Category Archives:Makers

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism

I can’t tell you how excited I am to share a sneak peak of what to expect at Erin Mitchell‘s first solo show in San Francisco : Virtual Prism. Her work has come a long way since we spoke last June.

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & Birch

Mitchell’s studio was chalk-full of shiny materials. The light was shining bright into the studio during my visit and it was pure magic. Her materials reflected pops of color from paint cans to the art on the walls. The process is clearly seamless and she has nothing to hide. The new work is raw and confident in it’s presence. Here’s what Mitchell had to share with us:

It’s great to reconnect with Taupe & Birch as I finalize everything for my first solo show in San Francisco! It’s funny just how much can change in a year. Since the last time we spoke, my work has continued to develop by leaps and bounds, which is really exciting. I’m continuing to unravel my core interests and explore the ways I can best use materials to reflect what’s around me.

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & Birch

For my forthcoming solo show, Virtual Prism, which opens May 1st at Hang Art Gallery, expect a lot of new surfaces and raw materials. I’ve been working on everything from solar film to mirrored Mylar to acrylic plastic to holographic surfaces. These works come out of exploration of interfaces, physical and conceptual windows, and the superficiality of internet culture. I’ve become really fascinated by the role of the screen (smart phones, computers, TV) as a contemporary viewfinder, and this series of work focuses more on that lens and its boundaries, which we look through to see the content we’re searching for.

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & Birch

This body of work also subtly plays with ideas of internet aesthetics, and the flatness of contemporary culture, where images stand in for actual ideas or experiences. More and more, the representation or image of something proceeds its reality. Easily digestible viral content and memes reign supreme. Our short attention spans have been trained to glom onto the next quick, shiny thing. In this way, the online places we create become a reflection of us as well.

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchI’m at an exciting place in my work. I’m spending more time in the studio now, and I’m really able to dedicate serious time to my craft. I’m still growing each step of the way, but have been really lucky to have the time and space to devote to taking creative risks and exploring new territory. I’m looking forward to continuing to make and share my work, and it’s thrilling to engage in the dialogue around what I’m making.

Erin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & BirchErin Mitchell : Virtual Prism | Taupe & Birch

Here’s a link to our interview from last June. Virtual Prism opens at Hang Art in San Francisco on Friday, May 1, 2015. A reception will be held on Thursday, May 7th from 6-8pm.

SBG Designs

We sat down with Sara Beth Goldfine of SBG Designs, located in the North Loop Warehouse District of Minneapolis, to get the details on her line of timeless adornments, how it all began and the exciting plans of a fresh new look rolling out this fall.SGB Designs | Sara Chars

How did you first get into jewelry making and what ultimately inspired you to start SBG Designs?

As a little girl, I loved to take apart my moms jewelry and see what kind of creations I could come up with.  My tools included her nail scissors and eyebrow tweezers.  I had NO idea what I was doing, but I figured out how to put a piece together by taking other pieces apart.  Fast forward to my senior year of college at the University of Kansas… I was in the Fine Arts School getting my degree in Textile Design.  After taking a couple of Jewelry Design classes as electives, I fell in love again with jewelry design and started selling my work at local boutiques in Lawrence, Kansas as well as my home town of Minneapolis.  I was so inspired by the positive response to my collections that I decided to incorporate my business during my senior year and see where it took me.  A year later I was in Los Angeles launching my brand and seeing my jewelry on the cover of magazines.  It was the most amazing feeling!  I spent 6 years building my brand in Los Angeles before moving back to my stomping grounds.  The love and support I have received from my customers and the community is what keeps me inspired every day.

SGB Designs | Sara Chars

What is a typical work day like for you?

There really isn’t a typical work day… During the week, I have set responsibilities: completing special orders, replenishing inventory, responding to emails, etc.  Every day is so different.  Some days will be booked with appointments (customers stopping into the showroom) and other days consist of meetings outside of the showroom, photo shoots, Trunk Shows and Pop-Up Shops.  We also do a lot of traveling to cities like Chicago, New York, Florida and Los Angeles where we meet with our retailers and set up private showings and Pop-Up Shops.

