Meet Your Maker: Aly of Bliss Monkey Studio
Aly has been in many of our past shows and will be in our show on Sunday, Dec. 5 at Cozmic Pizza 1-5pm. Come say hi and see all her cute products! Catch a glimpse of what Aly has to offer in her shops: AlyTheRed and her plush shop, BlissForest.
Meet Your Maker (MYM): Describe what you make, how, and when you got your start.
Aly (A):I have always been a maker. I have a background in jewelry and costuming for theater. When I got laid off a job several years ago, I decided to see what would happen if I went full time on etsy. I had a few simple, yet creative projects up there, and by giving it my full attention, and spending a lot of time learning and working on lines of like-products, I was able to build a business that supported me.
I currently make wearable art, fingerless wrist warmers, coffee cozies, bags, art quilts, and gnomes.
MYM: What inspires you?
A: My children, nature, daily walks, pop culture, travel, fairy tales, humor, dreaming.
MYM: What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years? (personal, professional, crafting...)
A: I have been slowly expanding my business. I have one employee who helps out once a week. I'd love to need her for more hours. I'd like to get my work into more stores. Write for more books, and sell patterns.
MYM: Is this your largest source of income or do you have another job?
A: Yes, I've been designing full time for several years now. I love being my own boss, setting my hours. I'm excited to get to work when I wake up, and get to be the one picking my kids up after school. Priceless.
MYM: What are your favorite hobbies outside of the crafting that we see?
A: IS there life outside of crafting? Family outdoor adventures, kayaking, photography, playing games, playing ukulele, reading-- I started a book club, teaching crafts to kids (oops, they snuck in there again), traveling, dancing, story-telling.
MYM: An important lesson you’ve learned while selling handmade?
A: It's so important to create and sell only what you love. Make things that are sellable, have an audience, that are well made, but they have to be from your heart. You are a unique being, and creations from your own heart will have elements unique to your life story. This is your special niche.
Combine things you have experience with. So you love to make bags. Many people make bags, but you spent a year working at a hostel in Ireland. Combine elements from your journey (subtle: color, texture, scent, memory or overt: maps, photos, stories) in those bags.
Excellent customer service is the key. From a business standpoint, it's much easier to keep a returning customer than to get a new one. And from a personal point of view, it's satisfying to get glowing feedback and customers who return over and over.
Create with the seasons. Actually, one season ahead. Christmas is such a huge selling time, I stock up over the summer. Feb/March is my time to relax after the holiday rush, AND to create new work for the year, including my new Bliss Bag line. I sell different products according to the seasons. And have learned not to worry when sales are slow during the summer. I use that time to garden, enjoy the kids, and stock up for holidays!
MYM: Any advice to someone about making the leap from hobby crafting to selling?
A: Price your work well. Even if it's a hobby. There are great pricing tutorials online for crafters. Find a formula that makes sense for you. Too many people undervalue their creative work, or forget to charge for parts of their business that cost time or money. Think big and plan for a thriving business.
Invest as you go.
Keep a separate account for your business. Pay yourself and for your supplies from this account.
MYM: Have you had any big breaks? How did they happen?
A: Etsy was a huge break for me. Brick and mortar stores find my work on etsy and put in wholesale orders. Blogs feature my work, which is so wonderful and helpful. A prominent craft book line found my work on etsy and invited me to submit a project for one of their books. They accepted the work, and I've gone on to write "how -to" projects for three other books. My large plush gnomes will be featured in the upcoming January issue of Stuffed magazine. If I hadn't had that first invite to give me the idea and boost my confidence, it would have taken me a lot longer to try these things.
MYM: What are your most effective marketing/promoting tips?
A: I have had to learn a billion things about self promoting because I sell mostly online. I don't know how we can just be studio artists anymore. Maybe someone could clue me in? These days we post on flickr, twitter, we blog, we host facebook fanpages, take our own photos of our work and run websites and paypal accounts. It's really too much. I've learned to follow through with the things I truly enjoy. I love to write blog articles, but I don't feel badly when I'm too busy over the holiday season to do it. I write when I feel like it. My customers asked me to open a fan page on facebook, so I like to share new products there and get feedback. I have learned most of the ins and outs of etsy by reading articles and tutorials. I love the etsy site. It works for artists/crafters who have a good product line, ability to take great photos (I'm always working on this), and time to keep steady with it.
You can also find Aly online on her BlissMonkeyStudio Facebook fan page, her CharmishBeads (the European charm bead jewelry I freelance design for another company) Facebook fan page and on her blog.