Handmade Omaha

Friday, November 20, 2015

When I was approached by Handmade Omaha to help spread the word about their next show, I was super excited. This is an event that I already loved supporting and attending. The Handmade Omaha show is run by a group of Omaha artists that create handmade crafts, art and artisanal goods. Their goal is to put on two curated shows per year and create a network that fosters support and encourages creativity. This year's winter show features 27 different vendors and will take place on November 28th and 29th at 10th and Bancroft. 

I asked the 10 makers that I interviewed the same four questions and I hope you enjoy reading about what made them want to start their business and their sound advice on just starting out. Some of the makers I know well and a few were new to me. I can't say enough about all the talented folks in the Omaha area. I also hope that this inspires you, wherever you live, to think about shopping small and local this holiday season. There are so many businesses and creative folks that would greatly appreciate your support. 


Confession: I have have Kiss Sticks from Black Iris Botanticals in my handbag, on my nightstand and in my top bathroom drawer. I fell in love with them last year and have been using them ever since. Black Iris' creator, Chelsea Taxman, consciously creates beauty and wellness products in small batches using raw, local foraged and grown ingredients. Her array of products include Beard Balm, Healing Salve and Rose Toner. 

What I'll be checking out:  The new Nebraska Balm! 

What inspired you to start your business? Black Iris Botanicals started as a partnership between my childhood friend, Mallory Finch and me. We wanted to develop a safe and nourishing line of products for our own bodies, family members and friends. In the Omaha market, it was hard to find simple and locally-sourced items in 2012, so we were inspired and motivated to develop something people could trust. There are so many products on the market that we liked to use, but we didn’t like the mission or sourcing of the ingredients by the various brands. In addition to selling our products, Mallory and I wanted to teach workshops and share our knowledge with the community. I still offer some basic workshops on herbal infusions, DIY homemade body care and plant identification in the wild. Now I run the business alone, but our shared interest in botany and health still run through the production of the items.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Make sure you’re in love with what you’re doing, because starting your own small business is a big commitment and there are many aspects of the business that aren’t as romantic as it seems. You really have to put yourself out there in front of the public when it’s time to sell. It’s easy to feel scared or discouraged, but if you remember how much you love what you’re doing and believe in the product, it gets easier.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items are you bringing? The most popular items have always been the {kiss sticks} available in a variety of shades. They will be available at Handmade Omaha as singles and packaged sets. In addition to the popular herbal-healing salves {four sisters}, {jointment} and {working hands}, men’s facial hair items like {beard balm} and {‘stache wax}, I’m excited to bring {Nebraska Balm} moisturizer to the event for the first time! This pump lotion features so many Nebraska-sourced ingredients and it is scented with rosemary for a neutral fragrance the whole family can enjoy.

Where else are your items sold?
Omaha Whole Living
Paradigm Gardens
Jane's Health Market
Omaha Bicycle Company
Provisions by The Grey Plume
Website:  www.blackirisbotanicals.com

Photo courtesy of Mindful American

Photo courtesy of Ariel Fried Photography


Andrew Kingsbury is an Iowa-based designer who uses vintage and discarded materials to create one of a kind accessories. His pieces feature items such as spoons, keys, leather, coins and tokens that are then made into cuffs, necklaces, rings and bracelets. Combining his love of history and collecting, Andrew has been creating Decadence pieces for over 10 years. 

What I'll be checking out: Being a born and raised Iowa girl, I'm all about the brass Iowa necklace. 

What inspired you to start your business? I’ve always been a gatherer of things and love the idea of curating found objects into collections. I’m also very fascinated by history and the relics that we as a society used but then discarded or stopped using one way or another.

When I was a kid my parents would drag me along to thrift stores and flea markets and I started to draw a lot of inspiration from pieces that I discovered in places like that. Early on in my business I began taking pieces I would collect from thrift store hunts and reconstructed them into accessories for myself. The first accessories I sold publicly were big chunky watches I made out of materials like aluminum roof flashing, vintage neckties, and western belts. It has always been my goal to use unconventional and discarded objects and make them work as functional wearable pieces.

After I got married I began making accessories for my wife which pushed me to expand my product line beyond accessories geared mostly towards men. At that point people started to really respond to the work I was doing which encouraged me to grow and refine my products and skills. I am always on the lookout for new relics or designs to draw inspiration from and I am now the one dragging my son to thrift stores and flea markets.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Work hard and don’t give up. Owning and starting a small business essentially means you are an army of one. I sort of live by the question, “If I don’t do it, how else will it get done?” That thought keeps me motivated to push through even when I might not feel like working. It’s a ton of work but very satisfying too. You get really good at figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how to streamline certain processes.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? I’ll be bringing classic pieces like my leather cuffs embellished with found relics, bangle bracelets made out of 100 year old folding carpenter rulers, and rings made out of buffalo nickels.