SGB Designs | Sara CharsSGB Designs | Sara Chars

Do you have a particular style? How was this style inspired?

My personal style changes depending on my mood.  Most days I like to dress in oversized flowing tops and layer on the Boho necklaces with a stacked mixture of delicate bracelets.  If I’m going to a Black Tie event, I like to go with a Vintage or Hollywood Glam look:  Either pile on the Allure Bracelets and pair them with Goddess earrings or start with a Statement necklace or Glam Paisley and compliment the look with a Glam bracelet.

SGB Designs | Sara Chars

How long has SBG Designs been around and where can we find these gems?

Since 2004!  Available on our website ( as well as the following places:

Minneapolis Boutiques

  • A La Mode Boutique and Nail Spa
  • Arafina
  • Flutter
  • Indulge & Bloom
  • Primrose Park
  • MinQ
  • Three Rooms
  • SBG Designs Showroom


  • Denim Lounge
  • Willow
  • Tria

Los Angeles

  • The Beach House

SGB Designs | Sara CharsSGB Designs | Sara Chars

What is your favorite Minneapolis clothing boutique that you love to pair with your jewelry?

Can I say three?  Primrose Park, Arafina and MinQ!

Can you explain “Shop for a Cause”?

Throughout the years, we have collaborated with different nonprofit organizations and raised money and awareness for national and local charities.  We believe that the opportunity to build the community around us by supporting these organizations will allow the world to be a much better place.  By hosting fundraising events, creating special collections and donating to silent auctions, we hope to impact our community in a positive way.

SBG Designs | Sara Chars

What does the future look like for SBG Designs?

Stay tuned!  We have been really busy…working on something BIG!

Photographs by Sara Chars for Taupe & Birch

Queen For Dinner

Do you ever feel like there are so many small online shops that it’s hard to keep track of all of them? Me too. Rebecca Butler launched a new website this week where she does all of the hard work for us. It’s called Queen For Dinner. I was pretty excited about supporting small vendors so naturally, I had to sit down with the Etsy Curator and learn more.

Queen For Dinner | Taupe & Birch

We love Queen for Dinner and the product that you’ve curated! Can you tell us more about how your company evolved?

I came up with the idea of QFD from being both a seller and a buyer on Etsy. I love Etsy and love what they’re doing, but from a consumer point of view, it can get really overwhelming when you search for a necklace and over 250 pages of results come up – more than half of which I’m not even slightly interested in. It makes it hard to find things as a consumer, and hard to stand out as a seller. Yet, still, I always want to support small-vendors and small-business. Basically Queen For Dinner is my solution to this. We require a much more strict approval process, and we only feature items that we would want to purchase for ourselves. Most importantly, we don’t allow for any paid promotion – i.e. you can’t pay more money to have your item featured more frequently or higher up in search results. Promotion is solely based on what we like and what we think you’ll like, not money. In coming up with the tag line, “Cool stuff for cool girls,” it was really important to me to emphasize that we’re not saying, “buy this and you’ll be cool;” instead we’re trying to support every girl’s own unique cool self and style by providing them with things they might like. We don’t want to promote the idea that you need things or to look a certain way to be cool; we want to support women in being the cool girls they already are.

Queen For Dinner | Taupe & Birch
What’s your selection process like?

