When Connie Simon's three-year-old grandson became smitten with a toy kitchen, she stocked it with soft, safe, handmade toy edibles and told him, "Go ahead, play with your food!" She never imagined those little "noshes" would lead to a line of crafts that resonate with everyone from collectors to therapists.
Noshkins (Tustin, California)
Type of Craft:
Handmade felt food
Years in Business: 5
Etsy - Noshkins
I’m a graphic designer, and I’ve loved painting, drawing and handcrafts since childhood. I grew up in the sixties, when everyone did macramé and ceramics and schools had arts electives like sewing and woodworking. The skills I learned came back when I started making Noshkins.
My grandson gave me the idea. When he was three, he had a toy kitchen he loved, and I didn't want him to have wood or hard plastic food that might break or hurt someone. So I designed a set of felt food as a birthday present in 2009. He loved it. He walked around to all of us, saying, "Want some?!"
I thought, "This might be something people would actually buy," so I started making more felt food and displaying it at craft shows. I love watching people's reactions when they walk by. Their heads turn, their brows furrow, then this big smile breaks out and suddenly they're in front of me playing, becoming kids again.
I'm always surprised at what my products are bought for. It's fun to find out. One woman bought a kiwi for her husband because he's from New Zealand. Another guy bought a terrycloth broccoli for his cat. He told me later that the cat carries it around everywhere.
Teachers buy them. Therapists use them for play therapy, for autistic children who like certain textures, even for older kids with food disorders because they can learn a lot from the food choices a patient makes playing with Noshkins. I love knowing my products are helping someone.
I wish someone had told me what it really takes to market and sell online. I went through three web designers, who could design pages but couldn’t make them functional for retail, so I finally went with Etsy.
Also, people think if a product is online, buyers will find them. It's not that simple. There's a lot involved in guiding them to you. You need to know about keywords and how people search. And you need to know what will make them buy once they've found you. For instance, free shipping is a big deal. If people see it, they just might click the buy button. I've had quite a learning curve. Fortunately, the makers' community is really willing to share, so you can talk with people or go to online forums and learn a lot.
I recently created Facekins, handmade, washable, reusable polyester face wipes, which we're selling on Etsy to individuals, estheticians, makeup artists and people who use them to clean camera lenses and smartphones because they don't leave lint. I've even had a therapist say Facekins would be great for therapy because they're super-soft and soothing.
My husband now handles marketing, and my sister and a friend help me sew. My rule is, you have to love it. If you don’t, I don’t want the bad juju going into the pieces. Makers should get joy out of what they do.