–Don’t forget! The Summer Doldrums contest – Art or craft… It’s fun to share your stuff!–
For the 3rd Interview in the Dabbled Series, our focus is craft and the business of craft. Today we have Shannon Riffe, who writes the blog Make It – a blog about building a craft business, and is the silkscreening designer/crafter behind Rifferaff. I’ve been enjoying Make It for a while, and Shannon has documented a great deal about her journey to making it in her own craft business. A lot of times we only hear someone story after they’ve become established, but I think the process of how you get there is fascinating as well. So I’ve invited Shannon to share some of her wisdom here!
1) So, first off, the easy stuff… In 3 sentences or less, who are you, what do you do, how long have you been doing it, and is this your full time gig?
I’m Shannon Riffe, I currently live in Cambridge, MA but am moving to Ann Arbor, MI at the end of August with my boyfriend who will be a graduate student at the University of Michigan. I officially started my business in October 2007 making screenprinted paper goods. I work part-time as an office manager and part-time on Rifferaff.
2) You have some great designs… How did you get into printmaking?
Thank you! I left a full-time job in 2006 to take an unpaid internship with Mod Green Pod, a young organic textile and wallpaper company. What I lacked in income I made up for with exposure to design and the ins and outs of running a small creative business. Mod Green Pods products were all silkscreened, so that’s when I really saw up close the versatility of the medium. Up until that point I had experimented
on my own with batik and block printing with mixed results. Eventually I want to move into fabric design as well; I knew that teaching myself to silkscreen would allow me to do prints on paper and fabric.
3) Where do you get your inspiration? And what are your favorite sources of inspiration, both for your business and for your art?
I never get tired of reading about female design entrepreneurs. I’m fascinated by the businesses and the women behind Lotta Jansdotter, Orla Kiely, Port2Port Press, Virginia Johnson, Amy Butler, the Saltwater clothing line (I could go on and on…) These women are my business inspiration. They all have a unique and distinctive style, a playful sense of color, and their business are imbued with their personalities.
As for artistic inspiration, I strive to keep it simple. I want all my designs to look like they’ve been handrawn, or come from one of my block prints because they have. Design that’s done fully on the computer is just not interesting to me.
4) Without giving away trade secrets, what process do you use to create your art?
Everything starts with a drawing or block print on paper. I’ll scan that into the computer, manipulate it a bit in Illustrator and then send the digital file to a local t-shirt shop that makes my screens. When I get the screens back, I print all my products by hand using water-based inks that I mix into custom colors.
5) You’ve been documenting how you’ve started your business. Are you pleased with your progress thus far? Besides reading your blog (obviously!), what are your best hints for those who want to go into a crafting type business?
Yes and no. I’m really pleased with the reaction to my work, but not pleased with sales, for which I take full responsibility. I wasn’t confident enough in my product to really get aggressive about marketing it and getting the word out to stores and consumers. But now, 8 months in, I finally feel like I know what I’m doing and I’m
moving forward full steam ahead.
6) What has been the most challenging thing about starting your own business? What’s the thing you wish you’d known most at the outset?
Money. I’m proud to have never taken out a loan – I haven’t even asked family for money – so the entire venture has been funded by my personal savings. While that is a source of pride for me, I also think that going through the process of applying for a business loan would have been a good experience because it would have forced me to write a business plan and actually get serious about the direction I want to
take. As a result, I’ve floundered a bit as I started out; thinking I’d do one thing (gift wrap, selling via Etsy and craft shows) and have since shifted my focus (new emphasis on cards, pursuing more wholesale opportunities).
I wish I had actually run the numbers and had a business plan from the get go. Some people are able to start a successful business without a lot of pre-planning but I’ve learned that I can’t.
7) For all the readers who want to sell their stuff, what has been the most effective ways you’ve marketed your products? Least effective?
I don’t think I’ve been in business long enough – or had enough sales – to really answer that. I will say I think it’s extremely important to just think about getting the word out about your work in general. You may not see a direct correlation between advertising and sales, but every time you advertise you give someone a chance to see your work and you never know how that could play out. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t get a flood of orders from participating in The Sampler and Poppytalk Handmade Market, but now I realize that those experiences were still valuable because it got my work in front of new eyes I may not have reached any other way.
8) You’ve talked about lack of women of color in the design field. Do you think that affects your ability to sell your art? What would you like to say to women who feel like they don’t see ‘anyone like them’ in design? What would you like to say to ALL women?
No, it doesn’t affect my ability to sell my work. To other designers of color who feel like I do, I would say, keep doing the best work you can do so that you can be the one who gets on the cover of the design magazine or who gets a high profile licensing deal. I don’t want to whine about not seeing enough designers of color and then not do anything about it. I want to be the success story. This is one reason
I have a picture of myself on my blog – even though I’d be more than happy to take it off – I think it’s important that readers see me.
I think that’s a great tip for all designers. Really get personal with your audience and show them the person and the process behind your work. The Internet is so great for this, especially blogging. The revitalized interest in handmade items is all about a consumer’s desire to know where their stuff comes from. What better way to do
that than to see the person who made it!
9) So, where can we buy your cool stuff?
Right now you can get the full collection at rifferaff.etsy.com. I also have some items in Greenward (Cambridge, MA) and The Paper Place (Toronto, Canada). In the future I hope to start wholesaling my cards to more stores and have limit
ed edition items available exclusively on Etsy.
Thanks so much to Shannon for sharing a little of her journey toward ‘making it’ in the craft business!