Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Featured Exhibitor: Shoppy Chic

Cyndi Ritger makes trendy re-usable shopping bags from found materials, reducing waste while creating something useful and beautiful!

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Cyndi Ritger and my company is Shoppy Chic. I make Tote bags and purses from fabrics that I have saved from the landfill over the last 30 years. I also make purses out of one long piece of zipper in every color of the rainbow. I recently started making a small charm that can attach to any zipper pull on any of the bags.

How did you get started in your business?

The company started ten years ago when I decided to make grocery bags for my two daughters for Christmas. I had been hoarding fabric for 20 years (along with raising 4 kids) and had accumulated enough to make approximately 40,000 tote bags. (I'll get into that whole story next). My younger daughter Jen was living in California at the time and went home after Christmas with her new heavy duty attractive fabric grocery bags. On her first stop to the store someone wanted to buy them. She asked if I could make 50 more as all her friends wanted them and people she didn't even know stopped her to ask where they could get them. This was all happening just as the public was being told that plastic would be banned soon. The demand for our bags was growing fast. Jen was selling at farmers markets all over southern California and I was cranking them out as fast as I could. But I still had a full time job and two young boys at home. So needless to say my time was stretched very thin. She eventually married and now has three kids at home and two step children. So she is a very busy mother and has had little time to sell the bags. I kept Shoppy Chic alive here in River Falls, Wisconsin by selling to local shops and occasionally doing a show or two. But my main focus was my boys who were still in Middle School. Time passes quickly and my boys are now 17 and 18. I am finding time to get out there and sell my bags. I am doing a lot of shows this year and feel like this is just the beginning for Shoppy Chic. My daughter is also looking forward to all the kids getting back to school and is excited to help with Shoppy Chic.

What valuable experience / knowledge did you have before starting your business.

It is crucial to understand where all this scrap fabric came from and why I saved it. In 1987 my sister and I started a company called SIS Enterprises. We were two young mothers that were looking for something to do while our kids were at home. We knew how to sew and had a passion for fabrics. We were in the process of decorating our first homes and spent a lot of time shopping for just the right fabric to make curtains and bedspreads and pillows and everything else that one would need to have the perfect house. We also did custom sewing and met someone that asked if we could make a cover for this new type of furniture called a futon. This was just when futons were getting started. There weren't many companies making covers and there wasn't much of a selection. We recognized that there needed to be a variety of fabrics for covers and pillows, not just black, khaki and red. After contacting many different fabric mills we finally found one that would sell us three different patterns. We ordered one 50 yard roll of each pattern and started our little cut and sew operation in my basement in Eden Prairie. We made up Futon Covers and Pillows in these three awesome patterns. We named them Green Mist, Lost Paradise and California Cool. We took our first line to a trade show in Montreal Canada where we picked up our first four customers. Every year we double our sales. Our fabrics were always the latest trends and our displays at the shows were fantastic. Soon we moved out of my basement and into a bigger space. Then two more moves in the next seven years to accommodate our rapid growth. Our line grew to over 500 fabrics adding new patterns every season and they all have names. The one thing that we didn't ever really deal with was the amount of scrap that was accumulating as we grew. I started a plan with our cutting department to have them cut the scraps into either an 18" pillow or a 20" pillow. Then they would pack it in a box and put it in a back room. I was planning to sort it out and use the current fabrics for pillows but there just was never time to deal with it. So for 15 years it just accumulated. I eventually started taking it home rather than throw it in the dumpster. It was taking to much space at the factory and our new production supervisor was throwing it out. I eventually sold all my shares of that company but continued to take the scrap. As I look back it's pretty insane how much time and energy I spent on keeping it sorted and saved. But I did it and it's done and now it's time to make Tote Bags and sell them. So you see I have a warehouse full of cut pillows. All sorted by color and size. A small pillow is a small tote bag. A large pillow is a large tote bag. I don't ever have to cut the fabric as it was all done over the last 30 years. All I have to do is find the two pieces of fabric that coordinate. (one for the outside of the bag and one for the inside of the bag as they are all reversible). When a futon cover came off of the production line and the fabric was flawed I would have them rip the zipper out and salvage what they could of the fabric. But there was no use for the 5 yard piece of zipper. I saved a lot of it and eventually started using it for the handles on the totes. My sister and her husband still own that company and have done an amazing job with it. It's been a long slow process developing Shoppy Chic but rome wasn't built in a day. I have had to wear many hats, mainly mother. But I have never doubted (well maybe a couple of times) that this company can make it. I have to live by the motto I always taught my kids. Never Give Up.

Where did your business name come from?

The first bags I made were just for the grocery store with short handles just like a real grocery bag. The name is a take off on "Shabby Chic” but Shoppy Chic for shopping. Get it? It's a little dorky but it stuck. Now the line has morphed into so many more products than just grocery bags. I design and make crossbody purses, travel totes with pockets, beauty bags with wrap around pockets, small clutch with pockets, and many other ideas floating around in my head that are coming soon.

Where do you see your business in three years?

My main goal now is to get my products onto my Etsy Shop. I have started but it will be a process, if I can get that done in three years I will be thrilled. I am doing a show every weekend until mid December and that alone takes half my week. So finding time to sew enough product for all the shows and then take the time to photograph is a challenge. My new motto is: Wherever I am is exactly where I'm supposed to be.  

Be sure to stop by Cyndi's booth at the Minneapolis Gift & Art Expo, November 1-3, 2019 at the Minneapolis Convention Center!

