Life as a Maker: Some Things I've Learned
March has come to a close and spring is finally peeking through the storm clouds. While my little black heart loves winter more than anything, spring holds the promise of new beginnings. Clarity even. As the gray slush melts away, and the daffodils start to wake up from their wintery sleep, so do we. It's suddenly time to rub the crusties out of our eyes, blink them open, and start to see things a little differently than we did in our wintertime haze. Slow living in the winter is so different from any other time of year, and dare I say, easier? It's easy to be slower when the weather is bad, and you want to be cozy at home. It's easier when it gets dark early, and our bodies are telling us to rest. Now that it's spring, I've had to really evaluate what Slow Living with a business actually looks like. Slow living, while very important to me, always seems slightly out of reach. It is not all about journaling and candles and long walks down a lush green lane. It's about saying no to a lot, so that you can allow time for a very select, few yeses. As a maker, it's so easy to put self care, time with loved ones, and other many important things on the back burner.
This new season of my life and my business has brought on a lot of realizations and lessons. I am preparing for my first slew of craft shows this spring, and while I am beyond excited, but my little rabbit heart is going a million miles a minute – consumed with questions, doubt, optimism, fear, joy, anxiety, ideas, and everything in between. In an effort to have some kind of sanity, I wanted to share a few things that I’m dealing with creatively, personally, financially, etc. It’s easy to feel alone when you’re starting out, but I’m sure if I’m having these thoughts, most likely, some of you are too!
Making with Intention
I have so many new product ideas swarming around in my head of different things pieces and crafts I want to tackle. I know that I need to pace myself, and not get carried away in the land of the beautiful. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, after all! While 'Elevated Wabi Sabi' continues to be the aesthetic I hone in on, I’m finding that there’s things I want to make for The Hiraeth Collection that expand beyond that aesthetic. When I find myself going in a million different directions, I pause and ask myself three questions:
1. Is this true to my brand?
2. Is this serving my audience?
3. Does this item just look good on its own, or does it contribute to the aesthetics of my table?
These are all check points I’m constantly asking myself to keep me grounded, and stay true to my brand. Which is REALLY hard when I love so. many. things. And even harder when I'm so drawn to other aesthetics that aren't my own!
That Dirty Word – Money
Another thing I am trying to stay on top of is my pricing, and to really make a conscious effort to price my items intentionally, rather than getting caught up in the comparison trap. I am also trying to prepare myself and my little rabbit heart for the “UGH that’s too expensive” feedback that I KNOW I’m going to experience. How do you handle that? How do you explain to someone that yes, while this is more than what you’d pay at Home Goods, I’d love to ask those people,
“Well, may I ask you how valuable is your time?”
Or do you stay silent and let them go? I feel a little twinge of responsibility to inspire/educate people on the beauty of the handmade, but I know not everyone will care or understand. Let me expand…
I’m definitely guilty of going into stores in the past and naively exclaiming “ugh, why is this so expensive? I could make that”. Sure, I could make that. But will I? Will I take the time to find the perfect materials, and set aside 6-10 hours of my own time to make it? Probably not. Not then at least. Now that I actually have started to make these things that I’ve never seen but only dreamt of, I have really put myself through the ringer of finding good quality materials at a decent price. That cutting board that I looked at in a shop so long ago and went, “Ugh, that’s so expensive”, was made from solid maple, from a single piece of wood, without any glued on parts or extra additives. While it reads as simple to some, it was a labor of love for the artisan that actually made it. (Making something from one solid piece of wood is not an easy task, I would know). Maybe this artisan does this for a living, and needs to put food on the table. It’s not their expensive hobby, it’s their livelihood. And for them to follow the call to be creative and put these beautiful pieces out into the world, at the risk of losing their livelihood, is something that I am willing to buy into, because THAT means more to me than buying some mass produced piece that a machine cranked out in a few minutes. If we stop buying handmade, then these talented folks will go get a job somewhere else and stop adding beauty to the world.
I always generally appreciated handmade things, but not nearly as much as I do now that I’ve started to create things from scratch. Cutting a piece of walnut wood is HARD WORK. Turning that piece of wood is even harder. Once it’s dreamed up, the products have to be sourced, then they have to be cut, it has to be sanded, then it has to be finished, styled, photographed, edited, uploaded, meta-tagged, posted on social media, pinned, and blogged about. Yes, those wooden planters you see at my craft table may be simple logs with holes in them, but I hand picked each piece of wood in the forest behind my house. I cut it with a table saw. I turned it on a lithe. I hand-carved the bottom with an old knife. I drilled these holes myself. This beautiful slab of cherry wood is completely unblemished and 2" thick. This roving yarn is 100% merino wool from a farm in North Carolina. My shibori dye is made in the USA. I love handmade products. I love products with a soul. I love products with character, flaws, and history. But not everyone does, and that’s ok.