Sourcing vendors and products right now happens in two different ways. We have a submission form, through which we get a lot of great vendor submissions (as well as some that don’t quite fit into the QFD style). If we want to work with them, we send them the details on how exactly Queen For Dinner works, which items in specific we’re interested in, and a few of our forms they need to sign off on (including a quality standard form). Other than vendor submission forms, we find most of our vendors from Instagram actually. We’ve established a great presence on Instagram and are growing everyday. Queen For DinnerI find a lot of vendors just by digging through layers and layers of instagram accounts and photos. Some are found through Etsy and random places like craft fairs and farmers markets, but right now the majority I’m finding through Instagram. In order to be allowed on QFD (other than having really cute products), you must have a somewhat smaller following (i.e. a somewhat undiscovered artisan), and you must have reasonable prices (once again, we ask the question, “would I buy this?”). We love items made by other women, ethically made products, and US made products, but we don’t exclusively sell those things. We like to give all small artisans equal opportunity. Items are only on the site for 2 week batches and then we rotate vendors and items. After items ship, we do a quality check with customers to make sure they had a great experience and their purchases were as they had hoped. Vendors who receive below a four out of five rating will be reviewed and may not be allowed back on the site. The idea is that even though we’re a community of small vendors, we should be able to compete with (or be better than) the big boys. Quality and professionalism is extremely important to us.

Queen For Dinner | Taupe & Birch
What’s next?

In the future I see Queen For Dinner evolving into a more app-based platform. It seems to want that more instant and quick form of interaction because it is a flash-sale style site. Therefore, with an app it could easily update users any time a new batch was released so they can purchase the goods before they sell out since these are limited quantity products. I also think QFD could easily branch into a subscription based arena as well (similar to BirchBox) where women could sign up and receive a box of our favorite small vendor goods a few times a year – once we’ve built our reputation as trustworthy lifestyle tastemakers that is. Anyway, these are all quite a ways down the road, but I just think this idea has a lot of potential for growth and expansion.

Shop more from this weeks batch over at Queen for Dinner and be sure to follow them on Instagram for daily updates. Photos by Celisse Beruman. Content by Heather Day

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland, CA

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & Birch

T & B went behind the scenes with bay area artist, Anna Valdez in her Oakland studio. If you aren’t familiar with the artist already, Here’s a little background to her work.

As a visual artist with an academic background in anthropology, and video, she views artists as cultural producers. In her recent work, Anna attempts to combine these practices into a specific investigation that cultivates not only personal identity, but also cultural meaning. Currently, Anna is working on various narratives that explore her own traditions and history through a visual format. This process has led her to rely on photographs, stories, family recipes, horticulture, and the tradition of crafting as something concrete in order to construct an autobiography. She considers this examination to be a rite of passage into a globalized society while simultaneously finding a niche within.

Recently, many of her pieces have been still lifes. These arrangements have been composed from various household items such as her clothes, quilts, scarves, blankets, houseplants, drawings, paintings, books, records, and vessels. These items exist as a part of her domestic environment, and Anna has put them into  paintings to understand the domestic sphere as emblematic of both personal and collective experience. 

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchThanks for sitting down with us today. For starters, we love your work and would love to hear more about you. What’s your average day like?

I don’t think painting is just about applying paint to a surface; it also includes research, analysis and visual digestion.  I do spend at least a few hours a day reading about whatever topic currently captures my interest, looking at images online or in books, reading articles, drawing from my immediate space or talking out ideas with other artists in my community.  I tend to be most physically active in the studio at night.

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchStudio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchSounds wonderful. Your recent paintings are really intriguing. Can you tell us more about what inspired this series?

My current work is the result of what excites me in painting. I am interested in the exploration of lineage in art history. Much of my work references historical and contemporary painters. I use the tradition of still life painting in order to construct stories that convey my experiences into a visual story that reflects culture.

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchStudio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & Birch

Where do you find inspiration? Where do you see your work going next?

I think of the studio as an environment that allows me to explore various concepts. At the moment I have a few directions in which I would like to take my work. I’ve found that working at a fast pace helps accelerate discovery and things just happen. I want to continue working in a state of urgency in order to work out as many ideas as possible. This practice has helped me realize what I find interesting in painting and in my own work. Lately I’ve been painting at a larger scale. I feel that with the increased size the paintings have more of a physical presence. I like that the work acts as an extension of space within a room. 

