Meg Mateo Ilasco is a designer, illustrator, and writer who started her first business in 1999 making handmade wedding invitations. A serial entrepreneur, she’s since launched three businesses, including her housewares, gift, and stationery line, Mateo Ilasco, in 2005. She is the author of several books, including Creative, Inc., Craft, Inc. (check out our Craft Inc Contest below!), and the Craft, Inc. Business Planner. She is also the co-founder and creative director of home and lifestyle magazine Anthology. Meg, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, generously gave us her time with the following interview.
Ikat Journal from Ilasco’s stationary line.
Hi Meg! Tell us how you got involved in the craft business world.
After college, I worked full-time in market research (I have a degree in psychology), but I pursued hobbies on the side. I dabbled in graphic design, creating logos and websites for non-profits (for free) and making wedding invitations for friends, just so I could practice my skills. Initially, I didn’t pursue it as a way to make money because it didn’t occur to me that I could make a real living doing this – it was just for fun. Plus, I was a little self-conscious that I didn’t have a formal background in art or design. But the handmade wedding invitations I designed were becoming quite popular among friends, and I noticed that there weren’t many good wedding invitation companies selling online at the time (I could count my potential competition with one hand).
So in 1999, I started a wedding company with a friend (she would do event planning and I would do the invitations). We launched a website and slowly a few orders for invitations would trickle in. At the same time, I was accepted into architecture grad school. Business wasn’t exactly booming yet, so I continued to pursue the business while going to school. It was nuts doing both! The summer after my first year, while my friends were pursuing architecture internships, I had put a small ad in Martha Stewart Weddings. It was pretty expensive for me, but I figured the business needed a shot in the arm. After the ad ran, it was insane! I was swamped with orders. My entire apartment was filled with boxes, papers, and ribbons. The money that came in from orders that summer was probably larger than my entire year’s paycheck at the market research firm. But my second year of grad school was starting and I had taken in more orders than I could handle with school. Needless to say, the craft business won and I quit school. I sold the business in 2005.
What has been your most successful craft business, and why?
Sleep Pillow from Ilasco’s home line.
For me, success isn’t all about the bottom line. I feel very lucky to have started businesses that I find meaningful and challenging and have given me an immense amount of flexibility and artistic freedom. I’ve started a wedding invitation company, a home and stationery line, indie design sample sale events, and most recently, a home and lifestyle magazine. While some have been more lucrative than others, each has been a success in its own way. Each one led to new connections and opportunities and allowed me to discover and grow talents I didn’t know I had. For example, the experience of starting the wedding business caused me to write Craft Inc. I had learned so many lessons (good and bad) that I wanted to share with other budding craft entrepreneurs. And of course Craft Inc, led to other books including Creative, Inc.
What is a common mistake crafters make when starting a business?
Under-pricing. I think when people start making crafts and selling them, oftentimes they are just happy that anyone has bought their goods. They don’t take enough time to figure out how much their time is worth, what the materials cost, and what would be a good market price for their goods. They probably don’t create enough of a markup to account for both wholesale and retail pricing. And they’re probably comparing their goods and prices to the wrong types of items (like items you’d find in a mass merchandising store). There is value in handmade goods and price is an indicator of artistic value and craftsmanship. It’s important that crafters educate/inform their customers so that they understand the value of the work and goods.
In your book you talk about the big craft business myths. Can you give us an example of one of these myths?
One of the myths is that “all of the great ideas have already been done.” I think it’s easy to feel that way, especially now with blogs showing us something new everyday. But you’re essentially telling yourself that you’ve failed before you’ve even tried. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to step away from the screen – stop looking at other people’s finished products – and let yourself daydream and experiment. Try to come up with ideas that are solution-oriented (like creating a travel kit to hold children’s art supplies) or symbiotic (like bringing together jewelry design and crochet), or play around until something serendipitous happens (like accidentally silk-screening the wrong side of a fabric). The more you explore your craft and try different things, the easier it will be to create products.
That’s such an excellent piece of advice. So what’s your biggest piece of advice for a crafter who is thinking about starting her/his own business?
Do what you love and be authentic.
Make sure to enter our Craft Inc Contest for a copy of the book and a shot at winning a 30-minute private phone conversation with Meg Mateo Ilasco! All you have to do is answer the question, “If you could start a crafting business tomorrow what would it be?” 5 winners will be randomly chosen. Deadline is November 18, so enter now!