Year in Review: 2015

I know I say this every year, (and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to say it again next year): this has been an incredible twelve months. Once again, records have been broken, goals have been achieved (though promptly replaced by new goals for next year), and an awful lot of fun has been had. I've learned SO much this year, and there are some big big things coming up in the near future. As always, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to make a living this way, with my own two hands as a creative entrepreneur, and I'm so thankful for every minute of this journey as a Maker.

Once Again Sam turns 7 years old on January 8th, and as I have done in past years, I always like to stop and reflect, think through what I’ve learned, where I’ve been, and the countless things I have to be grateful for.  

Just a reminder of why I share my stats - this is not intended for bragging purposes.

  • This is to show that a little side hobby can become a serious business over time, through trial and error, self education, and a whole lot of hard work.

  • This is to encourage others to start something of their own, or keep at it, whatever stage they're in. If you have idea for a business, go for it! I had no plan when I started out, so if you have that much, you're way ahead of me. 

  • This is because a record breaking year is only possible thanks to God’s provision, and support from everyone out there who has been a part of my business in some way.

Thank you all for your support this year!

2015 Graphic.jpg

It was a darn good year, in more ways that numbers can ever prove. Here’s ten of my favorite highlights from 2015, in no particular order. This is what memory lane looks like as a small business owner.

  1. Workshop renovations: Thanks to my husband and all his hard work renovating our basement this year, I now I have a workspace where I’m happy and incredibly productive. Also, it’s a total luxury to be able to run equipment, filter the air, AND have the lights on all at once without blowing a circuit!

  2. The Makers Summit: as always, this conference for creatives lit a fire under me to take on some big big goals this year, and I’m proud to say I have checked off almost everything on this year’s list (or very close to it). However, I already have a to-do list for 2016, and the next conference is still 2 months away!

  3. Artisphere: Getting accepted to the festival and winning the People’s Choice Award was a huge honor, and even though I didn’t make the cut for 2016, that gigantic purple prize ribbon will always hang proudly in my studio.

  4. New laser cutter: I upgraded to a huge 90 watt machine this year, and it was worth every penny. I only wish I had done it sooner and never wasted my time on a cheaper hobby model when I needed the professional model from the start. I’ll never forget how relieved I was when we finally got this thing in place (it weighs over 500 pounds and nearly didn’t fit through the doorway)!

  5. Learning new things (woodturning,  metal working, shibori dying): In February I took a woodturning class with my husband, and after an afternoon of instruction, we’ve been hooked ever since. I also attended the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week this summer to learn metal smithing, which was an incredible learning experience. Recently, I tried my hand at shibori dying, just for fun, and really enjoyed the process. I now realize for the first time how important learning new things is for my creative health, so that’ll definitely be a priority for next year.

  6. American Made Finalist: I have applied to this national contest for years, and was excited to make it to the final round for the first time. I got some nice media exposure because of it, even though I didn’t win.  

  7. My first catalog: It took over 6 months of tedious, frustrating, never-ending work, but we did it! Oh my gosh, never again. But yay, it’s finally done!

  8. Indie Craft Parade: I look forward to this craft show all year long for so many reasons, and it never ever disappoints. Is it weird I’m already thinking about my application photos for June?

  9. The Bunny Project: The idea for this series began about this time last year, and once every quarter, I took a break from orders and production work to make something just for fun. In my world, making bunnies is fun. Making bunnies doing or wearing ridiculous things, is about as much fun as a person can have. 95% of the pieces from this quirky needle felted collection sold, so that was an unexpected bonus. I guess I’m not the only one who LOVES bunnies!

  10. Starting the #MakersEyeView series: I got the GoPro camera for Christmas last year, and have really enjoyed producing these short videos for my YouTube channel that share my process (from my perspective, mostly as time-lapse). I didn’t have any video background prior to this, and still have an awful lot of technical stuff to learn, but I have discovered I really enjoy sharing what goes on behind the scenes in the studio, and I have been overjoyed by the positive response so far.   

