Today I would like to introduce you to a wonderful Etsy store called Talisman Studios. Designed and created by Terrie Marcoe, this Etsy store is dedicated to bringing you the most gorgeous vintage button jewelry and hair pieces. When Terrie contacted me in regards to doing a sponsored post, I went through her store and was fascinated by both her goods and her personal story. I know I have a lot of readers who are very creative and have their own Etsy stores and I thought Terrie would be the perfect person to discuss her work history, how she came about selling on Etsy, and any advice she had for aspiring artists who want to make a living on their crafts. Her answers to my questions are captivating and I believe give excellent advice to any creative entrepreneur.
Surrounded by vintage items in the home I grew up in, I naturally noticed that objects from back in the day seemed superior to contemporary items. My father was a sometimes collector of Americana, and would occasionally accept antiques in lieu of cash payments in his business. These items were so well crafted or so personally crafted, that they held my fascination from my earliest memories.
One favorite was an old wooden box telephone in our barn, installed in a time when it may have been the only phone for miles around. Making “crank calls” (you had to actually crank a dial to ring up an imaginary operator waiting to connect you) was a fascinating sort of play for myself and my siblings. Even as I made imaginary calls to people like the proprietor of a general store, or the president of the country, I reveled in the age-old oak and hard rubber from which the mouth and earpieces were made.
It seems I’ve always had an affinity with antiques from both a perspective of their beauty and functional craftsmanship, and both those aspects of artisan button-making are an integral part of Talisman Studios.
You mention in your bio you have been in the accessories business since 1988. Can you briefly tell us your job history?
Growing up in small town Wisconsin, my first jobs were in restaurants (Big Boy) and retail (JCPenney). Though of course I was hired for entry-level work, within a short time I was seeing myself several promotions up the line. Luckily, I accidentally found my way into a Fashion Merchandising program at our local technical college, the highlight of the program being a week-long trip to New York City. There, we toured various fashion-related businesses and organizations, from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to the Trifari Jewelry showroom, to an old factory in Brooklyn in which they were still hand-pressing pleats into fabric! You’ll notice I best recall accessories and historical references from this trip which certainly included many modern companies.
That trip set me up for my first step on a path less taken, since it turned out I was the only student who would return to the city to live. I knew – just knew – I had to be in New York City, and found myself viscerally homesick for the place the moment our group boarded the bus taking us to the airport and our return to Wisconsin.
I lasted two months at my first job working for a private label manufacturer, and was fired on my birthday, because the girlfriend of the owner wanted to promote me to being her assistant, and he didn’t believe she deserved help. It was a power play between the two, and I was simply collateral damage.
Scouring the New York Times Want Ads, I found a job as a Design Assistant at a handbag manufacturer, and began a career in accessories. I began at the lowest possible rung on the ladder and climbed my way to the top as a designer/merchandiser of handbags. This journey took just over a decade, but once at the apex, I knew beyond a doubt that the commercial fashion industry was an unhealthy environment to live in.
Towards the latter part of that phase in my career, I began investigating various creative hobbies, and read the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Doing the creative exercises in that book unleashed a fierce energy from within, and my inner child dug her heals in deep and utterly refused to go work for abusive people any longer. There was simply no way I could force myself to prostitute my creative efforts any longer.
It was a very frightening period of my life, as I was both incredibly inspired to follow my creative dream but completely unprepared to support myself without being propped up by a weekly paycheck. I had started making stained glass work during my free time by then, and had a studio in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Digging down deep, I began a concerted effort at marketing and selling my work under the name Talisman Studios.
Had I saved money in those prosperous years working in the fashion industry, the business might have succeeded, but it soon became apparent that, in order to thrive, I must either begin selling through major craft fairs, or go wholesale. Both of these efforts required a financial investment I didn’t have.
I didn’t so much as close the studio as I awakened one day to realize I had lost it while focused on working hand to mouth in the very attempt to sustain it. That was a very sad realization indeed, but I had unknowingly begun developing a business in companion animal care; I was doing dog walking and cat care in the hopes of feeding the dragon which was my creativity. The money was needed to survive at a base level – forget about art – and I had to turn my energies in that direction.
Meanwhile, at the same time I had come across that cache of antique buttons which launched Talisman Studios, and I had taken my first steps with the venture, doing some trunk shows at the Henri Bendel store of Fifth Avenue, and selling directly in a weekend market.
I wasn’t making enough to sustain living in a New York City apartment, and ended up dipping back into work as an accessories designer one last time, in a desperate effort to survive. It seemed that door had closed, though – it was a very unhappy experience which lasted only three months. That was in 2002, months after the 9/11 catastrophe, which was a life-changing event for many, as it was for myself.
