Every Monday now through December 16 I am interviewing other artists and crafters in the hopes of spreading some handmade love and appreciation. You can read more about it here. The month of October features fiber artists.
Regardless of where you grew up, chances are you have heard of Lowell, Massachusetts. As a girl growing up in New Jersey, I remember learning about Lowell and the Industrial Revolution and reading Lyddie when I was in elementary school. This city is inextricably linked to U.S. history.
I love that today’s featured artist, Liz Smith of Made in Lowell, honors the city’s rich history in her modern-day work as a maker based out of this well-known city. Liz is a multi-talented artist (with gorgeous product photography to boot!) whose shop features “elegant whimsy for style, home and studio.” My words can’t even do justice to her work, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself!
How did you get started making jewelry, accessories, and paper goods?
I’ve been an artist all my life. My mom is an artist and we made all sorts of fun stuff together. I took art in high school and majored in art in college. My dream was always to make things and sell them. When I was in college I started doing just that! I haven’t stopped since.
What is the story behind your shop’s name?
I’m not native to Lowell, MA but when we moved here in 2000 we became aware of the city’s incredible textile manufacturing history. Lowell is the first planned industrial city. We are at the confluence of two rivers, canals run throughout the downtown. I live in an old mill on a canal and have a studio in another old mill. I wanted to honor the Mill Girls and Bobbin Boys who worked so hard to make this city what it was and announce to the world that things are indeed still being Made in Lowell.
What do you like most about having your own creative business? What do you find most challenging?
I won’t lie, I love not answering to a boss. I worked for other people my whole life and I was good at it, but my temperament is not quite suited to it. When I finally went full time with Made in Lowell. I felt a relief and an inner peace I didn’t even know were missing from my life. I even sleep better!
The most challenging aspect of running a creative business is juggling all the moving parts. I always feel like some part of my business needs extra attention; either bookkeeping, or inventory, or product development, or promotion. I never seem to be able to get everything running at peak performance at the same time. Also there’s the fear of being overwhelmed with orders while at the same time you have the fear of not selling enough.
What inspires you to create?
I just love making things from raw materials from ideas that I came up with out of my head. It didn’t exist, I thought of it, I made it, now it does! How amazing is that?
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
I think people who love handmade are inspired by knowing that an actual person made that thing. It wasn’t mass produced in a factory by underpaid and/or abused workers to enrich a CEO of a corporation that only cares about the bottom line. Handmade things are unique and alive and imbued with a maker’s spirit. I think those intangible qualities come through and fill a buyer with joy and delight.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
Oh my goodness, don’t make me choose my favorite! They are all so precious to me. I have vintage hand-sewn quilts made by people I will never know anything about. I have paintings from old friends and paintings from people I only know through the internet. I have gifts given me by other makers across the globe. I’ve custom ordered pieces that I will treasure forever. I am a huge fan of owning handmade things.
When you are not designing and creating handmade items, what do you like to do with your time?
I like to hang out with my husband and cat. We are slowly refurbishing our 1909 mill building condo. We visit our parents and family. Hang out with friends. Read. Listen to music. Visit thrift shops. We strive to live a gentle, peaceful life.
What is something people might not know about you?
Let’s see, that’s a hard one. I’m pretty much an open book! I don’t know if everyone knows about my TV interview show where I talk to makers about running their small businesses. You can see my Makers in Business videos on my Vimeo page or search Makers in Business on iTunes to listen to audio-only podcasts. I’ve learned so much by talking with makers about how they’ve solved the puzzles of running a small handmade business, I hope the shows help others too!
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
I would say be realistic. Be adaptable. Be community-minded. Be friendly! Always be improving your workmanship. Price appropriately (not too low). Heh, well that’s more than one piece of advice, I guess it’s a complicated topic 🙂
Thanks so much for joining us on my blog, Liz, and be sure to check out her shop!
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