It’s very encouraging to see some of the larger chain stores collaborating with handcrafters to design products for them – especially when you commonly see news of chains infringing on the copyright of independent designers.
The Land of Nod is one of those shining examples of a company that searches out creative talent, and works directly with them. Really a cool company, and it’s fun to see designers that I know when I browse their shop.
I’ve admired Hi Tree, Tina Rodas’ handmade children’s decor and accessories brand, for years. Tina’s stuffed creations are sold at the Land of Nod, and I recently asked Tina about how that came about, and how it has worked out for her.
What do you create and what makes it so darn special?
I design and make woodland themed children’s toys and textiles. I think they’re special because they are different, made in my own unique style with only the best materials.
Is your product entirely handmade? Could you describe who makes your product and how? How has that changed over the life of your business?
My products are entirely handmade by me. At busy times of the year I have my wonderful assistant Jenny who comes in and helps me with everything from printing tags to sewing and stuffing. I don’t know what I would do without her. Over the years I’ve mostly hired seasonal help as most of the time I can handle the work load myself.
You have designed some products for the Land of Nod. How did that collaboration come about?
It happened like most fairy tales begin, you know…through Instagram. I found the managing director Michelle through a mutual friend also named Michelle, followed her (at the time I think she had about 200 followers.) About 20 minutes after I followed her, I got a Instagram notification that she had followed me back and commented on one of my photos asking if I wanted to work together. The rest is history!
Have you designed products for any other stores or brands?
I’ve never designed for any other brands but I have sold my designs wholesale to a few larger retailers.
What surprised you the most about designing toys for a large chain store?
How easy it was! Seriously, they are wonderful to work with. They told me what type of product they had in mind and I worked with one of their in-house designers to design the final product for production in their factories in India. Which was very helpful, I don’t have a lot of experience designing for large scale production.
What has been the best thing about having your designs in the Land of Nod stores and catalog?
That I don’t have to make any of it myself! The exposure has been great too. They do a nice job of promoting their designers.
Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you put into marketing or promotional work?
Mostly through social media and a lot of word of mouth. Having my designs in a wide variety of retail stores helps a lot. I sell online through Etsy and I do 4-6 retail shows per year.
Is your business financially sustainable?
In its current state it is but if I want to grow at all I’ll need to restructure. I’m working on planning phase two of hi tree growth now.
How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it small? Would you like to expand? If so, how?
For the last few years I have intentionally kept my business small with the intention of growing it when I’m ready, there are still a few things I need to in order to jump to the next level.
What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers?
Don’t be afraid to change your business! It’s easy to get stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes it’s good to step back and re-evaluate.
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The difference between a website or a brand identity that’s executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It’s another 100%.
A lot of brands will go to 90%. They’ll do pretty good photos. But it’s the brands that have knock your socks off photos that really get your attention. It’s the brands that have really taken the time to craft that brand story and build a really welcoming About page that’s a rallying cry to join them in whatever they believe about the world. Those are the ones that get our attention.
— Lela Barker
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