Hello, Nova Scotia (and beyond…). Thanks for visiting us again as we introduce you to another of our Maritime Makers, Erin of Harbourside Designs.
Erin is quickly becoming a familiar face in the Halifax craft scene, as she offers her whimsical, white clay tag ornaments for sale at numerous craft shows and markets. Clean white clay ornaments, textured with vintage doily patterns, embellished with seasonal themes or ever-charming nautical motifs (made from Erin’s own hand-carved stamps) and hints of soft colour. Wonderful as home ornaments, the clay ornaments also the perfect embellishment to any gift. Erin’s style is evolving as she has recently begun to add in bits of found treasures of driftwood, beach glass and shells. It’s always great when you incorporate a trip to the beach as part of a work-day! Read on, to learn more about Erin, her process, and her business Harbourside Designs.
Erin, tell us a bit about yourself.
Harbourside Designs is a small business I created three years ago that allows me the freedom to create, while staying home with my family. I work primarily with clay and hand carved rubber stamps, but also like to experiment with driftwood, fabric scraps and needlework. My hand stamped clay tag ornaments often feature nautical motifs or meaningful words and can be used individually as gift tags, for decoration, or as favours. I also offer them suspended from driftwood and embellished with shells or beach glass. Recently, I started making driftwood sailboats, featuring sails made from fabric scraps or repurposed fabric, and each boat features a small hand stamped tag of an anchor or compass.
Your foray into tag making started innocently enough with a desire to add embellishments to gifts. Did you have a previous experience with clay?
Not unless you count Play-Doh! I still have a salt dough creation that I made as an eight year old, and I have made homemade play-dough countless times with my children, but I have no particular training with clay. I am a very tactile person and love the feeling of clay in my hands. I experiment with pressing found objects into the clay, especially plant stems and leaves, shells and vintage doilies. I often use cookie cutters to shape the clay tags, including some cutters that I inherited from my Grandmother.
You love to have feedback about how buyers are using your tags. What are some of the unique ways that your tags have been used?
The tags have been used as favours at rehearsal dinners, weddings and baby showers. One lovely repeat customer keeps a centrepiece on her dining room table that she changes each season by switching out her Christmas themed clay tags for Easter tags, then Summer and nautical tags, and onto autumn themed tags. I love when a customer shares why he or she has chosen to purchase a specific tag, often with a particular recipient in mind. They have been mailed to Alaska, the UK, California and across Canada. It is meaningful to me to know these small creations are appreciated by a diverse group of people.
You say that you believe in buying small and buying handmade. Why is this so important to you, and what lessons do you think we could all learn about making more conscious buying decisions?
I used to be a marketer’s dream, buying things I didn’t need, with little to no thought to where or how the items were made. Now I take more time to seek out products made closer to home and try to support independent crafters and businesses. I think where we spend our money makes an impact on our physical and social environment. When we spend our money in an independent store or directly with a craftsperson, we help build community. When I can chat with an artisan or read his or her bio on Etsy, I can take my time deciding on a purchase, ultimately choosing to buy an item I will value, not just something an advertiser tells me to value. In Halifax, we are so lucky to have a talented pool of makers. We have makers creating stationery, jewelry, fashion, repurposed furniture, soap, the list is excitingly endless!
You are very active selling at craft markets, and very new to etsy. What has been the single steepest learning curve for you when it came to selling online?
When you sell online, you do not have eye contact or an opportunity to initiate a discussion. Sometimes, buyers approach my table at a fair because they like the overall look of the set-up. That allows me an opportunity to share my products with them and discuss the process on how items are made or how they can be used. When you are part of a market or fair, there is a significantly smaller number of vendors than what you find when searching for items online. When selling online, I think you have a shorter amount of time to make a good first impression. Photography and keywords in your product explanation become very important. You also have to learn Shipping101! Sending out your items, whether domestically or internationally, can be a challenge when your products vary in weight or are fragile. Luckily, the learning curve is not so steep given the encouragement and wisdom of a local community of makers who have all been through these issues before!
Being involved with the Maritime Makers, what do you feel are the benefits of working as a team over going it completely alone?
It may be cliche, but I truly do believe “it takes a village”. Sharing ideas, abilities and frustrations helps us all grow and learn. Not every maker is surrounded by someone who understands the frustrations of orders that go unpaid, supplies that become unavailable or bureaucratic difficulties. Being a part of the Maritime Makers gives me access to some very creative minds who are also extremely business savvy. The group appreciates craftspeople and brings awareness to products being made locally.