This week’s interviewee is Nicole Vasbinder of Queen Puff Puff. Nicole’s super-colorful booth is a fixture on the craft show circuit, and her gorgeously-crafted bags and accessories straddle the line between retro and modern beautifully. In addition to cranking out a wide variety of hand-sewn goodies, Nicole also finds time to teach others to sew, at a few select venues around the Bay Area. Nicole’s love of everything vintage comes through clearly in her work, so it’s no surprise that this Mary Tyler Moore lookalike enjoys hitting up estate sales and cocktail parties in her (precious!) spare time. Read on to find out what doing it yourself really entails.
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JENNY: Do you run your indie business full time, or do you have a “day job” to help keep you afloat? BONUS: If the latter is the case, how do you balance your time/make time for crafting?
NICOLE: Well, the Queen Puff Puff business is my day job but then I have a part-time gig teaching sewing classes at Stitch Lounge in SF and also at Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley. To keep on schedule, I put everything on a calendar. This includes classes, shows, order deadlines, dates to order supplies, dates to start projects and dates to ship. Each morning I simply check the calendar to see what needs to be done and where I need to be.
JENNY: How did you make the transition to working for yourself? How do you structure your days when you’re the boss?
NICOLE: I used to have a part-time job working at a fabric store. It was great to be surrounded by fabric all day, plus that employee discount sure came in handy when I was starting up my company. As my business grew I went from 4 days to 3 days a week and then eventually down to 2 and then last year I made the break.
Structuring my days has been my biggest struggle. It’s very easy to get sucked in to Golden Girls reruns on TV or the rabbit hole of the internet. So self-discipline has been my big challenge. I get up at 6:30 in the morning, have my coffee and surf the net, check email, print out orders. Then around 8 am I start sewing product. Around 1pm I usually stop and take a break for lunch and a shower. After lunch, I sew some more and then around 5pm I pack up any orders that need to go out and drop them off at the PO.
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JENNY: How important has the internet been in relation to the growth of your business? Also, would you say the bulk of your business comes from your own website, or from wholesale accounts and/or craft show sales?
NICOLE: It’s been huge!!! I’ve picked up so many wholesale accounts from people who have seen my website! My biggest revenue stream is wholesale, then craft shows, then my website and then a bit of consignment.
JENNY: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when starting your business, knowing what you know now? BONUS: Any resources for upstart craft businesses that you’d care to recommend?
NICOLE: The Switchboards has been an invaluable resource. I’ve met SO many other indie business owners on that site and have learned an incredible amount about running a small business. Small Time Operator by Bernard Kamoroff is a great book about starting a business.
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JENNY: How would you compare the challenges of working for yourself with working for “The Man”?
NICOLE: The biggest challenge about working for yourself is that when you slack off, you’re not making any money! When I worked an office job I could surf the net, take a coffee break and I was still getting paid. But now my most enjoyable hobby has turned into the thing that pays my rent! I don’t get depressed on Sunday nights because I’m dreading going to work!
JENNY: Any tips on how to keep your business fresh and thriving/growing?
NICOLE: Don’t hole up in your studio and get cut off from the rest of the world. Get outside, check things out and talk to people. Working from home can be lonely and the days can run together. Keep your spirit and mind fresh and your work will continue to be inspired.
Related:
• Queen Puff Puff site – Link.
• Stonemountain and Daughters – Link.
• Stitch Lounge – Link.
• The Switchboards – Link.
Small-Time Operator by Bernard Kamoroff – Link.
From the pages of CRAFT:
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CRAFT: 04 – “Business Basics for Crafty Types” by Jenny Ryan pgs. 42-43. Digital Subscribers can read the full article here. – Link.
Don’t miss an issue! Subscribe to CRAFT Magazine today and get 4 quarterly issues delivered to your door. – Link.