Tell us a bit about yourself.
Annie is my real name, not a nickname. I love creating and working with my hands. I adore working from home and being my own boss. The need to craft and create greatly outweighs the annoyance of having the smallest workspace possible in my Brooklyn apartment.
I started Gift Shop Brooklyn in July of 2011, almost a year ago. I decided on this name because I wanted something simple and literal. I also wanted a name that was not specific to any one item, giving me the freedom to carry different items in the future – if that’s where the future takes me.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My husband Alex and I like to make big dinners on the weekends, usually including a platter of cheese and wine. I take way too many pictures of my cats, Murray Hewitt and Sophia Petrillo. I love baking. Selling cookies on Etsy was my plan B if selling bags was unsuccessful. My procrastination time consists of researching and/or purchasing vintage items on Etsy, spending way too much time on the Internet, and watching cooking shows.
What would be the title of your memoir?
All I Ever Have To Be. When I was little, my mom was always listening to Amy Grant. One song stayed with me through the years: All I ever have to be is what you’ve made me. It sounds so simple, yet it’s so hard to stay true to oneself amid all the distractions of this world. I still play this song over and over. I even chose it for my mom to sing at my wedding. I love how it reminds me to be myself and stay true to myself wherever I am, whatever I am doing.
Where does your inspiration come from?
In my opinion, color makes or breaks an item. Color is so influential; it’s usually the first thing that catches our eye and it makes us stop and take a second look at an item. Nature goes along with color. I mean, nature is giving us all the answers when it comes to design, color combinations, and texture combinations. I get so inspired when my husband and I go for walks on the beach. Cobalt blue and violet shells next to the camel-colored sand and burnt orange dune shrub: so amazing!
I always design by color. I go to my suppliers with no agenda, choosing fabrics and leathers that speak to me at that time. I like this process, because I never know what I’m going to be attracted to; sometimes I surprise myself. However, whatever the print or texture, my decisions are more often than not based on color.
What does handmade mean to you?
I grew up in a household where handmade was a way of life. Both of my parents are designers/artists. They have an immense appreciation for antiques and quality handmade items. I grew up watching them make items, or use the resources they had available before running out to purchase a mass-market item. When I want a change or something new, it’s only natural for me to first see what I can do with resources I already have. It’s this type of critical thinking and resourcefulness that I learned from them. I believe it helps me as a designer and helps me to be happy and content as a person, too.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My husband. Before I even opened a store, I started having doubts. I felt the items I made were not as unique, well made or appealing as I originally thought. I wanted to quit, but he talked me out of it. In the beginning, especially, he would come home from work and have to basically talk me off a ledge.
Now that I am more stable and secure in my new business, I have design meetings with the poor guy as soon as he walks in the door. He is a designer as well, with a great eye. I’m always asking, ‘‘Does this look cool? Does this look stupid? Does this look amateur?’’ He doesn’t know too much about handbags, but he always finds time to give me a design critique, even after he’s worked all day. If it weren’t for my husband, I would not have been able to take this chance on turning my passions and projects into a business.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
It was my first year in college. I hadn’t decided on a major yet, and all of my classes were just general education. It was the first time in my life I wasn’t in an art class of some sort. Though it was subconscious at first, I felt so pent up creatively. I would make all these items to decorate my dorm room and elaborate cards for holidays and occasions, rather than working on my real homework. That is when I really knew creating was a true passion and would be a part of my daily life forever.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Leonardo da Vinci. I started to become interested in him when I was in my teens. After I discovered him in an encyclopedia, I fell in love with his delicate yet powerful painting and sketches. I mean, would anyone not want to watch this genius at work?
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
There’s really no way to answer this. I feel so blessed to have a family filled with artists. Ever since I can remember, I have been surrounded with handmade items. As a child I took it for granted, of course — my mom sewing outfits for me, and my dad building custom shelves and furniture in my bedroom. Now, as an adult, I can truly appreciate and see the real value of handmade. I have at least one handmade item given to me by every person in my family. I cherish them all equally.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I try not to force myself to design, because the result always looks well, forced. I have yet to experience a creative rut — I think because I try and am interested in so many things. If one aspect isn’t working for me, I move on to something else for a while.
I do this thing that can feel like a rut. I will make a prototype and like it, but then feel like “that was too easy.” I analyze it to death, trying to make it better and end up not liking it. I get frustrated for wasting time and materials. Ultimately, I return to the first prototype – my original instinct. I’ve started to catch myself before I go through the cycle. I’m trying to trust my first instinct and accept the fact that sometimes it does work on the first try.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
Wherever makes me happy at that time. Right after college, I truly realized there are so few things you can count on or plan for – I guess you could call this growing up. So many random things happen, things you would never have expected. Since then, I have stayed true to the belief that things happen for a reason, and if you live your life in a positive, forward direction, the universe will work in your favor and you will be happier knowing it’s what’s meant to be.