I’ll also have a few new items that I have been experimenting with this year: bracelets made out of spoon handles, thin leather bracelets that feature vintage flat keys, and rings made from antique arcade tokens.

Where else are your items sold? Right now the best place to buy Decadence pieces is at events like Handmade Omaha. For a full schedule of events that I will be at this year you can visit:
Etsy:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/DecadenceStyle
Website:  www.decadencejewelry.com

Photos courtesy of Andrew Kingsbury 


Friends Trilety Wade and Megan Thomas, started their bakery in 2010. Two Birds Bakery is located in Elkhorn, Nebraska housed in an old post office on Main Street. Trilety and Megan serve up regular, vegan and gluten free treats, using locally sourced ingredients as much as often as possible. Some of their recipes have been passed down from their grandmothers and they feature treats named after friends and family members.

What I'll be checking out: If you know me, you know I love anything from a bakery. I'll be checking out all of it--especially the Hungarian Nut Roll.

What inspired you to start your business? As friends, we were inspired by a mutual interest and love of baking, as well as feeding loved ones with our baked goods.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Make a detailed business plan, including financial projections. Even if you don't stick to it, it is good to have it as a reference.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? We'll be bringing mainly our seasonal/holiday featured classic and vegan baked goods: Hungarian Nut Roll, Vegan Baklava, Egg Nog Muffins, Vegan Coffeecake Muffins, Vegan Scones, Vegan Peppermint Crinkle Cookies, and Frosted Sugar Cookies

Where else are your items sold?
Caffeine Dreams
Film Streams (concessions)
Omaha Bicycle Company (Wednesdays are called "Vegan Vednesdays")
Website:  www.twobirdsbakeryomaha.com

Photos courtesy of Megan Thomas


Josh Knutson carves spoons, sculptures, kuksas and serving boards from locally-sourced wood. Using traditional Scandinavian techniques, he creates heirloom pieces by hand. I purchased a couple of his spoons awhile back and love utilizing them in the kitchen. Each piece is so beautiful, you'll want to have them displayed in your kitchen at all times.

What I'll be checking out: The spoons--they're so gorgeous I just can't help myself. 

What inspired you to start your business? Two years ago I finished a large abstract sculpture that took me an entire summer to complete. More logs lay in my yard, but after laboring for months over a single piece and winter approaching, the idea of tackling another large work was unappealing. So, I switched to carving smaller items I could work on inside my home with ease, and it was rewarding accumulating finished works in a much shorter time frame. At first I was creating things for my own home, but amassed more than I needed for myself, and decided to open my own business.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Don’t undervalue your product. People sometimes have a tendency to look for a bargain, and give up quality in the process. I know, for example, some people will scoff at my prices, and think to themselves, I can go to blank store and buy the same thing for a few bucks. But it’s not the same thing. A factory made spoon doesn’t take into account the unique grain of each piece of wood, and organically build the shape of the curve to fit it. A factory made spoon doesn’t have the hand-made tool marks of a human being practicing a craft. Some people wouldn’t notice or care about these things, but other people look for beauty even in the simplest of things like a cooking utensil, and this is who I market to.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? I will be bringing spoons, kuksas (traditional drinking vessel of Laplanders), cutting boards, and a sculpture. I have recently started using more traditional Scandinavian carving processes, and will be selling these spoons for the first time.

Where else are your items sold?
The Faintest Breeze
Website:  www.madebyhumanstudios.com

Photos courtesy of Josh Knutson


Sandra Wendel's love for books led her to recycle unwanted books and give them new life as journals. She peruses library book and estate sales looking for everything from children's classics to Victorian novels with pastedown covers. Sandra then takes the books apart and rebinds them with high quality writing paper in fun, quirky colors. 

What I'll be checking out: A Goodnight Moon journal--it's one of my favorite children's books.  

What inspired you to start your business? I love books. I’m a book editor in real life. I saw bound book journals created from vintage books in a boutique a few years ago and said to myself, “I can make that.” And I actually did. I carefully selected books with amazing covers (that had no intrinsic value as a book) and used my friend’s industrial chopper. I purchased binders and stocked up on fine writing paper. I did my first craft show and sold a few journals. It was a terrible show, wrong venue for my work. But Jil from Handmade Omaha found me there and invited me to Handmade Omaha’s first show. Things took off from there, and I am indebted to her and the Handmade crew for allowing me to play with them year after year. I have no competition in this market, so people who are fascinated by book journals have become loyal, repeat customers. Whom I adore. This has become a hobby, as I say, “Seriously out of control.” I have books gathered from libraries and sales plus tons of pretty paper stacked in a warehouse and an entire room in my home filled with books in process.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Get sound advice from an accountant. Think about incorporating or forming your own LLC, and keep all your accounting separate from your household expenses and income. Start small with high expectations and go for your goal. Measure your success in joy and fun, not necessarily dollars.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? The attached photo shows some of the childhood classic books crafted into book journals that I have for the Handmade Omaha show. This year I have added some of those familiar black composition notebooks stuffed with crazy fun paper, BINGO card books, gameboard books including Ouija board and Monopoly and Clue, and a gazillion children’s classics found at the incredible book sales our libraries have.

