This post is the latest in a new segment I introduced on the blog: Small Biz Spotlight! As an aspiring small business owner myself, I know a few of the struggles associated with running your own shenanigans, especially when it comes to marketing and building rapport. I want to do whatever I can to be an advocate for other people like me. Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting small businesses!
I’m not lying when I say that Jimi Hightower is easily one of the coolest people I know. She’s the kind of person you become friends with pretty much instantly, and she makes you feel like the most important person around whenever you’re together. We met years ago through our husbands, who were in a big homegroup bible study together, and even though she and her husband Stephen moved to Seattle not long after Daniel and I got married, we’ve stayed in touch off and on. We even got to spend a fun day with them on the tail end of our Alaska trip a few years ago!
Jimi is insanely creative and talented, and she was one of the first people I thought of when I had the idea for the Small Biz Spotlight. In 2016, she and her friend Sarah started an Etsy business called The Dear Fox, and I can’t wait to show you all the cute stuff they make!
Embracing The Chaos: When did you start The Dear Fox? Was it on Etsy first, then Instagram? Where does the majority of your business come from now?
The DEAR/DEER Fox (Sarah): Jimi and I decided to start the Dear Fox one rainy morning at her apartment in Seattle. We love to craft together, especially in a town like Seattle where the majority of the time it is cold, raining, and grey. Jimi taught me to embroider in 2016 and I’ve been doing it since. That morning, we brainstormed names and came up with the animals we most closely identify with and played around with our options, and The Dear Fox was born! The majority of our business I believe is trafficked from Instagram to our Etsy. We have been vendors at a few events, which cultivated more followers via Instagram, who were then sent over to our Etsy for our full collection.
The Dear FOX (Jimi): Back in grad school, we picked out spirit animals for our girl gang and they just kinda stuck. Sarah’s a deer (Reindeer) and I’m a fox. When it came around to the arduous challenge of naming our business, we thought incorporating our spirit animals would be a cute way to make our mark. The Deer Fox was taken, so after playing around with spellings and word arrangements, we finally settled on The Dear Fox, which ended up being cute in its own way. We started on Etsy and then utilized Instagram as a way to market our business. Originally, the majority of our business came through Etsy, but Sarah has been takin’ our wares to craft shows in Tennessee, and so now most of our business is coming from those sales. Etsy can be really challenging because there’s SO much and it’s hard to make it to those first few pages. It’s really important to market what you’re selling in such a way that people will search for it.
ETC: So what made you want to start a small business, and a crafting business in particular?
Sarah: After six months of daily embroidering, I had accumulated so many pieces that I didn’t know what to do next. This has become such a passion project, and a hobby I turn to when I’m feeling anxious, bored, sad, happy, excited. It takes my mind off of everything and just becomes very therapeutic. Turning our craft into a money-making endeavor is only because it is so fun, I enjoy it so much, and I create often. I wanted to share the final product with anyone who is interested.
Jimi: I’ve always been quite the crafter, so when I started making things that I was wearing often, people started asking me where they could get one. I started doing commission pieces, and then realized that I could actually make some money from my hobby and share my creations with other folks. Sarah was in the same boat, so we decided to give pursuing a legitimate online business a shot!
ETC: What training/resources/etc. did you use to get started?
Sarah: Jimi is a constant resource and support for me. Professionally, personally, and as a hobbyist. She and I have a true friendship and connection, and we always bounce ideas off of each other and our group of like-minded best friends. Jimi really got us started from the beginning. From teaching me the craft to begin with, to maintaining our social media, to hearing out ideas and responding to criticism. We make a great team and resource for each other in a lot of facets of our lives.
Jimi: When we first started out, and especially when we were working on getting our business license, I spent a lot of time researching “how to start a business.” Every state is different and Washington is pretty strict, but it was encouraging that a lot of folks were asking the same questions, and I found the licensing websites to be really helpful. Etsy also has a lot of informative blogs that helped point me in the right direction, but they’re very clear that you’re on the hook for everything so it’s important to have your ducks in a row.
