Craft Biz Q+A: Cathy of California

Craft & Design

This week’s interview is with Cathy Callahan, the multitalented crafter behind Cathy of California. Her colorful and kitschy creations are inspired by the projects she made as a little girl, yet they have a fun and fresh look that makes them totally modern. Cathy’s crafts include fun home items like wastebaskets, tissue box covers, and pincushions made from retro supplies like felt, burlap, ribbon straw and rickrack–as well as the occasional bit of papier-mâché jewelry. Her booth has become a real standout on the craft show circuit, and legions of readers flock to her blog, where she shares photos and projects culled from her huge collection of vintage craft and design books, magazines, and ephemera. Read on to find out what doing it yourself really entails.
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?
CATHY: I am a freelance window dresser and merchandiser so I am totally in charge of my schedule. My whole crafty thing really grew out of that because alot of the props I was making had a crafty element to them. And then my blog is a spin off from all of that. So for me it’s kind of all one big thing. There is no way I could have a conventional full-time job and a crafty business at the same time.
JENNY: How did you make the transition to working for yourself? How do you structure your days when you’re the boss?
CATHY: In my case the decision for my transition was made for me–which looking back was not such a bad thing. My last full-time gig was at a dotcom. After I was laid off, I vowed never again to devote myself totally to any one thing. I think it’s been really good for me to have several things going on. If one part of my business slows down, I have the other part to make up for it and vice versa. As far as structure goes, I am by nature the type of person who just has to keep really busy at all times. So my advice here is, if you want to start your own business take a good look at yourself to make sure you can naturally keep up the pace on your own and will able to handle the downtimes–and by that i mean financially, spiritually and creatively.
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?
CATHY: When I first left school in the ’80s I had my own jewelry business (totally new wave stuff I sold to shops on Melrose!). Comparing that experience to how I am able to promote myself now it’s total night and day. I actually started my current crafty business about 6 months before I had a website. Things just exploded the second I launched my site. In terms of sales, the bulk of that is from the craft fairs. So I think the internet is really a promotion tool for me at this time. I have only been doing the crafty side of my business for little more than a year so I think I’m still gaining momentum.
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?
CATHY: You’re going to make some mistakes, you just have to be able to be open enough to learn from them. Actually I’ve had some “happy accidents” that have steered me away from where I thought I was headed, but ended up in not such a bad place. So have some goals in mind but be open to some shifts and changes.
As far as resources (web design, business cards, logo, etc.) go I would recommend that you network with your friends and colleagues. Chances are if you’re a crafter, you hang out with other creative types who would just love to help you out.
And with any business there’s the whole government/legal side of things. Make sure you do everything by the book. Research what is needed in your local area and do not try to skate around anything–they can and will go after you. Get your resale certificate, collect and pay sales tax, get whatever business license your city/state requires, etc. In the state of California actually having a resale certificate is really good for crafters–you can buy alot of your supplies wholesale. Your supplies cost you less so you’ll make more in your mark up (just make sure you collect the sales tax!). Keep good organized records and save all of your receipts.
JENNY: How would you compare the challenges of working for yourself with working for “The Man”?
CATHY: I worked for many years in “corporate” situations and was generally very unhappy. I think I’m just not the type of person suited to have a “regular job”. So even the worst day for me now in no way compares to what I went through in the past.
JENNY: Any tips on how to keep your business fresh and thriving/growing?
CATHY: Keep an eye on what else is going on out there–blogs make that part so super easy. You have to keep fresh ideas constantly flowing in your mind so you can come up new products. If you get good response to something that’s really great, but know that the public can be fickle and they are going to want to see something else new from you the next time. And don’t take it personally if something doesn’t go over very well–learn to cut your losses and go on to the next thing.
JENNY: Anything other random tips or info you’d like to add on the topic?
CATHY: Make sure you’re having fun. Making things with your hands is such a joy. Make sure you realize you’re getting into the business of selling your wares and that you will now be having to balance all of the responsibilities that go along with that with actually having to design, produce and sell your crafts. Look at the real practical side of things. Let’s say it takes you an hour to make that super cute necklace that you’ve been charging $20 for to cover your materials and time. Well, what if you get a wholesale order for 50 of them? Your wholesale price will be $10 each and you now have to crank out 50 of them. The fun you had making a few of them will become a huge chore and you’re really not going to make any money.
• Cathy of California Website – Link.
• Cathy of California Blog – Link.
• Cathy of California Etsy Shop – Link.
From the pages of CRAFT:
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.

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Jenny Ryan

Jenny Ryan is an artist, crafter, and maker of things. She lives in Los Angeles with a pack of various animals (including her husband) and writes about her adventures in creating at Exit Through the Thrift Shop.

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