This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Abbey Hambright, the Chicago-based artist behind abbeychristine. Welcome, Abbey!
LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?
Abbey: I’ve been a maker forever, and around 2004 I realize that I was making more than I could gift or house in my little apartment. I found out about Etsy, and started my shop just a couple months after the site launched. I got to experiment a bit with what I wanted to make and sell. The response to my finger puppets was so positive, and I enjoyed making them so much, it was clear that’s the direction I should go.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Abbey: I had no idea! The first products I made were greeting cards with little paintings and vintage ephemera. Pretty far from what I make today, but the tone was always the same – quirky and fun is pretty much my bread and butter.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Abbey: I walk that line between artist and brand, I think, and I’ve struggled with what that distinction means. But in the end, my work is intensely personal, both in subject and content. I choose characters and people who represent something I believe in, whether it be a movie that I think says something important, or someone who’s not afraid to speak their mind.
My work is intensely handmade. I make puppets in batches of just six at a time – cut six bodies, embroider six faces, sew on six little outfits piece-by-piece. Each piece takes a tremendous amount of attention to get it as close to perfect as possible. When you buy something of mine, you know that my heart is truly in its creation.
LBC: Where can we find your products?
Abbey: Online through my shop, and at a dozen or so great little handmade gift stores throughout the US and Canada.
LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.
Abbey: I have a full time job besides running my business, so there’s no typical day when your “work day” is evenings after the kiddo’s asleep + stolen hours on the weekends. When I have an hour or so to work, I’ll often do quicker tasks – shipping, writing blog posts, scheduling social media, packaging, or photo editing. When I’m lucky enough to have a full day in the studio, it’s usually spent in “production mode.” This means hunkering down to binge-watch something on Netflix and focusing on getting a few batches of puppets made that day.
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Abbey: 1) When you’re first starting out, I would say that you should take advantage of that time to experiment. This may be before you’re officially a business, or before your brand is established. Figure out what you love, and what makes your business unique. Try things. Once you’re more established you can refine your workflow and make savvy business decisions.
2) I would also suggest being really strategic about what you decide to do yourself, and what you buy or hire others to do for you. This doesn’t mean that you should hire an assistant right away or bring in an expensive accountant right off the bat, but know that there’s a tipping point when your time may be better spent doing that thing that only you can do. Whether it’s investing in shipping software so you’re not standing in line at the post office, or letting someone else do your taxes, remember that your time is worth money, too, so make sure it’s being spent as wisely as possible.
3) And finally, make sure that your business is centered around something you truly love doing, and a world you really want to be part of. If things go according to plan, you’re going to be doing it a lot!
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Abbey: Going back to basics. Especially during the holidays or when I have a lot of deadlines, all the logistics can be a little much. Just making a list and figuring out priorities is huge. And if I’m not quite ready to tackle something big, I’ll just do something tiny. Completing even a small, stupid task gives me a feeling of accomplishment that’s usually enough to help me tackle the bigger projects.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.
Abbey: Early on I discovered that, for me, the best business decision is to be true to who I am and what my tastes are. I remember I experimented for a while with debuting a collection to puppets every year, but found that it was really difficult to find that many people I really wanted to make as puppets. I ended up creating designs that I wasn’t totally in love with, and it wasn’t as fun. It’s when I let ideas find me that I happen upon the designs that really stand out. I remember when I first had the idea to make an Ira Glass puppet, my boyfriend (who is not obsessed This American Life like I am) scoffed and said that no one would buy it. I was undeterred, and that one became one of my most popular designs to date.
Another decision that’s turned out to be a good one is not running my business full time. I know that this isn’t really the narrative that people talk about since “quitting your day job” gets held up as the ultimate goal. I’ve had times in my life when I was working on my business 30 or so hours a week – so close to full time – and it was really difficult for me. I know enough about myself to know that being alone in my studio all day isn’t going to put me in a great state of mind. It’s too isolating, and ended up putting a lot of pressure on my creative process that made it harder for me to work. Knowing that this is a part-time thing for me actually frees me up a lot. I can grow and shrink my business based on the time of year and what else is going on in my life without the financial pressures of keeping the bills paid, and I get to get out of the house and come home fresh and ready to go in the studio.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
Abbey: Not a mistake, of course, but having my son was a significant obstacle to running my business. Clearly, all parents have to adjust to less personal time when they have a baby. For me, it was a real challenge to balance commitments I had to customers and my stockists, while having very real and very new challenges at home. I just didn’t have the energy or time to make anything for about six months after my son was born, and because being an artist is a big part of my identity, it was difficult to feel like myself without that aspect of my life. I had to allow myself to give up that part of myself for a while, and just learn to be okay with that. After the first year things got better, of course, but it’s still challenging to figure out the balance.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
Abbey: So many! I donate monthly to Planned Parenthood and our local NPR station, and at the end of every year our family picks three organizations – two local, one national/international – to give larger donations to. Last year it was Streetwise, which helps people experiencing homelessness become more self-sufficient through entrepreneurship, The Chicago Food Depository, and Doctors Without Borders. We also foster dogs with an amazing rescue here in Chicago, One Tail at a Time.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
Abbey: 1) I am currently obsessed with Trello for project management and keeping myself on track with all my to dos.
2) Social media to connect with my customers and other makers.
3) A really good pair of scissors!
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Abbey: Bubble tea. I’m obsessed.
LBC: What’s your spirit animal?
Abbey: Peggy Olson from Mad Men.
LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?
Abbey: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Thank you, Abbey, for sharing your talent with us! We absolutely love your work and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for abbeychristine! We’re cheering you on…
Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!