Reported by Simone Collins
Today I’m sharing an interview with Steff from Steffbomb.com. I had the pleasure of meeting Steff last year at Renegade and pretty much fell in love with her plushies immediately. Steff is an Etsy seller, as well as having her products in stores for retail purchase, so she is full of experience as an owner of a crafty business.
Crafty Business Name: Steff Bomb
When did your business begin and why did you started?
Owning a business was completely unintentional. An important part of the story is that art and drawing were always my life, but since I’m self taught and never went to college having an actual career in art never seemed plausible.
I started sewing when I was around 21, not clothes or anything useful, just a bunch of shapes with eyes, limbs, and pointy teeth… it was all totally for my own personal fulfillment. I made some and gave them to friends and my roommates at the time, then started trading with a few artists friends. A little later the owner of my favorite store in Philly (Jinxed Philadelphia) asked if I would sell them in his store. Word-of-mouth spread, and more stores began to contact me. It all progressed so smoothly, before I knew it I had a small business and I didn’t even realize it. I still consider myself to be extremely lucky in every way.
Sometime in 2007 I realized that this was my chance! I was given a small window of “art career” opportunity, so I grabbed it like my life depended on it and worked like crazy to make my unrealistic childhood dream a reality. That year I saved up all of my money and mass produced an asparagus plush, called Mr. Lertchman, which was sold by a distributor to stores around the world. That opened even more doors for me and I was asked to be in an art shows for the first time ever. That in itself was mind-blowing. In July of 2008, I moved from Philadelphia to Chicago. September 2009, I gave the 9-to-5 world the heave-ho, quit my day job, and took on sewing full time. Everything keeps growing. It’s very easy to get caught up in the frenzy of my day to day but not a moment goes by where I don’t say to myself, “damn, this rules”.
Tell us about your business.
It’s plush things. Inanimate objects with faces, mostly foods (let’s be real here, eating rules). It’s hard to describe because even though it is art you don’t want to say “art” because that can come off as kinda snooty, so I usually just say “toys” because that sounds more fun, and hopefully people will acknowledge the amount of hard work that goes into it on their own.
Describe your typical day.
Pretty much everyday I wake up at 8:30/9am, hug my cat, eat breakfast, then sew forever until my hands fall off. Once in a while I’ll throw in a shower, a workout, or a trip to the post office, but that’s the basic outline of my life.
What keeps you motivated?
My unbridled passion for eating and paying rent. Just kidding. Half kidding. This is going to sound extra super barfy but I love this, every bit of it. I used to daydream about being in art shows with people I admire, making my own stuff and having exactly the life I have now. It’s literally the only thing I’ve ever wanted, and that is motivation enough for me to give this everything I have.
What keeps you on track with your business? Tools? Tricks?
The only trick I have is to keep my business as simple and as organized as possible. I have a file system for invoices, emails, and tracking numbers but I am still figuring things out as I go along so the less complicated I can make everything for myself, the better.
Any websites or programs you use to help with your business?
I’m sorry, did you just say there are programs that help with my business? Seriously? Here I am doing everything myself like a sucker, when I could have been getting help this whole time? I need to look into this because I definitely need all of the help I can get.
What is the biggest challenge in your business?
Being only one person is hands down my biggest challenge. Between orders, commissions, wholesale, art shows, craft fairs, and more, I can’t keep up with the demand. This past year I worked so much that I ended up with tendinitis. I don’t have health insurance and I had to keep working through it, but I felt like everything became a disaster. I’m finally almost caught up from that, but I’m still two months behind on emails. It’s a tad heartbreaking when I think about. When things go awry, it can really get me down, but I all I can do is not dwell on it and get as much work done as humanly possible until I am back on track. On a similar note, I AM looking for an intern, hint hint. If anyone is interested, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org…wink!
Any advice you would give to someone just starting a crafty business?
One thing that seems super obvious but I still somehow managed to overlook is how important it is to have some kind of savings. When I quit my job I had $20 in my bank account. Holy crap that was dumb.
What do you love most about owning your own crafty business?
I get to make severed limbs and hamburgers and somehow still make a living. What’s awesomer than that?!? I also get to run errands while everyone else is at work. No lines! Two weeks ago I rode to the beach, sat by the water, and worked there all day… best day ever! It’s the tradeoff for working non-stop for very little pay and no benefits.
Besides crafting, what do you love doing?
I love eating breakfast, I love riding my bike, and I love getting to hang out with my friends. I’m a pretty simple gal.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I definitely know 1000% that the better the weather is, the better my work ends up being. I have a bit of a crush on sunny 75 degree weather. Sunshine, swoooooon. As far as ideas themselves, they always happen randomly, pretty out of the blue. Most of the time it’s when I’m in the shower, while I’m riding my bike, or when I’m about to go to bed.
Who are your favorite crafters?
Amy Sedaris is totally my hero. If anyone out there knows Amy Sedaris please tell her that I totally want to craft with her and then maybe one day we can and then I can die a happy girl. Shawnimals rules and Heidi Kenney is phenomenal… if you make plush and don’t admire everything they’ve done, you’re bonkers.
Tell us about your crafting space.
It’s kind of awful at the moment. I sit on my bed and work on a not-very-sturdy card table. I recently moved my sewing machine to my kitchen table, which is a treat because it’s not in my room (already a plus) and it’s much more stable than the card table. Once I get some extra money I will rent a car, head to IKEA, and get that $50 table and $30 chair that I’ve been longing for…but for now, I’m working with what I’ve got.
If you lose your crafty mojo, how do you find it again?
I’m very stubborn and will do my best to suck it up and keep working… but I can only ruin so much work before I realize that I need to take a breather.
|Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup|
Where do you see your business in 10 years?
It will be a little difficult to run my business in 10 years. I’ll be too busy throwing stray cats at intruders outside of my hobo shanty… probably at a rail yard.
Many thanks to my fellow Chicagoan, Steff, for all her insight and candidness. I love to hear how professional crafters got started and her tale is inspiring. Now head on over to her shop and grab yourself a little plushie of your own, what are you waiting for? Aren’t they adorable?