ETC: Work-wise, do you consider your business a full-time or part-time gig?
Sarah: Definitely part-time, if even that. We do this for fun. We do this because we like it, it is something that keeps us busy, creating, and working together – which we really like to do!
Jimi: Definitely part-time, and it ebbs and flows. When we’re preppin’ for a show, I’ll spend every spare minute sewing; but then there are times when I won’t sew for months. It just kind of depends on what we have lined up and how much inventory we have on hand.
ETC: Where does your inspiration for your pieces come from, and what do you enjoy most about creating/being an artist?
Sarah: My inspiration seems to come with the current pulse of the nation. In 2016-2017, my work leaned toward the political left for obvious reasons. Since the aftermath, I’ve done lighter themes like fun rap lyrics that can be considered a little risque but in feminine colors and styles. Lots of organic colors and shapes found in nature. And because I work in a zoo, I love to do animals – an animal pun is even better. What I enjoy most about being an artist/creator/maker is working on something that brings me joy and then sharing it and seeing joy on someone else’s face. I love the Weeknd, and I did a fun sexy quote with him but in very traditional stitch style. A woman likely in her 70’s bought it and absolutely loved it, and this was one of my highlights of this whole project with The Dear Fox.
Jimi: I like to create things that enhance and showcase pieces that you love. I sew all of our shawls, and I LOVE picking out the fabric. I have a clear aesthetic (florals, earth tones, and busy patterns), so it can be hard for me to get outside my patterned comfort zone. I like picking fabric that flows and accentuates the patterns and makes what you’re wearing pop. I also make our jewelry displays, which are typically made to order because the supplies are hard to get a hold of, which makes them a little pricier. I LOVE jewelry and was tired of having it all stashed away most of the time (Lord knows I can’t wear it all!), so when I came across an old type drawer at a flea market, I thought a modified version would be a unique way to showcase my jewels. When I make something, I want it to make a statement – sometimes it’s a shawl with a busy pattern that flits around behind you when you’re struttin’ down the sidewalk on a nice summer day; other times it’s a piece of junk that got a new life displaying your memories contained in that necklace you got when you were on vacation, the ring from your grandma, the bracelet your friend gave you, or those earrings you never wear but can’t bring yourself to give away.
ETC: Where do you envision your business going?
Sarah: I envision Jimi and I constantly being open to change and flexible on the direction we take this endeavor. We love growing and learning, and we welcome change, which, in my opinion, can only bring good things.
Jimi: I don’t really know. I know it’s good to have vision and goals and all that, but Sarah and I have always been flexible in our business plan and mostly do it as a way to share our craft and make a little side dough. So, I’m excited to see where things go and am looking forward to opportunities that may pop up.
ETC: What are the top 3 things you’d tell an aspiring small business owner?
Sarah: 1. Be patient, don’t expect to sell sell sell immediately (or ever) in a saturated platform like Etsy or in a creative environment like Seattle. 2. Think outside the box and be malleable. 3. Work with someone you trust, know well, have worked with before, and, most importantly, love endlessly and through thick and thin.
Jimi: 1. Taxes are confusing, especially when you’re dealing with inter-state. However, I’ve found the city/state business and tax reps to be incredibly helpful. I’ve called and emailed them with various questions and they’ve always been helpful and responsive. Odds are, you’re not the only one with that question. 2. Come up with a formula for pricing. There are tons of resources out there to help you come up with your own. Whatever you use, make sure you’re payin’ yourself for the work you’re putting in. For me, it was helpful to have some structure to how I was pricing items because it also made me feel validated if someone pushed back on prices (people can be real rude sometimes). 3. Own it. You made it, you built it, be proud of it.
ETC: And finally, most importantly…french fries, or potato chips?
Sarah: Gotta get that potato chip crunch.
Jimi: DEFINITELY French fries.
And now that you’ve heard a little about them, here’s a look at their work!