy the interview!

Interview with Cynthia Vardhan

You do gorgeous work: your creations are absolutely stunning. How long have you been working in ceramics?

I’ve been making pottery since I was thirteen- 1993.  I steadily grew more interested in it and went professional after grad school-  about 2002.

Your first Etsy sale took place on December 6, 2006, which makes you quite the Etsy veteran. You also sell your ceramics in galleries and stores, where did your first sale take place?

First sale took place in high school at our art class’s end of the year sale.  It was a pretty awesome yellow vase, I remember.

And, can you remember what that first sale felt like for you?

It was a feeling of validation- that someone other than my mom liked my work and that it would go on to live in someone’s house.  Ceramic is such a permanent material- that vase could potentially last thousands of years!  It’s just a matter of how it’s owned and cared for.

Bud Vases by Cynthia Vardhan

In the last two years, your work has been featured in House Beautiful, Parents Magazine, Southern Living, and online at prestigious websites, such as Design*Sponge.

Can you tell us a little bit about how some of these opportunities came about? Did you have an active role in spreading the word about your business, or does this press come just because you create amazing art?

Some press comes from exposure on etsy. Some comes from reporters seeing me at shows.  Some press comes as a result of other press.  The big magazines I either contacted directly, or last year, I hired a PR professional for a few months to pitch to even more press.  That helped a lot, and I may do it again this summer.  It’s tricky since some outlets want to be the first & only to show your work where as others don’t mind as much.

Please describe your “zone.” What’s the atmosphere like in your studio? And what’s the mood when you’re creating?

While throwing the pieces on the wheel, it’s quite intense. I don’t even need music or any distractions at all since that’s when the important decisions about shapes are made.  The decorating phase is much more laid back where I can listen to documentaries, books on tape, or even have friends over to chat while working.  It’s also important for me to have a very neat and clean studio- I can’t work in clutter and dust bunnies.  And I need a green view- my last studio was in the attic in the trees, my current studio overlooks my garden.

Red Fan Ceramic Dish by Cynthia Vardhan

In your artistic career, what has been your proudest moment?

My proudest moment was speaking to a class at the prestigious Central Saint Martins Ceramic Design course in London. It is a program that I had always wanted to attend, so visiting it and speaking to the faculty and students was definitely the highlight so far.

What has been your biggest waste of time or money in business?

Let’s say I haven’t perfected the art of mass direct mail yet…. Or perhaps that’s not the best way to garner sales.  Developing sincere relationships with store owners and other artisans seems to be the best way to go.

What is the one biggest tip you would offer to handmade artists just starting out and looking for their first sale?

I’d say start small- local events with low booth/table fees can be great.  Some of the shows that still give me the best return on investment are the ones in town, or at most 2 hours away.  And those events can lead to later sales on etsy, so it’s a cycle of sales, shows, and exposure that builds a craft/art business.

Thank you, Cynthia! That’s excellent advice, and this has been lovely. Dear readers, you can find Cynthia and her work online at www.cynthiavardhan.com and shop her ceramics on Etsy. Until next time and all the best~

Interview: Life Adventures and Etsy Business Tips from Kat of Katwise

Oh boy, hold onto your hats! Today I’m talking to Kat of the very popular shop, Katwise on Etsy. She creates (and continuously sells out of) upcycled sweater coats and various other recycled treasures. Kat’s creative lifestyle is absolutely inspirational. So much so, my words couldn’t do her introduction justice. She is:

“Kat O’Sullivan, a free-spirited hitchhiking girl who has spent most of her life bumbling about the planet in search of senseless adventure and community.” Let’s dive right into her magical world. Enjoy the interview!

While looking for a job once, I realized how much of my strange life I try to hide so that I seem more “normal”. And then I decided, to hell with that!

You’ve been in business for six years now! I looked back on your first sales, which were a collection of arm warmers and sweaters. What inspired your unique designs?

When I was 15 I hurried up to finish high school early so I could follow the Grateful Dead.  I had no idea how to support myself, but I loved all the crazy clothes on tour. Since I was so much taller and bigger than most of the girls,  none of their cute patchwork dresses fit me, so I had to learn to sew my own. Then I realized that I could sell them to get enough money for gas to the next show.  So, basically I have been making upcycled, rainbow patchwork clothing my entire adult life.  It is funny, because I feel like my life has been so *CrAzY* and such a steep learning curve, but then I realize I am still just a gypsy making silly patchwork clothes, same as I ever was.  I traveled pretty much nonstop for 15 years all over the planet, and along the way I picked up lots of little influences from other countries and subcultures…but it is all still recognizably me.

You were selling on Etsy just over a year after it launched. How did you find your way there?

After years of working the festival circuit, I had a great run as a street vendor in New York City. I absolutely LOVED being a street vendor – it was so hardcore and cold and full of sketchy weirdos. Every day was like a travel adventure, even though I was just standing on the same corner in the East VIllage. I had my little painted schoolbus that I was living in, and I really got to feel like part of the neighborhood.  I learned so much from my customers in those years.  It really helped shape the look and direction of my business to interact with so many different people every day and get so much feedback.   I kept getting in trouble with the police for illegal vending though, and I had so many appearances before the Judge that the charm was sort of wearing off. I realized that my street vending days were over, so I made the reluctant transition to Etsy.  It was more out of desperation than design.  If I could still be a street vendor, I would be. I miss the sense of being a renegade crafter, braving the cold and the crazies.

