Interview: Jenifer Nakatsu Arntson, Vinyl Designer

More Dabbled Interviews, including Dave Gugel (Halloween), Naomi Henderson (Cupcakes), Cory Godbey (Author/Artist), Shannon Riffe (Silkscreening Entrepreneur), Diana Evans (Artist), & Diane Gilleland (Crafter Extraordinaire)

Today’s Dabbled Interview is with Jenifer Nakatsu Arntson, of JNA Designs – Handbuilt Vinyl Goods for your Beautiful Life. She does some fabulous work in vinyl, and I’ve asked her to share a little about her and her fun vinyl goods!

1. First the quickie background stuff: In three sentences or less.. who are you, what do you do, how long have you been doing it, and do you do it full time?

My name is Jenifer Nakatsu Arntson, I make bags, wallets and accessories. I started working in vinyl after falling in love with some glittery sparkle vinyl (1996-ish?) and I needed a bag that would withstand the sweatiness of commuter biking in summer in Texas, and general rough treatment (bartending in a music club at night, working as a blacksmith during the day). I make things part time, my 3.5 yr old son keeps me pretty busy, and I’ll soon have a second kiddo, due this spring.

2. Why Vinyl?

It is pretty intense, visceral work cutting and working on leather hides and I needed to take a break from it after doing a lot of that kind of work. I liked the colors and finishes available in vinyl and other synthetic materials, and I started making things for myself, and then for friends. I was disappointed in the quality of non-leather goods I saw (at the time, vinyl had a connotation of ‘cheap, and cheaply made’) and had destroyed many a bag through normal use. I repaired things all the time at the leather shop so craftsmanship, construction, and utility and are pretty important to me.

3. Without giving away trade secrets, can you share a little about your process for designing/creating your bags and wallets and so forth?

Usually a new design starts in my sketchbook and then gets broken down into a pattern and how I plan to put it together. Sometimes I build a paper model to visualize, or just start working in the materials, taking notes on the pattern and construction as I go. I always carry the prototype and take notes on things I’d change on the next version (I’m kind of a perfectionist about my work, so there are usually changes). I tend to ‘overbuild’ so I don’t have to do repairs — I’d
rather be making a new item!

4. For the crafty types out there, do you have any advice on working with vinyl in craft projects? Any great tips to share?

Vinyl is pretty easy to work by hand and a lot of leather tools (punches, snap setters) work great for vinyl and similar materials. If you are going to try to sew vinyl, know the limits of your sewing machine (some can handle it, others do better with lighter materials or the timing gets thrown off) because repairs can get pricey. Hand sewing with glovers needles (have sharpened tips that pierce) and a thimble works great as well. Think about how you will use the item — would that cuff bracelet be more comfortable backed in felt? Will the snaps or rivets need reinforcement?

5. Austin seems like the place where all the cool happenings are going on. Are you a native Texan? What’s your favorite thing to do in Austin?

You can see live music every night (and good bands!) and there is so much crafty stuff (Stitch, Blue Genie Bazaar, Moxie, Parts and Labour, Future Craft Collective, Austin Craft Mafia etc.) Great breakfast tacos! And it’s a pretty vegetarian-friendly place. I grew up in Japan and the midwest, but I’ve been in Austin for more than 20 yrs, minus one year I lived in Japan. I love hanging out with my hubby and son, biking, gardening or going to the park or pool, or working on house or craft projects together.

6. For a lot of creative types, the hard part is not creating, but actually marketing their items and getting their stuff out there in stores or online. How do you market your vinyl goods? Tips?

It used to be much harder I think before etsy and blogs. You had to build your own website and buy advertising, or swap links and banners and promo goods if you had crafty peers. Try different methods, and see what gives you the biggest return. Look at your web traffic logs. Ask customers how they found you. Build a good mailing list, become part of a supportive peer community, there are more people selling their crafts online so marketing is important to get notices and stand out. Keep trying different things!

7. I need that Skull Wallet!! So, where can people visit you online and/or buy your stuff?!

Online I have some at, and In Austin I always recommend Moxie and Sparks, great for local flavor. I also participate in a few shows each year: handmade austin women, blue genie bazaar, stitch, austin city limits. I hope to finish the packaging for my kits, start wholesaling again, and have some special items on Etsy once things settle down a bit.

Thanks so much, Jenifer, for sharing with us! Fun and Inspiring!

More Dabbled Interviews:
Dave Gugel (Halloween)
Naomi Henderson (Cupcakes)
Cory Godbey (Author/Artist)
Shannon Riffe (Silkscreening Entrepreneur)
Diana Evans (Artist)
Diane Gilleland (Crafter Extraordinaire)

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