1. Tell us a bit about yourself name, location, affiliations, personal stuff.
I’m Sarah, a transplanted Hoosier newly living in Florida, by way of a seven year detour through Texas. My degree is in classical archaeology, not jewelry design, but I like to think that I bring some of that background into the pieces I create today. I’ve been making jewelry for about eight years now, and decided to launch my business, Armillata Designs (Armillata means “adorned with a bracelet” in Latin) when life, and the changing job markety, brought me and my future husband to Florida.
2. Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I am a passionate bookworm, an enthusiastic baker and cook, a frustrated world traveler, and most recently, a very determined house hunter. If the house hunting goes well, I hope to add gardening and home restoration to my list of skills I fully intend to improve someday. I also spend a great deal of my spare time exploring my new home, seeking out antique and thrift shops, and enjoying living on the coast, as I’ve never had that opportunity before.
I usually begin my day by photographing new items for my shop, or rephotographing older products (my photography skills have improved exponentially in the months since I began my business) while the light is right in my studio. I struggle with photography, but now I enjoy it so much that I consider it part of my creative expression. I never seem to get ideas until far too late at night, so that’s when I do most of my actual designing and crafting. I have a sketchbook ready to pull out if random ideas hit me, or if I’m having some creative block to work through, but usually I choose a stone or bead or bit of filigree and simply let myself fixate on its color or texture, and begin imagining what other findings and accents would best showcase it. Recently (and this is entirely a product of my growing love of photography), I’ve been obsessed with how light reacts with materials, and found myself doing more and more designs centered around milky translucent stones or richly colored matte finished lucites, materials that almost seem to glow in sunlight.
4. What led you to start creating your art/craft?
I come from a family with a long tradition of crafting, in wood, textiles, food, and paint, and my parents wholeheartedly supported my earliest efforts, no matter how messy or clumsy. My maternal grandmother taught me about sewing and embroidery, and my mother gave me my first sewing machine (the same one she’d used as a teenager), and my father encouraged me to use the tools and materials in his wood shop (and made sure I kept all my fingers in the process, I’m definitely safer with beading wire than with a scroll saw). Even the community I lived in nurtured creativity, with an active 4-H program that gave children and young adults both instruction and the opportunity to display their talents publicly.
5. How did you decide what medium you wanted to work with?
After college, I moved to Texas with just what would fit in my car, which did not include my sewing table or a decade or so’s worth of fabric and yarn and paint. One day I found myself in a bookshop (I find myself in them two or three times a week on average), and I picked up a beading magazine. I was blown away by the possibilities, which went a lot further than my high school efforts involving seed beads and bare wire. Over the next few years, I tried as many techniques as I could; I bought a bead loom, I learned elaborate netting and rope stitches, I strung, wire wrapped, I even bought a pasta machine and commandeered the toaster oven to try my hand at polymer clays, but I usually found that stringing and wire work gave me results that best suited my tastes and my patience. But I’m never entirely satisfied with what I already know, and I always want greater control over the final design of my pieces, so in this last year I’ve begun working with applying patinas, shaping, stamping, and hammering metal, and I hope to begin studying soldering and metal clays in the coming months.
6. What aspect of creating your art/craft do you find the most enjoyable?
I find the physical process of making the jewelry the most rewarding. Designing the piece can be frustrating, and finding or making the components never goes smoothly, but when I’m actually wrapping a wire loop or applying a patina to metal, I’m completely happy and relaxed. I think that’s why some of my favorite designs feature clusters of stones or beads on wrapped loops, creating each of those drops is deeply satisfying.
7. If you had to choose one other medium in which to display your “creativity”, what would that be and why?
I would like to be a capable seamstress. My grandmother handmade all my mother’s clothing right up to her wedding dress, and my mother can create an amazing array of clothes, toys, or bags, but after I left for college I set aside sewing, and forgot most of what I’d ever known, and I want to change that. Being able to sew opens up an unlimited range of possibilities, from customizing decor for my future 1920’s bungalow dream home to designing clothes to match my jewelry. It makes a person more self-reliant, I think, and gives you the freedom take a step away from being a 24-7 consumer. Being able to say, “I can make that,” and mean it is a wonderful thing, and knowing how to sew would give me that.
8. What handmade possession do you most cherish?
This is tough. I have cedar chests and painted china from my grandparents, my father’s woodwork, even artisan crafted porcelain I collected while traveling, and I love them all, but I think my favorite piece is a stuffed Eeyore my mother made for me. She’s had the pattern since she was a girl, and growing up, I always loved the very first one she made out of mottled rainbow colored terrycloth, but I was a purist and wanted Eeyore to be a proper shade of donkey gray, and I wanted him to look happy. So she made me my very own, respectably colored and with a most un-Eeyore like smile, and he’s followed me across the country every since.
9. List five of your favorite books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites besides Etsy.
My favorite books, in no particular order, are the Harry Potter series, the original Oz series (see how I’m cheating on the five limit here?), the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, and Barrel Fever by David Sedaris
Movies are Moulin Rouge, Shaun of the Dead, Life is Beautiful, American Beauty, and High Fidelity (huh, I left Nick Hornby out of my favorite book list, how did that happen?)
