Do you have a handmade business? You know that at Aeolidia we love creative handmade businesses that started with a fiery little spark in someone’s sewing room or garage. We’ve been celebrating these handcrafted businesses by learning a bit more about them, and getting tips for keeping a crafty business going, and even expanding it beyond what your two hands can do. This is an interview with Jessica Near, of children’s costume business, Opposite of Far.
Opposite of Far is a small operation that takes pride in carefully hand making high-quality items for children. Every single item is designed, cut, sewn, finished and packaged by Jessica Near, the creator and owner of Opposite of Far. Christina is Jessica’s right hand woman who helps with everything from cutting to shipping to sewing! Mike Near, Jessica’s husband, also helps with several steps of the process. During extremely busy times they are fortunate enough to have lots of family and friends who pitch in to help where they can!
What do you create and what makes it so special?
I make handmade felt animal masks, tails, ears, paws and more! My designs are 100% original, drawn by me to be recognizable as the animals they represent while still being soft and playful for children.
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 product is completely handmade. I hand draw my patterns and sew the majority of the pieces. My husband and friend/contractor do all the cutting and trimming. We’re a really small team working hard to create unique, high quality items for children!
Is it important to you that your product stays handmade, and why?
It is really important to me that Opposite of Far stays handmade! The reason is simple—there’s so much detail on every item and manufacturing would compromise those design details. I don’t want to make those changes because I believe those details are what make Opposite of Far special!
How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity? What propelled you forward and how did you know you’d “made it?”
I have been in business for almost 6 years! I can’t really pinpoint one thing that made me feel like I’d “made it” because there were several opportunities that propelled my business forward in significant ways.
One surreal moment was realizing I had more work than I could handle myself, that it was time to ask for/hire help in order to not only keep up with current orders but expand too! Renting my first studio was a big moment too. That made me feel really legit! ;) Seeing people share Opposite of Far all over Instagram, blogs, etc is always exciting- that never gets old!
Honestly, I’ve been amazed all along that that I’m making products people love so much! Instagram, Etsy, bloggers, magazines, etc have all aided in my popularity and my fans are incredibly supportive, I feel very lucky to have found my unique niche in the handmade world!!
Do you keep inventory of everything on hand, or is it made to order? How do you keep up with inventory for your shop?
Everything is still made to order! I say every year that I will build inventory, but with such a small team and steady orders year round, it’s nearly impossible to achieve any substantial inventory!
How have you adjusted pricing, process, and methods as your business grew, and how did that affect inventory and sales?
I started out at $5 per mask, but as my designs evolved and I grew my team I realized my products needed to reflect the work being put into making them! I do try to keep my prices low because I want Opposite of Far to be affordable so my products can reach more children.
It’s so important to place value on your work. I’m only charging for the actual product I make, which doesn’t take into account all the time I spend marketing, managing my website, answering emails, researching, designing, purchasing supplies and materials, shipping, organizing, and all the other day to day tasks outside of production time.
Being handmade doesn’t automatically mean a product is high quality, but I firmly believe that once people hold a high quality handmade item in their hands they know exactly why it is priced higher than cheaply made products.
Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you spend on marketing or promotional work?
Almost all of my promotion is on Instagram. I recently started a Facebook group for my fans too (The Opposite of Far Imaginears Club). I set aside time each week to create flat lays to post on Instagram that include Opposite of Far products along with other handmade/small shop items for cross-promotion. I also love working with brands and photographers to organize photo shoots. My handmade/small shop community is invaluable to me!
At the beginning of 2016 I moved my website to Shopify and couldn’t be happier! I like to send out a postcard/coupon with every order, so I spend a couple hours every other month or so designing a new card to include in packages.
I notice that you do collaborations with other makers. Could you share with us how some of those relationship began, how your promote each other’s work, and how that has grown your business?
I admire a lot of hand made makers and find so much inspiration in people creating unique items! I have a million ideas swimming in my head at all times, but I can’t possibly do everything myself. And why would I do something myself when I know other talented people could work with me to create something extra special?!
Usually, I will approach the maker with an idea/s and we will begin brainstorming to make the collaboration really amazing! I think collaborating is really important in the handmade community where you often hear of people stealing designs or products rather than creating something unique. If we work together we can combine our talents and make the absolute best of each unique product to offer to our fans! Team work, integrity, originality… these traits benefit every small handmade business and the people who shop with us!
What do you like about how you sell your handmade goods? What about your selling process is not ideal for you?
I love seeing children playing, being silly, reading books, enjoying and imagining with Opposite of Far! I don’t like that I can’t just give everything away for free! haha. Customer service can be really hard. I am a pleaser; I don’t want anyone to be upset with me, my products, my service, my turn-around time, anything! I struggle with saying no and respecting my own boundaries.
But these things make me real and people really do respond well to seeing the REAL (flawed, sensitive, sincere, caring) person behind a business. I’ve had so many customers thank me for “personally responding” to them. As hard as it is to wear every hat behind this business, I can’t imagine it any other way. That personal touch is an integral part of what Opposite of Far stands for! Really, I just love seeing families playing together, that’s the best part of the whole process!
Is your business financially sustainable?
Yes! We do have a busy season and less busy season, but the business is sustainable!
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?
If you had asked me a year ago my answer would have been “BIGGER! BIGGER! BIGGER!” But 2016 has made me re-evaluate for personal reasons and now my answer is “I’m not entirely sure where I see Opposite of Far in the next few years!” We’re definitely not going anywhere, but I may slow down a little in order to make a really good plan for the next few years. I would love for Opposite of Far to include more focus on the importance of play, more family outreach and more options for everyone interested in including Opposite of Far in their play, parties, costumes, etc!
What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers?
First of all, be sure you’re doing this because you LOVE it! Find something unique that is meaningful to you in some way because that is the only way to sustain a successful business. Find a community of makers and small business owners so you can share sources, ask advice, lift each other up, commiserate and support! This community will be your backbone!
Thank you so much, Jessica!
Dear reader, are you a product designer, handmade business, or creative shop owner looking for a community? May I suggest the Aeolidia Biz Tips group on Facebook? We would love to have you. All of our newsletter subscribers get invited to the group, invited to our members’ area (which is jam-packed with tools to help you grow your business), and get my very best and timeliest tips delivered personally. Join below: