My name is Heather Shaw, and I’m the owner of p i’ l o. I’ve been making things and selling my work since art school – 20+ years! I live in Toronto, Ontario, and I work out of a coach house studio in my backyard that once housed a sausage factory.
I always knew I would do something creative, but in the beginning, I wasn’t totally clear on what that would be. I learned how to sew when I was quite young, and I made things all the time…some things better than others. I dabbled in a lot of different mediums before eventually heading off to the Emily Carr College of Art and Design. While my fellow students made conceptual pieces and dug deep into themselves, I was showing up to sculpture class with hats I had sewn, which the professors weren’t really sure what to do with. And so I went from one coast to the other, switching schools to attend the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. There they had a craft department, which meant I was able to spend all day studying ceramics and textiles. It was a great fit for me.
One summer during college, I split my time between making things and driving to craft fairs all over Ontario in my old Volkswagen van. I learned quickly that some venues were better than others; eventually, when the summer ended, I was making and selling so many items that it became difficult to do school, too. My solution for this was to convince my professors to let me do a large show here in Toronto as an independent study. I used my studio space in the school for production, and I hired fellow students to help me out. In the end, I did finish my Fine Art degree, but by then, p i’ lo was already well underway. I am always grateful that it started out this way.
My workspace has evolved over the years – from my parents’ basement, to the living rooms of my rented apartments, to a cool warehouse studio in downtown Toronto, to the old coach house behind the house I live in now. Today, my studio has a skylight and a washroom for cold days, when I don’t want to run into the house to clean up. It’s situated in an alley, so customers and couriers don’t have to go into the house. The space is very special to me – it has allowed for me to simultaneously work and raise a family (my boys are ten and twelve now); years ago, I would have the baby monitor on while they napped, and today, I package things while the dinner cooks.
My workspace isn’t the only thing that has evolved over the years – as my life and needs have changed, my line has, too. Through it all, I’ve always believed that if I make something that I want to use or have in my home, there are probably other people out there who want something similar. I’ve always loved collecting supplies, and having a lot on hand to work with at any given time. Just seeing them around the studio can be very inspiring. I’ve also always loved making a lot of the same item, which is a good thing in this business, especially when it comes to large wholesale orders. It’s like baking.
Over the years, I’ve found that my sketchbook is coming out less and less as the days of ripping ideas out of magazines and drawing has been replaced with a never-ending supply of digital imagery. I learn and get a lot of inspiration from collecting vintage supplies and vintage textile pieces. I used to travel a lot, though I’ve found that harder to do with children. The great thing about Etsy is how it allows people, especially women and mothers, the opportunity to do what they love and to continue parenting. E-commerce was so daunting in the beginning, but Etsy made it easy to sell and connect with great people who appreciate handmade. This platform allows business models to be more organic and less linear. Here’s to another twenty years of making and selling on Etsy as my life evolves and changes further. I know there will be people along for the ride with me.
Maker photographs by Donna Griffith Photographs; thread photos by Erin Riley; all other photos by p i’ l o.