Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
The name Monster Kookies is a simple summary within itself, really: it’s the fusion of cutesy, creepy, and delicious. Some of my first clay creations started out as food and then warped into something strange, like my tentacle cupcake – one of the first polymer clay pieces that really got the ball rolling. The reaction I got to it fueled the fire for more crazy creations like the Killer Cupcake and Intestine Cupcakes.
There have been many strange reactions from people over the years. I once had someone run away from my table setup yelling “eeeeew” and flailing their arms because they saw some of my Intestine Cupcakes. I found it pretty entertaining.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
When I finished chef school, I thought about going back to the kitchen, but I really didn’t like the “go-go-go! get it out, get it out!” pace, not to mention the hours and strange scheduling. Not being able to hang out with your friends when they are out and about on the weekend or not being able to get together with the family on holidays can be a real downer.
At the same time, I started dabbling in polymer clay. At first, I sold only to friends and family, but then a friend told me about Etsy and said that I should check it out. I did, eventually. It took a month or two to make my first sale, but getting the word out there on DeviantArt and Facebook definitely helped motivate me. People really had a lot to say about it, and I even developed a small following. So I kept it up, and practiced my fingers off.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
I didn’t prepare. It was like being at the pool and having someone come along and throw you into the deep end when you don’t know how to swim. I learned everything from trial and error. It wasn’t easy at first, and there were definitely months when I called my parents hoping that they might help me make the rent. I am very thankful for that. I definitely hated asking for the help, though. I’ve always been stubborn and independent. Regardless of whether or not people thought this was a “real job,” I was going to do it, even if I had to live on sardines and crackers to get there.
Living a relatively cheap lifestyle helped. Renting an all-inclusive hole-in-the-wall down the street from a cheap market made things a lot easier. I did a lot of walking, and I used public transit. I didn’t have any expensive habits, and my hobby was also my income. I got by. Barely – but I got by.
What is your favorite part in the jewelry making process?
The detail work. Whether it is all the little rivets, textures and panelling that it takes to create an industrial piece, or adding all of the little suction cups to colourful tentacles. My favourite is probably gear work, even though it is the most time consuming. I’ve got a large metal tin box that contains one or two pounds of watch parts that I have collected. I bend the light at my desk as close to the work surface as possible and get out the tweezers. One by one (as I go cross-eyed), I place the gears and watch parts onto the painted clay, trying to get it so the gears and parts actually look like they could possibly function. It’s very therapeutic, I think.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
It goes in phases. The most consistently popular would probably be Barbed Rosette and Fabricated Heartbeat – two hearts from my Industrial Heart Collection. But then the Mechanical Birdies, Steambunnehs, and MechOwlies (especially) are also picking up steam.
When I started making my industrial pieces almost four years ago, I had not heard of “steampunk,” until someone described one of my creations that way. I had to look it up. I’m sure the increasing popularity of steampunk has something to do with the popularity of some of my creations.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
Technically, I still consider it a day job. When my fiancé gets up to go to work, I get up to go to my clayspace. When he’s finished at five, that’s when I stop. What I like the most, though, is that it’s flexible. If I want to go somewhere on a particular day, I usually can – I don’t need to ask for a day off. Of course, the fact that I don’t have to get all pretty and dressed up for work is also a bonus. I sometimes wander right from bed straight to the clayspace, and I think that’s definitely nice. No commute!
What are your best marketing tips?
- Sometimes the best kind of marketing is good old fashioned word of mouth. Make a few specific pieces of jewellery for yourself, wear them on a regular basis, and then carry a bunch of business cards with you wherever you go. Chances are that the people who compliment your jewellery may be interested (or know someone who may be interested) in purchasing something like it.
- On Etsy, it’s vital that you have clear photos that depict the details of your work and use good tags/keywords for each listing.
- Picking one or two websites to post on frequently and consistently is good. If you post on a whole range of sites, I find that the quality of the posts tends to suffer. Pick a few and keep at it. Schedule it if you must – pick a certain day or time that you post, and stay on it. I used to post on a number of sites, but now I just keep it to my two favourites – DeviantArt and Facebook.
What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?
I find that people really like to hear the stories behind the things that I make. For example, in my Industrial Heart Collection, each original design was created for a particular individual. I like to tell people where the idea came from, what sort of concept I was working around, and most importantly, who it was made for. I can’t even begin to tell you the stories I have heard from folks who have requested hearts and the reasons why they want to purchase one. Some of them have been amazing and others have been heartbreaking, but they’ve all been stories that are worth sharing.
I developed a large following in the beginning because I shared these stories on DeviantArt, where pictures are paired with descriptions. People started watching me because they were interested in the stories behind the pieces. I don’t make as many Industrial Heart designs as I used to (I am up to over 140 now), but the stories are still there, being read about.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Only having two hands. My busiest time of year is usually around late October to the end of January, when people are buying gifts. Sometimes the amount of orders can be overwhelming, especially when the amount of time involved in creating each piece is quite substantial.
There will be slow days, and sometimes you’ll start to wonder if there is something wrong. But that’s just the way of it – sometimes it’s slow, and other times it isn’t. When you make unique items, you need to stay consistently creative in order to keep people interested. If you don’t come up with new ideas on a regular basis, people can get bored, and suddenly you will be yesterday’s news. That can be a little draining, so it’s good to take a break once in a while, even if it’s through some sort of other outlet. My other outlet is chainmaille. I enjoy the repetition, and it requires more manual dexterity than creativity, so it gives the brain a rest for a little while.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s come of selling your designs on Etsy?
About a year ago, my work was published in 1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Art & Gear by Dr. Grymm and Barbe Saint John. This August, my work will be featured in Steampunk: A Complete Guide to Victorian Techno-Fetishism by Vienna Von Schwarz.
It’s also very exciting is to be sitting behind your table at a craft show and hear people tell you that they visit your Etsy shop on a regular basis. Meeting customers in person is exciting, especially when they are wearing the item you created just for them.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
- There are about a billion people creating jewelry. In order to be successful, you need to do something that sets you apart from everyone else. You need to have that extra detail that makes people stop in their tracks and go, “Oh, that looks interesting!” If you can’t make it bigger or more elaborate than anyone else, then find a way to do it better.
- Take a walk. Getting away from the workspace can definitely be good for the brain juices. If you’re home all by yourself all day, it can get very lonely. Take time to see your friends. Do something for yourself. Even getting yourself a part-time gig or volunteer position can be good for getting out of the house.
- Be prompt and be friendly. If someone messages you, don’t let it sit for a week – people get really discouraged. Answer all their questions, be kind and considerate, and be polite. Yes, sometimes people will ask you the same questions over and over again or get a little short with you if they are on a deadline or something, but just keep your cool and handle it with care.
- Take a look at what is selling and what isn’t. Think of ways to make the items that aren’t selling better. There are tons of tutorials and information all over the place to educate yourself in areas that you may not specialize in. Descriptive writing and product photography are some good examples.
Anything else you would like to share?
Make sure that you take care of yourself. Sometimes the hours in owning your own shop can be long and draining, and once you’re in work mode, you may not stop until you’re finished. Take time to eat, get out of the house, spend time with friends and family, sleep, and just get away from the workspace. It’s worth it. You aren’t going to be up to your full potential if you let yourself fall between the cracks.