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INTERVIEW

Interview with Amy Frank, fabric artist and small business owner

unnamed-2Bio:  Amy Frank is the designer and creator behind Mindfully Made Studios. Amy’s unique, thoughtful Blessing Bands©, yoga mat carriers and other inspirational accessories can be found at http://www.mindfullymadestudios.com and also in 40+ stores nation-wide. She lives in Central PA with a patient husband, 4 crazy kids and an even crazier yellow lab. : )

1.  Tell us about your handmade business and how it began.

I’ve been sewing and selling work for some time, but Mindfully Made Studios was born shortly after I had our youngest daughter. With 4 kids under 5-years-old, I was overwhelmed.  I wanted something to remind me of how lucky – how blessed – I was. So I made my first Blessing Band©. Friends noticed it and asked me to create personalized bands for them. Soon, I began selling them online and in a few local stores, and my business unfolded from there. Here is a link to a video that tells this story: http://youtu.be/foPUOegruro

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2. What is your education? Do you have special training from school that has helped you to run Mindfully Made Studios?

I have a degree in Communications and Business and worked in business consulting and fundraising for several years before having a family.  I think this business background helped me to understand the importance of organization, goal-setting and tracking outcomes.  I also took several courses through the Art Business Institute.  Their seminars capture the fine points of building an art-based business.  The information I took from those seminars helped me to take the next steps in my business.

3.  What steps have you taken to transform Mindfully Made Studios from a hobby into a full blown small business operation?

First, I had to decide where I wanted to go with my work.  Believe it or not, there are lots of options for us artists!  Did I want to blog and write books, sell product at shows, teach, sell through stores and distributors?  While often we do many of these things at once, I believe it’s beneficial to decide where you want to focus your energies. 

My products lend themselves easily to wholesale sales or selling to retailers.  I decided this was my primary focus and have been working to place Mindfully Made Studios in stores and shops around the country.  By focusing primarily on this step, I have been able to grow our wholesale accounts to almost 50 stores this year.

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4. I know you have done some traditional craft shows, but tell us a little about the professional trade shows you have also attended and what that experience was like.

Last year, I began selling my work at wholesale trade shows around the country.  This was a huge financial commitment and a scary leap for my business.  Happily, these shows are the primary reason we’ve been able to expand so quickly.  I think once you know where you would like to go, make a plan and try it.  Even if it’s scary!

5.  Can you share some helpful advice that you received?  Who gave this advice? 

Carolyn Edlund (http://www.artsyshark.com) from the Arts Business Institute (http://www.artsbusinessinstitute.org) has been a terrific help to me as I’ve built Mindfully Made Studios.  She stresses the importance of keeping up with the often-not-fun business side of your work.  While your creative work is important, also be sure to take care of BUSINESS…bookkeeping, insurance, taxes, etc.  Set aside at least one day a month for these tasks. 

Carolyn also suggested a big change to my business early on.  I was calling my Blessing Bands by a different name and she – very bluntly – said “I don’t get that name, you need to change that.”  I was a little taken back, but I saw her point and quickly re-introduced my bracelets as “Blessing Bands.”  Ironically, that’s when they really began taking off! : )

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6.  What advice would you share with someone hoping to take their handmade business to the next level?   

Decide where you really want to go, talk to others that have reached similar business goals, and make a plan to get there.  Also, don’t try to do too much at once.  I often get so excited and inspired that I over-do it and burn out.  Try to set manageable goals for yourself and celebrate small successes!

7.  What are you conservative plans for the future of Mindfully Made Studios?  What are your crazy big dreams for the future of Mindfully Made Studios?

Conservatively, I would like to continue growing our retailers to about 100 stores this year.  I would also like to introduce several new products into our line.  Ultimately, I would like our Blessing Bands to be picked up by a few major retailers that fit our brand.  Subsequently, Blessing Bands would be on the wrists of the majority of men, women and children! : ) I say this jokingly, but I really do believe those little bands help people to stay present and peaceful…and that is what REALLY inspires me in my work. 

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8.  Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your handmade business?  

I just want to stress the importance of not losing your original focus when building your business.  We all believe in handmade because we know that the things we create hold special significance and we LOVE making them.  I would encourage you to put practices in place that help you retain your creativity and love of making.  I try to set aside several hours a week for new ideas and designs.  It doesn’t always work, but the intention is there.

It’s also very meaningful and FUN to remember that this is YOUR business and that means you get operate I a way that is meaningful and special to you.  We give a portion of our proceeds to a foster care advocacy group called CASA.  I can’t tell you how good it feels to give back in that way.  It inspires me and my employees to work harder every day.  We also believe in our local economy and stress that our goods are made in Central PA.  I am proud to say this and I feel inspired to work harder to continue to help our local economy.   It’s your business, so you get to do what YOU want…how fun is that?!? : )

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Virginia Lindsay — Gingercake Patterns and Design

Virginia Lindsay designs sewing patterns for Gingercake Patterns and Design. She loves the to sew practical, fun, and stylish things! Several of her patterns have been published by Simplcity and she has also written 2 books. Sewing to Sell and Fabric Stash Cuties:  Pretty Little Birds.

Shop Small Shop Local Feature: Artisan Markets

Artisan Markets is a twice weekly art event held in Scottsdale, Arizona that includes local fine artists, crafters and entertainment. Audrey Thacker, the founder, actively promotes an opportunity for Arizona-based talent to exhibit, demonstrate, and/or sell their products and services in a festive atmosphere.

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1. How did you get started running Artisan Markets?

I was a jewelry artist participating in many art fairs, fashion shows, and solo gallery exhibits here in Arizona and originally in Hawaii.  I loved participating and almost always jumped on a committee or sat on a board of nearly every organization I participated with.  I networked with many of the artists and art leaders in the community and quickly realized that I had a knack for organizing and building relationships.  In roughly 2008, I began making moves to start my own events.  It started small, with about 10 artists and I ran two monthly locations.  One in Gilbert at Val Vista Lakes and one in Scottsdale at Main St. Plaza, just outside of Su Vino Winery.  It was quite the adventure with many challenges along the way.  After gaining some momentum and visibility and with help from the City of Scottsdale, we moved over to the Scottsdale Waterfront, where developer Fred Unger was excited and welcoming to the idea of a weekly art fair.  This event quickly grew into a twice weekly event with many special events throughout the year.

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2. How did you grow your business?

Growing my business never ends.  I spend a lot of time developing relationships.  Networking within the community, visiting major and local art fairs to recruit new artists, became a member of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Local First Arizona and try to attend most of their networking events.  At the beginning, we really didn’t have any capital, so it was a very grass roots effort.  I did and still do utilize social media, a list of over 4000 people on our mailing list, online event calendars, and word of mouth.  It also greatly helps when the participating artists promote the event and their work as really the best form of advertising is through word of mouth.  I always make sure that we follow the rules of our permit issuers, communicate with all the participants, continue to look for new ways to improve the look and feel and how we can gain more visibility.

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3. How do you find your artists?

At the beginning, I already had a pretty good network of artists because I was a participating artist myself.  I also would always visit any and all events I could to recruit new artists that I felt would be a good fit for our growing community.  Other artists talk to other artists, and that is really the best way to go about it.  We do a heavy social media push, email blasts, online event calendars, and more.  We have been written up in numerous newspapers and magazines which also helps us gain visibility to both customers and artists.

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4. Any advice for artists wanting to get into events like yours or for those who would like to start a craft fair?

