Crafty Women By Jennifer Walla for Fox Cities Magazine
Meet four enterprising women who have found a way to turn their craft into a little cash.
Gretta Van Someren
A hobby is defined as “an activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.” But for a growing number of women, the lines between hobby and occupation are blurring.
These estrogen-enhanced entrepreneurs have been able to turn their passions into profits, and for them, things definitely are not business as usual.
Appleton 's Gretta Van Someren took the leap from hobbyist to businesswoman a little more than a year ago. The owner of Pizzazz Creations creates handcrafted jewelry from semi-precious and precious gemstones, artisan-crafted lampwork beads and sterling silver and 14-carat rolled gold. As the name of her business suggests, her collections appeal to the discerning woman who isn't afraid to make a statement with her accessories.
“I love making people feel good,” she says. “There's something about my creations that evoke a certain feeling. They're not like something you'd see anywhere else. When I see their reaction, it in turn makes me feel even better.”
Although she's always been one of those creative types, VanSomeren was on a completely different path professionally just a short time ago. Armed with a degree in music, she was a professional pianist, public school music educator and church choir director in 1990. But in 1994 she entered the ranks of motherhood and realized she wanted to stay at home with her newborn.
During that time, the creative juices continued to flow. She discovered a hidden passion for the visual arts, and it wasn't long before she was commissioned for and began selling her handcrafted greeting cards to retailers and individual clients. Those closest to her encouraged her to get into the jewelry field. She took classes and with different artists around the country and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was selling at first to friends and just by work of mouth,” she says. “Then I ended up in a gallery and different retail stores throughout Wisconsin . It kind of started blossoming and I was going outside of Wisconsin .”
The addition of a website (pizzazzcreations.com) in November 2002 now helps her sell her wares all over the country and around the world.
“I could not ask for a better job…This was something I never dreamt of doing, but I just keep moving ahead.”
Maureen “Moe” Hermsen also considers herself fortunate to do what she loves for a living. The former elementary teacher, who has a background in art and design, now creates custom cards and invitations from her customer's photographs through her business MoeMentos (moementos.com). She also has a retail line of greeting cards that utilize many family and vintage photos celebrating life in the Midwest .
The mother of three quit teaching when her middle child was born and began looking for something to do using her art background while working from home. Requests for her work from family and friends soon led to product placement in retail stores like Conkey's and The Frame Workshop. She also has shown her work in local art shows.
“I absolutely love it,” she says. “Every contact I make is whole empty canvas and I can start from scratch.”
Kim Kolbe Ritzow's passion is paper. She's always had an interest in cards and making invitations, but three years ago she switched from hobbyist to businesswoman. Her company, Dilly Bug, (named by her son Max, who at the time was going through a ‘bug phase”) offers invitations and announcements, and practically anything to do with correspondence.
She says a girlfriend pushed her to make the jump. Now she shares studio space with that friend and another woman who also took the same leap of faith with their own hobbies.
“She certainly encouraged me and egged me on,” Kolbe Ritzow says of Jennifer Santeler, owner of Emily Kate, a Tiny Little Soap Company. “You can't do this without someone helping you. She was very encouraging.”
“If it weren't for her and for Sandra (Began, owner of In the Swing floral designs), my other partner…the three of us buoy each other into keeping it going when we feel like we can't do it anymore.”
Kolbe Ritzow is pleasantly surprised at how successful her business is, although the money is not why she continues.
“Personally, I think making the leap from hobby to business simply allows you to have your hobby pay for itself. I think very few of us will retire on what we do, but it's a creative outlet and a flexible schedule that are the greatest benefits.”
“I don't know what it is that brought me to this point,” she admits. “Pure luck? Something brought me here, but there was no deliberate preparation.”
The 2003 holiday season was her busiest yet.
“This has been the most enjoyable holiday season of all because you get a little better at it…Most of our customers have understood how we operate. You train them, in a sense, to buy into the future and plan ahead. But we have great customers. They all know we're mothers of young families and that we can't do everything, but that's why we do what we do.”
Meta McKinney uses her creative talents to turn old wool sweaters into beautiful handbags and pillows of her own design and custom orders for those who want truly personal gifts for their loved ones.
The stay-at-home mother of four likes the idea of “sentimental recycling.”
“The whole idea of reusing and recycling is really appealing to me,” she explains, adding that she also creates from vintage coats. “I love to think about the women who were wearing the coats, what the coat has seen and where it's been.”
Her pieces, ranging in price from $75 on up, are sold locally through Sweetpea in Neenah , Urban Evolutions in Menasha and handful of stores throughout the state.
“Business has been awesome,” she says. “November and December (2003) were incredibly busy and profitable for me. I had a lot of really positive support, especially in Neenah . I think I was able to make a strong presence in a very short time.”
Her business was also somewhat of a happy accident. About a year ago at Christmas, she took some sweaters she and her husband weren't using and started making potholders for Christmas gifts. That led to making pillows. The pillows then gave way to the idea to create purses. She showed her pillows to some friends and was encouraged to show a few storeowners the same. A class through UW-Fox Valley taught her how to own and operate a small business.
“I consider myself extremely fortunate,” she says. “Things have really fallen into place for me.”
One thing's certain. No matter what kind of work these women do, all credit husbands, family and friends with unwavering support and help.
“Networking has been really important for me, and asking questions and asking for advice,” McKinney says.
But even though they all work from home, all four concede that it's just as difficult to define work and family time as it was when they were working outside the home.
“It's a struggle to balance it all,” McKinney says.
“The bottom line for me is that my whole life I've had a passion for art, but in the beginning I took the safe route because teaching was solid income. My advice would be to follow your passion,” Hermsen says. “It never seems to be quite as much work when you're loving what you're doing.
“If you're doing what you love, the rest will fall into place.”