Where else are your items sold?
This & That & Other Stuff 
Cape Coddle
Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/WriteOnInc

Photos courtesy of Sandra Wendel 


Ali Clark crafts her sweet treats during the colder months in small batches using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Caramels are her specialty, and she learned her recipe from her grandfather who would make them during long Wisconsin winters. Ali loves sharing her sweets with others and enjoys spending time in the kitchen experimenting with recipes. Read below for a sneak peek on what else she'll be bringing to Handmade Omaha. 

What I'll be checking out: Tea cookies! 

What inspired you to start your business? Since I was little, I have always enjoyed cooking and creating. I have a deep love for food and it's capacity to bring people together and cultivate community. While visiting for Thanksgiving some years back, my grandpa shared his family recipe for caramels with me that he had been making since I was young. It sparked an excitement in me that has snowballed into Snowshoe Candy Co. I began making the caramels and sharing them as gifts with my friends and family. Each year, I became more and more adventurous with my candy making and my friends and family urged me to start selling them. When a dear friend of mine suggested we extend our farmer's market season (I am a vegetable farmer during the growing season), with her stationary and my candies, I decided to take the leap and begin sharing my candies with a larger audience! It was met with such positivity and excitement that it has encouraged me to continue my exploration of candies and sweets. I look forward to continuing to share my candies with others, and all the stories that come with it.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Start with something you love! There will be times when the tedious nature of what once started as a hobby or "just something fun you do in your free time" will wear on you and make you question why you are doing it at all. It is as those times that you can remind yourself of why you love what you are doing and you can keep on going! I love the nature of sharing sweets with others and sharing their enjoyment. I love the way candy at the holidays evokes so many family memories of traditions. And I love exploring new creative ways to incorporate locally unique ingredients, to create something that isn't available anywhere else. By loving these things, I can endure the hours and hours of wrapping caramels, the little burns from the sugar splatter, and the flopped batches of cookies.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? My staple candy is my caramels. They are what I started with and are a personal favorite! In addition, I'll have marshmallows, nut brittles, and tea cookies -- more staples of Snowshoe Candy Co. But one of my favorite things about participating in holiday fairs and events, is the opportunity to make single batch treats that are unique to that event. Stay tuned for what we will be bringing to the Handmade Omaha event!

Where else are your items sold?
Pulp Boutique
Website:  http://www.snowshoecandyco.com 

Photos courtesy of Ali Clark


Megan Griffiths utilizes her printmaking skills to create hand stamped cards and prints. Her cards include everything from puns to traditional holiday images, all of which are stamped onto acid free paper. An avid David Bowie fan, she even has a couple cards that give an ode to him. Megan has also started to incorporate larger prints into her collection and is always willing to collaborate on custom colors and designs. 

What I'll be checking out: The David Bowie Heroes card is one of my favorites but I'm a sucker for all of those dreamy holiday scenes. 

What inspired you to start your business? I moved to Omaha in January 2008, fresh out of graduate school and making less money than I was before I had my master's degree. So with student loans and having to live on my own for the first time, I was looking for a way to make a little extra money. A friend of mine had told me about Etsy, and that she had started selling small works of art. That led me to start thinking of what I could make to sell. I had taken a printmaking class at the museum where I used to work, and thought I could make linoleum print cards because they would be 1) fun, 2) inexpensive to make, 3) easily reproducible. I started out with a few designs and got involved with the Omaha Craft Mafia to start selling. Seven years later, I’m still doing it! 

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Start small! Make a few things really well and expand from there. At my first show, I had prints, cards, photos, knitted items, and even some poorly sewn handbags. It was a mess! But my cards sold well, so I narrowed my focus to cards and just produced more designs. In the last year, I’ve expanded to larger prints and some ornaments around the holidays, but keeping it all print related.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? I’ll have lots of individual cards, and boxes of 10 holiday cards and 5 smaller thank you cards. I’ll also be selling larger matted prints and ornaments.

Where else are your items sold? If something isn’t listed, but you’ve seen it at a show, just email me or contact me through the shop and I can make sure it gets listed.
Lux Center for the Arts
Pulp Boutique
Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/WryGoods

Photos courtesy of Megan Griffiths 


Kristi Schmit creates hand painted wooden home decor. She uses recycled wood scraps whenever possible and hand cuts and paints every piece without the use of lasers. She seeks inspiration from her everyday life, painting everything from butterflies to leaves to fish. Kristi loves custom orders and will even be personalizing ornaments at the show.