The best advice I can give is to be professional.  Yes, we are a community of artists and creative businesses, but it’s important to hone in on our business skills if you want to be successful.  Visit multiple events, watch your competition (don’t steal their ideas) and get inspired.  Take what you like and leave what you don’t.  Make sure you have professional quality photos of your work.  If you don’t have them, consider doing a trade with a friend or family member that might be better at photography than you.  Talk to your colleagues and find out what it’s like.  Keep your expectations realistic.  While we all want to make money, keep in mind that the ones that make a living at this have been at it for many years and they have had to remain flexible, change their artistic style to suit their customers, and make an ongoing effort to improve not only their work, but their displays and sales tactics.  Please, don’t call the promoter asking if they really need the items in which they have asked for on an application.  The answer will almost always be yes, they do need that information, that is why it’s there.  If you don’t get accepted to a particular show, don’t let that discourage you.  Ask why you were denied and then take that feedback to improve your presentation.  Keep at it.  Keep improving.  Keep creating.  Stay positive, follow the rules of all the shows you do and ask for help when you need it.  When I first started out, my presentation was horrible!  And I mean horrible.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Luckily, I met some really great people along the way who gave me advice, invested time in me, and really showed me how to make not only my presentation better, but my craft as well.  I stayed open to their constructive criticism even when it sometimes seemed hard and hopeless.  I kept at it and kept at it.  I had a pretty successful jewelry career, which led me to the roll I play today and that is to help others be successful doing what they love to do!

Artisan Market at Canal Convergence NOV 2013 photo by Sean Deckert 1

5. Where do you see Artisan Markets going in the future?

Global!  Ha. I see Artisan Markets becoming a national event.  A template if you will for success in many areas across the nation.  Beginning with new locations in Arizona and moving into other areas that support local businesses and artistic endeavors.  My team and I are in discussions of an indoor Artisan Market retail space, giving artists yet another chance to have their works seen and purchased.  The possibilities are endless and there isn’t a day that goes by that a new idea and/or opportunity presents itself.

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MadeFreshly + Handmade Success: Sweet Threads Interview

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As an online destination for new and vintage children’s clothing collections, Sweet Threads was born out of a love for hand-selected pieces. Getting their online start through Etsy, and now with a brick and mortar location (as well as a MadeFreshly shop!), this company is a unique, one-of-a-kind boutique business that has capitalized on social media and online marketing. With features in Apartment Therapy, Long Beach Business Journal, My Cakies and more, you’ll want to learn more about Sweet Threads below. Sweet Threads is a proud MadeFreshly shop, and one that we’re very excited to share.

Read more as Shella Garcia, an entrepreneur and MadeFreshly store owner, shares her story.

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Tell us about your business and the types of products you sell.

Sweet Threads is an online destination for NEW + VINTAGE Children’s collection of clothing, shoes and accessories. Vintage pieces and brands are carefully hand picked and curated with the idea of offering the market with unique kids fashions we would want to wear ourselves yet still playful.

WHERE WE GET OUR VINTAGE – Our vintage is carefully selected and hand picked from our obsessive thrift trips, estate sale hunting, and yard sale treasures. We are in it for the hunt and we love that we can share our gems with you! Each piece is hand washed or dry cleaned as best we can. Vintage means PreLoved and will have normal wear and slight imperfections which is expected and to be enjoyed.

Why did you start Sweet Threads and what is the story behind it?

Sweet threads was created from the ideas of two friends. While one friend had the idea of children’s fashions, while the other had a love for vintage, collaborated their ideas and developed a Vintage Children’s Fashion business.  As soon as we found our niche, we were obsessed with the idea. We later brought in the “NEW” designer brands as this is a reflection of how we dress. We like to mix it up. I may wear a vintage skirt, but my t shirt is store bought. We couldn’t wait to share our vision to the world.

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How do you get past fears and self doubt to share your awesomeness with the world?

By just doing it. I think it’s fear of not achieving my dreams that drives me and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever completely got rid of all my fears, but I just knew if I wanted to get from point A to point B there was no other way of getting there but by just doing it. So I had took that risk and decided to not look back. Just keep going forward.

What inspires you be an entrepreneur?

I’ve always been a creative person and thought I was good at being a creative but at the same time I had a lot of self doubt or fear of rejection. It was until I introduced our idea to social media that I started to realize I had something special. The positive responses from others sparked something in me. Knowing that our ideas were being enjoyed by other people than myself made me proud. So proud,  I knew I had to share it and the only way to nurture this idea was to become an entrepreneur.

