Talking with Kristen Rask
Today I talk with Kristen Rask, the proud owner of SCHMANCY in downtown Seattle, a store with a mission to provide quirky toys, collectibles and original art work to the world. Kristen started Schmancy in September 2004.
Alison: Well I'm excited to talk to today's guest. Because when I look at her website I already start to smile. I'm a big fan of what she does I have to say. Today's guest is Kristen Rask. She is the owner of Schmancy, a store in downtown Seattle as well as its online, Schmancy.com. And her mission is to provide quirky today collectables and original artwork to the world. I love that. Thank you so much for coming on Kristen, it’s great to have you.
Alison: Now how does on get started? What's your background to get started in this?
Kristen: Oh man. I’ve been selling things for as long as I can remember and making them.
Alison: Oh really? Since you were little you were making?
Alison: Do you remember the first thing you made and sold?
Kristen: Yeah. Me and my friends, two friends that I met at summer camp between fifth and sixth grade going into sixth grade. We made friendship bracelets. And the end of the summer I think we made $13 each and it was just like hitting the lottery and like "Man, don’t you want to do this full time?"
Alison: Well now I love this when you are little, and you hit on something. Now was is the part that you made money or is the part that you got to make stuff?
Kristen: I think it was both but you could make what you want to make and repeatedly but you can justify it because you are selling it to feed your need to keep making them.
Alison: That's well put. Yes. Like you can’t own 300 friendship bracelets and make more. You have to sell them.
Kristen: And I needed to buy embroidery floss.
Alison: Exactly. And so, alright. I understand that. So, you got the bug and then where did that lead to? Your starting young, what happened next?
Kristen: Then I started doing little craft fairs once in a while in Cleveland. I lived on Heat Street in San Francisco for a few years. So, I sold things on the street because there are tons of tourists there and you if you live there, you can kind of get away with that. And then I moved here and started working for a small boutique and making stuff for her but then also started selling more at other shops and kind of got the feel for that.
Alison: Wait. First tell me what you were making for these other shops. Now you've probably moved on from friendship bracelets. Yes, I did. And now you are making?
Kristen: I was making Jewellery of sorts. Just I don’t, I feel like I’m one of those omni crafter types that kind of just does whatever she's in the mood for. So, at the time I was doing a lot of bracelets and necklaces and berets and that kind of stuff.
Alison: Are you the kind that stays up all night?
Kristen: I am not anymore.
Alison: But you probably were back then I bet? were you like just making, making, making?
Kristen: Yeah. When you are younger, I think you can stay up longer. But yeah, I was staying up a lot. And then I started making button rings which is. I was working at an aeropathic clinic at the time, and I just wore one. I just like bought a bag of buttons at the thrift store and used them as making more like purses and stuff and I would use them for those. And then I just sewed one on a piece of elastic and wore it to work and everyone started commenting on it and I’m like "Hmm, this could be cool." So I started making those a lot and then that’s how I made Sally who owns Fancy and started selling to her and then we became friends and then this space next to hers opened and she's like "You should open a shop." And I really didn’t like anything I was doing. I finally finished school and two days later I had a lease. So, I really didn’t think about it. I have no business plan which is probably bad.
Alison: Your business plan was no business plan.
Kristen: Yeah, I guess so.
Alison: But you what signed a lease on a store?
Alison: And then you realised now I have to fill it with things to sell.
Kristen: Yeah. That was crazy.
Alison: And how long before you opened it, after signing your lease?
Kristen: I think two months.
Alison: Two months. Did you learn a tremendous amount in those two months?
Kristen: Yeah. And well I’m still learning things. But I would say the first year, those were the biggest harsh lessons.
Alison: Now what was the harshest lesson?
Kristen: I mean it was just like dumb things. Well a) I put it all on credit cards, which you know debt is never fun. So, I finally paid that off. So now I'm like I'm never getting a credit card again.
