Stay-at-home moms are working out of their living rooms, businesswomen are escaping the corporate rut, and burnt-out artists are rediscovering their niche through Etsy, a Web site where handmade crafts are bought and sold.
Though the site doesn’t discriminate against males, who comprise a minority of Etsy users, six Falls Church women have turned their passion into profit without ever having to leave the comfort of their own home, and sometimes still donning their pajamas for that matter.
Catherine Benedict, Jenny Gardner, Sharon Head, Brigitta Kral, Angel Fujimoto-Meagh and Elizabeth Holcombe Fedorko are just a handful of local sellers making a few extra dollars as they scratch their creative itch.
Benedict’s ‘House of Trouble’
After finding herself a worn out costume designer-turned-fashion instructor, 32-year-old Benedict’s creative juices started churning and out came miniature felt sculptures of unicorns, dragons and other mythical creatures conjured within her self-described artistic sanatorium she calls the “House of Trouble.”
“To be completely artsy fartsy, I had kind of lost my muse, so I started making them as therapy almost, until my husband suggested selling them on Etsy,” said Benedict, who’s been up and running for four months.
Though fairly new to the scene, her shop’s already been bought out once by a California woman purchasing the posable characters for her daughter.
“I thought it was a joke at first when I saw all these sales had been made by one person,” said Benedict.
Her storefront clearly states her items aren’t intended for children. However, she was later informed that the woman’s daughter rarely spoke, leaving Benedict with the impression her sculptures would be used as a developmental tool for the child who’s since become a loyal customer.
Benedict’s background in costume design serves as the architectural genius behind her pieces, which begin as mock-ups from paper patterns she sketches herself. Her fascination with ballet as a child left a young Benedict wondering how tutus were able to stand out by themselves. Now all grown up, she’s figuring that out for herself.
“I’m fascinated by how you can take a two-dimensional piece of fabric and turn it into something three-dimensional, and even more so when you can make it stand up on its own,” said Benedict.
• To see Benedict’s collection, visit www.widgit.etsy.com.
Gardner’s ‘Mommy & Me’ Matches
Gardner, 24, may not have any children of her own, but when she does, they’ll undoubtedly have a wardrobe waiting for them. Her older sister had a baby last September, and not wanting to give a store-bought onesie, Gardner decided to screen-print a design herself.
“I’ve been a collector of art and hobbies my whole life,” said Gardner, though her current craft forte is making matching t-shirts and onesies for new moms and their infants.
Gardner joined Etsy in hopes to extend her marketable reach after failed attempts selling at craft fairs, where she said the audience was too old to be hunting for onesies.
Using a screen-printing kit she got for Christmas one year, Gardner pulls ink through a nylon screen to transform her hand-drawn sketches into textile prints, all in the privacy of her own kitchen. Growing up, she watched her mom run an out-of-home business, which inspired Gardner to start up her own.
“Watching her taught me if you have enough drive to get through the dry start-up period, it’s really good for your confidence, for everything,” said Gardner, noting her mom could’ve benefited from Etsy’s global reach back when she was running her own business.
Gardner may still be in the early stages, having only opened her shop a couple of months back, but said sales this month are already better than last.
“Feedback’s been good; people really like it. Hopefully, it will continue in that pattern,” said Gardner.
She admitted it’s tough breaking into an existing network of people selling baby clothes, but believes her matching apparel is what sets her apart.
“It can be intimidating, but everyone has different tastes, and I’ll hopefully be able to fill a niche that isn’t out there yet.”
• To see Gardner’s collection, visit www.funziesbyjg.etsy.com.
Head’s Artistic Alternative to Freelancing
Speaking of homemade baby clothes, Head first joined Etsy to purchase a handmade baby shower gift. It wasn’t long before she gave serious thought to trying her own hand at selling.
From sketches of skulls to wooden ornaments shaped like cats, Head’s shop sells an array of distinctive items, and even some of her mom’s embroidery work.
“My mom’s always thrilled when she hears her work’s been purchased from exotic places,” said 31-year-old Head, who noted that her mother’s needlework has been bought from buyers in Hong Kong.
Head said she’s been sketching her self-described kooky illustrations her whole life, though the wooden ornaments are a recent experiment.
“My mom gave me her old hobby saw two years ago and I’ve been going crazy with it ever since,” she said.
Aside from also crafting knitted, animal-character cozies to hide spare toilet paper rolls, Head works six days a week as a receptionist at Bang Hair Salon & Spa in Washington, D.C. She spent four years at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) studying illustration, but said not everyone who can draw is cut out for freelance work.
“I was out of work for months last year, and Etsy kept me focused on something positive,” said Head about how encouraging feedback from buyers was a priceless reward to her self-esteem.
“I’m very grateful,” said Head. “Etsy’s allowed an outlet for my artwork.”
• To see Head’s collection, visit www.frozencharlotte.etsy.com.
Kral’s Escape from the 9-to-5
Born and raised in Austria, 32-year-old Kral recently relocated to Falls Church to be closer to relatives who live Arlington, but first heard about Etsy three years ago. One of her friends took the plunge to sell photography and recommended Kral do the same with her handcrafted jewelry.