The Makers Summit: 3rd Annual Kick in the Butt

Earlier this month I attended a 2-day conference for creatives called The Makers Summit, put on my Indie Craft Parade. This was the 3rd annual gathering, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. People from all over the country come to Greenville, SC, to be a part of this event. There's workshops to attend, the chance to meet one-on-one with industry experts, hear keynote speakers share their story, and get to know other makers.

Each year, I’ve gotten something completely different out of the conference. It’s true the workshops and speakers change every time so the experience is never going to be the same, but I think a big reason why my personal takeaway is vastly different year to year is because my business is in a completely different place each time. A lot can happen in between one Makers Summit and the next!

The first year (2013), I was really wanting to improve my Etsy shop, so I signed up for one-on-one sessions with experts related to that, and made big changes in the following weeks to my tags, descriptions, and photos. At the time, I was also toying with creating a personal website where my jewelry, fiber art, interior design, and writing could come together (THIS website, the one you’re reading right now!). Lastly, I was inspired to pitch to a magazine for the first time after hearing Amy Flurry, author of Recipe for Press, speak at the conference. Backstory on my first magazine pitch & feature can be found here:  

Last year (2014), I was focused on re-branding and giving my business a better overall appearance, so by the summertime I was finally ready to take the plunge and get serious about this major overhaul. It was a huge thing to check off my Makers Summit to-do list, and now I can finally say I’ve never been happier with my logo and branding. Backstory on my re-branding can be found here:

This year (2015), I found myself tuning in to advice related specifically to wholesale. I already do a fair amount of wholesale business as it is, but I really need to step it up a notch (several notches, actually). Most of my big goals for this year are for growing my wholesale reach even further, and making that side of my business significantly more professional.

Post Makers Summit To-Do List:

  • Create a printed catalogue to showcase my linesheet

  • Develop SKU’s for all wholesale inventory

  • Launch my own e-commerce website with wholesale section

  • Simplify custom ordering process: color chart, setting options, designs, etc.

  • Exhibit at one tradeshow in the next 12 months (which is way different than a craft show)

So there it is, my official list. Now that it’s posted here, I really have to be accountable! 

The conference was, as it always is, a kick in the butt to take the next major steps of this entrepreneurial journey. My brain is still processing everything I heard. I’m still buzzing with inspiration, even several weeks later.

After the Makers Summit was #thebestcraftpartyever - which is exactly what is sounds like. Click through the album below for a peek at how crafty people get crafty just for fun, when they’re not making things because it’s their job. 

Indie Craft Parade: The Milestone That Changed Everything

Indie Craft Parade is a festival of handmade goods held every September in Greenville, SC, that features top makers from all over the southeast. So ... it's just a craft show, right? Well, no. Not really. It's a whole lot more than that. This show changed everything for me.

Once upon a time, in the summer of 2011, I applied to a craft show for the very first time. My Etsy shop Once Again Sam was still fairly new, and trying an event seemed like a reasonable goal for growth. With zero experience, I submitted my application for the “To Wear” category, and hoped my handmade leather jewelry would make the cut. As an after thought, I decided to also apply for the “Fiber Art” category. I had just learned needle felting a few months earlier and thought showing the judges a range of work might help me stand out.

My expectations of being accepted were low. A few hundred people applying for 75 spots = not great odds. The day the jury notifications went out I was bummed my jewelry had been declined, but not shocked. Then, I read the email again and realized my fiber art had been accepted. I believe my exact words were, “What the crap?” I had just learned how to felt, and the photos I used for my fiber art application were some of the only pieces I had ever made. 

That summer, all I did was felt felt felt. Looking back, I can see that having to improve my skills quickly and develop a substantial amount of inventory in only a matter of weeks was a pivotal point for me, a crash course in this obscure craft that helped elevate my techniques in a very short time period. I felted every day for as many hours as I could manage, till it hurt. 

