The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 18, 2012

Thrifty business: Local crafters take creations to the Internet

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Belinda Lockhart has created and sold women’s hats for the past nine years.

But ask her fans across the world who “Belinda Lockhart” is and they probably won’t know. Ask them if they know “Ms. Purdy” and they’ll likely rave about a whimsical creation from their favorite milliner.  

Five years ago, the Clinton woman was able to take her business making Kentucky Derby style and Victorian style hats from a part-time to a full-time gig. It’s something she never expected to do.

“It was all an accident,” she said.  

It started when a friend that was opening an antique store asked Lockhart if she had ever made a hat (which she had not) and sent her home with the supplies to start. Nearly a decade later, Lockhart is entrenched in the milliner life.  

“My house is filled with nothing but hats,” Lockhart said. “My dog walks around with feathers on.”

Lockhart is one of a number of Gateway-area crafters selling their goods in a nationwide and global marketplace with help from sites like Etsy, an online marketplace where artisans can sell their goods to customers across the world.

Sellers pay 20 cents to post an item on the site. Etsy takes 3.5 percent of the sale and PayPal also takes a small fee to process payments, leaving artisans with a small overhead for selling their goods.  

Lockhart has sold hats, fasteners, and other accessories to customers as far away as New Zealand, Japan and the United Kingdom all from the comfort of her home.

“Online is just the best,” she said. “You reach so many people.”

While she takes time off during the holidays, Lockhart said her business remains steady throughout the year, with peaks before the Kentucky Derby and Halloween.  From mid-September to the third week of October alone she sold 125 items ranging from $9.99 to $200 depending on the item and how extravagant it is.  

“I have lots of regular customers who want custom hats,” she said. “Ladies don’t want something that someone else has. They want something unique. So all my creations are made with that in mind,” Lockhart said.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Mary Krajnovich, of Clinton, started as an Etsy customer admiring the myriad of handcrafted items and lamenting their steep prices.  

“I’m a jewelry fiend. I love, love, love jewelry. I started looking at pieces and I wondered ‘I’d love to have that, but it’s too expensive for me. How much would it cost me to make that?’ So, really it started out kind of selfishly,” she said.  

She quickly jumped to YouTube for free lessons and became enthralled with the jewelry-making process from sketching a design to the end product.  

Krajnovich launched her online business, “Mary Jae Designs,” selling wire wrapped precious gemstones and handcrafted sterling silver, brass, copper and fine silver jewelry via Etsy this October. Items range from $7.50 to $50.

Like Lockhart, she’s committed to providing her customers with a high quality product. Affordability and versatility also top Krajn­ovich’s list of priorities.    

Two months after opening, she had a Christmas sales bump with the help of supporters across the country.  

“I have to thank my friends for getting the word out there,” she said. “The really truly amazing thing is I consider them friends, but I’ve never met them. It’s people believing in what I do, in who I am, and they’ve never even met me.”  

Her real confidence to share her goods came after the owner of Sarah’s Classic Design in Clinton, a stranger, gave her a chance to sell her jewelry at the salon.  

“It’s not just me thinking my stuff is good.  Other people think it’s good, too,” she said. “Because this stranger was kind enough to give me this opportunity, it really pushed me to get out there and showcase my stuff.”

Although Krajnovich pulled her items from the salon after six months, she remains rife with validation.  

Online, her items have been selling in spurts to buyers across the country. She’s also clinched a new deal to sell her pieces with the Painted Rooster and Mercy Medical Center South’s gift shop.

Beyond the faith from strangers, the stay-at-home mom also has the support of her husband, their three children and her best friend.

She tries to escape to her attic studio space to create for at least one hour a day.  

A pile of Christmas presents sits in the corner of Krajnovich’s studio but they wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the money she makes through her jewelry business, she said.

She’s also hoping to help people with her craft by making custom pendants for parents who have lost a child.

“I am just touched and humbled by the stories I have heard,” she said. “I want to be able to do something for other people.

SPREADING HOPE

Becky Hilgendorf doesn’t make much money off of the cards she creates in her riverfront Fulton, Ill., home and sells on Etsy.

And that’s fine with her.  

“I’m not motivated by money.  I’m not worried about that,” she said. “It’s just been fun.”

Her garage turned studio space is an amalgamation of tools a mixed media artist needs, paintings, dolls and other creations from the past seven or eight years. Upstairs her kitchen table is a “happy mess” from creating a card, she said.  

Among the richly colored displays and stations filling the garage stands a rack holding roughly 70 cards Hilgendorf made.

Layered in with the others on one of the shelves are cards she created for people battling cancer. Hilgendorf started making them for friends with the disease.  

“You couldn’t find anything that was kind of appropriate or fun so I started making cards for cancer,” she said.

The feature images of strong looking women with phrases like “Cancer is a word not a sentence,” or “Peace, Love, Cure.”

She sold her cards and paintings to friends until she was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 1⁄2 ago and decided the latter belonged to her kids.  

“I never in a million years when I was making the cards thought they would apply to me,” the retired hairdresser, who is now cancer free, said.  

Hilgendorf didn’t completely pull herself away from selling her goods, though. She continued to sell cards both to friends and acquaintances.  Her largest sale was 45 cards to her son’s friend in Ohio. She also ventured online to reach customers across the world under the Etsy monicker “pikesbabe.”  

Her cards have traveled as far as Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.

While she does have other cards with similar vibrant images, the cancer cards constitute a majority of the cards she sells.  

“People who buy the cards usually drop me a line afterwards and let me know they are going  frame them and give them to a friend,” she said. “You feel like you’re helping.”