Studio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchStudio Visit with Anna Valdez in Oakland CA | Taupe & BirchPhotos and content by Heather Day for Taupe & Birch. Special thanks to Anna Valdez for sharing her space with us! 

Be sure to follow Anna on Instagram and visit her website for the most recent photos of her work. 


Spark Letterpress in Northeast Minneapolis

Spark Letterpress, located in the heart of the arts district in Northeast Minneapolis, opened its new showroom and print shop this summer after about a ten year hiatus of leaving the Twin Cities. Growing from a business of two, husband and wife duo Jim Watne and Valerie Carlson, to more than ten full-time staff, Watne and Carlson knew they wanted to return to the Twin Cities to grow their business even further. We sat down with Valerie to get the inside scoop.

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How did you and your husband become interested in design and how did that carry over into custom letterpress?
I always considered myself to be creative and worked as a designer in my 20s for some large accounting firms. As much as I enjoyed the challenges of those positions – to be creative within a confined set of design standards – I wanted to branch out on my own. I began doing freelance design work for other companies and somewhere along the line I met Jim. We fell in love and he ultimately joined me in doing freelance design work since he had also been working as a designer. We designed our own wedding invitations and found that stationery was a great outlet for creativity in comparison to our regular freelance work. We decided that if we wanted to be truly successful and profitable that we should invest in a printing press. We happened upon letterpress for it’s beautiful impression left in the paper as well as the simplicity of the press. I’d say the rest is history but that is certainly oversimplifying the past 10 years.

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How long have you been doing letterpress and how you made the leap to starting a letterpress business?
We’ve been doing letterpress since 2004 and are so thankful to be pursuing that dream today. We knew that letterpress was a growing niche printing market and have worked really hard to become a print shop that people can trust to produce their ideas. Whether it is a gorgeous wedding stationery suite, your one-of-a-kind business card or just a simple note, we handle projects big and small.

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How many employees do you currently have and what are their roles to make everything operate smoothly?
There are 10 of us at Spark. We have four people in client service and design, three in production, two in operations and myself overseeing everything from creative direction, production management and cleaning the kitchen! We have been fortunate to find the right staff person for each position. We like a balance of skill, personality and flexibility because being in a small business is no small feat. We all need to function independent of one another and come together as a team to keep Spark running smoothly.

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Can you name a few of the publications your letterpress work has been featured in?
Spark’s custom invitations have been featured in national magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides (national and regional), Print, Communication Arts, Inside Weddings, Real Simple Weddings, The Knot, New York Weddings, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Stationery Trends, InStyle Weddings, Minnesota Bride, Seattle Bride, World Bride, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style and more. Spark has also been featured on numerous online media including FPO, Oh So Beautiful Paper, Paper Crave, The Brides Guide, Style Me Pretty, Merci New York, Casa Sugar, The Knot,,, Always a Blogsmaid and Communication Arts web pick.

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What would you say to the aspiring creative entrepreneur?
If it is your true passion or calling you will know because you won’t allow anything or anyone to get in the way of pursuing your dream. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts or haven’t been through hard times with Spark. I have and I will continue to experience that. Success doesn’t just happen, it is the result of working harder than you ever imagined possible. When your friends are having fun on the weekends, you should be writing your business plan or developing your marketing materials. When you want to get that new car, you should be evaluating whether it is a necessity and consider instead saving for that next big unexpected expense for your own company. I make difficult decisions each and every day and owning a creative business is not for the faint of heart.

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Content and photography by Sara Chars.

Made by Hand : Studio Visit with Kat Hicks + Zoe Ahlgren

Made by Hand | Taupe & Birch

Meet Kat Hicks and Zoe Ahlgren. Kat and Zoe are currently building a business constructing surfboards on a ranch in  Pacifica, California. I met Kat in college back in Baltimore and we recently crossed paths in the bay area. While their business is just starting off, I thought it would be interesting to document the lifestyle and process of a young business in California.