What I'll be checking out:  See that magnet set below? Bacon, eggs, donut?! I'm all about it! 

What inspired you to start your business? My husband, Jason, (who was just my boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to make a painted end table. He is a creative woodworker, and he helped me make the table. I had always enjoyed painting, but the excitement of that unique canvas inspired me to take my painting to the next level and look for different "canvases" rather than the traditional. I've been collecting wood slices, seashells, pieces of scrap wood, and other bits and bobbles to paint on ever since. Selling my work gives me an outlet for my creativity and gives me a little extra income to buy new paints and brushes!

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? The best advice I can give someone who wants to start their own business is to try new things. If something you're doing isn't working learn from the experience and persevere. I love looking back on my 'failed' projects and seeing how I've improved. There's no such thing as a failure if it teaches you something.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? I will be bringing my 5" wood slice paintings featuring trees, mountains, and woodland critters as well as an assortment of log slice Christmas ornaments and magnets. I will also be bringing a couple of new large size (about 12") wood slice paintings that I'm really excited to show off!

Where else are your items sold?
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/tangentsbyshs

Photos courtesy of Kristi Schmit


I'll try not to go on and on about my love for the Avocado Cream that Stacia Hoover whips up for her handmade vegan soap and bodycare company, Metta Handmade. Her products range from soaps to body creams and lotions to facial oil. All products are made in small batches using natural, sustainable and organic ingredients. 

What I'll be checking out:  Give me all of the Avocado Cream! The new soy candles sound great and her Rosemary Lavender soap is pretty dreamy too.

What inspired you to start your business? In short, frustration and allergies. I was spending more and more money and time trying to find products that my ultra sensitive skin would be happy with. Testing products can be an overwhelming endevour. Always a yogi, I started studying herbalism and reading labels. As a birthday gift to myself I purchased a Soap Making Starter Kit and loved it. I wanted to know more, to do more. My incredibly supportive husband encouraged me to go to NY and enroll in a 5 day, Bath and Body University. I studied and learned with people all over the world. It was empowering and eye opening from this knowledge Metta Handmade was born.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Starting a small business. Oh, my... patience and patience. Patience with yourself and patience with the process. Be kind to yourself and rejoice in every step. Staring a business can be a magnifying glass of insecurities. Breathe.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? Soapasaraus Rex and the Whooo Loves You? Soap sets. Lotions infused with Calendula. Creams with Argan oil. New this season, Soy Candles.

Where else are your items sold?
Jane's Health Market
True Blue Goods & Gifts
Essential Goods
Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/MettaHandmade 
Website:  http://mettahandmade.com/

Photo courtesy of Stacia Hoover


Joy O'Connor is a clay artist who hand cuts, smooths and paints her original designs creating jewelry, planters and ring cones. Many of her accessories come in quirky, fun color combinations with contrasting speckles. She's also a fan of brushing on 22 karat gold onto her earrings and ring cones. One of her most popular pieces is the Nebraska shaped necklace.

What I'll be checking out: I'm a big fan of her Slide-A-Bead necklace.

What inspired you to start your business? I am a clay artist of two years officially, though I've dabbled with different types of clay--from modeling to natural earthenware from my Grandpa's creek--since I was a little girl. I've always enjoyed doing something creative daily- from mosaic to beading to pen and ink. After becoming a mom I stopped taking time to create because I was busy caring for my daughter who was diagnosed with Autism at three years old. But after about five years of my only creative outlet being craft projects with her I got back into clay with my mother in law, Jane who is a potter of 40 years. Through helping her make small things I rediscovered how much an outlet like clay art in my life helped me to be a happier, better balanced individual. I made ornaments and posted them on Facebook and my friends went crazy for them so I put them in a shop (Aromas coffeehouse) in town and the business grew organically from there until I was in three stores in Omaha and two in Lincoln.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a small business? Make sure you are passionate about what it is you are doing or creating! Be confident in your product and put yourself out there--it never hurts to ask (in person!) if a store would be interested in carrying your things. Don't use the excuse that you're shy--take a friend who believes in you if necessary but do it.

What signature products/pieces are you bringing to Handmade Omaha? What new items will you be bringing? My signature pieces are State shaped pendant necklaces that are hand carved, glazed and kiln-fired, as well as hand carved stud earrings that are casual enough to go with any outfit, but can be dressed up as well. Some new were things that I will be bringing include Nebraska shape ornaments and ornate geometric brightly-threaded tasseled ornaments (my faves!), hanging planters in bright colors and speckles, and quirky chunky coffee scoops.

Where else are your items sold?
Home & Closet
Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/earthenjoy
Website:  shopearthenjoy.com

Photos courtesy of Brighten Photography


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