I recently entered Etsy’s #DifferenceMakesUs small business contest for a shot at winning $10,000 to put towards advancing South Ranch Creative. It’s a long shot. A very, very long one, and yet one I need to make. I pushed off applying for weeks with the thought in my head that there was no chance, so why waste the time? That my shop wasn’t real enough, big enough, or successful enough to be deserving of a $10,000 prize. But I was wrong. This is the year I want to stop telling myself I’m not ready or not successful enough yet. So here it goes.
The contest required a simple answering of three questions, upon which I would receive a url to share and start gathering votes for my shop. The shops with the 1st and 2nd highest votes at the end of the contest (April 6th, 2017) will win $10,000 and $3,000, respectively to put towards their shop. I wanted to share with you all my extended answers to the questions after realizing that I was only allowed 1000 characters per question on the actual application… I had typed almost triple that for each…
Briefly tell us about your business and what makes it different. Details could include how you got started, what makes your business stand out, or how difference has helped your business and others.
I’ve always been a creator. As a toddler, I drew a yellow cat that was actually recognizable as such. It had ears, stick legs, even whiskers. In elementary school, I blew around ink through a straw to create trees. In middle school, I wrote poems and made trompe l’oeil drawings and drew funny dragons. In high school I learned film photography and how to paint in oil. In college I studied graphic design. I learned screen printing, made sculptures, built furniture, laser cut posters, and started growing all the plants I could fit in my temporary home.
I’m not an artist. I’m not a designer. I’m a creator. It’s in my blood to take pieces, to take materials, and to create something new out of it. And until college, my motivating factor beyond personal satisfaction was simply to create what the world deemed “beautiful”. To create awe and wonder. But two moments in college changed me. Though I am a creator, to create is not my purpose. It’s a means to my life purpose, something which I am still in the infancy of learning. And learning that purpose began freshman year when I discovered a nonprofit, Invisible Children, and took an environmental class on climate change. These two events were significant at the time to me no doubt, but I certainly did not realize just how much the course of my life would be changed by these events over the next five years. It perhaps was not seen to the naked eye, but my heart was changing. My mind, once solely focused on the narrow scope of my own existence, was now obsessed with humanity, past and present, and the preservation of future life in a sustainable and peaceful way. Everything was about more than just me. I became an activist. I volunteered. I started making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable and create less waste. I paid attention to the things I bought and what they supported.
At the end of college I knew working for a big agency wasn’t for me, but I realized that if I were to be so critical about the brands I was already purchasing from, I had to make sure that anything I sold didn’t negate my own views on environmentalism, sustainability, and human rights. I started South Ranch Creative in 2015 as a means to sell my creations. My creations varied: paintings, wood burned home goods and art, screen prints, natural wall art, and more. But what brought and continues to bring my work together now is my love of nature and my interest in empowering individuals and advocating for the causes I care about.
I create because I like it. I create because it incites awe in others. I create because I can send a message. But the reason I sell my creations, and hope to turn it into a full time occupation, is because I want to redefine what it means to sell things for a living. After listening, relistening, and listening again to Charlie Kaufman’s Screenwriters Lecture, I’ve found such a powerful truth in these words about what it means to sell things for a living:
“People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’ And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now.”
And it hurt me as a creator to listen to these words but at the same time I recognized just how true they were. And I don’t want to be part of it.
How would you use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale your business in a big way this year?
I would use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale up my ability to do more than just sell my work for a living. My dream for South Ranch Creative is eliminate the stream of waste in packaging, create products that use natural or reclaimed materials whenever possible, and develop a business model focused on creating quality products that last and will be cherished for years to come, thus reducing a consumer need/desire to constantly buy new things. While I am currently working towards some of these goals already such as using biodegradable packaging tape and materials or organic natural fiber clothing, with a limited amount of funds to invest in my business, I am not currently able to go as far as I would like.
This money would help me research the best ways to create art without creating waste, and then implement those findings. Because much of what I sell is online and must be shipped, I am most interested in using a portion of these funds specifically to invest in entirely recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging for my products… both for shipping and any display packaging or labels. Secondly, I would like to invest in my screen printing equipment and supplies to ensure that I won’t be using excess water or energy, creating excess waste, or flushing chemicals down the drain during my process of creating. This includes a filtration system for when washing and cleaning my screens and a chemical recirculation system that would allow me to reuse the same chemicals again and again. It would also include research and application of the most sustainable and eco friendly inks and paints to work with. For screen printing, this means finding the best non-toxic, water-based inks to use on only natural fiber fabrics. For painting in oil, gouache, or acrylic, this means avoiding paints that use highly toxic pigments to create their color and finding safer alternatives.
Creating a business model that isn’t dependent on creating needless waste is by far the biggest and most important thing I can do this year for my business.
Describe a truly special moment you’ve had with a buyer. Did they request an extra special item? Inspire a successful new product? We can’t wait to hear!
My most special moment with a buyer was actually with several buyers. My hometown is in rural central Maryland and in late July 2016, a horrible flood ravaged the nearby main street of Historic Ellicott City. Old Ellicott City had always been a favorite place of mine to spend weekends shopping at the local small businesses, go hunting for antiques with my mom, and peruse the various art galleries with pride at knowing some of the great artists within them. Main Street was home and meant so much to me and I know countless others. The destruction of this flood was astonishing and numbing. Two lives were lost. So many shop owners lost everything. They are still rebuilding.
But the aftermath was also one of the most beautiful outpourings of support I have ever witnessed. The community rallied in every way to raise funds to rebuild, help with the cleanup effort, and donate supplies and services. I wanted to do my part and that meant creating. I illustrated what Old Ellicott City meant to me and sold posters and tshirts of my illustration of some of my favorite buildings and landmarks… including the man that blew giant bubbles outside the toy store every weekend since I can remember. I donated 80% of my profits to the Ellicott City Partnership to help rebuild and was able to raise over $2,600 for the cause. While this is a tiny fraction of what was needed to rebuild, I could see just how much this meant to those who were buying my work. I received so many words and messages of thanks and appreciation and nostalgia over some of the landmarks pictured in my illustration. It was so incredibly heartwarming to how I could use my art to truly make a difference not only monetarily for this cause but also emotionally. This event has since inspired me to begin another series of works focused on particular issues I care about that donate a portion of the proceeds towards related nonprofits.
Thank you so much for all the support over the last year and a half, and I hope you can support me and my dreams for bettering South Ranch Creative! In order to vote, all you need is an email address and you only have to vote once! It ends April 6th, so if you’d like to vote and/or share, it would mean so much to me and you can do so here: http://wshe.es/7YXq6zJs