Alison: I think that's good advice. I mean it’s not sound advice financially, but I think it’s great what you just said, you know. It’s like so many people say that. Many artists say don’t go into debt starting off like this. That was the hardest lesson they learned.
Kristen: Yeah. I mean it seems. If you really wanted to you know open a store or whatever, it seems impossible not to go in debt because it’s so expensive, but you know had I had a business and stuff. But on the flip side, if I had thought thoroughly through it, a probably wouldn’t have done it.
Alison: Right. Right. I know.
Kristen: I don’t know, you can easily talk yourself out of it and it gets scary once you start doing numbers and all that stuff. So maybe for me it worked just going in blind and managing to make it work. So, I don’t know.
Alison: And you glad you did it right?
Kristen: Oh yeah. My life is some days I'm just like "I can't believe I get to do this for work."
Alison: That's how it should be. I'm big believer. That’s how it should be. Well now, let’s talk about because your store is, the majority is for a better term stuffed animals correct?
Kristen: I would say more like stuffed toys.
Alison: Toys. OK. Stuffed animals is not a good enough word to use. Stuffed items of a variety.
Kristen: I usually say I own a toy story that focuses on plush art and collectables.
Alison: Perfect. Plush art. I like that even better. It’s like hmm, plush art. Now what's your theory? What is it about plush art also known as stuffed animals when you were younger that is appealing?
Kristen: I think, there are so many. Everything has its own personality which I love and for a long time when I opened I looked at so many cool things that I just decided I was never making anything ever again because I'd never make anything as cool. But then you know kind of get over that and just do your own thing and everything has its own style and personality which I really enjoy. Like sock monkeys or sock toys. You know people do that quite a bit, but I really never seen any two look the same which is awesome. Even if they are using the same kind of socks, it still has their own personality which I think is so great. And then I think obviously it’s hard in this economy especially, nothing in my store is necessary to live obviously. But it’s fun and everyone deserves a treat and everyone I think appreciates it because it does make them smile and you know you need to smile.
Alison: Yes. I agree. I mean when people come in, what’s the most common expression you here from people?
Kristen: Well cute obviously. I've actually just thought about doing an experiment. You know how people have square jars?
Kristen: I've seen those on television. I was like I should have a cute jar and every time I hear the word cute; I make people [laughter]. Put a dime in or something just to see what would happen because it is really the most common word I hear. But then I think it’s also those people that come in and they are a little confused and they think of course I saw two kids mostly poor and all that. And as they inspect more, they are like oh wait, this is actually really awesome, and I want like half of the things in here.
Alison: right. yes. I always think that back in my early days in advertising. I did creative consulting with Disney when we would shoot photographs of toys. I always had to go past the “oh that’s so good” kind of factor. Then you know it was like [makes sound], you loved it. But now would you say your store is for children or no?
Kristen: I mean I try to get a little bit more kid things in here just because of all the people that are confused. You know, you can say well no you can get this as a baby gift or whatever and it makes sense. I mean so many of these things are out of a price range that I would think I would be feeling ok about giving to a kid just for them to destroy it. And you know for good reason, but I think if you are going to give stuff to kids from here it would be mostly really good decorations for kids’ rooms.
Alison: Yeah. They have great sense of. I'm looking at your site right now and there is so many great personalities and its creative. It gives you room for the imagination.
Kristen: Yeah. For sure.
Alison: Now you know, did you grow up with stuffed animals? Did you have that in your life?
Kristen: I did.
Alison: And did you have a favourite one?
Kristen: Well my Raggedy Ann doll was like by far my favourite.
Alison: I loved Raggedy Ann too. That so funny that you should bring that up because I was just looking at your site at some of your petal people remind me of the Raggedy Ann feeling.
Alison: Yeah. And I always thought with Raggedy Ann when you could look underneath and see that she had a heart that said I love you.
Kristen: Yes. So cute. I mean when we would go on family vacations or whatever I'd always like "The first thing I would grab out of my house would be Raggedy Ann if our house was on fire.