I’m not trying to sound like a snob, or that I know better, or that I have better taste than the average Joe. I’m really not. I just know what is important to me, and what’s important to me is that I have a few, very nicely made items, rather than a lot of inexpensive items with a short shelf life. Could I find a factory somewhere that would turn 200 candlesticks for me on the fly? Absolutely. But why would I do that? I don’t get enjoyment from it, I don’t feel I can stand behind my work, and it’s just not special. #buylesschoosewell.
On the flip side of being a consumer, the amount of money I’d spend on a good cutting board, sure, I could use to buy 100 little tchotchkes at Home Goods, but for me, I’d rather not. Those tchotchkes take up too much room in my home and life, and I don’t have the time/space/mental bandwidth to host these items that I know I’ll be sick of in a few months. So, this is why I always opt for quality over quantity. I want things I can look at day after day and not tire of. I know if something is “me” within a split second of looking at it. If I have any hesitation, it doesn’t go in my house, or in my closet. Period. I know we’ve heard this a million times, but it really couldn’t be more true – quality over quantity. #buylesschoosewell. I used to think that quantity equaled worth and wealth, and it’s just simply not the case. Our culture is really moving away from mass consumerism and honing in on local, which is amazing, considering how much we are constantly being sold to every. single. day. Knowing how to style your life, spend your money wisely, and living intentionally… THAT to me, is worth more than all the tchotchkes Home Goods and Target have to offer. (Although I am a sucker for a good Target run…. If you wanna go to Target, hit me up).
I’m trying to remind myself that the people that question whether or not a handmade item is worth their money, that don’t appreciate the handmade, are not my ideal clients. And hey, I am not for everyone, and neither are my products, and that’s ok! I’m not trying to be vanilla. I’m not trying to appeal to a mass market. However, by nature I am a people pleaser, and have a history of taking criticism really, really hard. So as I prepare for my shows, and being in public with my product for the first time, I am trying to take extra care to guard my rabbit heart against the fear of what other people think.
Guarding Your Heart, Finding Support, and Building your Tribe
“It’s a skill to know who and what to let into your heart and who and what to let out. You may not master it, but you do get better at it” - Bruce Adler
This quote from Bruce Adler couldn’t be more true. Ever since starting my business, I have received so much encouragement and support from other makers, friends, and family. But in the same vein, I’ve also received a lot of unwelcome negativity and judgment from people who I didn’t expect. While I’m sure most of that hostility stems from insecurity and other personal issues that have nothing to do with me, it still isn’t a pleasant feeling, especially when you’re new to something/just starting out.
In response to the backlash, I began the desperate search for other creative and likeminded individuals. I started connecting with other creative people in my area. I compare small businesses on Instagram to like being a freshman in college. We’re all starting out on this big scary adventure, we don’t know anyone, and we all want to find our niche. I started connecting with people I through a collaboration here, a swap there, and reaching out to old friends that I knew were killing it creatively. Turns out, everyone was feeling the same way I was! We decided to form a little “Called to be Creative Tribe” of about 8 or so women in the Philadelphia area that do all sorts of different things. We have a photographer, antique dealer and stylist, floral fossil artist, knitter, interior designer, wood burning artist, and seamstress. We have decided to get together once a month to have a little creative round table and discuss all things business, community, and to be each other’s support system. The idea is to create a safe space for everyone to voice their dreams, goals, struggles, and not be afraid to do so.
We had our first meeting this month. We drank champagne with sorbet. We shared a cheese board. We laughed, we shared our struggles, our dreams, and really just spent the evening getting to know each other.
We’re bound to have some incredible discussions, and I want to share some of the things we talk about here on the blog. Maybe a podcast someday? Who knows. Either way, I know that this group is all kinds of goodness and I can’t wait to see where it all goes.
If you’ve actually read all this, I am eternally grateful, and I applaud you. I’d love to do more posts like this, about my journey as a maker and business owner, and how I’m navigating through it all. Thanks so much, I have some exciting new items coming to the shop, as well as some free downloads for you all, so check back in soon!