Tina Rodas brought her love of the outdoors indoors when she turned her penchant for making whimsical woodland creations into a sustainable craft business. Mother Nature would be proud.
Hi Tree (Pasadena, California)
Type of Craft:
Sustainable, forest-themed felt pillows, toys and accessories
Years in Business: 10
I used to sew in my bedroom late at night when I was around 14, piecing things together and modifying simple patterns. But I didn’t do any more crafting until I moved to California and had my daughter, Hazel. I was staying home with her, and my boyfriend bought me a sewing machine, so I started making little bags out of felt late at night like I’d done with my old Kenmore.
I grew up in Florida, where we had pines, palms and oaks. When I saw the cypress trees in California, I thought they were so cool. Plus, I love the whimsical—the idea of places like Wonderland and the enchanted forest. I had this moment where I thought, "I want to make a pillow that looks like a tree!" Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I just kept making stuff.
I was doing some art department work on commercials and building custom props in the entertainment industry. I always had my crafts with me, and people asked to buy them. Etsy started around that time, so suddenly there was a platform I could sell my stuff on. That made it easy to start a little business. One of my high school friends made the first purchase on my Etsy store. He wrote, "I hope this is the first of many."
The materials I use are sustainable, but that wasn’t necessarily the reason I chose them. I chose them because the quality is incredible. So it happened organically.
I love the process of refinement. My favorite thing is to remake the same product over and over, figuring out better ways to do it.
I also love my studio, which is in our house on top of a mountain outside Los Angeles. It’s got big windows, lots of sunlight and it’s surrounded by trees. We don’t even have curtains because there are no houses nearby. It’s beautiful, peaceful, quiet and very inspiring. In a city of 13 million people, it’s pretty amazing to have a spot like this.
I love browsing thrift stores for vintage textiles, especially Vera Neumann prints from the '60s and '70s. I buy the fabric to use in my crafts, but I end up hoarding it because I can’t bear to cut into it. I also like finding people’s half-done craft projects and finishing them in unique, unexpected ways. For instance, I might put a crocheted border around embroidery or needlepoint.
How to price my products. I’ve gone through periods where I worked so hard and made no money because I was selling my things for too little. I learned through trial and error and sharing knowledge with other makers at craft shows that your time is the most important factor.
A lot of my items take 15 to 30 minutes to make, so I pay myself per minute. My current formula is: per-minute price + material cost + overhead x 20 percent (for profit) = wholesale price. You’re going to burn yourself out if you spend two hours making an item and sell it for $25. If you want to run a business, you have to do the math.