Zoe was born and bred Pacifica, a city just south of San Francisco. His family has owned and operated Shamrock Ranch since the gold rush. Being raised on a ranch, Zoe was raised with a steadfast work ethic that shows in the quality and quantity of his work. He is a conscientious craftsman who sees every piece as an opportunity to push himself and his craft.

Kat hails from the right coast, originally from Virginia Beach, VA. She has been drawing all her life and has a particular love for illustration and line work. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD she caught a ride west to San Diego with no plans other than to drop off a painting. While traveling up the coast she was introduced to Kevin Ancell, an amazing artist and painter who is affiliated with the RVCA ANP (artist network program). Relating to her artwork, he invited her to come be his assistant in Newport Beach, CA. She jumped at the chance and after finishing a road trip up the coast she found her way back to Newport where she spent the next 3 months learning from Ancell, helping him prepare for an upcoming show in Santa Monica, and mulling around the RVCA HQ. Kevin knew Zoe from Pacifica, where he was living before Newport, and asked him to come down to make him some large scale canvases. Kevin had taught Zoe a lot about shaping surfboards and Zoe ended up shaping two boards for Kev’s show.

Once Kat and Zoe met they were pretty much inseparable. Kev, realizing he had already lost his assistant, sent her back to Pacifica to continue some of the work from his studio. A year later Kat and Zoe are still together and currently live on the ranch together where they’re developing a unique style of both foam and hollow wooden surfboards.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchIMG_1375

What made you interested in making surf boards? Kevin taught Zoe how to shape boards. Zoe was determined to design a hollow wooden board that was comparable to a foam one. Kat is still learning how to shape.. and surf..but she’s been interested in designing them since a young age. She liked the idea of someone not only owning her artwork, but riding it. Kevin showed her how to work with abalone shell and Zoe has taught her a lot about wood inlay. Between the two of them they’re making some insanely unique boards.
 What’s your average schedule like?
Zoe works on the ranch most of the day which can range from general maintenance things like, fixing broken pipes and roofs, to more interesting tasks like chasing down liberated horses. Kat works for Barbara Butler treehouses, building, you guessed it, treehouses. Lately their off hours have been devoted to refurbishing the old dairy processing building into a house for themselves.


Tell me about the property you live on. 
Zoe’s grandfather bought the property, a much more expansive version, during the gold rush at the turn of the century. He started off as a furrier and ran a pawn shop in the city. They had a variety of animals and livestock come through the ranch over the years and have dabbled in farming as well. For a long time they had cows where they processed and bottled local milk. Presently, the ranch is owned by Zoe’s mom, Dana, but managed by him and his sister, Serena. His twin sister, Ari, and brother, John, live on the ranch as well. They operate a dog kennel and daycare and have over 100 horses on the property.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about making surf boards? 
Zoe’s favorite is sanding, the part of the shaping process where you make the board look less like a chunk of foam or pieces of wood, and more like a surfboard. You get to make it beautiful. While Kat loves sanding too, she really finds an almost masochistic enjoyment in tiny, meticulous, wood and shell inlay. They both hate glassing, it’s the worst. It’s really hard and is always presenting new challenges that are either incredibly difficult or impossible to fix. Plus fiberglass is itchy and resin is toxic.’s the worst.
How long does it take to make a board? It varies greatly, depending on wood vs / no art.. is it a shape we’ve worked with before (are we replicating a board) or is this a whole new shape..? Generally for foam about 4-5 days of solid work. A wood board takes a good bit longer just because theres a lot of waiting around for glue to dry. It can be as short as just over a week to a whole month though depending on the board shape and amount of detail.

