I'm Birdy27 of Birdy27 Designs and the third installment of the new A Crafty Life features the lovely and effervescent Annie Bruce of Brooklyn Owl. I met Annie earlier this year and we became fast friends. She is warm and energetic and her smile lights up the room. Brooklyn Owl is Annie's baby and I wanted to learn how this colorful and fun collection came to be.
Annie, I love your whimsical creations. Please tell us how you created Brooklyn Owl and about the significance of the name.
Brooklyn Owl started in the imagination of my daughter. When it became time to choose a business name, I was making weekly trips to the Prospect Park Zoo and my daughter Bee and I fell in love with the two brown owls. "Owl" was one of her first words and it prompted me to start sewing owls and Brooklyn Owl was created!
That's a great story! I imagine your creativity was nurtured. Were you raised in a creative environment?
Yes, I was. Creativity is a prerequisite in my family. My mom was a designer/artist/seamstress and my dad was a custom builder. My mom passed away when I was 22 and since then, when I sew, I feel closer to her. I have fond memories of creating with my mother. I remember painting these flowers (photo below) with her when I was ten and I will cherish them forever.
What a great way to honor your mother! To quote "The Lion King," she" lives in you." I'm sure she would be very proud of what you have accomplished. How would you describe your style and products? Are they just for kids?
Whimsical, colorful, and useful! I love creating things that can be used in multiple ways, such as my hair clips and unicorn horns. They can be worn as clips, but they can also be worn on my Brooklyn Owl customizable headbands.
In addition to owl hair clips, unicorn horns, and customizable headbands, Brooklyn Owl offers pins, bow ties, garlands, and cake toppers. In my opinion my items are perfect for kids and adults. Some adults think they are too old to wear a sea horse on their head. Not me! I choose very bright colors that kids (and lots of adults) are drawn to. I now make bow ties for men, boys and even bow tie hair clips for girls. And while you might think a unicorn horn is just for a kid, I have sold them for babies, kids, adults, and even dogs!
Locally I have also been selling flower earrings that I call "Earrings for Sandy" because 25% of the cost goes directly to Brooklyn Jubilee to help those affected by Sandy.
It's awesome that you've found a way to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief. How do you create your pieces? Do they come to you in a dream?
When an idea pops in my head, I sketch it out and I start working on sewing a prototype. It then has to be tried and tested by Bee who is now 4 years old. She has the best taste. I am constantly dreaming up new ideas in my head. I have a whole list of animals I would like to make.
You use felt for the majority of your products. How did you chose felt and what are the pros and cons of working with it?
I chose felt because I love the saturated bright and bold colors. Is felt challenging to work with? Yes and no. It depends on what you are trying to do with it. For me one of the reasons why I love felt is that is has a degree of forgiveness.
How important is the support of family and friends?
Brooklyn Owl would not be a successful business without the love and support of my family and friends. In the early stages of starting Brooklyn Owl, my family provided lots of positive encouragement and that helped me have the confidence I needed to pursue the business.
Can you tell us more about how your husband and daughter support and inspire you?
Both my husband Corey and daughter are a huge part of my business. Without them I would not be doing this. My husband is wise beyond his years. I love bouncing ideas off of him as he always comes up with great things! My daughter is the total inspiration behind everything I create. A lot of my products were dreamed up by her. From the owl hair clips (her favorite animal at the time and one of her first words), to the rainbow garlands (her favorite color combo), and the unicorn horns (she asked for a unicorn birthday party). My daughter is also one of my main models! Honestly she is getting a tired of taking pictures, so now we are getting into making movies. Recently she starred in a Brooklyn Owl video series that I am working on.
Are you a native New Yorker? How does the borough of Brooklyn inspire you? Can you imagine living in anywhere else?
My husband and I moved to Brooklyn from a small town in California and we absolutely love it here. Brooklyn is our home and we can’t think of living anywhere else. Raising my daughter in Brooklyn gives me a great opportunity to see the city through the eyes of a child. It is super fun!
