By Stephanie Finnegan
Introducing the 2019 Handmade Entrepreneur of the Year winner, runner up and four participants of note. Congratulations to everyone mentioned and a big thank you to every one that participated.
2019 HEY Winner: Heather Gray
It’s fitting that Heather Gray should have received the top honor of Handmade Entrepreneur of the Year. Having toiled in the handmade arena for 15 years, Gray acknowledges that red-carpet swag and celebrity gift bags helped to give her a higher profile and a visible online presence.
Under the GoosieGirl moniker, Gray creates fabulous fascinators, flower crowns, bows, hats, clips, and over-the-top, photogenic accessories. Her creations are worn as attention-grabbing headwear and used as photo-shoot props or as ways for any customer to stand out from a crowd. Several years ago, Gray encountered Lisa Gal Bianchi, the entrepreneur behind Hollywood Gift Baskets. This crossing of paths opened up a star-filled doorway for Gray, who was tapped to contribute items for entertainment gift bags, baskets, and gifting suites. If an artist was nominated for an Emmy or a Grammy, one of Gray’s creations would be included in their congratulations swag. If a celebrity gave birth, Gray was called upon to help feather the star’s gift basket.
“I love networking and meeting new people that have a passion and hustle for creating handmade products. Through this Beverly Hills gift basket company, I got connected to the celebs, and it took off from there,” Gray explained. “I also took a course by Sarah Shaw of Entreprenette, who has a CD (Audible Book) course called ‘How to Get Your Products into Celebrity Hands.’ I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to break through on the A-list celebrity scene.”
Growing up as an only child, Gray acknowledges that she was fated to be a maverick and a self-starter. From an early age, she was left on her own to entertain herself and to fill the hours of her day: “I learned at a very young age to depend on myself, and if I needed something done, I’d need to make it happen myself. That’s not to say I didn’t have encouragement from my mom. She raised me to believe that I was special and could do anything that I put my mind to.”
Additionally, Gray had a day-to-day role model in her grandfather. “He was an entrepreneur and owned his own printing shop. His determination, stick-to-itiveness, and dedication was a great inspiration to me.”
“I also own a site similar to Etsy, but much smaller. Gypsy Spoonful features 100 percent handmade, only-by-U.S.-makers creations. It is truly the one site that places people before profits, and community before competition. It requires at least nine hours a day of my time, and I do everything with the help of a volunteer admin team,” Gray advised.
“The very most satisfying part of starting Gypsy Spoonful is seeing handmade succeed. I am so passionate about educating and empowering my small shop owners. I come alongside them and walk the walk with them,” Gray recounted.
Drawing upon her 15 years in the handmade field, Gray has pledged her heart and soul to the Gypsy Spoonful site, which kicked off in 2017. “Now that I create and promote handmade through Gypsy Spoonful, I don’t think I could ever go back to a regular 9-to-5 job in a cubicle. Today, I love what I am doing, and I feel so proud every time I see one of my small shop owners grow or make a sale. I actually feel like I am their mama goose and they are my goslings.”
2019 HEY Runner Up: Alexis Moyer
When Alexis Moyer is asked to think of an adjective to describe herself, she gladly proffers the word “determined.” The owner of The Pot Shop, based in Philo, California, Moyer grew up in a retail world. She understood from an early age the sacrifice and self-direction that is needed to make a go of it in an entrepreneurial situation.
“I think all successful artists are determined because the motivation to do the work comes from inside ourselves. I read a book recently called ‘Creative Confidence’, and it was a really interesting premise. I came away with the conclusion that I had no shortage of that!” Moyer admitted.
Like many entrepreneurs and self-employed artisans, Moyer has faced down the anxieties and worries that a health crisis can create. Three years ago, she became a kidney donor so that her daughter could receive a life-saving transplant. This is an emotionally draining scenario under any circumstance, but for a handmade entrepreneur it can become even more nerve-wracking and risky. A gallery proprietor and artist has to plan for the future – involving downturns in health and finances – and Moyer has always risen to those demands.
“My challenges have been on a personal level. Balancing motherhood with running my business has always felt like I was trying to keep a lot of plates spinning to keep everyone happy and give all parts of my life the attention they need,” Moyer said. “I finally learned to STOP apologizing for everything I wasn’t doing and, instead, be grateful that I was my own boss and could close when I needed to.”
Leaning on her positive mind-set, Moyer viewed her self-employment as a godsend in a trying time. “I could close when my children needed me; and to me, that freedom is the gift that entrepreneurship gives to those brave enough to take the risk of being responsible for their own livelihood.”
Grateful for her good fortune, and wanting to show gratitude in her life, Moyer began a line of wall hearts that make a charitable donation to kidney research. She began this mission as she prepped for her kidney donation, and she continues to do this as a fund-raiser: “I call these my Hearts Full of Love. It is amazing to hear the stories from people who connect with them on a personal level, as well as spreading awareness around the importance of organ donation with everyone who purchases them.”
2019 HEY of Note
More than a decade ago, Linda Billet bid farewell to her job at the post office. She walked away and has never regretted that fateful decision. An artist who specializes in glass mosaics, Billet listens to her heart and then creates her pieces. She never has to fret about what came first: The chicken or the egg? The business plan or the inspiration? The pricing or the vision? For Billet, it’s always what bubbles in her mind, and then the rest falls into place.
