I’m always amazed by people who can take something that has a very specific purpose and transform it into something new with a completely different use for it. My brain just doesn’t function that way. Stephanie Reppas of October Design Co., on the other hand, has this incredible ability to take old items and bring to them new life and beauty. She takes things like emu eggs and radiator vent covers and turn them into lamps, creating gorgeous and functional pieces of art. I hope that you will be as enraptured with her work and what inspires her as I am!
Tell us a little bit about your work and how you got started with it.
I own October Design Co. where I recycle vintage materials and design industrial pieces for home and business. I create lighting, furniture, housewares, jewelry, and a line of couture boxed invitations. I also have clothing and textile projects in the works, plus I weld and I work in concrete.
I’ve always had an affection for abandoned places and things. I love finding beauty and potential in something that the rest of the world has passed over or cast off. I was pegged early on as “the artist” (yea, that kid), and was always drawing and repurposing things. I had a pet mouse, and I furnished his cage to look like a cartoon mouse house: thread spool tables and a matchbox bed (which he never used). By high school, I was painting thrift store furniture, and chopping up old clothes and stitching them back together again. After college, though, I fell into a lengthy corporate stint doing graphic design, and found myself creating less and less on my own, usually only in my spare time. As any maker knows, waiting for the weekend to create something really stinks. So a few years ago, I started transitioning into my own design business, part-time at first. Now, rather than designing for someone else, I’m putting my creative energy into my own ideas, and taking on bigger, more interesting projects.
What’s the story behind your business’ name?
October is my favorite month and my favorite time of the year. I am decidedly an autumn person. I’ve even toyed with the idea of getting a second place in Australia, just so I can experience autumn twice a year! I think the word October lends both a rustic and nostalgic feel to my overall brand, and ties in nicely with the weathered, industrial materials and neutral tones – warm grays and rich espresso browns – that I frequently work with.
What do you like most about having your own creative business? What do you find most challenging?
What do I like? No meetings. No cubes. No 9-to-5. I sleep mornings, I work afternoons and evenings (when I’m most productive), and I sometimes fire up my power tools at 3 A.M. I get to go on road trips in search of supplies, all for business! Of course, I also budget and devote serious time to client projects and business development, but it’s wonderful to be able to work more on my own terms and develop my ideas. And it’s definitely a bonus to work with others to create something uniquely for them.
What do I find challenging? Putting the toys down (i.e. the power tools) to occasionally contend with spreadsheets (i.e. inventory, marketing schedules, sales and expense reports). I hate Excel and it hates me.
What inspires you to create?
I do a lot of digging. For me, inspiration isn’t a lightning strike. It shows up when I lose myself in reading, researching, exploring places or ideas, poking through abandoned stuff – simply stumbling onto things and then making a connection. Often the found item or material drives the design. There are certain objects that practically beg to be reincarnated into something else. And it’s inspiring to discover how much craftsmanship was built into simple utilitarian objects a century ago. The woodwork and hand-forged metals are just beautiful!
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
Buying a unique work of art that someone put his or her heart and soul into is fantastic, but I think there’s also a connection there, especially in a world overrun with mass-produced plastic. I design around a lot of very old items. Each one of them has a story, and people love stories. It’s a great way to connect with others, from years ago to years from now.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
It’s more like an exchange or collaboration. I receive a lot of raw materials from friends: interesting bits and pieces, assorted weird or sentimental items. Usually there’s a note attached that says “thought you could make something with this.” I have a few friends who knit and send me scarves and swatches that I stitch into my own wrap sweaters, à la Frankenstein. Another friend sent me his old, broken camera. I cannibalized it for parts and paired those with a cigar box to make a pinhole camera, which I gave back to him for his birthday. He often sends me photos that he’s taken with it.
When you are not making art, what do you like to do with your time?
Road trips in Betty Lou (my car). The summer drive-in is a blast, too.
What is something people might not know about you?
I tried out for the Rockettes once (drunken dare); got tossed out of auditions for being an inch too tall.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
Diversify. That is, create a healthy mix of products and offer them through different sales channels. Multiple income streams are a smart way to maintain a steady, balanced income, especially in the handmade business. But do your research first, and make sure each channel is appropriate for your product. I went through a lot of trial and error to eventually find a good mix: I sell my easily producible “cash cow” products through Amazon and Wayfair, and my more unique, one-off designs on Etsy. Houzz is great for custom order requests and professional bids. I’m also in a few boutiques, selling larger pieces that are difficult or expensive to ship. And I do fleas and other shows throughout the year to move older inventory, leftover materials and the occasional failed experiment. If you can get sales coming in from as many different streams as possible, it can really add up.
Thank you for joining me on my blog, Stephanie, and be sure to check out her work!