IMG_1398IMG_1369IMG_1426Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & Birch

What’s next from here? We don’t have any definite plans. We’d like to launch a website and maybe make some sort of order form but both of us are a little gun shy when it comes to commissions. First and for most we’d love to just sell what we’ve already made out there. So after the gallery show ends this week we’ll look for restaurants and other galleries that might want some boards.
What are your sources of inspiration? Danny Hess is an obvious one, though after learning a lot of his boards now are foam with wood veneer..we can’t lie..he’s a little tainted!  Reynolds Yater is also an awesome shaper who you can’t help but respect and look up to. Alex Pardee is a huge one for Kat, as well as James Jean, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton and Ben Horton.
The Keatings..Dick and Penny Keating are two amazing people who have lived in Pacifica since it was called San Pedro Valley. They own that dock we took you out on. Dick is an amazing shaper and surfer, we call him all the time for help and he’s always super generous with his time and knowledge. They’re definitely the first ones we run to when we finish a board, its gotta past the Keating test. DK is also Kev’s surrogate father..that’s how Kat was introduced to the Keatings, Kev brought her home to meet “the family”. And of course, Kev.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchContent and photography by Heather Day


MAI: Clothing Made to Move with You through Your Active Day

MAI, a local clothing company in the Twin Cities, makes unique and original activewear inspired by both the city and nature around us. We sat down with owner Emma Holcomb to get the details on the history of MAI, the process and the latest fall collection that just launched.MAI : Behind the Scenes | Taupe & Birch

How did you get started in fashion design and specifically in designing yoga apparel? 
I graduated from UW-Stout with a degree in Apparel Design and Development. As my yoga practice grew, I started searching for cute yoga pants and I couldn’t find any! I searched everywhere and couldn’t find what I was looking for. Until I walked in to Lululemon and wanted everything, but couldn’t afford anything! I’d rather spend my money on great food and experiences with friends and family than on fancy clothes. There was a huge gap in the market for affordable but cute and trendy workout clothes and I knew I could fill that! My favorite part about building MAI has been that it is all made locally in Minnesota, and always will be.

MAI : Behind the Scenes | Taupe & Birch Can you tell us a little more about what MAI represents as a company?
The name MAI comes from our mantra: I AM enough. MAI is I AM backwards. We believe that who you are, is exactly who you should be. Loving yourself as you are can bring you the most enjoyment in life.

What is the start to finish process of creating a new product like?
It’s a ton of work, but it’s a blast! We take our time to find the inspiration for our next line and then start designing and sourcing fabrics- this can take a while, but when everything comes together, it is the best feeling! Once we have designs and fabric we start making patterns and testing each piece to make sure it fits great while you live your active life. When that is complete we cut out all the of the fabric in our basement! Then it goes to our wonderful seamstress in Saint Louis Park, we get it back, print our logo on it and then it is time for us to put together our photoshoot and update our website. The best part is shipping it to our customers, we couldn’t do it without all of the support we’ve received over the past 2 years.

Where can we find MAI?
We are located at Minnesota Power Yoga on Washington ave in the North Loop and will be expanding to other local studios this fall! Until then, find us online at and follow us on social media @fashionbyMAI to get our latest updates and info on pop-up events.


What advice would you give to young women wanting to start something on their own like you have done with MAI?
Starting your own business or collection is the hardest part, there are a lot of questions and unknowns, but just start. Keep your expectations attainable and allow yourself to fail, you will learn so much as you grow, in ways you could never have foreseen. And just keep going, and smile and enjoy the ride.

MAI turns 2 this November! Come celebrate with us at Minnesota Power Yoga- Facebook has all of the details. We’d love to offer Taupe & Birch readers 20% off all of our online Fall collection (scarves and summer clearance not included). Use code: TB20.

MAI Poster V2

Photographs by Jake Armour, Hair & Makeup by Kate Carroll, Model is Brianna of Ignite Models.

Content curated by Sara Chars.



Workspace Envy

This month, we’re exploring some of our favorite workspaces from across the web.  As far as criteria, I was seeking spaces that were gender neutral. I like to stick with spaces that have a soft voice to avoid distraction while working. I was particularly interested in spaces that looked worked in.

Workspace Envy | Taupe & BirchWorkspace Envy | Taupe & Birch

Fashion icon, Jenna Lyon‘s work space.Workspace Envy | Taupe & BirchWorkspace Envy | Taupe & BirchMonotoned workspace by Hege Morris Workspace Envy | Taupe & Bircharielealasko

Workspace Envy | Taupe & Birch

Rustic studio of Ariele Alasko.

