Do you have particular customers that purchase your work regularly? A person who seems to buy something every time you list a new set of items in your Etsy shop or someone who comes by your booth at the craft fair and buys something every year? They think of you whenever they need to buy a gift for someone, and they talk about your work to people they know. I think of these people as collectors or even as patrons. They appreciate handmade work, they admire what you do, and they want one of everything you put out there. They are dream customers!
I have had customers like this and it has made a big impact on my handmade business over the years. And I know what it is like to be a collector. Every November for the 12 years Charlie and I have visited the holiday show and sale at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and chosen a new, original piece of art for our home. We started with a work on paper by a student and over time we’ve purchased pieces by many other students, and by faculty and alumni. The show is an event we look forward to each year. We buy art together in lieu of buying each other holiday gifts.
I know we are not the only ones who do this. Shows like this help to create a culture of collecting. There is always something new to see, the price range is broad and the styles vary enough that something will appeal to everyone.
To me, Plush You! is a show that builds this kind of culture of collecting. Plush You! is an annual show put on by Kristen Rask, owner of Schmancy in Seattle, Washington. Kristen has been organizing the show since 2007 and it has spawned a book and all sorts of media attention since then. Looking back through Flickr you can see many well-known plush artists got their start at this show, and it’s still going strong.
I talked to Kristen about her vision for Plush You!, what motivates her to continue with the show and with Schmancy, her unique store that showcases art toys, and why she thinks grown-ups can and will buy themselves handmade softies.
Why Start Hold an Annual Plush Show?
I started Plush You! in 2007 to showcase the amazing plush work that I was seeing being made throughout the world. Schmancy, at the time I started Plush You!, focused more on vinyl toys but as a person who makes things, I wanted to focus on handmade things more and this seemed like a logical move.
Photo of Schmancy via MochiMochi Land.
I had no idea what it would turn into and that has been a really fun part of it. Every year when applications open, I am always really amazed by the quality of work. It has been such a great experience to build relationships with the makers and see so many of them really succeed in their plush businesses. My original plan was to showcase the work and open people’s minds to plush being an art medium and not just “toys for kids”. It has since become near and dear to my heart.
Here is how Schmancy looks when all the boxes arrive and it’s time to set up the show.
During poor economic times, I have had moments of frustration and just moments where I want to give up but I always think about Plush You! and how I wouldn’t want to let that go. As much as people feel honored to be apart of the show, I feel equally honored that these artists want to be a part of it.
Photo of Schmancy via MochiMochi Land.
Building a Community of Collectors
Since the show, I have had many shoppers come just once a year for the show who always get a piece each year. It’s amazing how many people have gotten excited about it and many of my customers who originally were more of the “vinyl collectors” have moved into plush.
I have to interject here to say that I think the fact that people come back year after year to add to their collections is a huge accomplishment. This show attracts patrons of plush. These are great customers because they are motivated. They come out every year with the intention of buying something new. They are likely to go home and look up artists whose work they admired at the show. Huge props to Kristen for helping our community to find and connect with these customers.
What Makes Plush Special?
I think plush deserves a spotlight because it’s accessible art. There are the obvious toys that you would never want to have a kid play with and then there are so many whimsical toys that both kids and adults can appreciate.
Let’s be honest, life is harsh in many ways but sitting in a room full of colorful, whimsical and creative toys makes you take things a little LESS seriously sometimes. Everyone has a little part of them that wants to tap into their childlike behavior from time to time. We all need rewards and indulgence and sometimes that means buying yourself a toy!
Toys can be for grown-ups! If you make handmade plush your toys are bound to be more expensive than mass market stuffed animals. Convincing people that it is indeed okay to buy a very special toy for themselves can sometimes be a bit of an uphill battle, but once they own one they’ll see! Life is short, buy a softie!
Schmancy is a Part of Kristen’s Unique Vision
As for Schmancy, I started it in a need to fulfill the itch of always wanting to own a store. I have no business plan, no kind of strategy ever which makes me not the most ideal shop owner, but it has managed to work out for the past seven years without too many disasters. When I have my moments of frustration, want good health care, etc. I also realize my life wouldn’t be as fulfilling without this place. I have so many great customers, the artists I have had the pleasure of
working with are amazing, many of whom I have become friends with.
Photo of Schmancy from Hello Craft.
I have tried to create a unique store that makes people think in a subtle way. I get a lot of customers that are confused when they realize it’s not just a toy store for kids but they slowly come around and it’s so fun to see how excited they can get.
Plush You! 2012 opens on October 12 at Schmancy in Seatlle, Washington. The show will feature the work of 65 plush artists, mine among them. Thank you, Kristen, for working hard to raise the recognition of handmade softies as an art form!