The next several years saw me developing that animal care business, with creative efforts taking a back seat, though of course I gained experience as an independent business person in doing so. Once the company had been developed and was at a stable level, I began pining to unleash my creative forces again. Since my time was dedicated to the business, it was frustrating, but I had an entire truck full of vintage buttons…. A friend had suggested I open an Etsy Shop, and that marked my return to life as a creative entrepreneur, a path I have been on since.
Once I had made several ponytail holders from the fantastic vintage buttons I’d purchased at the antiques market, I thought about how to sell them, and as I had worked for several years in the fashion accessory market, I knew the various traditional points of distribution (wholesale to retail for brink and mortar shops). Having been a merchandiser, I understood how to prepare to develop a presentation, what I needed in place before making initial contact with a buyer. So, I took photographs and created a presentation board, and then made the call.
Henri Bendel is very supportive of young, independent designers, and as I had hoped, the buyer was happy to look at my work. While I wasn’t fully confident I’d get any further than that, it felt like a magic moment when a week later she called back and invited me to do a trunk show the following weekend.
When a designer is asked to come into their shop and represent the line they’ve created, it provides an intense opportunity to gain immediate feedback, and I was thrilled with the response to my pieces. Being able to share my knowledge about the history and various materials used in the buttons with shoppers showed me that imparting a connection to he past played as important a part in my brand as simply choosing beautiful specimens for the collection.
I was invited back two more times, and then the buyer suggested I find ways to move beyond the simple construction I was employing. While I had toyed with ideas on creating more complex pieces, I didn’t really have the skills to complete work that could be done in a reasonable time frame. An important aspect of Talisman Studios is that the buttons are in no way damaged, since they are historical, collectible items, and so this meant I needed to use wire and sewing techniques to put together hair accessories incorporating several buttons, and other vintage materials.
As I experimented, I decided to consider other outlets for the dozens of pieces I had been creating, and began contacting other stores. While I was well received at every venue I approached, it became apparent that, because many of the pieces are one of a kind, retail distribution would be troublesome. Buyers loved meeting and sorting through the collection to choose a dozen or two pieces for their shop, but the amount of time needed to work in this way proved to be too much to justify continuing.
As a creative person, it is extremely important to allow oneself time to let our muse take hold. When we are so busy that we don’t take restful periods to notice the subtleties of life – patterns, texture and color within nature, how world events are shaping the mass consciousness, the evolution process where an idea morphs into something new – ingenuity is stifled. One of my most firmly held beliefs is that one must get plenty of rest, and avoid stress as best they can. This allows us to be open to inspiration.
I am constantly allowing whatever crosses my path to wash over and inspire me. Historical exhibitions, whether in a gallery of a major museum, the curated collection of an antique dealer’s market stall or “found” pieces which include buildings and sections of towns that retain aspects of their former glory, make me energized in creative ways. Nature is another resource which I find abundant with ideas.
I am very lucky in that I have chosen a very simple life, and can therefore avoid working full-time for someone else to sustain myself financially. Now, the way I live is not for everyone, and indeed for the select few, but it works very well for me.
My residence is as a caretaker on a nature preserve for half of each year. I am provided a shelter (which is a tiny log cabin with no electricity or plumbing!) in exchange for duties which take less than a half an hour per day. The other half of the year, I travel the desert southwest, living in a very small RV. My biggest expense is, obviously, fuel and vehicle maintenance, which is still much less than a “normal” person incurs by having to upkeep a more traditional home.
If you make a living as a craftsperson, do you have any advice for those of us who dream of achieving full time work doing what we love?
Well, I can suggest they try to focus on one specific venture rather than the half dozen which have been my focus! The fact is, it takes a lot of energy switching out hats, especially in these days with the maintenance needed for social media interaction.
The other very important aspect of gaining traction as a business person is to get the training and education needed to navigate in the business world. So many artists and artisans hate marketing their work, and resist it hardily! But unless we have a partner willing to take on that aspect of the job, we have GOT to do it ourselves. I gained an incredible amount of experience while working as a designer in the wholesale accessories market.
Nonetheless, when I left the industry to begin my own ventures, I was still inadequately prepared to deal with the day to day operations of business. In my case, I took advantage of a local entrepreneurs workshop called Workshop in Business Opportunities (WIBO.org), which was like cramming a Bachelor’s degree in business into an intensive four-month period. After I completed the program, I returned as a volunteer for three sessions, which was almost like taking the course again, and really allowed the concepts to sink in.