Content curated by Heather Day 

Interview with Designer Beau Sinchai of Koonyai Studio

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Today we’ve got the inside scoop on designer and founder of Koonyai Studio, Beau Sinchai. A true woman of passion and dedication, Sinchai has had a love for all things design since she was little and truly has a natural eye for it. Her interest in jewelry making transpired after her undergraduate classes in structural architecture at the University of Minnesota where she started experimenting and constructing small wire-frame design models for various assignments.

Aided by her entrepreneurial spirit and go-getter attitude, Koonyai studio — named after her beloved grandmother — was born. Sinchai says she wanted a creative outlet and a personal project of her own. Without much initial experience, she dove head first and started her own business selling her jewelry on Etsy. Her handmade designs are bold, custom and simple. Her materials are fresh and unique (you don’t see too many designers mixing their own concrete!).

While most of her time goes into her one-woman run business, Sinchai is also attending graduate school studying 3D Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. She is currently entering her second year and preparing her thesis on using products and visual communication to address social issues and start conversation. She continually puts one foot in front of the other on her path to success and never looks back. Sinchai is extremely hard working, not afraid of making mistakes and is relentlessly passionate about learning. She is fearless and a true inspiration to anyone.

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We are honored to feature you on T&B! Can you tell us how the name Koonyai Studio come about? What significance does this name mean to you? Koonyai means beloved grandmother in Thai. After my father passed away when I was very young, financial circumstances forced my mother to leave Thailand to find career opportunities overseas. My three siblings and I grew up under the care of our grandmother. Witnessing how hard she works, how much love she gives, and her entrepreneurial spirit, I was determined that I would name something in her honor. So when I started my handmade jewelry business, Koonyai was the first name that came to mind. I added Studio to represent my practice style as it is very hands on. Koonyai Studio is a design studio dedicated to my beloved grandmother.

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How did you get interested in designing and making jewelry? I taught myself how to make jewelry in middle school by reading books from the library because Youtube wasn’t a thing back then (laughs). Jewelry making has been one of my hobbies for the longest time but I never took it serious enough to consider making a business out of it. After receiving my degree in Architecture and being a year into graduate school for 3D design, I realized I cannot and do not want to work for a big corporate design company. I want to have my own business.

As soon as my first year of grad school ended, I started Koonyai Studio from the ground up. I knew basically nothing about how to run a business, all I knew was how to make things. My undergrad and grad school is very theory-driven, so I use jewelry making as an outlet for me to turn conceptual design ideas into a physical objects. It has been very rewarding for me because it is an excuse to make very minimal yet architecture-inspired jewelry.

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What materials do you use to make your jewelry? We noticed you use concrete and we absolutely love that and feel it’s such a unique niche in the handmade jewelry marketplace. What’s the process for this like?  Aww thank you! Concrete and wire is my main material because they remind me of construction concrete and steel rods used in buildings. Concrete as a material is very strong, but when used on such small scale like I do, it ends up being very fragile. There are concrete mixes for jewelry making being sold, but the price is high so I decided to make my own concrete. Being independent of readymade mixes allows me to offer my concrete jewelry at more reasonable prices compared to the current market.

Looking back, it took me a full month of experimenting to get it right. From concrete proportion to mold making to sanding to finishing, every step in the process requires extensive experimentation. The process is full of frustration at times but the result is immeasurable joy. It also makes me happier to know that I am able to develop better and better jewelry because I know exactly what’s in the concrete I make.

