I was reminded why it is good to step out of the studio now and again...
Not only is it rewarding to be on the receiving end of a lot of warm fuzzies (figuratively speaking) ~ "Oh these are so cute!" "You make all these?" ~ but I usually gain some insight, some wisdom. And sometimes in the most unexpected ways...
One man stopped and inspected the Whee Ones sitting on the table. He smiled and said, "How did this all come about? How did you get started with this?"
I thought quickly and gave him a short answer ~ something about loving stuffed animals as a kid and I never really outgrew that.
He seemed to be ok with that answer, but later I was still pondering the question. I have been designing and making Whee Ones (and the occasional Cuddle Bunny, Security Bunny and Plush Pillow) for 3 years; but how did this all come about? Why has it become a passion and how am I able to sustain not only the passion, but the business?
It did start with an affinity for stuffed animals. As a little girl I grew up on a farm with no friends for miles. So my limited little group of stuffed animals became my friends. A large teddy bear (who knows where that came from, but it had been around the block), a squirrel, a dog, a snake (yes a snake) and a couple of other assorted rag tag critters were my best friends. I read to them, I took them on grand hikes around the farm and every night they were lined up on my bed, heads on pillows and blankets up to their chins. I can still see them ~ and it's been a couple of years, folks.
So even into adulthood I still had the occasional teddy bear on my desk or next to my bed. In 2009, tired of beating my head against the wall with my photography (which was going nowhere - it's a tough industry) I felt a great need to do something tactile. It took a few months to find my niche, but falling back on sewing skills I learned as a girl I did find a niche. And once I did there really was no turning back.
I honestly can't remember (and I wish I could) but either Piper the Penguin or Simon Owl was my very first original design. I realized it didn't take much fabric to make these guys (they are about 6-7 inches tall and about 13 inches around) so I could use fabric remnants. Another win/win - saving the planet one Whee One at a time. Using fabric remnants that would normally have been discarded meant less fabric clogging up landfills.
The Whee Ones were met with smiles, so I decided to open an Etsy shop and try out a few additional designs. I actually made a couple of sales - much to my surprise and delight. Which, of course, just fueled my interest and my imagination and before I knew it I had over 100 products in my Etsy shop.
Then my Etsy Shop began to gain the attention of small boutique owners ~ locally and across the country. Not really having a clue what I was doing, I signed consignment contracts, took orders, designed, sewed, merchandised, packaged and shipped ~ to several shops. As of this writing I am in 9 charming brick 'n mortar shops (6 of them local in the Denver Metro Area, as well as New York, Chicago and Seal Beach, CA), another online shop and my Etsy shop.
I have discovered that I love the "thrill" of the sell - not the sale (although sales are always lovely, too). But not exactly being the most outgoing person (you do recall that rather isolated childhood ~ I talked to stuffed animals for cryin' out loud!) it is a challenge to sell my product. Or so I thought. I'm always just a little nervous walking to a new shop, armed with just a brochure and one Whee One, but I have yet to walk out without a contract! The Whee Ones have given me a confidence that has escaped me my whole life. And that is exhilarating!
I have shipped Whee Ones to newborn babies, to Hollywood elite, to children dying of cancer, to little boys saying their "see ya' laters" to Daddy going off to war; to celebrate birthdays, to be hung in Christmas stockings and to fill Easter baskets. It is all incredibly rewarding and humbling.
So thank you Mr. Man for asking me "How did this all come about?" Because it is important to remember beginnings and to take time to be grateful for all that has ensued.