Over the past few weeks I have been sharing a series of conversations with some of my lovely sponsors, to give us a peek behind the scenes at their businesses and get inspired by their stories. Today I would like to welcome Cindy, owner of Pretty Neat Designs, an Etsy shop featuring Cindy’s own original handmade quilted Moleskine notebooks and travel bags. Let’s get started!
Lolalina: What first inspired you to open your shop?
I worked in retail stores in high school and college and I wanted to open a shop after graduation. But the more I talked to a friend who had her own store, the more I thought twice. I decided to shelve my retail dreams and I went to law school instead. But even in school I would make cards and do little things to express my creativity. After I graduated I was studying for the bar every day for hours and hours. I went from working full time and going to school at night to studying full time, day and night. Then I sat for the exam and once those two insane days of torture were over I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. And all I had to do to fill it was worry that I had failed and watch romantic comedies. Sometimes I watched them over and over again. That was my rock bottom. The job market was horrible and I wouldn’t get my exam results for months.
So I decided to look at a folder of inspiration photos I had torn out of magazines (clearly this was pre-pinterest) and find something to do. I came across a few photos of sewing projects and decided to buy a sewing machine and get going. I came up with the name of my shop because I always use “neat” to describe things I like. I thought I might have a shop that was a combination of hand made and vintage items. I love Brimfield and flea markets and thought that would be fun. But then I decided to stay focused on handmade items. Pretty Neat Designs – stuff you’ll love to give and get.
How do you generate new design ideas?
I am always thinking about materials I like and ways of using them. I also like to try to create new things that incorporate a type of recycling. For example, most of the fabric I purchase is used to make the laundry and shoe bags. But I was collecting all these scraps. I was trying to come up with a way I could use the scraps. At first if I had a large enough scrap I would make a small bag, not large enough for shoes, but big enough to hold a small gift – reusable gift wrap. Then one day I came across a package of cards on a clearance table that had a circle cut out where you could place a photo and then write your message on the inside. I thought I could use my scraps instead of photos to create quilted stationery. Eventually that concept led to the quilted notebooks, which are my favorite item in the shop.
I also came across an envelope of cancelled stamps and I decided to start sewing them onto cards and bookmarks. I’ve always thought stamps are miniature works of art and I like how they look when they’re sewn onto paper. I just try to use things, even left over little bits of ribbon, in creative ways. I first started making shoe bags because I love shoes. I travel with 3-6 pairs and I was always putting them in plastic bags, which were ugly and trashy. I decided to make shoe bags for travelling with a little bit of style in my suitcase. And they are reusable and better for the environment. The travel-sized laundry bag was happened by accident – I was actually trying to make a shoe bag big enough for a pair of tall boots. But the laundry bag was born instead. So my process for creating new designs and products is a combination of R&D, “the mess around,” and necessity.
Thinking back to when you first opened your doors, what resources were especially valuable to you at that time?
When I first started PND the resources hat were most valuable to me were people who had their own shop. If I had questions about where to get clear plastic bags, or how I should be showcasing my products, I went to other shop owners. My shop and my blog are my creative outlet, and they both led to a really supportive creative community. I never expected to develop the friendships that I have made through Pretty Neat Designs. One friend in particular, Gina of Hettle, has always been an invaluable resource. She is very creative, but also well versed in the business side of creativity. She has provided so much support and has been really helpful. I also took online courses about blogging (Holly Becker’s Blogging Your Way course in 2009) and how to take better photos. And I just kept trying things until I found a back drop and props that made for better photos. I just kept working on it. And I still do. I am always looking for things that I think will make my photos better, or will make the presentation a more experience when I ship items to the buyer.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Oh man, it changes every week! I guess I like the concept of “make do and mend.” That is sort of my philosophy. I also get inspired by quotes that showcase possibility, like “everything seems impossible until it is done.” And as cheesy as it sounds, Nike’s classic, “Just Do It.” Because really, what are we waiting for?
Thank you so much, Cindy, I loved getting to chat with you!
Have a wonderful day, my dears! xoxo Laura
(images: Pretty Neat Designs)