Hello and welcome to my journey as a designer, maker, online shop owner and chronic upcycler. What a journey it has been, and I feel like I am just starting off on the upswing of it, with the destination yet to be seen.
Once upon a time I set out into the world hoping to be a designer. And then I got sidetracked and spent 15 years working as a project manager. I learned a lot, and it paid my bills. But it never felt like me, it was a job I needed to pay my bills. But it eventually broke me. Temporarily, anyhow.
My career role model was my father. He decided at the age of 13 that he wanted to build pipe organs, quit high school with a year to go for an apprenticeship and never looked back. He's now 84 and is still completely obsessed with pipe organs. Not your typical role model for sure, but as a result, I also grew up spending a lot of time working in his shop, and learning to be a maker long before the "maker movement" began.
me, age 16, helping to assemble a pipe organ on-site in Tokyo
So yeah. after quitting my job and spending a few years at home with the kids, I tried for a bit to find a job similar to my old one. But, with a 4 year gap and a lack of true passion for the life of a project manager, it took me a while to realize I needed to figure out what I was really supposed to be doing with my life. This came out of work with a therapist, as my anxiety had spiraled over my career prospects. Therapy sucks, but I highly recommend it nonetheless. It taught me so much!
In the pit of my gut, I knew that I needed to be making stuff again. At one point in my life I thought it would be designing kitchen gadgets, at another it was photography. More recently, I had a love affair with the pottery wheel (and we will meet again dear clay, fear not!).
I don't want to say I didn't care what I made, but rather that I had a lot of interests. But I had no confidence that I could put enough pieces together to forge a career of it. And, to be honest, I'm still not always sure. Earning a steady paycheck is so much easier when you hand over the risk to a company that you go to work for.
I decided it was time to use the tools I had available to me and just start somewhere, even if it was with the most basic step: find something I could make and offer for sale and just see what was possible.
First, I thought I'd try selling printed notecards, but in researching printer options, I discovered the Amazon Merch t-shirt design & sales program where I could create some shirt designs, and they'd sell them. I would get a few dollars whenever this happened. It was completely free to sign up. Why not experiment here? I also set up. or, more accurately, reopened an old dream of an Etsy shop, and started trying my hand at designing and selling t-shirt designs. And I created a lot of terrible designs along the way, but also a few I was happy with, and a few that I designed around the pipe organ builders I grew up around (which I eventually parked in their own mini shop for safe-keeping), that were really weird but developed a small but loyal fan base.
I kept experimenting, and quickly decided t-shirts weren't really my jam, though they provided an amazing opportunity for me to learn. I set up a second shop on Etsy selling digital print letter art, which maybe could have turned into a viable business (eventually) but I got bored of it really quickly, and shut it down. I did learn about about setting up processes and systems though this exercise.
But, as a designer or artist, there is a sort of magic that takes place when your work goes out into the world and is purchased by someone other than your mom or best friend -- a complete stranger is out there validating that what you have done is real enough to spend their money on it. I was completely hooked.
With more experimentation and research, I thought I might make more headway creating art print shower curtains. My husband and I spent the entire 8-hour drive from Massachusetts to Maryland for Thanksgiving brainstorming ideas for the store, with a number of, well, colorful options that were quickly nixed (The Shower Queen, Bathroom Fun, Golden Showers, oh wait - NO!!) settling eventually on the more neutral and available "Metro Shower Curtains."
That store is still up and running in the background. It's not a huge enterprise, but I still create shower curtain designs "to relax" when my fingers get sore from cutting leather. The curtains are good quality, long-lasting washable fabric, and are printed to order, so I'm also comfortable with their overall environmental impact. We all have our quirks, I guess. But as much fun as this is, printed shower curtains are not my personal passion. I don't even have a shower with a curtain in my house.
But, while designing print stuff, I still wasn't making stuff. And it bothered me to hand over control of "my" products to a printer. So I set out to find a material I could print on to make my own physical products.
It was a unexpected path, but some leftover leather and barrette clips from various other household and craft projects got me testing and tinkering, first at the kitchen counter, then with trips to my local leather craft store.
the first barrettes I ever made - they have gotten a lot better since!
A hair barrette was the first thing I made with leather. I wear a lot of barrettes, so this was a personal project at first. And the second, third, etc. I have since made a few other things too -- earrings, cuff bracelets, napkin rings. but I'm still going strong with leather and the hair barrettes. I've also honed my skills, gotten some real tools, and converted half my basement to a studio space.
Making things that are sustainable is also of critical importance to me. This doesn't always mean the same thing. Sometimes it's about less material, sometimes, it's about durable materials, or making items (like my shower curtains) to order to avoid production waste, and sometimes it's about finding a use for trash, in both production and packaging, and I am happy to say that I feel like I'm generally finding the sweet spot on this with everything I create.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your stories too! Please reach out and share if you have one, or have any questions about mine! Use the contact form, or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org