“I was scared to be honest. I kept thinking, ‘What if I open a store and never sell anything?’” said Kral. She didn’t open one until another friend 20 years her senior also joined.
“Then I figured there’s obviously a broad audience of buyers on there since I’ve been encouraged to open up shop by friends of two generations,” said Kral, who first opened a jewelry shop. She began the hobby two years ago while stuck at home recovering from surgery.
Her sister store, “Oh! Sew Unique,” opened last July, which features knits and “snuggle buddies” — hand-sewn pillows for children and adults alike.
Growing up, she said she struggled to find her place in the art world as a voracious reader who’d rather write or act in high school. Her grandmother taught her how to knit the summer before she turned 12, and in college Kral said she was knit-obsessed.
“Everyone I knew got at least one scarf from me and often a matching hat,” said Kral, who recalled one evening being so cold she stayed up till 4 a.m. knitting herself a pair of booties.
When she’s not knitting away till the wee hours, Kral is a senior communications associate at Living Cities, where she writes, edits and manages projects.
“I’m always busy, and it’s not unusual for me to bring home work, so crafting is my release. It helps me remain somewhat sane and balanced,” said Kral.
• To see Kral’s collections, visit www.brigabauble.etsy.com or www.ohsewunique.etsy.com.
Fujimoto-Meagh’s Stay-at-Home Mom Therapy
Fujimoto-Meagh, 36, used to have a corporate, nine-to-five job until becoming a stay-at-home mom to two little boys, ages 1 and 4. Spending a hefty amount of time inside and already having an affinity for crafts, she set up an Etsy store for fun back in 2006.
“My mother was always sewing for my sisters and me when we were little, so now it’s my turn,” said Fujimoto-Meagh, who’s been selling mostly handmade baby items, such as bibs and blankets.
Her shop, “My Little Bubnu,” is named after her and her husband’s first son, Edward, who they nicknamed “Bubnu” upon learning Fujimoto-Meagh was pregnant. It was soon after Edward’s birth that she took up knitting.
“I always need to be doing something with my hands. It was the perfect thing to do because you can put it down and pick it up as you have the time,” said Fujimoto-Meagh.
Time is one thing her and her husband struggle to find these days. They’ve both been making pottery for seven years, also available in her shop. However, as new parents with busy schedules, getting into the studio isn’t always an option.
“There’s so many steps in doing even one piece of pottery, so we both miss it,” said Fujimoto-Meagh.
• To see Fujimoto-Meagh’s collection, visit www.mylittlebubnu.etsy.com.
Fedorko’s ‘Dime-Store-Chic’ Success
Perhaps the most successful of the six women, 48-year-old Fedorko said she’s making enough in sales to cushion her family’s travel expenses and home repairs.
“The money’s decent. I couldn’t live off it, but say we want to remodel our bathroom. Etsy’s going to help us do that,” said Fedorko
From pin cushions to tote bags, vibrant-colored vintage fabrics inherited from her grandmother have been revamped into what Fedorko referred to as her dime-store-chic creations.
“I don’t care if people think it’s tacky, tawdry or cheap. The proof is in the pudding and I sell what I make,” said Fedorko.
Growing up in Richmond, Va., she recalled going to Woolworth’s as a child and finding herself enamored by the quirky array of plastic toys, coloring books and paper dolls. Fedorko’s passion for color continued when she went to VCU to study painting and printmaking in college, but felt she didn’t quite fit in among what she called the snobbery of her fellow art majors.
“I would glue things onto surfaces and they’d tell me that was crafts, so I went along with them and they’d tell me to ‘make it bigger.’ Of course, back in the 80s, I didn’t know if they were talking about my hair or the canvas,” said Fedorko with a laugh.
A published author of the fictional book, “Heaven and the Heather,” she was a novelist before becoming a full-time crafter. Fedorko, however, got back into the swing of writing before launching her Etsy site by creating a blog, which she credits for the wave of anticipation-turned-immediate sales upon opening shop.
“I talked up my shop for about a month prior to starting and did giveaways and sneak peeks where I’d post a snapshot of just the corner of an item,” said Fedorko, who noted she’ll never forget the day she opened — July 18, 2007.
“I had posted about 22 items at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning and all of the sudden, things started selling as I was putting them on. By the end of the day, I’d sold three-fourths of my shop,” said Fedorko.
She’s developed quite a clientele in Australia, just sold her first item to a Malaysian customer, and said Africa is the only continent she hasn’t shipped to.
However, buyers aren’t the only ones crazy for Fedorko’s unique pieces. Romantic Homes magazine featured two of her pin cushions in a photo spread of their top recommended items in their most recent issue.
“I’m just humbled and overwhelmed by the amount of support strangers have given my work,” said Fedorko.
As for advice on how other Esty users can find the success she’s found, Fedorko encouraged them to do their homework and participate in the online community.
“First of all, love what you do. Second, look at the market on Etsy and see what else is out there,” said Fedorko. “The next thing is to build an online presence and more people will come to you.”
• To see Fedorko’s collection, visit www.bethsbagz.etsy.com.