Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
William and I began working together on creative projects the very first time we met. After months of playful collaboration, we ended up with an assortment of jewelry and print design that we thought other people might like, and we opened up our Etsy shop, Son of a Sailor — it’s truly a union of two creative minds. We make things that are affordable, colorful, and spirited that we would like to have ourselves, and hope that other people enjoy.
Tell us about your previous working situations and how you discovered Etsy.
William is a graphic designer and illustrator that spent time in the Navy and the oil fields of Odessa, Texas. To say he has had a varied background is a bit of an understatement. When we met, he had just finished a year-long expedition around the world. He had spent a great deal of time in Greece, walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, traveled around the U.S., and ended up in San Francisco.
My background has been in fine art, photography, and design, working in museums and galleries for the past seven years. I have also spent quite a bit of time dabbling in interior design, and moonlighting as a contributing writer for Apartment Therapy. After spending a year at a fascinating and groundbreaking photography space in San Francisco, I decided to return to Austin with William to plant some roots.
Both William and I stumbled upon Etsy quite some time ago, and it had been our go-to for creative, one-of-a-kind gifts. It wasn’t until we were together, coming up with new designs and collecting a closet full of vintage items, that we utilized Etsy as an outlet to sell.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full time Etsy selling?
When William and I met, I was living in San Francisco and he was working in the oil fields of West Texas. After ten months of long-distance dating, I decided to return back to Austin to be with him. The day before William flew to San Francisco to make the drive back with me, he was severely injured on the job. He was smashed by a steel pipe that broke his collarbone in two, but he made the trip with me anyhow. We returned to Austin where he was immediately scheduled for surgery. The idea that he might continue working in the oil fields was pretty much out the window at that point. In a sense, we had a clean slate.
Over the next few months, we each began working a couple of part-time jobs. I began working with my best friend, Christine (of fail jewelry) in her new Austin boutique, Schatzelein, helping with branding, marketing, and her online presence. With Christine’s encouragement and some key pieces that we were excited about, we opened our shop in May of 2011.
William and I thought it would be a fun way for us to be creative together and bring in a little bit of residual income. We had read a good amount of articles on the Etsy Blog about how to successfully market yourself, but hadn’t yet invested a huge amount of time to our shop. We were pleasantly surprised when we began getting a great response.
Over the next couple of months, we really focused in on our jewelry line, and opened a separate vintage shop. We had created quite a few more pieces, and were excited about our collection. In August, we suddenly saw a huge influx of attention, and our sales increased by 500%!
We were elated, but also inundated with orders and wholesale inquiries. As we caught up with ourselves, we considered that this might be a real and valid job for us, and an opportunity to work together creatively as a profession! It was a bit of a leap of faith, but we decided to go with it and focus on Son of a Sailor as our full-time endeavor. In September, we went all in.
What is your favorite part of the process in designing jewelry?
We love the feeling of creating something from nothing. To end up with a beautiful item that began as just a concept is exhilarating. William and I agree wholeheartedly that the best part of this whole thing is that we get to work together creatively on a daily basis. We appreciate and enjoy the volley, the debate, and the collaboration that ensues.
What are your best marketing tips?
Marketing is an interesting beast. You can’t force someone to take interest in your product. You can, however, start conversations with people that are interested in the same sorts of things that you are.
- We really feel that it’s just a matter of getting in front of like-minded people via social media and gatherings. For us, the all-important next step is participating in the conversation once you’re there.
- Networking with other Etsy sellers is incredibly valuable. Create treasuries, favorite other people’s items, create large circles, and join groups.
- In the same vein, get into the blogging/Facebooking/tweeting thing. These are all ways to learn about fantastic new things — and if you participate, other people will learn about your fantastic new things!
- And get out there! Sell at markets, go to fairs, participate in holiday bazaars. Getting real feedback from people live and in person is pretty valuable.
- We hear some folks question the successfulness of product giveaways, but we’ve done pretty well with them, so far. Even if we don’t see a tremendous amount of sales generated from a giveaway, we have spent enough time on the blog to know that we’re happy to have that audience’s attention for a time.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
Our most popular item has probably been our Pecos Handpainted Bracelet. I think people really respond to the assortment of colors and designs that we have created. Each of the Pecos bracelets has a different personality. We feel like they’re little works of art that you can wear and live in.
Made any business mistakes you regret?
The only business mistake we regret is not getting started any earlier!
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
William is a night owl, and I am constantly striving to be more of a morning person. This is the perfect recipe for a scheduling challenge! We’re learning how to balance our time, and that it’s alright for there to be an opener and a closer. During those overlap hours when we’re both going full-steam, the biggest challenge is time management. It’s cliche, but it’s true!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Owning your own business means that instead of working 40 hours for someone else, you’re working 80 hours for yourself. Marry that with no paid vacation and no benefits, and you’ve got yourself the hardest part, in our opinion!
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
If we want to, although we are trying not to do often, we can work all day in our jammies!
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy?
We were just approached at Renegade Holiday Fair by a gentleman who is an interior designer. He’s currently working on a restaurant just down the street from my friend’s boutique, and he told us that he was inspired by one of our necklaces. He saw our Geometric Slice necklace in Vintage Blue, and loved the shape and color combination. In his words, it inspired the entire theme of the decor of the restaurant. That’s one of the best compliments we can imagine!
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
Save every receipt you ever get. Ever.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your businesses?
I think William and I would both be perfectly happy finding a way to continue creating and making in a way that we can sustain ourselves. William has been creating a series of children’s books that he’ll write and illustrate, which we would both love to see come to fruition. If we can continue making, pay the mortgage and bills, and perhaps stuff a little bit of money away for things like a family and the occasional vacation, we’ll be pleased as punch.
Anything else you would like to share?
Etsy is a fantastic place to set sail and voyage into creative self-employment. Like they say in the Navy: “Let the Journey Begin.”
Thanks for sharing your story, Jessica and William. Check out their work in the Seller’s Items below.