I know I took a little hiatus, but my DREAM JOB series is back! I am SO excited about this one, you guys. I’ve written about them before… SHIP & SHAPE is an online handmade shop owned by three talented designers & makers in Minneapolis: Erin Smith, Maddy Nye, and Annika Kaplan. The shop sells one of a kind, handmade goods that Erin, Maddy, and Annika each make in their own studios as well as unique goods from chosen artists. The result is a beautifully curated shop with quality goods, a dreamy aesthetic, and an inspiring trio. SHIP & SHAPE will celebrate its first anniversary this summer and they’ve launched a total of four fabulous collections. The best part? They just launched their SPRING collection and there are so many things on my wish list. The collection is so amazing, in fact, that some items have already sold out! So check it out soon if you’d like. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. A big thanks to Erin, Maddy, & Annika for sharing! xo
Tell us a little bit about your story and how you got your start. What are each of your backgrounds and what made you decide to open a shop?
We are all independent designers, and decided to combine forces with SHIP & SHAPE. The idea for the business, which offers limited edition handmade goods, came to us while we were doing one of our favorite Minnesota summer activities, taking Maddy’s boat out on the lake (our brand alludes to this inception). We were discussing the challenges of managing our own web shops, and lamenting the lack of more intimate retailers for quality handmade items. We decided to start SHIP & SHAPE to offer our own goods, and bring together a collection of work from our favorite artists as well. We launched our third collection, Spring 2012 on April 1st.
Do you have a degree, formal training, or similar experience? What did you each do previously that helped launch this joint venture? What are each of your roles for the business?
Annika- I am a jeweler, and I trained at the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. I have no business training, and Maddy, Erin, and I are learning so much about the entire process of running a retail outfit, from pricing our own goods, to doing our taxes, to writing press releases. It’s been a fun challenge to be in the role of a business person, but I wouldn’t say it comes naturally.
Erin- I have a degree in Product Design from Parsons School of Design. I worked as a designer for Target for 5 ½ years, where I learned to create from both a business angle, as well as a design angle. The research and development that goes into a product for a mass retailer was definitely something that helped my own designs grow, and I learned some invaluable lessons on the business side of things.
Maddy- I studied graphic design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and have frequently grappled with the concept of doing something creative that is also commercial. This endeavor is an exercise in striking that balance, and it is a work in progress.
So you are each artists outside of Ship & Shape… What mediums do each of you work in? How do you find balance between managing your own individual business and your joint venture?
Annika- I make jewelry, and I work mostly in sterling silver, gold, and semi precious gems. I think SHIP & SHAPE has benefitted my personal business because it necessitates my creating new work on a quarterly basis. I think I produce well under stress and thrive on deadlines, of which SHIP & SHAPE provides many.
Erin- For a long time, I was balancing a corporate job, an interior design job with my brother (sisbrodesign.com), and a variety of smaller projects that I absolutely needed to get out of my system. It was hard to focus my energy on making an individual web store work. SHIP & SHAPE has been great in that we’ve joined forces and workload to create an outlet for all those smaller projects. It has also been a good way for me to separate it from the larger projects that I do with my brother.
Maddy- SHIP & SHAPE fosters inventiveness – we like it when our contributors propose something unexpected, and the same goes for us. It’s nice being able to make paper goods, accessories, or anything else under the umbrella of MN&CO. and know that it will be at home in our store.
What is your creative process like? How do you spend a typical day working? Do the three of you share a studio space together?
Annika- We all have separate studio spaces for our own work. For SHIP & SHAPE, we meet weekly at Maddy’s house for web design meetings, or Erin’s house for documenting products, receiving inventory from our artists, or shipping. Preceding collection launches, we spend a lot of time together… Because we each have strengths in different areas of the business, we take home various tasks, and report back at our next meeting.
Erin- A lot of time is spent working solo, on our own editions, but we trust each other to produce quality work. We may bounce ideas off each other, but never really see the final project until the due date. That day is always pretty exciting.
How do you effectively manage your time? What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Releasing collections quarterly allows us to refresh the shop regularly, and we love seeing what our artists have come up with every time. It is fun to develop a lookbook pretty swiftly between receiving the newest batch of goods and introducing the collection on the site.
Where are you each from? What do you love about Minneapolis? What is the creative community like there?
We are all from near Minneapolis. Currently, we all live in the same neighborhood. We think Minneapolis is a really exciting place to be right now. We have a huge network of friends, each with unique talents and trades. There is a real sense of respect for craft here and people are always willing to share knowledge and collaborate on projects. It’s a big enough city for vibrant, stimulating culture, but small enough to be inviting and for the most part, noncompetitive.
What do you enjoy about running a business with two other people? What makes it fun and what makes it challenging?
Erin- I think we’ve all touched on how invigorating it can be to have quarterly due dates, not only for the artists that we represent, but for ourselves. I’m constantly surprised and excited by the new things that both Maddy and Annika bring to the table. It’s a great motivator to go through the stress of deadlines with others. On the business side of things, three minds are definitely better than one. Rarely do things slip through the cracks. I think we each bring different perspectives and ideas that can only help the business. We may occasionally disagree on things, but the beauty of collaboration and critique, is that something better always emerges.
Do you use any professional services to run your business? (accountants, lawyers, etc.) Do you have any tips for managing the administrative side of your business, especially between more than one person?
Annika- We have an accountant who helps us with big things like taxes, but otherwise we do all of the accounting ourselves. Maddy is organized and does some bookkeeping. Our advice to anyone starting a small business is to document everything, and set up easy mechanisms in the beginning to aid in the process.
Erin- It’s also been very helpful to talk to other people who have gone through the same thing. We interviewed some friends on the trials and tribulations of opening an LLC, tax IDs, shipping. Figuring out what could have gone smoother for them, or what they wish they would have known before was a real eye opener.
Any advice do you have for someone that wants to own their own creative business? What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out? Any advice for setting boundaries between work and personal life?
Maddy- We are figuring it out as we go along, learning by doing. Of course this work overlaps with our “personal” lives but I think that is an asset – I hope our shop has personality.
Do you have any future plans for your business that you’d like to share? How can we help spread awareness for your business?
We are so excited for our Spring Collection! In addition to our previous contributors, we invited some highly talented new makers to create editions for us. Along with the new collection, we will also be debuting a new feature in the store called The Permanent Collection, which will feature a selection of made to order goods, available regardless of the season. We also want to emphasize that editions from past seasons remain available, and some beautiful items can be found in those collections! We’ll be featuring more studio visits and content on our blog so follow us there or on facebook for updates.
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty excited about upcoming studio visits on their blog! Thanks to Annika, Erin, and Maddy for sharing your talent and wisdom. It’s so fascinating to learn more about their story, process, collaboration, and work. I’ll be dreaming about their Spring Collection…
(Photos: SHIP & SHAPE for Inspired to Share)