 

How has your creative business evolved over the years?

I would say the biggest difference is that I am just more efficient and focused.  For years I would bounce around between making dresses and pants and murals and jewelry and costumes….just chasing whatever creative butterflies captured my attention.  As I grew up a little I realized the value in not pursuing every single whim in any direction. It is very interesting to explore your creativity when you put some constraints on it (in my case, working just with upcycled sweaters, for example).

I also discovered, quite to my delight, that the act of running a business has quite a lot in common with creating art.  I would not have guessed how much style and whimsy you can spin on your business.  It took me  a couple of years to fully embrace the notion that I could run my business completely on my own terms, and not have to follow anyone else’s blueprints. (Well, of course I have to obey the IRS, but besides that…)  I would not have guessed how much I am fascinated by economics and marketing, and how much room for authenticity and creativity there is within growing a business. With the advent of the internet, we are still collectively figuring out the rules and the boundaries, so there is no reason I can’t be a trailblazer, if only for myself.

To date, you’ve made more than 11,700 sales. That’s quite a success! Is Katwise a full-time job for you?

Yes! I am proud to say that I am myself for a living.  I am such a feral creature that I realized I could never live a happy life if I had to work for another person. I would rather be destitute than have a 9-5 job.  Thankfully, my inability to conform has led me on a rewarding path.

 

Your website, katwise.com, is a wonderful adventure for any reader! I love Calico, The House That Sweaters Built. It looks private, is it? What’s the atmosphere like in that wonderful home?

Thank you! My boyfriend and I bought this house a couple of years ago.  It is an 1840s farm near Woodstock, New York.  We were so naive! We had no idea what an abyss of repairs we were about to tumble into.  Calico has been a constant project. It is private in the sense that it is just our house, but we sort of have an open door policy.  There is almost always guests there, and random strangers popping by out of curiosity.  I  have an open invitation for the world to come over and join me for tea.

That sounds irresistible. I’m on my way! :) I’ve noticed some new product categories at Katwise. When did you start selling tutorials and patterns for your designs?

When I think about the early days of etsy – it was such a tiny and friendly community. There were so few sellers that it was very easy to keep track of who was selling what, and there was a bit more respect for one another’s territory.

For the first couple of years I had the luxury of being the only shop that sold upcycled sweaters.  As my shop (and etsy) grew, a bunch of other shops popped up selling my exact designs, and often lifting entire paragraphs from my text.

At first I was so astonished at how people had so little integrity, and I struggled a lot trying to outrun the copycats. At some point I realized that I could waste a ton of energy caring about these people, or I could embrace the situation and shift “copying” into “sharing”.

I wrote a tutorial and spilled lots of my hard-won secrets about sweater making.  I started a forum on my Facebook page where sweater makers could share their skills.  Right away, this great community of crafty ladies sprang up, and became very supportive of one another.  I can’t describe what a relief it is for me to be able to feel like a proud mama hen instead of a disgruntled victim.  Now, when I see someone pop up with a new sweater coat, I want to clap and cheer them on.  It was absolutely the right choice.  In this day and age of ideas spreading like wildfire on the internet, sharing is absolutely the way to go. It is a rather unenlightened waste of energy to invest in stopping copycats.  Much better to prance circles around them and invite them to dance.

Well said, Kat. You’re clearly having a lot of fun and allowing creativity to blossom in every area of your life. Do you have a business plan, or do you just let it all unfold?

I am not a plan person. I guard my ability to be spontaneous more than anything.  That is part of the reason I have resisted the urge to grow my business, even though I can’t keep up with demand.  I do not want employees and obligations. I do not want my business to be an entity that exists outside of myself.  I want to be lean and spry, able to change directions in mid-air.  My plan, if there is one, is to make sure that no matter what I can always sleep late, always dress funny, and always say, “Screw this. I’m going to Africa tomorrow!

What has been your biggest waste of time or money for Katwise?

By far the hugest investment of energy goes into answering emails.  I deeply value the personal connections I feel with my community,  but it can absorb entire days just trying to keep up with answering everyone. People think I sew for a living, when in truth, I answer emails for a living and sew in my stolen moments of spare time.  It is something I struggle with, because I do not wish to lose this sense of connection with these lovely people, but once in a while I wish there was an off switch to the emails.  It would be nice if I could take a few days off and not have to panic about the mountain of friendly messages that accumulates. I just heard a great commencement address given by the author Neil Gaiman where he described the same issue, and how he just decided to stop answering all the emails and liberate himself.  I couldn’t imagine that!

I know that speech! All your bottles are coming back ;) What has been your best marketing strategy?

I think the best move I made was to not just sell a product, but to invite people to get to know me as whole person. I think that sharing my home and my travels and costumes and friends online helps my work resonate on a deeper level than clothing alone could muster.  I sometimes think that what I am selling is not just sweaters, but souvenirs of this whole crazy life I have been gifted with. The choice to be so  personal and available has done wonders to help build a community online, and insulate me from the impact of having so many new shops selling replicas of my designs.

 

Please finish this sentence. When I was 18, I thought …

When I was 18 I thought that all I wanted to do was wander around the planet learning new languages, painting murals, dancing at festivals, sharing kindness and defining life on my own terms. It’s almost embarrassing how little I have changed. :-)

Thank you, Kat! It’s been absolutely enchanting. You can find Kat on her website and Katwise on Etsy. You can also follow her amazing adventures on Facebook and Twitter.