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Where do you sell your products both online and offline?

We sell our products online at http://www.shopsweetthreads.com and offline at our brick + mortar shop in Long Beach, CA.

How do you manage a brick and mortar store, online store, and an Etsy store?

By having a brick + mortar, it allows me to work on the online store, Etsy and Ebay when there is downtime. I am also always on my phone which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but that’s the way I am able to give great customer service by responding in a very quick manner.

The way I manage inventory at the moment is when I list NEW + VINTAGE products on our main website and any vintage items posted that week will also list on Etsy and Ebay. Anytime a product sells in any of these 4 places, I immediately remove it.

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How did you make the transition from part time to full time?

At the time we were working demanding full-time jobs. So we started off small by opening up an Etsy store in December 2011 selling only vintage children’s fashions. About half a year selling there, we decided to continue online to gain an online presence and decided to open up our own official website in April 2012 selling NEW and VINTAGE Children’s fashions.

This was all around the same time when mobile boutiques were gaining momentum and thought it was a great opportunity to have face-to-face interactions with our customers and sell on weekends. Bought a VW bus and pimped out the vehicle with uber cute graphics and colors to resemble an ice cream truck. Took baby steps and decided the Rose Bowl Flea Market in September 2012 would be the best place to debut our new ride and business. It so happened that on our very first flea market experience, we met the customer who we knew could help us. They always say it’s who you know to break into an industry. We met one of the top baby bloggers, Ashley Jenner from http://www.thestorkandthebeanstalk.com. As corny as it sounds, life works in funny ways and I do believe we were destined to meet her that very day.

She wrote about us and featured our vintage children’s fashions on her blog. She was a real supporter from the beginning by using her creative outlet to let others have the opportunity to learn about our business. We continued selling monthly at the flea markets for almost a year before we decided to open a brick + mortar. By this time, we had gained a following on social media and when we found the spot in March 2013 we are in now, we decided it was time. We were ready to leave our day jobs to pursue our dreams. We officially opened our doors in July 2013.

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What made you decide to create your own online store?

We were selling vintage children’s fashions on Etsy and felt it was too competitive. When we decided we wanted to sell NEW Designer brands we felt it was the perfect opportunity to not only open our own online store but to also start gaining an online presence.

Share your experience with using MadeFreshly.

I really enjoy using MadeFreshly as they make it easy to create your own website by choosing pre-designed templates but still having the option to make design changes.

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What is your favorite feature of your MadeFreshly store?

The SEO Keyword feature helps us be found within Google.

What has been your biggest success with Sweet Threads?

The biggest success to date is that we opened up a brick and mortar store in Long Beach, CA. Opening up a brick and mortar gave us an opportunity to meet our customers and interact with them to explore our customers needs.

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What has been the biggest hurdle when you created your business?

Obtaining a following and letting people know that we’re out there. We knew there was a following for vintage children’s clothes but we weren’t sure how find them.

How did you overcome it?

The power of social media. Our favorite social media tool we love to utilize is Instagram. Instagram has helped our business tremendously as it helped us find our customers and obtain a following and maintain communication with our customers from all over the world.

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What do you love most about working on your business?

Best part is being able to bring happiness to our customers when they come into our store or see something on social media that triggers a memory. It’s very nostalgic for them to be able to bring happy childhood memories which is priceless to us. What also makes us happy is that we become friends with some of our customers based on their experience.

What success tips can you give to someone wanting to start their own online store with MadeFreshly?

Patience. It takes time to build anything and it can’t be done overnight.  The main thing that helped us out was creating that following to let people know who we are and where we can be found. Your biggest free resource is social media which is something anyone can build as long as you put passion into it.

