alex and i had a really fun chat the other night, dishing about everything to do with her business and her fantastic, eye-catching, recycled-felt applique pillows.so, let's start at the beginning... were you crafty as a kid? do you remember the first thing you ever made?
My mom was always super crafty with us as kids---I'm not sure if I was crafty by my own inspiration, but there was always some project going on. She was a patternmaker before she got married, so she would make loads of clothes for us, and we were subjected to fittings, which were really annoying because we kept getting stuck with pins. And there was always something baking in the kitchen. The first thing I made...that's really hard. I was in art classes since I was a baby, but my memory hadn't kicked in yet...it was probably a paintingdid you study arts or design in college?
I went to NYU, which doesn't really have a good art program, but they do have an amazing photography division in the Tisch school. I did a mixture of photography and sociology because I wanted to be a photojournalist. I did do a summer at RISD to do fashion illustration and computer graphics, that turned out to be much more relevant to my career since the New York Times didn't hire me and fashion did...so what is your day job currently?
I work freelance as a tech designer for a huge fashion company that sells to Kohl's and Walmart. Before that I worked at Rebecca Taylor and Zac Posen as a tech designer and studio manager. But I am reducing my hours more and more as my pillow company takes off. I now only work 2 days a week in the city, and the rest is pillow time.oh, that's fantastic that you're able to make the transition to more pillow time... do you find that anything you do in your day job influences your pillow work?
For sure...making a pillow and making a dress aren't all that different really. As a studio manager, part of my job was to look over the sewer's shoulder and check the quality as they go. It also gave me a really good understanding of how to run a company, from initial concept through production. Working in fashion developing a product that would be sold in the market has given me a lot of confidence to put my own product out there for sale.did you ever consider doing clothing as your personal craft/design work?
NO! My housewares company is my ticket out of fashion. Fashion can get really rough.so when and how did you decide to get into the pillow biz? and how did you settle on pillows over any other kind of housewares?
It was totally by accident. I decided to make my best friend some pillows to girl-ify her apartment and it was so fun so I kept going and made everyone pillows for Christmas, and then just when I had put my sewing machine away my best friend's sister saw my original pillows and told me about Etsy and....you know the rest! Now that I have the aesthetic down, I am slowly expanding into other categories beyond pillows. Next up are tote bags and little zipper cases, and after that I want to tackle table settings. I have a table setting fetish.did you know from the beginning that you wanted to use recycled materials?
That was an accident too. I ordered so much felt from my supplier that they just sent the whole bolt, which had the manufacturer information on it. So I looked them up and discovered all this information about how it is recycled! It is such a win-win situation--it is really great quality felt (so much better than the store-bought stuff that my friend got) with a beautiful color palette AND its recycled?? Awesome.very cool. do you plan to stick with recycled/repurposed fabrics for all of the items in your line as you expand?
If I can keep to organic or recycled fibers I will, but I don't want to price myself out of the market either so it depends on what I can source with a quality that I like. Realistically, I am sure I will have to have non-recycled materials at some point in the collection. But I'll be sure to note for the consumer what is recycled and what isn't.how do you come up with the inspiration for your designs?
They come from everywhere. You can put anything on a pillow, really. I always keep my ear perked for neat lyrics or expressions for the pillow talk collection. For the botanical collection, i have a bunch of books with gorgeous flower photography that provides endless inspiration. sometimes an idea will pop out of nowhere--sometimes those are the best ideas.do you have any creative thinking tricks you'd like to share? when you get stuck in a creative rut/drought, how do you get out of it?
My best creative trick is to invest in the right tools for your trade. I kept struggling with my sewing machine stretching and and distorting my applique shapes, and then I decided to buy a teflon foot and, much like a cheeseburger, the stickiness went away. Amazing. Jumping on the rotary blade bandwagon had the same satisfaction. I am so lucky to have not gotten stuck in a creative rut yet, but I am sure it will happen. In the meantime, I am keep copious lists of all my ideas now, so that when I run out of new ones I can go back and reference those ones.i saw that your "i heart my soldier" pillow is inspired by your brother. is he deployed at the moment? have you sent him a pillow?
He was in iraq for 15 months but came back in October. He is stationed in Germany now with his wife. He does have a pillow but not that one ;). As soon as I have time to build up my inventory I want to send him both that one as well as the Army Wife one. I'll be advertising every time they have a dinner party. The military community is really tight knit...glad to hear your brother is somewhere safer. have you gotten any feedback on those pillows from military families so far?
People in the military that know me through my brother really dig them, but they havent been big on Etsy. It must be a demographic thing.so you make everything yourself at this point, right? would you like to get to the point where you have people working with you? where do you see the business in five/ten years?
Yeah, I am a one man band, although my friend will cut out patterns for me sometimes, and my boyfriend once assembled some hangtags. I plan to bring in an assistant to work side by side with me part time soon, I have some calls out. I'll still cut everything out myself because I can't let go, but I'll let them do the stitching.do you sell mostly on etsy now, or are you selling wholesale/consignment as well?
I have a showroom in Dallas that I started with about a month ago, so I am definitely keen to build my wholesale business. Once that gets set up, I want to find showrooms in NY and LA, but one at a time. I always want to sell on Etsy though, not just out of fondness for the place that started me off, but also because it is a great way to read the market, see what styles people respond to and which ones they don't. Plus, selling retail is better than selling wholesale ;)speaking of selling, what is your biggest seller? what design do people seem to love the most?
Hands down, my best seller are the monogram pillows. It is so fun working with my customers as they pick colorways. After that, the Bud Explosion series as well as the Be Nice or Leave pillows are a big success.tell me about your workspace—where do you work? what would be your dream workspace?
I think I am in my dream workspace! I work out of my mom's house in her separated two car garage that she turned into a studio for herself a couple years ago. now its my studio, mother/daughter relationships are awesome that way. We hand painted the walls and stenciled the floors, and I have a wood burning stove to keep me cozy, and when it is nice out (like today!) I open up the sliding glass doors and move my sewing machine out onto the deck and sew with my sunglasses on.i'm completley jealous. so what do you find to be the most challenging part of running your own business?
Keeping up! I am trying to hit all the grass roots marketing resources like blogs, flickr, twitter, facebook....I definitely spend more time on the computer working than I do actually designing and sewing. I also need to redesign my website to get that up to snuff, and I want to make it an e-commerce site, but I just have to find the time. Right now I work 7 days a week until 1 or 2am every night trying to get through it all. The hours are the same that I put in when I worked as a studio manager in fashion, but it hurts so much less when you are doing it for your own company. I guess the discipline to work hard is another thing fashion industry did to prepare me for this....if you were trying to convince someone to shop handmade, what would you tell them? and what is your most beloved handmade item that you own but didn't make yourself?
I love handmade because it is so much more interesting and different than what you can find out on the market! Mass manufacturing has its place in this world, but not so much in my apartment (when I can avoid it!) Plus you can work directly with the artist and custom make something just for you. Walmart can't do that. I grew up around antiques that were all handmade, so its super hard to choose a favorite. But I think it would have to be the dining table that I grew up with. It was an old work station for a carpenter, and has all his dings and dents. Plus we contributed as kids--my brother's name is scratched down one of the legs.and lastly: what is something about you that surprises people when they find it out?
That I went out on a Saturday night! They just assume now that I work 24/7. But after several years in fashion, my friends are used to it. :)
you can find alexandra on etsy
and at alexandraferguson.com