Let's be honest, you see enough photos of my pillows sprinkled all over everything I post. I want to share the love and introduce you to some of my favorite small business owners that I think you will enjoy!
I will be featuring amazing makers here on the blog every Friday. Shopping handmade holds a special place in my heart; there is something that just feels so good when you look at an item you own that someone made by hand FOR YOU. I know you will love these talented people and their brands too!
Are you a maker that would like to be featured? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will chat.
This week we are going to start with yours truly!
Tell us about yourself:
I'm Melissa, owner + maker of all things 521handmade. I'm a 30 year old wife, mom, nanny, & crafty entrepreneur living in West Fargo, North Dakota. I started 521handmade in 2014 on an impulsive thought that maybe I could work for myself and make it happen!
I had a career in retail store management for seven years & had dreams of opening up my own women’s + home boutique. I loved so much about it, but I needed a change. (Retail schedules are super hard!) I left my job to become a nanny full-time. And a lot of people judged me and thought I was making a HUGE mistake (because being a nanny isn’t a ‘real’ job right?) But honestly, I’ve never thought it was a mistake, not even for a second.
I taught myself how to sew and embarrassingly enough, I was too afraid to take a sewing class in college, even though I have a Bachelor's Degree in Apparel & Textiles. I remember contemplating if I should take a class, and then being too intimidated because I had never touched a sewing machine in my life or even watched anyone sew.
Once I figured out how to sew a straight line & invested a lot of time into watching videos online, reading tutorials, and asking friends silly beginner questions; I started this business. I’m a HUGE believer in creating your own opportunities & taking steps towards building a life you love.
What did you business look like when you first started?
I started out making canvas throw pillows that I hand stenciled with an actual one letter at a time stencil. I would sit at my living room coffee table with paint markers and a ruler and measure out how much space should go between the letters. I also created some handbags (which I sometimes do now too!) because I love pretty fabrics. I dabbled in fabric button earrings & other jewelry; but learned that those specific things hurt my hands too much to make for an extended period of time. You may have an original 521handmade leather tassel necklace in your jewelry collection!
Tell us about what you make now and why you love making it:
I create modern handmade throw pillows that make your house feel like home. My favorite item to create is our “Last Name Pillow.” It is a great gift for so many occasions! I also love making sparkly druzy earrings because they are so versatile & can be worn casual or dressy!
In the past, I hosted DIY Pillow Printing Parties in my warehouse studio! I loved sharing my studio space with new friends & these events were a great reason to plan a get together! I even hosted creative bridal showers & bachelorette parties.
But when I found out I was going to become a mom, I knew I needed to scale back with my business as I also work full time outside of my home. Maybe someday in the future I will get back to hosting, but for now my business is back to online sales & craft show events.
At what point did you decide your “hobby” had the potential to be a business?
When I first started my business, I was making ‘last name pillows’ for friends & family that requested them. Once strangers started contacting me on Facebook asking for custom pillows, I decided to just go for it. And literally that was it. I didn’t think about all the pros and cons; I just felt that I wanted to pursue this. I chose 521handmade for the name because my birthday is May 21 and I wanted something personal to me that would never change.
Who is someone you follow on Instagram that inspires you and why?
I follow a LOT of home design accounts, but I absolutely love Ashley from @arrowsandbow She is so down to earth & seems like a ton of fun. I’ve loved following her family’s journey from RV life to house life and she inspires me to say yes to adventures + happiness daily!
What has been a highlight since beginning your business?
I feel like there have been so many! After building my business for about a year, I decided to dive into wholesale & now sell to 40 stores across the US. (and one store in Australia eek!) I find it thrilling that stores think my products are good enough to sell on their shelves! A highlight was receiving a large wholesale request from Herbergers! (124 pillows to be exact) I went to sleep that night mentally preparing how I would work full-time (nannying) and get all of those pillows done in a reasonable amount of time.
I woke up at 6am to go to work, checked my messages, and had another wholesale order for 34 pillows, plus 10 retail orders on my list that I had been planning on getting done on my day off. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was also really exciting & fun! Working for yourself is stressful in the best way possible.
What advice do you have to share with someone who may want to start a handmade business?
I think you should just go for it! If you have a product or an idea that you are excited about, why not share it with the world? No one wins by not sharing the things that you feel passionate about. Feel free to ask questions to “makers” that you may already know or follow. Most of us are a pretty open book when it comes to logistical things. It is a good practice to go into your day with a mindset of “everything is figure-out-able” Google is my best friend most days and I also believe that it’s okay to not know how to do everything.
I also think it is important to realize that you most likely won’t be an overnight success. (but congrats if you are!) I see so many people get discouraged when the sales aren’t coming in right away, but you need to be patient & set realistic expectations for yourself & your business.
How can people purchase from you?
Are you a maker who would like to be featured? Send me an email at Melissa@521handmade.com & we will chat. I'd love to have you!