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As with any business, Sweet Threads has had it’s share of successes and challenges. Learning patience, capitalizing on resources available and using online and offline business solutions has helped Sweet Threads become the success story that it is today. Are you interested in launching your online store, just like Sweet Threads? Creating your business with MadeFreshly is easy. Start by downloading our planner and get selling in as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Editor’s note: Thank you MadeFreshly for this fab interview and thank you Sweet Threads for being a part of our Shop Local Directory! Remember, if you decide to upgrade from the Starter Free Plan be sure to use the discount code “handmadesuccess” to receive 25% of your first 3 months!!!

Giveaway from Mols & Tati-Lois

molscollageHandmade Cushions with Vintage Fabric from Mols & Tati-Lois

The darling Natalia of Mols & Tati-Lois (I just LOVE that name!) is giving away a beautiful handmade cushion to one lucky reader! First, let’s get to know this shop a little better.

Tell us about Mols & Tati-Lois

Sprinkling a little bit of magic over every home.

At Mols & Tati-Lois we love soft furnishings and all things vintage. Our products are handmade or pre-loved heirloom treasures, and we also upcycle furniture to give it another spin on the dance floor. We fashion beautiful lampshades, cushions, bedspreads and various accessories out of vintage and designer fabrics from all over the world. We also source statement pieces of crockery and glassware. Commissions are very happily taken on. We can also style existing spaces and breathe new life into any living environment.

How did you start your business? 

I just started posting photos of the things I was making on my personal facebook page and got such brilliant feedback that I thought maybe I should do something a little more ‘real’. I had the concept for the business some years ago, but didn’t have the confidence at the time to pursue it. However, this time it felt right so I set up Folksy and Etsy storefronts and then got my Mols & Tati-Lois page going on facebook. This has been a resounding success and I am getting constantly great feedback from people. It’s a brilliant way to engage with people and I like to keep things fairly personal when I post information. I then decided to do a few craft fairs after reading crafting magazines such as Making, Mollie Makes and Craftseller. I also trawled the internet and found lots of useful info on blogs and crafting sites (like yours!).

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am 42 and a working Mum of two young girls. My ‘proper’ job is in illustrated book publishing. I am managing editor of a photographic list of books for a publisher based in Lewes in the UK. I have always been very creative and went to art college when I finished school to study textiles and fashion. I also studied history of art. I actually wanted to go into curatorship when I left college as I had been working at Christie’s, The National Portrait Gallery and The Wallace Collection while at college, but I somehow fell into publishing. I am very driven and a complete perfectionist, which can be a nightmare! I also have a very clear idea of what I like design-wise and what I don’t like. I am passionate about colour and patterns, and I am really into the architecture of crafting. I love things that are tactile. I spend hours in fabric stores and charity shops hunting down the right piece of fabric for a project. I also spend a long time online searching out vintage fabrics from all over the world. I am a complete magpie and a collector. I love things that have a history. My Mum is Argentinian so I think this has informed a lot of my taste in things. I also travelled a fair amount as a child so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures. I get inspiration from all over: from films, music, places I visit, things I read, conversations with people, galleries etc. The list is endless. I do a lot of my most useful thinking when I run or cycle, or do yoga. I tend to arrive at solutions fairly quickly this way. I think I am most centered when I am making something. It’s a very cathartic thing crafting. My partner is a photographer and he’s also a complete magpie so our home is full of things everywhere.

What advice has helped you grow your business the most? 

To believe in myself and what I am creating/making. It’s really helped me put myself out there and sell myself. I can be quite shy so the thought of effectively saying ‘buy my stuff, it’s great’ terrified me! Also, the networking side and becoming part of a community. I read that in a book somewhere and it is so true. By becoming part of a community it really helps spread the word about what you are doing and people tend to be very kind. There definitely seems to be a lot of camaraderie in the crafting world. There are a lot of great people out there who are very happy to share knowledge, advice, tips, and contacts. It’s amazing to be a part of it all to be honest!

Giveaway time!!!

Giveaway Details:

Mols & Tati-Lois is giving 1 reader the chance to win one of the cushions above!

Deadline: 

The giveaway will end Sunday, September 22nd at 6:00pm PST. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and announced on this post on Monday, September 23rd.

