How did you get started?
It may sound melodramatic, but Swanky Janes was started from my motherly desperation to help my 15 year-old daughter when she came down with a debilitating chronic illness. Creating and art were significant passions of my daughter, Blythe, and I wanted to find something she could do in her invalid state as she had already had to give up many of her other dreams. So after seeing how much hand painting some detailed brass buttons helped lift Blythe's spirit in using her gifts, I suggested we figure out how to create a doll for her little sister. The excitement was catching as we sketched out possible designs and finally created a prototype. We used whatever fabrics we had on hand at the time, so the doll had blue skin and green frizzy yarn hair! Quite ugly, but the design was sound, so we bought some pretty fabrics and soft yarn to make our first topsy turvy doll. We were hooked and started designing different dolls and animals. Somewhere in that flurry of activity, we decided to open up an Etsy shop and start selling our original cloth dolls and softies.
Where do you get inspiration from and what inspires you?
Our inspiration comes from the memory of what childhood playtime used to be like before electronics and “talking” toys inundated so many aspects of everyday life. When life was a simpler, the slower pace allowed you to soak in your surroundings, be aware of it, see the wonder in it, and make it part of your play. It was a time that was full of imagination, movement, and outside play. It was about remembering the magic of telling all your secrets to your favorite animal or doll and holding tight onto them for comfort or to keep you company as you drift off to sleep.
Our love and enjoyment of a child's natural curiosity and imagination inspires us to want to foster that. That's why our doll lines for the younger ages have faces that are minimal or without features. It naturally allows the child to imagine more of their play. With two little ones in our household, one young girl and a toddler boy, they definitely are a huge part in what we create and inspire us what to make next.
How do you maintain work life balance?
I'm not sure there really is a balance where life and work equal each other. I think it's more like each side will take turns weighing more than the other. The key is recognizing which it needs to be at the time in hand. We've had to put Swanky Janes on the shelf for periods of time here and there due to health issues and unexpected tragedies. We've always felt guided by God in what we do and to do our best in using wisdom, not running faster than we have strength, and being mindful of what's most important in life.
Where do you see your brand going in the next five years?
We're actually working on the logistics and seeking funding to open a brick and mortar store in our community; a children's boutique under our name, but that also includes other curated handmade items that fit with our values and vision. We want to gather local artisans and women who wish to stay home with their littles but need supplemental income, and help them by contracting them to create for us. We'll be expanding our brand to include original clothing designs for children and wooden games and toys. Although we've enjoyed some success in selling online and have received some amazing custom orders, one that led to our dolls being on a prime time tv show! (what?!), a brick and mortar shop is beneficial with specialty handmade items like ours. It allows for the customers to be able to handle, touch, and size the items themselves before they purchase. To be able to inspect the quality and details up close will make a difference, rather than trying to convince them through pictures, descriptions, and positive reviews to take home one of out creations.
How do you stay motivated?
Good question! In all sincerity, our motivation comes from knowing we're doing what God wants us to do with our gifts. We've experienced seeing the joy and comfort our dolls have brought the receivers of them, especially the children fighting cancer, and there is nothing like it. It was this very thing that helped Blythe through her deep struggles during such a difficult time in her life. Thinking of others and their needs is certainly a good motivator.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurial creative is out there?
That's a loaded question. I think we can approach this in looking back when we first began and what we wish we knew right off the bat. It would have been nice to find a mentor who we could pester, I mean “pepper” with our questions, and get guidance in business matters, among other things. So we'd suggest finding a mentor.
We'd also advise not to unduly compare your creations with others in the same line of work. Keep focused on developing your own work and creations and what speaks of and is true to you. That is the beauty of artistry in all forms; putting a piece of yourself in each design to bring joy to the beholder or receiver.
Make sure to stop by Swank Janes online shop HERE and see their latest creations!