Friday, March 13, 2009

Twenty Questions with Amy of GreenSeam!

Today I'm chatting with Amy who runs not one, but two creative small businesses! Handmade by Amy is dedicated to her beautiful hand crafted jewelery. GreenSeam is a line of hand painted organic cotton goods for little ones that she runs with her talented sister. She tells us what life is like in bustling Hong Kong and what it takes to survive a day at a craft fair. Enjoy!

Miss B: Tell us a little about you. (Where you live, hubby, job, last good book you read or amazing thing you cooked- anything you'd like to share!)

Amy: Currently, I am living and working in Hong Kong. My husband's job brought us here 1.5 years ago and we'll be here at least through 2010. I love living in Hong Kong. It is a very metropolitan and international city. I started blogging to capture the memories of living abroad and to keep family and friends updated on our lives. My days are spent working as a Marketing & Advertising Manager for a recruitment firm. GreenSeam and Handmade by Amy are created in my spare time. Other sources of enjoyment are cooking, reading, exercising, and traveling. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up!

Miss B: What is the best thing about life in Hong Kong?

Amy: It is hard to choose one, but I would have to say the experience of living downtown in a major city. It is something I've always wanted to experience, and my expectations have been exceeded. Occasionally, I miss my house and yard, but I love the convenience of apartment living, fabulous mass transit, multitudes of great restaurants, and world-class shopping. Another cool aspect of living in China is the excitement about the future. There is growth and expansion and an energy that is contagious.

Miss B: What inspired you and your sister to launch GreenSeam?

Amy: My sister, Emily, and I are doing GreenSeam together. She is a fashion designer in New York City. We always knew we would make a great creative team, because she is artistically passionate and inspired, while I am more logical and business oriented. For a long time, we have dreamed of having a creative business together and have brainstormed many ideas. Emily has enjoyed painting on fabric for some time doing custom designs, primarily for adults.

The name GreenSeam intentionally doesn't include a baby reference, because we wanted the ability to expand the line in the future. GreenSeam provides something unique, special, and individual to our customers which is why we hand paint them. Each customer is getting an original work of art. We liked the idea of baby clothing because people will buy for their children first. Let's face it, who doesn't get a bit googly over baby clothes? A baby is in the beginning stages of building a personality. We are contributing to that personality growth by promoting green life, art, and personal style.

Miss B: I love the eco-friendly aspect of your product. What prompted you to create a "green" product?

Amy: I believe green products are a good business idea, and the right thing to do for our environment. Emily and I have discussed many creative business ideas and virtually all of them are "green". In Hong Kong, the green movement is a few years behind the US which is both an advantage and disadvantage.

Miss B: You must have learned a great deal while running your jewelery business, Handmade by Amy. What did you learn there that you can apply to this new endeavor?

Amy: For me, having a small business is very similar to life, you have to put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads you; trust your gut and dream big. When I started making jewelry, I had no intention of turning it into a business. I listened to feedback and encouragement from others and took baby steps. In my businesses, time has been the major commitment for most of my pursuits, so I have chosen to invest the time and see what happens. Monetarily, I have been very conservative. For the moment, I am not putting a lot of energy into Handmade by Amy because the jewelry market is very saturated right now.

Miss B: What advice do you have for those just starting a creative small business?

Amy: Start small and don't be discouraged if you can't see the path between point A and B. You should do what you enjoy. Being self employed and/or running a cottage business is much harder than a "regular" job so you should be passionate about it. Quality in craftsmanship really shows in a product even if it is simple. Take the time to produce an end result that pleases you. Maintain good bookkeeping records from day one. I'm still working on this one

Miss B: I've definitely had the experience where I make something I totally love and no one seems to want to buy it. How do you get feedback on your products to make items that you love and will sell?

Amy: It is hard when your items don't sell, but I think feedback, both positive and negative, is helpful to refine the product. If I receive positive feedback without sales, I hold tight. When I have sales, I restock the item and make similar styles. When you get into a handmade business, you have to be comfortable with repetitive creation. It can be boring to make 10 of the same thing, but that's what makes it a business rather than a hobby.

I have found internet selling to be quite difficult. My success has been at craft shows and home parties where there is a captive audience who has a tactile experience. For example, when I sell my jewelry, I do not display it behind glass. I encourage people to pick it up and try it on. When selling GreenSeam, virtually everyone who walks by my table, touches the painted image to see how soft it is. People like meeting the artist and having the one-on-one interaction, and I am a firm believer in impulse purchases.

Miss B: I know from our conversations that you have done many craft fairs. Can you walk us through a typcial day at a craft fair?

Amy: The actual craft show is the easy part, you just sit and sell! The preparation is the difficult part. Each fair is different, and it is so much easier when it is a show you've participated in before so you know what to expect. You have to set up the table very early in the morning, and it makes for a long day. Bring lots of snacks. I believe it is important to have a nice table/booth, and I strongly believe in merchandising, packaging, and collateral. For the first show, a big investment is spent on all the "accessories" for the product and booth. Don't underestimate the time, effort, and money involved in these "accessories".

Preparing for craft shows is tricky, because the registration is often months in advance. It can be hard to plan out the production schedule. I set goals and try to pace myself, so I don't get burned out a few weeks before the show. This is always my plan, but I still get burned out a few weeks before the show! Another challenge is planning for shows in close succession. Most craft shows are bunched together in the spring or late fall.

Miss B: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the fair experience?

Amy: My favorite part of craft shows is all the positive feedback from shoppers. It is wonderful to meet your customers. It is nice when people don't buy but take my business card ‘just in case'. Once the rush of setting up the table is over, it is wonderful to admire all your hard work, smile, and exhale. The most difficult part is selecting the shows in which to participate. If possible, I recommend going to the show the year before and chatting with some vendors. The good shows often have long waiting lists. I try to only participate in juried shows. Waiting for the jury selection is very tense. Fortunately, I have never been rejected.

Miss B:Which item in your shop would make the best shower gift?

Amy:The goldfish has been very popular. It is suitable for boys and girls, and it is a Chinese good luck symbol.

Miss B: Any other words of wisdom/encouragement you'd like to share?

Amy: Enjoy what you do whatever that may be. Not every creative person is cut out for the business world especially when the creative business becomes 90% business and 10% creative. Often if we turn our passion into a business, it becomes less fun. Maybe this is the reason I haven't quit my day job, so my cottage businesses can still be on my terms.

Thanks so much Amy! You're the business woman I aspire to be! - Miss B

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