To enter:

Head on over to Mols & Tati-Lois and take a look around. Then come back here and leave a comment letting us know what you like about her shop and/or comment about what Natalia wrote above. Is there anything you can relate to?

Extra entry:

“Like” Mols & Tati-Lois on Facebook then comment here that you did so.

Be sure to leave a new comment for each entry so it counts (limit of 2 comments per person)!

Good luck!

Also, Mols & Tati-Lois is now open in Aunty Wainwrights! Stop by 41 High Street, Heathfield, East Sussex, UK TN21 8HU to say hi and check out some amazing vintage delights!

*Congratulations Letty Chen! You are the winner! I will get in touch soon with the details!

Reader Spotlight + Giveaway: Shivam Creations

Today I am introducing you to Handmade Success reader and Etsy shop owner Shivangi Parikh of Shivam Creations. She recently got in touch about doing a giveaway of one of her yoga bags for our readers. I appreciated her generosity and wanted to share a bit more about her business too. Read on to learn about her shop, view her beautiful bags and to enter the giveaway!

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How did you start your business?

After working as a finance journalist for many years, I decided to take the plunge into following my passion for studying and practicing yoga full time by becoming a yoga teacher. As my practice deepened I found myself tapping more and more into my creative and eco-conscious side. The big aha moment came when I was going through my closet and wondering what to do with all my Indian dresses and saris that are gorgeous but don’t get used up at all in the U.S. I figured adding some Indian touches to the kind of yoga mat bags we get in the market would be nice. Despite having no background in stitching, I bought myself a sewing machine and started experimenting with my ideas. I put some bags up for consignment at the local yoga studio where I teach, and also sold some at my first craft fair. The positive feedback from those venues prompted me to take the leap and open an eco-friendly Etsy Shop (http://www.shivamcreations.etsy.com). About 90% of my bags are made from upcycled Indian saris and dresses, and the rest are made from scrap and remnant fabrics that would have been tossed out.

Photos from Apr 19, 2013

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am ex-journalist-turned yoga teacher-turned entrepreneur. I live with my husband and 3-year old son in Northern New Jersey. After the birth of my son, it was very important for me to really manifest all my health-related ambitions and I decided to quit journalism to pursue teaching yoga full time. Practicing yoga has made me more aware of my surroundings, and how we use and mis-use our resources. Growing up in India we were always told to save every scrap of paper and cloth to see if it can be re-used. My mom had cloth totes for her market runs back in the 70s, way before plastic grocery bags became popular there. Which is why recycling and re-using things is very common in my house. I’m hoping to expand this philosophy to include more recycled/upcycled products in my shop besides these yoga mat bags, such as pillow cases, totes, etc.

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What advice has helped you grow your business the most?

When I started my Etsy shop, I read a lot of books on that subject, as well as the Etsy seller handbook. There have been so many pointers that helped me grow my business, but the one that stuck with me most was about taking good pictures! I thought I was a decent photographer, having done some photography in art school first, and then as a journalist. But I really learnt to look for the details in the pictures. How would a buyer look at my bag? I started using different perspectives and angles to shoot. I even tried different backgrounds, going from colorful curtain backdrops to plain white ones, to natural settings of a park or a bench. I think good pictures are the most important thing to draw the buyer in. Only then will they read about your product and its history or story.

Yoga Mat Bag Giveaway Option 3

Giveaway Details:

Shivam Creations is giving 1 reader the chance to win one of the yoga bags shown above!

Deadline: 

The giveaway will end Sunday, July 7th at 6:00pm PST. The winner will be drawn using a random number generator and announced on This post on Monday, July 8th.

To enter:

Head on over to Shivam Creations and take a look around. Then come back here and leave a comment letting us know which of the above bags is your favorite.

Extra entry:

“Like” Shivam Creations on Facebook then comment here that you did so.

Be sure to leave a new comment for each entry so it counts (limit of 2 comments per person)!

Good luck!

→ Congratulations to Lori Matteson! You are the winner of the orange yoga mat bag!!! I will be in touch shortly! Thanks to everyone who who commented!