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Posted by Admin at 2:25 PM  ⁙  0 COMMENTS

CATEGORY:  Featured Exhibitors

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Featured Exhibitor: Hopelark

Lauren Elisa makes amazing clay figurines, fairy houses, and all kinds of clay embellished products.  Her work is full of vibrant colors and joy!


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Lauren Elisa, and I work with polymer clays to make all kinds of gifts and home décor. I love the versatility and bright colors of polymer clays. I’ve used clay to bring color and joy to pens, glassware, crochet hooks, keychains, wall art, and candleholders. My favorite products are my cuties, little cartoon-style figurines that bring delight to kids and grown-ups alike. I also love the fairy houses, these intricately detailed houses sculpted around a 4oz jam jar, so the roof twists off for a secret hiding place.

What’s the latest thing you’ve been working on?

I’m currently working on a large mosaic of individually sculpted square inch tiles. I’m utilizing some of the concepts I’ve learned in zentangle, using many different small patterns to create a larger picture. I can’t wait to be able to exhibit the piece at a show!

Will you be featuring any special holiday items?

One of my most popular pieces is my nativity set. I originally made it just for my daughter. I think a nativity set that is safe for kids to play with is a great way for them to become familiar with the Christmas story, so I intended to buy one for my little one. I was disappointed that all the sets I could find had a baby Jesus with blue eyes and blonde hair. My set features six different skin tones, including a black angel and brown Jesus. Adults love the rich colors and intricate details; kids love that the set is sturdy enough for enthusiastic play.

What do your customers love most about your products?

I try to put joy into everything that I make, and I think my customers really respond to that. My pieces are full of color, and combine geometric and organic patterns to create a feeling of stability. The images I use are intricate and easily accessible. When customers see my work, they respond with delighted surprise. I love hearing children call to their parents to “come look at this!”


What do you think sets your designs apart from others?

A lot of artwork is about making sense of pain, and that is an awesome way to deal with pain and communicate to others that they aren’t alone. I’ve done that kind of artwork in other mediums like drawing and poetry, but my clay work is about joy and fun. It’s about reconnecting with the playful imagination we remember from childhood. I want my work to go into people’s homes as a source of joy, a reminder that life can be simple and lovely.

What has been your favorite moment since creating your business?

A woman at a show once asked me if I would make a clay-embellished goblet in the style of her mother’s porcelain urn. I guess the urn had somehow become lost to her, but she had a picture of it. Working from that picture, I tried to get as close to the original as I could using blending and caning techniques. After I shipped it, I got a message from the woman that she’d cried when she opened my box. She said, “It’s like I have a little bit of my mother back.”

What advice do you have for other creators?  

Make lots of things.  Make as many things as you possibly can.  Pretend everything you make is amazing until everything you make is amazing.  Is it important?  Is it great?  Will anyone buy it?  It doesn't matter, just keep making things.  Keep making things like crazy and you'll find your voice, and what you have to say is important.  Keep making things and you'll hone your skills until what you make is great.  If you end up making something important and great, people will want to buy it.  


Check out more Hopelark products online, and be sure to stop by their booth at the Minneapolis Gift & Art Expo, November 1-3, 2019 at the Minneapolis Convention Center!





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Posted by Admin at 3:24 PM  ⁙  0 COMMENTS

CATEGORY:  Featured Exhibitors

Monday, September 9, 2019

Featured Exhibitor: Eye Candy Gone Green

Candy Becker makes upcycled bags, shirts, hats, and other accessories, finding inspiration in discarded objects like shirts, bags, belts, and jewelry!




Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Candy Becker and I own and operate Eye Candy Gone Green. Everything I make is upcycled; I repurpose clothing, jewelry, and belts. If I see something and I think I can upcyle it into a purse or a bag or a shirt, that’s what I do. I really enjoy making hats, sports hats, bomber hats, bucket hats. I use a lot of denim, sweaters, jackets. I also make bags and purses, and I’m especially proud of the lovely lining I use in the bags. They all have a zipper on the inside of the bag as well as the outside 


What do you like most about craft vending?

My vending friends! Craft shows are very social for me, I get to connect with other vendors that I see at all the shows, with my customers, and wonderful show managers like Tammie from L&L. She got me involved in the Gift & Art Show!


What are you working on right now?

One of my special orders recently was a Viking hat. I made it out of a jersey, and I’m really excited about that. This time of year I’m mostly busy with special orders.



How do you prepare for the holidays?

I make specialty items for all the shows I do. For the holidays, I do themed bags, each one is different every item is unique. All my holiday items has something everything has something red and sparkly on it.



What’s your first memory of making something?

Probably my first memory was making barbie doll clothes. I’ve been sewing my whole life. One Christmas my parents got me a little hand crank sewing machine. In high school I spent my life savings, $600-$700 on a brand new Bernina and I’ve been a Bernina girl ever since. I used to sell at the horse shows, I was a cowgirl. I quit when I was raising my family and now I’m back at it.



What are some inspirations for my work?

My family always inspires me with their likes and dislikes. I appreciate their constructive criticism and their wonderful praise. If there’s a certain way that they like something I try to lean in that direction. My way of doing things is constantly changing with every new idea that I get. My daughter strongly encouraged me to start vending and sell my wares.


How did you choose your company name?

My business name is Eye Candy Gone Green. This name comes from my own first name Candy. And because everything I make is up cycled, it’s a green business.

Be sure to stop by Ellen's booth at the Minneapolis Gift & Art Expo, November 1-3, 2019 at the Minneapolis Convention Center!

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Posted by Admin at 8:26 AM  ⁙  0 COMMENTS

CATEGORY:  Featured Exhibitors