My favorite musicians are Regina Spektor, The Magnetic Fields, Dressy Bessy, The Postal Service, and Imogen Heap
My favorite websites are Facebook (I know, I know, but it’s true), Snopes (no end of use there), Epicurious, Media Matters, and TheFrisky.com
10. What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
Of all the great tools on Etsy, the one I’d love to point every new seller to is the forum. There is an amazing wealth of useful information (and a fair amount of entertainment) to be found there for anyone with questions about using Paypal, shipping, international shipping, off Etsy tools like Statsy and Craftcult, and general customer service. Of course, take what you read with a grain of salt and always use your best judgment, at the end of the day your shop is yours to run how you choose, but I can’t begin to say how much easier my life became when I began using the forums as a resource.
As for what new features I’d like to see Etsy add, honestly, like many sellers, I think I’m more interested in refining the tools already in place. I’d love to see a better system to protect legitimate artisans, suppliers, and vintage shops from having to compete on Etsy with sellers that don’t meet the site’s criteria to sell there, and I’d like to see the checkout process simplified. It’s easy for someone who’s relatively comfortable shopping online to manage, but there’s a world of potential new customers who are less experienced and who find the process too confusing to try (like my Mother).
11. How do you organize your business? Such as finances, keeping track of supplies and marketing etc?
Wait, I’m supposed to be organized? Oh dear. This is definitely my weakest point. It’s very easy to manage sales and supply costs, as those are all electronic, and I have a feeble but growing grasp on how to use my accounting software, but the physical organization of my studio is a never ending problem. I need to be looking at my supplies to generate ideas, which means a neat and tidy desk equals a totally blank mind, whereas I can get all kinds of inspiration with supplies piled all around me, but then I can’t find the pieces I actually need to make them happen. I’m striking a balance by choosing my battles. My shipping supplies don’t need to inspire me, so they can be neatly stored and packed out of sight. My tools are the same way, so they have their own spots. Metal components are divided by color, since odds are if I need a copper jump ring I’ll also need my copper clasps. The beads basically have free run of my desk. And my living room. And sometimes the bedroom. Occasionally the patio. I swear I’ll confine them to one space someday. In my new home, I’d like to have a space that does more than just keep my beads in more or less one spot, I’d like studio that reflects my style and can actually inspire me, but that’s still a long way off. I’m lucky to have a room I can shut curious pets out of and work, it’s more than some people have.
12. How well is your shop doing? How long has it been open? Number of sales? Number of visits?
I’m still very new to the world of business, but I believe I’m off to a promising start. I listed my first items for sale on December 6th, 2009, and since then I’ve sold about 40 items, on and offline, with no paid advertising and very amateur marketing efforts on my part. My shop has had over 7500 visits since I set up Google Analytics, and I’m reasonably sure that my immediate family only account for a third of those. I’m taking in an increasing number of custom orders, which is very gratifying, and I’ve enjoyed some repeat business, which is the best type of feedback I could ever expect a customer to give me.
13. What do you think you’re doing right for getting the sales you have? Or what tips do you have for other Etsy sellers?
I’m definitely not successful enough yet to hand out much advice, but I do try hard to concentrate on a few things that I think are very helpful for improving my sales and bringing my customers back. First of all, I never stop trying to improve my pictures, and I try to make sure I include shots of every part of the jewelry I’d want to see if I were thinking of buying it, including the clasp, closeups, and any imperfections on stones or vintage components. I have thoroughly laid out policies (years of working in retail taught me how essential this is), I accept responsibility for my product through the entire delivery process, not just up the point I had it to the postal worker, and I make a point of contacting buyers to let them know that their package has shipped, how they can track it, and what their estimated delivery time will be, and I encourage them to let me know right away if they have any questions. Shopping online, especially with small businesses without established reputations, is a leap of faith, and I like to reassure buyers that I respect their time, money, and trust.
14. How do you promote your work, on and off-line?
Online, I’m active in the Etsy community, including a team, the Florida Etsy Street Team, and I seek out opportunities for blog features and giveaways, which always seem to generate a healthy surge of traffic. I use the major social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Flikr, and I make use of sites like Linkreferral to help boost visitors. Offline, I’m a bit more shy, I wear my own designs, but I’ve never found the courage to offer a business card in response to a compliment, it’s something I need to work on. I frequently joke that my family is my marketing department, as they have no shame whatsoever about handing out my cards, showing off my jewelry, or in the case of the fiance, leaving all the display computers in a store with my website on them. I’ve been building relationships with other local crafters and vintage shops around the Tampa Bay area, in preparation for when I begin doing art shows.
15. In ten years I’d like to be…
I would love to be able to support myself with my jewelry alone. I don’t dream of production lines or department stores carrying my work, I never want to be that removed from the day to day creation, but I’d love to know that my business was capable of paying all my bills. I’d also hope, in a decade, to be more organized, more confident in my marketing, and to have added expanded my designs to include more involved metalsmithing techniques.
16. Where else on the net can we find you and your goods? Twitter, blog, Flikr account, any others?
You can find photos of my work, and my pets, on Flikr under ArmillataDesigns, or you can follow me on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Armillata, or check out my shop’s Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/ArmillataDesigns