Meet the Maker – Bethany Nelson of Milkhaus Design

Chloe Tate

Meet the Maker - Milkhaus Design


This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Bethany Nelson, the Madison, Wisconsin-based, taco-loving designer behind Milkhaus Design, a line of stunning screen printed and hand dyed bags and home goods. Welcome, Bethany!


LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Bethany: I had always wanted to own my own business doing something creative, but took the safer route of getting a Master’s Degree in Education! I worked in higher education for quite some time, helping students figure out how to get the job they wanted. During this time, I was taking classes in art and design while also taking the first steps of starting Milkhaus Design. I finally decided that I should take my own advice I had been giving to students and try to pursue my goal of owning my own business. I’m a very practical person, though, and I knew I would have a part time job “just to be safe.” Plus, I work from home and needed something that forced me to get out of the house!


LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Bethany: I always knew I wanted to make quality products that people could use for years.


LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Bethany: I create modern screen printed and hand dyed accessories for you and your home. I focus on simple and classic designs rather than trends. I want my buyer to use my items years from now and not feel like they are out of fashion. In all of my goods, I use as many “Made in America” materials as I can.


LBC: Where can we find your products?

Bethany: Online at my website and on Etsy, as well as in various stores throughout the U.S.


Meet the Maker - Milkhaus Design


LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Bethany: During the week I have a part time job, so I am in the office from 7:30 to either 12:30 or 2:30, depending on the day. When I get home, I take my dog for a walk, and then get to work on Milkhaus Design until bedtime!

The work I do each day varies. Some days I spend a few hours ironing and cutting fabric in preparation for printing, and then will spend a few hours printing. Other days, it is all about sewing. I try to do multiples of items at one time so that I am using my time most efficiently. Depending on the time of year, most of my weekends are spent working as well!


LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Bethany: 1) Think about what motivates you and what you consider success.

2) Consider your ability to handle the stress of a potentially inconsistent income. If you worry about money a lot, like I do (!), perhaps having a part time job can help ease those fears while you still pursue your business.

3) The last thing to consider is whether you want to devote a substantial amount of time to your business. Will you still enjoy doing “X” if you are spending 60-70 hours each week doing it?


LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Bethany: Getting away from my work. Taking my dog for a walk. And sometimes breaking down my tasks into more manageable piles. I tend to think I can get 3000 things done in one day. When I bring myself back to reality and realize that I can, in fact, only get 3 things done, I feel better!


LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Bethany: Starting it. I didn’t want to be older and always wonder “what if?” As someone who thinks about things for months, and sometimes years, before actually doing it, starting a business and showing my creations to friends and strangers was huge. So that was a great decision!

After about a year of doing this, I decided that I really needed to get my line more focused and stop trying to make everything for everyone. I love vintage fabrics and was making bags with found materials. I also love funny sayings and was making tea towels with these sayings screen printed on them. All of these things were great sellers, but when I would look at all of my goods together, there was no cohesion. So I made the decision to only do printed patterns and a few dyed pieces, and after that my line was more cohesive. Once this happened, my business really took off.


Meet the Maker - Milkhaus Design


LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Bethany: When I first began making bags, I was trying really hard to make sure that my materials would not be expensive so that I did not have to charge a lot for my bags. I had discussed this with my leather supplier and thought I had come up with a solution that would result in some nice leather straps, but would be cost effective. I later had a customer contact me about the quality of her straps after using the bag for a few months. They did not look good! After reaching out to my supplier, they assumed I had wanted the cheapest leather and was not as concerned with quality.

After this discussion, I assumed that all of the bags I had sent out had low quality straps. I had two options – I could not do anything and wait and see if any other customers contacted me; or I could be proactive, do the right thing, and contact all of my customers to let them know about the problem.

I chose the latter. I sent an email to all of my customers explaining the issue, offered to replace their straps with new, high quality ones that I was now getting from a new supplier, and volunteered to cover the shipping. This was probably one of the hardest emails I have ever had to write. To my surprise, a number of customers wrote me back very nice emails saying that they have never had such service from anyone! They understood the issue, appreciated my honesty and said that if they noticed any issues they would let me know. I learned a few things from this: don’t compromise on quality, and be honest with customers.


LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Bethany: I contribute to a local center that provides services to help the community. It’s a great place that is practically in my backyard. I also donate to the Wisconsin Boston Terrier Rescue, because I got a dog from them last year – and she is the best thing ever!


LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Bethany: An accountant, a printer, and Google!


LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Bethany: I honestly don’t know. And I know that is not the best answer! Sometimes I think that I could build an empire and create a ton of products, have a few employees, etc. I’d love to be able to hire a few local Madisonians, develop an internship program with our local design programs and really help a lot of people gain experience within the design field. Other days, I think that I’ll continue to do this on a part time basis while still having time to pursue other creative interests, travel, and generally not stress about working all of the time. I go back and forth on my goals for my business on a regular basis….ask any of my friends!


LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Bethany: Tacos!


Meet the Maker - Milkhaus Design


LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Bethany: A lot of great stuff! I listen to a ton of music throughout the day, and truly love so many different types of music. My playlists can include Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys, Drake, Bell Biv Devoe, James Blake, Buena Vista Social Club and Waylon Jennings. I have a soft spot for old country music and for 90s R&B.


LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?

Bethany: All of my graphic design work. Even though I create my own patterns, it usually surprises people when I tell them how they are made.


LBC: Tell me a few of places on your travel “bucket list”.

Bethany: Copenhagen, Berlin, Toronto, Istanbul, anywhere with mountains. I’ve had this strong urge to head to the mountains after spending a week on the beach in Tulum a few months ago. I’m headed to Japan in January, so I can cross that off the list!


LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Bethany: “YOLO” – Drake. Kidding. But not really.


LBC: What’s your best recipe?

Bethany: I make a mean apple crisp.


LBC: Have you ever held an odd job or one you weren’t particularly fond of?

Bethany: I grew up on a farm. Does that count? Baling hay in the summer heat is quite possibly the worst thing ever.


LBC: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Bethany: A few things:

  • I did AmeriCorps and worked at an alternative high school that had no money. I would give some to them.
  • I would create a few scholarships for the university I worked at that has a huge population of first generation, low-income students and a lot of non-traditional students.
  • I would create an after school and summer program for kids so that they have somewhere to go for help with homework, learn job skills, college prep, socialize in a safe environment, etc. Somehow I would make it a place where kids really wanted to go to.
  • I’d rescue all of the dogs that are in bad homes and puppy mills.


Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love your work and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Milkhaus Design. We’re cheering you on…


Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!


About the Author

Chloe Tate

Once described as “relentlessly cheerful,” Chloe is a lover of all things colorful and practically every fruit known to man. She lives in Atlanta and divides her time between supporting Lucky Break clients, keeping shop at a local artisan market, and event planning for business conferences. She’s also working on the launch of her skincare line while finishing her degree in Organizational & Leadership Studies. True story: Chloe shares 50% of Lela’s DNA and is poised to inherit her obscenely large shoe collection.

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