Alison: And how old were you like when you still had her with you? Do you remember when it was finally or maybe you still have her.
Kristen: Actually, my mom still has her. But I remember the first time I didn’t take her on a vacation.
Alison: You do? Ok.
Kristen: I felt like such a traitor, you know. It’s hard getting older and I'm not supposed to want this baby stuff, but I totally am sad and what is she doing by herself? She must be so lonely.
Alison: Isn’t it amazing? You know my son had my Snoppy. I had a Snoppy when I have 15. I gave it to him when he was a baby and he. I'll tell him never to listen to this interview. But he had it till I want to say 16, he was still bringing it to drama camp. And at that point he was just saying don’t even make fun of it and leave it alone. And it was, you know what Snoopy looks like but from holding it for years we call it skinny neck because the head stayed on the body by just thread I kept doing to try and keep it attached instead of decapitated. And it’s still saved but it is something that's just a sense of well-being, security, home I don’t know, special.
Kristen: Yes. Special
Alison: And why shouldn’t we have that as adults?
Kristen: I know.
Kristen: Yeah. For sure.
Alison: I love your characters too as well. I'm looking at a Steve Martin finger puppet and a [inaudible] cakes double strawberry. It does make you smile, and I think we all need that.
Kristen: Yeah. I agree.
Alison: So now do you, how many different artists do you carry in your store?
Kristen: You know it kind of ranges by what is going on. I’m having a plush show, October 12th it opens. So that’s over 65 artists that are in the show.
Alison: Its huge now for artists to be doing plush.
Kristen: Yeah. its huge
Alison: Now why is that? Why is that do you think?
Kristen: You know I feel like I’ve seen so many different types of people do plush and I think I mean because I used to do more art shows with canvas art and whatever. Even my graffiti artist that I’ve worked with have done plush which I think is so awesome.
Alison: Yeah. Really.
Kristen: But I think it’s just more accessible and you can make your characters more accessible for the masses if you are doing more traditional artwork as well and I think because adults are now appreciating it for themselves, you know you just kind of have opened the market. Because there can be a cute almost like a pillow on your couch that just has a personality and I feel like if you have it, it kind of gives you a personality.
Alison: That's true.
Kristen: It’s just like more accessible art.
Alison: Yes, that’s a good point.
Kristen: [Inaudible] exploded.
Alison: Is there a certain style? Like I remember. What were the dolls called, the plush called? And now I’m going back I want to say maybe 15 years ago, the first ugly dolls? Do you know what I’m talking about?
Kristen: Yeah, the [inaudible] ones?
Alison: I think that's what they were called right?
Alison: And that was like "what is this?" You know because it was sort of an anti-doll kind of thing. And where is the direction now? Because that's certainly gone through a huge, I'm looking for mine around the room as we're talking. I know I have one here somewhere. Oh, there it is right there. So funny and appealing and what would say the direction is now.
Kristen: I think ugly dolls are so awesome and I feel like they are the catalyst for everything that's happened since then but.
Alison: They have. I'm looking at my little ugly doll right now. I adore it.
Kristen: Yeah. It’s so cute. There's something really appealing, and they are very simple which I always think you know, there is something to be said for simplicity once in a while. Because things can get really crazy with them which is also awesome. But it is funny when you look at an ugly doll and you’re like, "Man the masses have totally gotten attached to these things. There in moves and all that stuff and you I think when people come in here that’s also a very common word I hear. Like " Oh these are all like ugly dolls." And I’m like "well there're not ugly dolls because that is a brand". But you know I think that's what everyone can related to, the people especially that just don't understand my store they at least know what ugly dolls are.
Alison: Sure. Because they made it on the scene, and everyone related to it when it first came out it was a big change of plush dolls.
Kristen: And now I feel like there is so much variety and people have gotten so good at it and really creative with it. And you know so there's things that look more realistic and then there’s things that are totally goofy and weird but are still really awesome. Like when people come, they are like "Do you have a stuffed seal?" I’m just like "Not really. I mean I don’t really have much that looks like something in particular." But there are also creative.