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We know you are a busy lady with teaching summer courses at MCAD, designing, making jewelry and attending grad school for your second year this fall. What’s a typical day like for you? Please don’t judge me when I say this. Haha. During the summer, my days start around 11am and end at 3am. I found that I am most creative very late at night, and most productive early in the morning. I do not have a set schedule of when I do what, but I set a specific allowed time for each activity that geta shuffled depending on my mood and the importance of tasks each day. Finishing my to-do list from the night before is two hours and I dedicate a couple hours of my day for digital work. This includes photographing new works, writing up descriptions of products, emailing stores, and connecting with social media. Another two-three hours is for managing orders and shipments, and business keeping. The rest of the day is spent making and designing. Before going to bed, I created a list of things I need to finish tomorrow. This helps me sleep better at night knowing exactly what the next day will entail.

My schedule is different when I teach or I have class. School and teaching come first even if that takes up my entire day. Then time with Koonyai Studio is squeezed in whenever possible. There are times when I pulled all-nighter and did not even notice it. I am so happy doing Koonyai Studio that I never feel like it’s work.

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Where is Koonyai Studio jewelry currently being sold? Currently, Koonyai Studio is on Etsy and gift shops around Minneapolis. However, my preferred platform is Etsy because I am able to interact with my customers which is lacking when my works are being sold in stores without me there. I love being able to include handwritten notes to customers and to follow up with their recent purchase to make sure my products meet their standard.

In addition, I am able to make sure the customers feel that each of Koonyai Studio products is made with care through our special packaging. I want the customers to feel as if they got a gift in the mail and to love it from the minute the package is in their hands, even before they see the products. This is why I put just as much time creating packaging. All jewelry is wrapped in Koonyai Studio small cotton bag made in house before packaged with hand written note from the owner of Koonyai Studio, aka me :). All packages are wrapped and treated like presents because after all, it is a present.

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Any additional thoughts you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs out there? I have so many things running through my mind, but the most important thing is to just go ahead and do it. Things take time to launch and succeed. So you can put it off and wait until next year for a “better time” or start now and see your business grow bigger next year.

Also, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. DO NOT do that ever! I made this mistake when I just started out. The first couple weeks went by and I did not sell a single thing. You may laugh at this, but a couple weeks seems like years when you see other sellers have hundreds and thousands of sales. It was like comparing myself to an Olympics runner when I just learned how to crawl.

I am happier now that I learned to grow my business at my own pace and celebrate the little milestones along the way. Everyone has a different business model. Some people start off with grand capital investment and take lots of risks. Some people plan their business for several years before starting it with a clear model in mind. I started right away where I am with what I have and learn as I go. Find your own way of creating a business and go for it.


**Be sure to check out our Instagram for a special giveaway of two pairs of earrings handmade by Koonyai Studio to two lucky winners!

Photographs with models by Vutography, all other photographs courtesy of Beau Sinchai of Koonyai Studio.

Content curated by Sara Chars.

On Trend : Pop-Up Shops

Let’s be real, pop-up shops are on trend and becoming the new thing. What a fun and versatile way to sell anything from cupcakes and posters to handmade clothing, plants and old records. Here are some awesome pop-up shops, whether stationary or mobile, these shops are fleeting so be sure to stop over if you spot them!

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And what cooler way to both run a small business and travel than to own a mobile pop-up shop, commonly in converted vintage Volkswagen vans or the “silver bullet” airstream trailers.

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Dear Hearts, started last May by two friends, is a mobile pop-up shop in the Durham, NC area. Friends Stella and Donna said, “we envisioned a space that fosters a warm feeling of community, excitement and home. We wanted to create a store that is an interesting mix of our different personal styles, a place to house emerging new brands that we love alongside seamlessly integrated, clean & classic vintage, a place where our friends and customers would feel comfortable exploring and experimenting with their own style or just popping in and having a beer with us.”

Cool side note — I discovered them through one of my favorite bands, Sylvan Esso, whom they do styling for. Check their blog for more deets!

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Photos screen shot from their video here.

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Small Room Collective, another mobile pop-up shop run by duo Lauren and Travis Hardy, is still touring the US for its second season in a row. Check their 2014 tour route to see if they are stopping near your city!

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Photos from their Instagram account here.

Content curated by Sara Chars.