Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Artisan Interview - NatureInspiredCrafts

Some months ago my Etsy wanderings led me to a shop with a similar angle to mine: inspiration from nature. I featured a few items from NatureInspiredCrafts, since they kept appearing in my searches for items that fit my blogging themes. Through these interactions, the shop owner Kent struck up a conversation with me, and we've had ongoing discussions ever since. We've compared notes on shop strategies, selling online and juggling work, family, and everything else. I finally decided Kent's insights were too good not to share, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind doing an interview. The results follow. How did you become an Etsy seller? "I had reached a point in my corporate life, that there was little passion left and it was difficult to get up and go to work every day. My company was in the midst of one of many downsizings and we just decided that something had to change. My family and I had several emotional discussions and decided that we were brave enough (or maybe stupid enough) to let go of my 22 year career and to start something new. We discussed at length what to do with our lives – ranging from another corporate job to a restaurant owner (my wife is a great cook) to a variety of small businesses. My wife is very creative and I love the way she pulls things together (images, sounds, colors, patterns, etc.) – she always struck me as the artist type. On the other hand, I was trained as a chemical engineer and had spent years doing very analytical, problem solving type stuff … very right brain. I think my mid-life crisis started with the left side of my brain begging for attention. We prayed about it and finally elected an 'all in' move and signed up for the current corporate downsizing and begin the long process of trying to start a handmade home and garden décor type business. As we began to study how we could get our planned creations to customers – we ran into this really neat web site called Etsy. It looked like the perfect way to promote our products. So, we spent a lot of planning - hours deciding what our skills were, what we enjoyed, what we needed to learn, what customers would buy – and, 4 months ago, we posted our first item on ETSY. Today, almost nothing remains from those first few days on Etsy – as we continue to learn and grow based on input from customers, other Etsy sellers and our other markets. It has been very challenging and exciting experience to date." Are there other venues for your wares? "Yes – you see rather than building our craft until we could 'quit our day job' (one of my favorite Etsy seller interview topics), we actually got the horse in front of the cart and quit our day job and then begin to decide how to build our craft. [By the way – we would not recommend this approach to anyone else]. So, our goal is to maximize our exposure through as many channels / markets as we could manage to see which ones would be more successful and what combination of venues would help us reach our financial goal. We currently have space rented at a local antique mall where we are selling our products and our brand. And we are currently working some consignment options, resell / wholesale options, and are even thinking that one day we might have our own local 'brick and mortar' storefront." What inspires you? "There are a few key themes that resonate through our little fledgling business - we are family, we are peace and we are earth. Our goals are simple – to raise a family, to nurture and love, and to be happy and to enjoy our lives. In other words, we’re not looking for power or wealth or prestige. If you look at our business, you see these goals and themes as the inspiration for our products and services. We pay close attention to the world around us – appreciating the beauty of the earth. We see the colors, the patterns, the sounds, the lighting, and the wasted opportunities. For example, about once a week, you will find us driving around our neighborhood in the family mini-van the day before the trash men come – looking for wasted opportunities. Just this week, we found a neighbor that had thrown away a large pile of aged, weathered cedar fencing. We don’t see a pile of trash – we see a wasted opportunity with very beautiful, still functional aged wood that still has plenty of hidden beauty waiting to be exposed. So, into the mini-van it goes to be worked later to find that beauty and give it a second life. These are the type things that inspire us – thus the name of our business 'Inspired by Nature.'" Do you find that the style of your home is complementary to the art you create, or are they different areas of your creativity? "Great question … and, yes, we find that our home or garden decor designs tie back strongly to the themes of our home design. Our home is about cozy, about peace, about using light & sound to soften the edges or to accent the specifics. Our home has an old-world feel and a natural, earthy feel. There are lots of mirrors (opening up the space in our small home), lots of wooden storage chests and cozy blankets, warm toned wooden floors (white oak strips & cork tiles), lots of wood grains and a warm, earthy color scheme. Our yard is more of the same – a nice organic garden, lots of unusual and beautiful plants, lots of garden art and wind chimes (back to using light and sound in the design - I’m amazed at the number of homes that don’t use light and sound … a great design opportunity). So, in the end – the designs of our business as well as the design of our home are repeating expressions of our key themes and inspirations." Is it hard to part with your work? "We would be lying if we didn’t say 'yes.' We feel compelled to meet our commitments and goals and they are pretty hard to let go at times. We are very passionate people. For example, when we ship that package to a customer – we wonder if they will like it and will it arrive safely. And then there’s nights that you wake up in a cold sweat thinking – what are we doing? Have we lost our minds? How are we going to raise a family? But, we are a close family and we take the occasion to relax. There are times that we just set all of these thoughts aside and pile in the back bedroom (plenty of cozy blankets) to watch a movie and relax together. To travel the path we’ve chosen, you have to be committed, motivated, and passionate – so, to a degree, the rest just comes with the territory." Where do you do most of your work? Does that space influence your products? "As you might suspect, with a strong nature theme overlaying our business, we like to work outside as much as possible. Being outside keeps you in touch with the earth and you feel the sunshine, feel the breeze and hear the birds. We love it. But, we are also seriously envious of other artists that talk about their 'studio.' Our studio is typically our kitchen or sometimes our entrance hallway – and I’m not kidding. Last night, my wife was busy applying seat fabric to a vintage rocking chair that we are rebuilding (again – restoring the hidden beauty) while she was preparing the evening meal. While this can be pretty convenient – it’s obviously less than ideal. Fortunately, we have a plan to upgrade our outside work area to make it more user-friendly and allow us to work outside through the seasons." Are there new areas you would like to delve into in the future? Do you have aspirations on the horizon? "We are growing and learning everyday and our future plans continue to evolve. We are simultaneously working down several paths – improving our designs, refining our product offering, expanding our skill set, exploring new markets, optimizing our on-line presence, and building a loyal customer base. We spend as much time reading, learning, and talking to customers as we do building our designs. We have been amazed how much there is to learn and how many opportunities exist. Our current points of focus include – promoting our products and services through advertising, creating more channels to market, and building a loyal customer base. In terms of our designs, we are branching out into more natural wood designs that have an edge of rustic, but are more functional, contemporary and more likely to mesh with modern home decors. Specifically, on the drawing board are some new mirror designs, a few whimsical accents and some variations of coffee and end-tables. Our end goal is to create a unique design that is both beautiful and (in most cases) functional. So, we have plenty on our list as we try to find the items that are most likely to create the most value for our customers and ourselves. We're looking forward to the future of growing this business." I hope you found the Nature Inspired Crafts story as compelling as I do. Finding ideas in nature is very familiar to me, and I've seen it across many of the other shops I admire. The courage to quit a day job and make a go of it is a level of bravery I have not reached. While Kent and his family utilize inspiration from nature, I look to them as a source of inspiration. The principles of finding what is important in life, reusing discarded materials and thinking creatively about how to best utilize the opportunities presented by both those elements is truly inspirational to me. I'll be watching NatureInspiredCrafts to see where their shop takes them, and I encourage you to check out their shop as well.

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