Alison: Yeah. Absolutely. Well now is there something that inspires you? That gets you going? Like when all of a sudden you go "Ok, I'm going to take those buttons now and make whatever." Like do you have that for yourself?
Kristen: I do. It’s hard to say what exactly. sometimes it will just be a silly conversation. I mean a lot of times I'm trying to do more window displays because I'm honestly just really bad at it. And I just don’t know, I get overwhelmed at times. So, I’m like Ok, I just remodelled my shop so I'm like "I'm going to get really good at doing window displays." It should be pretty easy. And then I decided to do a back to school one, so I made some stuff, pencils and calculators and what not. And then my friend, we were texting back and forth one night and he's like you rule. I’m like "A ruler that says you rule."
Kristen: You know it’s like little things like that that I think get me more excited than anything.
Alison: I understand. I got it. It’s like Oh the visual is perfect.
Alison: Well that's fun.
Alison: Now that you are a business owner, what's the most surprising thing? like where do you spend a lot of time that you didn’t think would happen that way, you know. Give a reality check to people who are like "I want to open a brick and mortar." Give a reality check about where you really spend your time.
Kristen: I think the hardest conversation for me to have with people when they want to open a brick and mortar because they make things and they think Ok, I'm doing really well on Etsy. So now I want to sell in my own shop and [makes sound.] But is so much more work than you think. So, if you’re actually selling really well on Etsy or something, you should be really happy that you're doing that and just stick to that. Because owning a brick and mortar shop is so much work of like marketing and you know just selling and you just don’t have the time to make stuff anymore and I really honestly thought I'd just be sitting in here and just selling all the time and it would just be so chill and fun. And not that it isn’t fun and stuff like that and I have managed to make time again to do stuff like that here, but I am in my eight year and I just remodelled my shop to allow me to have a selling area.
Alison: Well good. Congratulations.
Kristen: Last year and it’s still a rare occasion where I actually have the time to just sit and sew. So, I think the idea of just making stuff all the time and just having so much time is not really the reality.
Alison: Right. Now did you start on Etsy
Alison: No. OK. So, Etsy wasn’t in your background that way? Now do you count a lot of social marketing and how do you use it?
Kristen: I decided not to do advertisements anymore because I didn’t think it was really working for me, so I don’t do print ads. I do mostly social marketing like Facebook. I have my own blog. And then word of mouth. And I’ve been lucky that I'm downtown so the Seattle Magazine and those offices are down here. So once in a while they'll come in take stuff for you know whatever they are writing about. I’m next to a hotel and I think that's help me a lot. So, I think those have been the best, but I feel like tis mostly word of mouth and people walking by. I'm actually not very good at doing website stuff. I just feel like that’s another full-time job and I just don’t have the time for it. So, I think I've mainly been word of mouth and yeah, social marketing, I guess.
Alison: That's sounds great. That’s a great idea being next to a hotel though because so many people want souvenirs.
Kristen: Yeah. Exactly and this place is so weird that they are like, "I don’t have anything like this in my city."
Alison: Exactly. Perfect sort of souvenir.
Alison: Now I know you don’t have a business plan so do you have a non-plan about where you would like to see your store go? Or direction? Dream or ideas, not a plan?
Kristen: Thank you. I actually just, I was one of the organizers of schoolhouse craft a three-day conference that just happened last weekend.
Alison: Oh yeah.
Kristen: Good to sit in and just do a few of the classes. So, I have some ideas about branding. I think I haven’t been very good at that either. I made somethings to explore but and with the remodel I feel like the store does look just more cohesive and I feel like a lot more people that maybe would have walked by before and not thought twice are now coming in. So now getting them to spend money is [inaudible]. But you know I don’t want to go anywhere. I love my store and I feel like sometimes I get pulled in a lot of different directions and my store almost becomes the back-burn thing which doesn’t seem right. So, I'd like to spend more time next year actually focusing on my store and doing less extra projects.