The show went very well, much better than I expected (because I didn’t really know what to expect). I later realized just how well organized the whole thing was, and what a great group of people are behind it all. After that first show, everything changed for Once Again Sam. Countless doors were opened. I began selling in local shops and saw a dramatic increase in my repeat customers. I started taking my handmade work more seriously, as a real business, not just a hobby.  As terrified as I was to stand behind my table and talk to total strangers that first time back in 2011 (hardcore introverts can relate, I'm sure), I got through it somehow, and it paid off in every possible way. The positive response was incredible, I felt overwhelmingly encouraged, and realized I could actually make a good living this way.

Since then, I've been lucky enough to participate in Indie Craft Parade each year, and not just with my Felted Curiosities, but also with my new & improved handmade jewelry (starting in 2012). This show has become one of the major highlights of my year. I use it as a launching pad for new collections, a deadline for improving my booth set up, and a chance to meet other creatives and connect with local customers. I love preparing for this show, I love being there, and I actually feel sad when it's over. There's a sort of a magical, inspirational atmosphere to it all, as funny as that may sound. 

Here's a look back at my last 4 years of Indie Craft Parade application photos. I can definitely see improvement, my earlier work isn't my best now, but it was my best at the time. I still have a lot to learn, a thousand new things I want to try, and I’m sure I’ll cringe years from now at the work I’m most proud of today. It’s the curse of every artist, right? 

This year, my husband’s shop Tree & Laser, will be right next to Once Again Sam at the 5th annual Indie Craft Parade in downtown Greenville, SC. There will be an amazing range of hip hand-crafted goods from regional makers, and you won’t want to miss out. Everything from screen printed t-shirts, to pottery and fine art, and of course, handmade jewelry & felted curiosities brought to you by yours truly. If you’re in the Upstate of SC, come on by!

A Rebranding Story

I’ve always been a DIYer, even when it comes to graphic design, an area I have very limited experience in. My Once Again Sam logo was something I had developed with my husband years ago, when I first started the business and didn’t have much money to invest beyond basic supplies. The template I used to create the red "amoeba flower" logo was actually a drafting template I had left over from a landscape architecture course I took in college - I was using tools that were literally laying around my studio.

The logo worked for awhile. One of my very earliest jewelry collections featured layers of leather in the shape of my amoeba flower, but they didn't sell that well so I eventually dropped them, leaving the logo without much lasting meaning. I started to wonder if there was a better way to brand my growing business, and the tools laying around my studio in more recent months weren't offering any inspiration this time around.

I had been wanting to update my look for quite some time, but couldn’t come up with any fresh ideas in the graphic design department. I was stumped and I didn’t want to go through the major process of rebranding until I had something I really really loved, something that would take me through the next phase of my entrepreneurial experience. I kept waiting for that one good logo idea to come to me, but the good idea never came...except this one: hire a professional.

Chris Jones, the Creative Kingpin of Popcorn Initiative had some good ideas. Some great ones, actually! The first round of logo mockups were 1000 times better than anything I could have come up with. It was easy to see the difference between my DIY attempts and the work of a true professional. Chris developed several options, and I had a really hard time deciding which direction to go, because I honestly loved everything he sent. Each logo shared a different part of the Once Again Sam story (and there are a LOT of parts and pieces to the Once Again Sam story). I make a broad range of handmade items that have little to do with each other, which can cause problems when it comes to defining a brand with just one icon. How can you relate needle felted fiber art with handmade jewelry? The only thing they have in common is the person who made them.

In the end, after a few rounds of logos, I decided on one that would last, no matter how many new things I learn to make in the future (because I could take up woodturning tomorrow, and painting the day after that, and who knows what else the day after that). My new logo is simple, it’s just me, not a representation of what I make, or tools I use, or even a symbol that embodies my handmade business. Everything I create comes from the brain inside my head. Chris was clever with the typography too, because professional graphic designers are good like that - the little upward arrow on the end of “Sam” is a reference to where I got my start, using recycled materials, giving them new life, ONCE AGAIN, in a whole new way.

I couldn’t be happier with my new logo and branding package, and I wish I had done this a whole lot sooner. A huge thank you to Chris Jones of Popcorn Initiative for bringing Once Again Sam to this new level!

OAS Rebranding Package