Obviously Etsy is an important part of your business. How did you become an Etsy seller?
I was shopping on Etsy a couple of years before I opened my Etsy shop. I always (and still do) admire all of the wonderful sellers on Etsy and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. My Etsy sales increased after I added more products and learned how to showcase them better.
How important has it been being part of the Etsy NY team? Any drawbacks?
On a daily basis the EtsyNY team helps me in so many ways. The information, support, and friendship has been invaluable to me and my business. There are no drawbacks to being a part of such a great team of artists!
You are now the Team Operations Director. Can you share some details about this position and how it came to be?
When I joined the EtsyNY team in 2011 I knew I wanted to be involved as much as possible. I quickly joined the Social Events team and then the Twitter team. This fall the Operations Director position opened up, I applied and got it! I am super excited to be more involved in the team. The Operations Director assists in influencing the team's direction as well supervising a number of leaders and individual teams that make EtsyNY run smoothly.
All of this came from making the decision to start a business! Did you always want to start your own business or did you kind of fall into it?
I always thought it might be fun to own my own business. I was a high school math teacher, but after having my daughter I knew I wanted to stay home with her. While I was trying to figure out what exactly to do, my husband gave me great advice I will never forget! He said something like: "Annie, you just need to start doing one thing. Focus on that and then see where it leads." That is what I did. I sat down and just started to create owl hair clips. Because of that advice I was able to focus and just see where the business led.
What is the most challenging part of building a craft business?
The biggest challenge is balancing my business with my family and social life. Managing my time takes a lot of effort. It's challenging to fit everything in during the day because I put a lot of hours into my business.
Yes, being an "indie-preneur" means never having to say "my work is done." Now, finding space in New York for a proper studio is another challenge. How did you work out the space issue?
Currently I work out of my Park Slope apartment and space is definitely a challenge. Brooklyn Owl takes up a lot of space in the apartment. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband who doesn't mind thousands of sheets of felt filling up the guest bed.
I understand that Brooklyn Owl is in a few stores. How exciting! Did they approach you or did you approach them? What advice would you give others trying to break into the brick-and-mortar scene?
Brooklyn Owl is currently in five stores in NYC. All of the store owners found me either through Etsy or at one of the local craft fairs. The retail stores that I am currently in have a selection of the products. Sales are going well. While it would be great if every store carried all of my products, it is important as a business to be flexible in terms of allowing stores to choose which products they want to keep in stock. Probably the biggest challenge is maintaining a relationship with the store owners and making it easy for them to reorder. I would advise others to sell at local markets and talk to their customers as they provide great feedback.
Definitely great advice. It's the holiday market season. I assume you'll be involved with some holiday markets.
Yes. I just participated in the EtsyNY's Fifth Annual Holiday Handmade Cavalcade and P.S. 321's Stuff You Should Buy market. I will be at the South Slope Craft Fair on December 15th and the Brooklyn Craft Central Holiday Market on December 22nd and 23rd.
2012 is almost over. Where do you see your business in five years?
Well, my husband keeps telling me that he will be working for me in five years in my brand new Brooklyn Owl studio. Right now I am just enjoying the adventure of being a small business owner.
What advice would you give other artisans hoping to create a handmade business or who are in the early stages?
If you love to create then CREATE! Create what you love and inspires you. Don't be afraid to not have it all figured out before you start. When I started I had no idea what the next step would be, but as you go along it all starts to make sense.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Brooklyn Owl and Annie Bruce. Thanks, Annie, for making this interview so much fun. We wish you much success in 2013!
Until next month, this is Birdy27 signing off. Please support the handmade community. Successful creative artisans can change the world! Chirp, chirp!
Birdy27 is an actor/writer/singer/songwriter/graphic designer/knitter/crocheter/yarn-based accessories designer/jewelry maker/entrepreneur and founder/president of Birdy27 Designs (www.birdy27designs.etsy.com). Please join the action at the Birdy27 Designs Fan Page at www.facebook.com/birdy27designs.