If you’ve been following our latest features, you know we love to get the behind the scenes story on our members. When we first connected with Ali of Happy Fox Studio for her directory listing last year, we knew her one of a kind reclaimed jewelry would be perfect for our fall lookbook, too. Running a business where your product is based on original and possibly irreplicable materials poses its own unique set of challenges and rewards. We caught up with Ali to learn more about what that entails, see how she sells her pieces on social media, and snagged a few handmade business tips, too.
Handmade necklace with a secondhand stone and reclaimed chain.
What led you to choose reclaimed materials for your jewelry? Can you share more about discovering and sourcing those materials?
I’ve been using reclaimed materials for my pieces since I started almost ten years ago. My first pieces were upcycled from vintage electrical resistors! A very large portion of my time is spent finding and deconstructing materials. I find them at thrift shops, estate sales, sometimes people even bring old broken pieces to markets I am at and leave them for me to reuse. Not only do I feel like I’m doing the right thing for the environment (~95% of my necklace materials + 60% of earring materials are reclaimed or secondhand), it’s also wonderfully challenging + rewarding from a creative perspective.
Secondhand chalcedony on a reclaimed chain.
Shoppers can find your jewelry via your Instagram shop or in stores. Talk about the process of working with brick & mortar shops versus selling via social media.
Selling on social media is interesting–it’s very straightforward. Someone sees it, likes it, buys it. So simple! Except that I have to frequently adjust the way I approach Instagram because they often change the “algorithm”, affecting who sees my posts. Even if you aren’t concerned at all with gaining new followers, there is still a need to stay up to date, or you can lose longtime followers because (to them) you disappeared. Selling in stores is its own challenge. Sometimes setting up a wholesale relationship takes three days or a year. I never know. I also don’t know which stores will be major sellers. A lot of it comes down to the display choices shops make, which I only have a little control over. As a very small business not looking to expand rapidly, I get to be really picky about where my pieces are sold. But it is definitely exciting that my pieces are in 10 shops from Juneau, AK to Seattle, WA to Reno, NV to Bordentown, NJ.
Hand bent earrings with new wire and reclaimed amazonite.
Can you share about your decision to keep your business small and local, rather than scaling up?
There are several issues that influence my decision to stay small. The first is that I can currently work with just the support of my husband, rather than paying for childcare for my young kids. That would add a level of cost that I am not sure I am ready to pass on to my customers! The other is that I source everything myself. If I scale up, can I do that? Can I still spend 20 minutes deconstructing an old necklace that cost $4 when could buy the useful pieces for $10 instead? I get a little bummed when I consider the option of deconstruction and reconstruction not being integral to my business model. As I mentioned before, the materials I find often drive new designs, so that would be missing as well if I scaled up far enough. I sell at around 6-8 markets and pop ups every year. If I did more than that, would I resent that time away from my family, instead of being invigorated by if? I guess the simple answer is that keeping my business on the smaller side meets my current needs. When both of my kids are in school–well, that will be a whole new set of issues to consider.
One of a kind necklace with secondhand kyanite, reclaimed chain and upcycled metal elements.
How did you get involved with the handmade scene in your area? How do you connect with other independent makers or creative people?
I meet a lot of local makers at events–even if I am not selling I like to try to shop local and handmade. I also get quite a few locals starting out asking for advice about markets and social media, so I do a bit of mentoring and planning with other makers. I’ve also organized several maker markets. I wanted to feature new artists along with long running businesses. I also wanted my events to feature only handmade sellers. I find it disconcerting to go to a farmer’s market or art festival and see direct sales happening. I also organize an annual youth maker market. Each one of my markets is free, benefits a local charity, is family friendly and has free food. I call the style “market and mingle” because I want people meeting and chatting and being happy–not just popping in, buying a mug and heading out.
One of a kind necklace with a silver hoop deconstructed from an old necklace paired with vintage turquoise and a reclaimed chain.
Any tips for growing your Instagram as a handmade business?
The #1 suggestion I would give is to be yourself. My business is as successful as it is in just a few years of ramping up, because my desire to impact the world resonates with people. I am getting more comfortable with sharing my hopes, dreams, concerns and process with my followers. And it really seems to be working well. The brands that I love to follow have a unique perspective or aesthetic and share ideas and events. If you want to sell directly from Instagram, it’s a little tricky, but try to focus 80% on the materials, ideas and process and 20% on selling. I never post ‘for sale, $25.’ I post a few sentences about where the materials are from, what they remind me of, the length of the necklace, etc. Then I put the price at the end. Which means that people scrolling through my feed won’t see dollar signs unless they click on the post. If you can share your story and balance that with sales, you’ll do well. Also, be patient! Instagram represented 30% of my sales within a year of me starting my account, but that’s not typical.
Big thanks to Ali for all this insight and valuable Instagram + handmade business tips! See more of our shop owner q+a’s here.