The Art of Whimsy

Thursday, November 05, 2015

There's no doubt that Rachel O's first lured me in with pizza and then donuts. I was introduced to Rachel Ourada and her accessories awhile back at a Handmade Omaha show. The amount of designs she has is overwhelming--in a good way. Flamingos, nerd girls, space men, skulls, bicycles, planet earth, rainbows, cacti, hamburgers... I think you get an idea of her range here. Currently, she has about 224 total designs. Rachel digitally creates each of these designs, transfers them onto custom fabric, and then into hair pins, necklaces, earrings, button badges and cuff links. When I asked her how long it took to figure out the process of printing her images onto the fabric, she laughed and didn’t hold back when saying it took lots of trial and error. In addition to accessories, she also crochets cacti and jackalopes. Yes, jackalopes.

Rachel grew up enjoying arts, crafts and all things vintage. The first thing she remembers making was a paper maché whale in art school. At five years old her aunt, who was blind, taught her how to crochet. Because her aunt never read patterns, Rachel didn't either. Anything she crochets is completely done in free form. After earning her BFA with a concentration in photography from Notre Dame, Rachel spent time in printmaking and original art reproduction and later finished her MBA from UNO. She started an Etsy shop in 2010. Then one day, Etsy featured one of her Christmas ornaments on its main page while she was working as a market manager for a small business. Hundreds of orders came pouring in as a result. In 2013, the decision was made to work on her handmade business full-time.

Rachel’s home studio is everything it should be. It’s full of colors, bold prints and textures. It’s also full of things she’s created. Rachel paints, draws, sews, crochets, knits, does sculpey, makes tatted lace, and is a graphic designer and photographer. She still sells her handmade accessories online at Etsy and recently added a shop at Handmade at Amazon in addition to a list of stores around the country. Another project is her Society 6 page which allows her to further experiment in creating digital images, something she loves. Rachel is also one of the folks behind Handmade Omaha and spends time assisting others who are starting small businesses of their own. Here’s a look inside her studio.

Your designs for accessories start as graphics. What inspires you to create new designs? Have you worked with customers on creating custom designs? I take requests. It’s surprisingly difficult to make some ideas fit on a half-inch circle. I also can’t make one-offs because the cost would be astronomical (design and material). I keep a list of requests and try to knock out as many as I can. My husband also helps with ideas. We’ve spent many evenings making epic idea lists over pints of beer.

I have to ask you to share what inspired you to start making jackalopes. Someone I follow on Instagram had a collection of faux-taxidermy. None of them were crocheted. I took that as a challenge. The jackalopes were just a natural choice, bunnies are cute no matter what

You’ve become a community resource for those involved with handmade businesses. What's some advice you wish you'd known before starting your business? I was SO sure that I needed thousands of Facebook and Instagram followers in order to have a sustainable business. I only have a few hundred, and I’m doing just fine. The other side of that is that I thought I only needed a handful of wholesale accounts. It took double the number I had in mind in order to make up the income I needed. I guess I’d just tell people to put less of a focus on achieving arbitrary numbers and instead focus on the actual results.

The thing that I knew going in that most artists don’t is the amount of time you spend doing the business end of a handmade business. I worked for small creative businesses for years so this wasn’t a surprise. I think artists starting out don’t realize that it’s almost 50/50 for creating vs business. Some makers believe that they will spend their days doing only what they love doing, unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way.

You recently started selling your accessories at the newly launched Handmade at Amazon. How has that been going so far? Any advice for someone also looking to feature their business on Amazon as well? I’m happy with this new venue so far. The traffic has been good and I’m pleased with the sales. It’s impossible to gauge what a new site will be like but it has so far exceeded my (totally reasonable) expectations. It’s far more organized than Etsy, so if you are more free-form it might not work for you. Artists have to be approved to sell on the site and listing items is more structured. Amazon has high customer service expectations. I’m tougher on myself than any of the requirements so it wasn’t a problem. It’s not a place for beginners. Your photography and customer service skills have to already be top-notch. You’ll get booted pretty quick if you can’t get up to speed.

Your pieces are also sold in Art-o-mats nationwide. How did you end up partnering with them? Art-o-mat is the best! I’d seen the machines and heard about the project, but it was my neighbor (Scott Blake) that got me into it. It’s a nation-wide art project where old cigarette machines are re-purposed to sell art. Every piece has to be the size of a pack of cigarettes (in order to vend properly) and costs $5. Machines are in art galleries, bars, restaurants, grocery stores and anywhere someone is willing to host a machine.

Omaha’s machines are in Scout and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Artists can visit Art-o-mat and order a prototype kit for $10. It has a box and a wood block in the correct sizes as well as instructions. They are always looking for new artists as the project is always growing and adding new machines. It’s the best advertising that I’ve ever done. I include a business card in every box and I’ve gotten the nicest emails from people who took a chance on my artwork. I don’t often fully recommend anything to other artists, but I can say that adding Art-o-mat to your handmade business is the best thing you can do.

You shared that you love working from home due to the flexibility. How do you structure a typical day? It’s important to treat working from home just like a real job. I work regular business hours (8-5) every single day. I don’t often let myself take days off. It helps that I have a fuzzy little supervisor who keeps me on track. If I’m not at my desk answering emails at 8 am, my cat is very upset. She uses the opportunity to sit on my lap. In fact, she’s sitting on my lap right now. I get the business part of my day done first, then creating, then shipping. I’m pretty good at wrapping it all up in time to get to the post office right before it closes. I’m lucky to have a neighborhood post office where everyone knows my name. Working alone means that I’ve heard every song ever written, seen every movie on Netflix and I’m closing in on a disturbing number of audio books from the library. It’s very quiet in my basement studio. I like to have some “noise” during the creating part of my day.

What’s next for your business? Is there something new you want to try? Every spring I add new designs and update my catalog. I can’t wait to tackle my idea list. I’m also always on the lookout for more jackalope accessories. I want to work on my painting skills to the point where I feel like I have something worth sharing. Right now I keep most of my paintings to myself. I need a little more self-confidence in that area. My business has grown to the point where I don’t have as much time to learn new skills, but I’m sure that I’ll sneak a few in there. I’ve been working on a book about what I’ve learned about starting a handmade business. Hopefully I’ll wrap that up next year.

You can follow Rachel on Facebook, Instagram and at read all about what she's up to on her blog. If you're local, you can visit Rachel at the next Handmade Omaha show, November 28th and 29th.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for opening up your studio & answering all my questions! See you at Handmade Omaha!


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