Alison: No, you got to focus your energies on different things to see results that’s for sure.
Kristen: It’s almost like everything’s feeds into Schmancy. It’s all to help Schmancy but there is a point where you are like, yeah but you haven’t slept because you don’t have any time in your own store.
Alison: Do you count on a lot of online sales?
Kristen: No. I'm really bad at it. I don’t know. I think it’s just so hard because everything is one of a kind, I mean not everything but a lot. So, to like take pictures and write descriptions and all that has been really, it’s so hard and then just figuring out a system. So, I would like to next year, try to do that a little bit better and figure out a system that works so that I can do it more. And then it’s hard if I'm ever like out of town or something like that. Then if something sells in the store, I don’t have regular employees. So, they wouldn’t know to take it off the website.
Alison: Right. Oh yeah. You got to figure it all out.
Kristen: So, I need to figure that out.
Alison: It is a lot. Well talk a little bit just about Plush U. You said you are the founder and curator of Plush U.
Alison: Now what is that?
Kristen: So, I have a show every year at my store. Hundreds of people apply, and I started it the first full year I have Schmancy. And it was funny because I had, do you know the website [inaudible]?
Kristen: I don’t.
Alison: [inaudible] Robinson I think is her last name? I have to look it up. But I was really into her website and I think she lives in Australia so I just asked her if she wouldn’t mind putting her website that I wanted to have this show and for people to apply. So, the next day I got tons of email and I'm like wow, weird. I didn’t think it would be like this. And then you know as the show approaches, I had people help me set up the show the night before and it was mostly my friends and one woman that I didn’t know very well but she does her own art and was in the show and she came to help. And she was like "You know this is going to be huge right?". I like I'm sure it will be fine. No big deal. And she's like "No its going to be really big." And I'm like "Ok. We'll see I guess." I don’t have any high expectations. And I actually went to dinner the night of the opening early just figuring like I should eat before this happens. I was a little bit late to coming back but I had someone working here and I'm like walking towards my street and like why are there all these people outside? That’s so weird. There must be a concert or something. And then they were all for the show. I'm like wow. This is crazy. And it was just packed all night and it was awesome. So, then I was like, well I’m going to do that again. So, I continued to do it. I mean my blog has been just more about Plush toys and you know name for that show. So then yeah, it just continues to grow.
Kristen: So, people were that lined up to see Plush U and what the toys were? They were that excited?
Alison: Yeah. I mean granted at the time I had even a smaller shop. It was like the size of a large closet but yeah it was nuts.
Kristen: Isn’t that fun?
Alison: It was really cool.
Kristen: I love that.
Alison: Yeah and now people come for like, it’s crazy how many people come out for it. Someone is coming from Bosnia this year which blows my mind. Someone else came from Germany I think one year and then people come from like all of the United States.
Kristen: Well now how many people do you get applying and then how many do you accept?
Alison: I started charging a few years ago $10 for an application fee just because it is a lot of time to go through it all and you know you just, I don’t know. There’re obviously reasons for doing that so I feel like it made people think a little bit more before applying.
Kristen: Good idea.
Alison: So that they really are serious about making them opposed to like I'm sitting in front of my TV doing it and not really paying attention to it. There's no place for that either. But you know I wanted like the high calibre plush maker. So, I think this last year I had like 200 or something like that. And she's about 65.
Kristen: That’s great.
Alison: Yeah. It’s fun.
Kristen: Great exposure, great fun. Well I know it makes me smile looking at all of your things.
Kristen: Thank you.
Alison: It's really a pleasure and thank you so much for coming on and just explaining a bit of the world of plush for all of us. I know everyone listening is probably like "Where did I leave my little plush creature that I loved?"
Kristen: You know we've got some old sweaters.
Alison: Yes. Yes. Well thank you so much. Good luck with all your endeavours and your new store. I'm sure you are going to make a lot of people smile in the near future.
Kristen: I hope so. Thank you.
Alison: Your welcome.