Knoxville Creative Hands Street Team

Etsy vendors from in and around Knoxville, TN

Interview Series | Om Shanti Handcrafts

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Name: Kate Jones
Email: om.shanti.handcrafts@gmail.com
Etsy shop link: http://omshanti.etsy.com/
Tell us about you and your Etsy shop. What do you create?: All-natural bath and body products — luxurious soaps and healing salves, nourishing bath oils and cleansing body scrubs. No artificial ingredients, no fragrance oils, and nothing I can’t pronounce.
What made you want to become and artist or craftsperson? What and/or who influenced your decisions?: I’ve been crafting for years — though I started with the fiber arts, embroidery and costume-making. In college I joined the SCA, which is a group of people who recreate the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe. You can buy the clothing — but not when you’re a poor college student, so I learned to sew.

That was a lot of fun, and I still do it every once in a while, but several years ago I started to get interested in herbal lore. A friend of mine in the SCA started a business in which she sold herbs and other ingredients, and I felt it was my duty to support her. Soon I had a whole stash of herbs and essential oils, and figured it was time to do something with it! I played a little with bath salts, but not very much, and it was a couple years before I got really interested.

Not until I moved to Colorado, in fact. I’d spent fifteen years married to a man who said he loved me — and did all he could to make me afraid, unsure of myself, and thoroughly dependent on him for everything. I finally got up the gumption to leave, a little over four years ago, and moved out to Colorado to start over.

And spent a couple of years floundering, flailing around, trying to remember how to be _me_ and not ‘this guy’s wife’. I worked a series of awful jobs, just to pay the rent, and each one just dragged me lower and lower. I distracted myself, when I had the energy, by experimenting with the herbal ingredients I’d brought with me.

See, I’d spent my life in Pennsylvania, Land of Humidity, and moving to Colorado was eye-opening. I loved the dry, but it’s rough on skin, so I decided to use that herbal lore to fix the problem. It was fun, and a nice hobby, and didn’t go any further than that.

Until I was reduced to working at Walmart, which is when I decided I’d had enough, and turned my herbal hobby into a business.

I’m still scraping to pay the rent, but I know who I am now — who _I_ am, and not who someone else has defined me as. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown a lot, and it hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything — certainly not for a life of leisure as someone else’s possession, ever again.

So three years later, here I am, owner of a small business making moisturizing things for anyone and everyone who needs them. And loving it!

Please describe your creative process. How do you do what you do?: A lot of my ideas for scents come from friends and customers — someone will say, how about this, and I give it a try, and as often as not it smells REALLY good. Or I poke through all my oils for ideas, or find scent ideas online; once I even got an idea from a story written by a friend!

If it’s something medicinal I’m much more concerned with how it works than how it smells (though I don’t make things that smell _bad_). I have a library of herbal books for research, and I looks things up online as well. Then I whip up a small batch, and test it thoroughly. On myself first, of course, and then I have a couple of friends who are willing to play guinea pig for me. Only once I know it does the job do I post a new product.

What handmade possession do you most cherish?: I have a knitted afghan made for me by my aunt. She gave it to me a couple years ago, when we were both going through some tough times — she learned to knit as a sort of emotional therapy, and I was very pleased to receive a gift from her hands — it feels like a hug every time I drape it over my lap. It’s the first thing anyone’s ever _made_ for me and it brought she and I a lot closer together. I love it.
What advice would you give to new Etsy sellers? Or if you are new to Etsy, what is the most important thing you have learned since opening your shop?: Marketing. Yeah, it’s tough. It’s hard to put yourself out there — we’re taught not to draw attention to ourselves, not to put ourselves forward, and that’s exactly what you have to do to get noticed.

I’m still not _good_ at it — the best I can say is that I’m less crappy at it than I was a few years ago — but I’m getting there. And you’ve got to do it.

How do you promote your work? Be specific and include any links to your blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to be included in your interview.: Mostly on Facebook and through my blog these days, though I do Twitter some and I have an email newsletter that I really need to start sending out again. Have some links:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Longmont-CO/Om-Shanti-Handcrafts/14802628970#!/pages/Longmont-CO/Om-Shanti-Handcrafts/14802628970

http://omshantihandcrafts.com/category/blog/

http://twitter.com/#!/omshantihand

http://omshantihandcrafts.com/newsletter/

What do you love most about being involved with local Etsy sellers as a member of KCHST?: I love that Lisa contacted me out of the blue when I’d been in Tennessee less than a month! The KCHST show was my first here and I feel it’s a very good omen for how well I’ll do in Tennessee.

Y’all have made me feel very welcome (see, I’m picking up on the local lingo already!) and I love that there are monthly get-togethers. I really like that even some of the local Etsy folk who couldn’t sell at the fall show came anyway to visit and lend support. That’s awesome!

What else do you do? You know, in your free time, those moments when you aren’t creating items for your shop or marketing or packing and shipping.: I still play in the SCA, and I’ve recently started sewing again in the evenings. I have a cat (those of you who were at the show Sunday met him) who walks on a leash and I take him out to local parks to wander around — Lakeshore Park is my current favourite though I know I’ll find more the longer I live here. And I read voraciously.
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