“I am not trying to make work that I’m sure will sell. I am trying to make good work that is saying what I want it to say. After the work is finished, then I go about selling it,” Billet stated. “A lot of this philosophy comes with my age. A really great mosaic may take me a month or two to complete. That doesn’t give me enough time to fabricate all the ideas I have in my head, and I get more ideas every day. There’s no time to make work that is not important to me.”
Being a champion for herself and an advocate for others ranks high among Billet’s goals. She works with school children in group projects that involve creating and finishing a large mosaic together. “Because school projects are worked on by rotating groups of kids, each time a kid enters a room, there is a massive amount of progression that happened while they were gone. It is so cool to hear their praise for their own and each other’s work,” Billet revealed.
“I try to get done with projects a day early so I can talk to them about making a living in a non-traditional field. For years, I have kept letters from teachers with notes from kids. I try to give these kids faith in themselves and optimism about their future,” Billet stated. “This is not altruistic. This is my way of making the changes I wish to see in the world. I want to give these people self-confidence because they are the ones that will be piloting planes we are on, taking care of us in nursing homes, tending the world for you, me, and my grandchildren. It only makes sense to empower these people. I am doing what I can the way I am able, and that feels good.”
Tahmi DeSchepper is the very essence of a Renaissance woman. Able to see a need, and then envision a way to solve it, the jewelry designer is “crafty” in every sense of the word. She is enterprising, resilient, curious, talented, clever, and driven.
“Because I’m self-taught in so many different areas, I was never exposed to the ‘this can’t/shouldn’t be done’ limitations that are the unintentional byproduct of the educational process. For example, I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning glass workers have come over to explain to me why my signature ‘woven metal under glass’ technique is wrong/shouldn’t work/won’t work. Even as I have the sparkly proof that it does work in my booth! And because I go down the path rarely traveled, my work has a distinctive look all its own,” DeSchepper described.
Among all the hours that DeSchepper spends inventing and innovating, she has also managed to carve out time for online communities, like Flourish at Artisan Indie. She gravitates to the groups that offer the tools for creative types to build online stores and businesses. “I have benefited greatly from people generously sharing knowledge with me over the years, and I love to give back by sharing my knowledge when I can. But I do have my toes in many different online communities and am always happy to share resources and knowledge with those who are ready to get off the road and take their creative business in a new direction,” DeSchepper offered.
Additionally, DeSchepper is enthused about the work she is doing with Amazon. She was selected by Handmade at Amazon to meet with policymakers regarding what this service has done for her handcrafted business and others that she is aware of. Amazon also handpicked her to be filmed to raise the profile of her business and of handmade entrepreneurs. “I am excited about this opportunity and the additional opportunities for advocacy this might create.”
Kristi Lyn Glass
Kristi Lyn Glass does not cower from a dilemma. While some people tremble with worry or fret about where to turn, Glass has confidence that she is trekking in the right direction. She doesn’t scramble her mind with anxiety about her orienteering or her creative decisions. The old expression “God is my copilot” definitely applies to Glass and her daily decisions, large and small. “I now sincerely believe He wants me to be a path finder, to create beautiful and useful things, and to offer them to others for their enjoyment and benefit. I realized my hard work and efforts were ‘paying off’ when people began to resonate with this vision and started appreciating and buying my creations,” Glass said.
The multimedia artisan has a personal relationship with God. She attributes her versatility to God challenging her to come up with different fabrications and creations. “I have found that God keeps dangling fascinating products, ideas, and possibilities before me, almost as if He is saying, ‘Well, Kristi, what can you do with this?’ As long as I have the energy and wherewithal, I’m confident I’ll continue to rise to God’s challenges. When He asks me to do something, how can I say no?”
After relocating from Minnesota to Nevada, Glass has labored tirelessly on behalf of her fellow Elko residents. She has served as President of the Elko Country Art Club, is a 22-year member of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, belongs to the Elko Area Chamber of Commerce, and has donated her creations to charitable groups for silent auctions and fund-raisers.
Utilizing her goods in order to do good for others has always held a special significance in her heart, and this was the perfect forum for creativity and honoring the Creator. “I believe God has inspired and equipped me to take each step forward to improve peoples’ lives. It’s His gift, so to God be the glory,” she affirmed.
If it’s true that behind every great man, there is a great woman. Then it stands to reason that behind every great clay, there might be an equally great woman, too. Carrie Story is the developer and manufacturer of a line of metal clays. Occasionally, she will teach students how to work with the metal clays – leading them through the clay’s unique properties and abilities. “My art is the hobby behind the clay. I love clay. It is my passion. I love creating with it. However, I am more successful making the clay than creating art to sell. So, to pay my bills, I must focus more effort on technical properties than creative,” she assessed.
While working in this still-new field, Story has relied upon the moral support and understanding of her husband. “He gave me the confidence to jump in headfirst and continues to stand by my decisions while offering clear advice when I need it,” she shared. “I would say I manage to move forward in my business because I have a very positive attitude about things in general. If something doesn’t work, just try something else. There is never a wrong answer or move. It just might not have been the best one. Everyone has constant opportunities for improvement. Don’t be afraid to make a move because it might not be the right one. Just make the move and work through the challenges as they come.”
When Story leads a teaching session or a hands-on workshop, she bonds with her class. In fact, this is one of her most treasured experiences. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing my students achieve their goals. The joy they feel when they reach a goal or learn a difficult lesson is overwhelming. Nothing can make you feel prouder than knowing you helped to get them to that goal. I watch them grow, support their needs, and help motivate them to continue every day,” Story remarked.