Based in Chicago, Margie Criner of Red-Belly creates functional art and handmade eco-friendly accessories from wool, wood, and even recycled toys and game pieces. Her wool wallets, handbags, and belts are simple and stylish, and her fun "Magnet-ism" collage magnets feature everything from disembodied toy astronaut heads to toy soldiers painted to resemble bullfighters. Margie recently spoke with IndieMade about her growing business and the pleasure she finds in making products by hand:
What attracted you to the handmade accessory business? How did you get your start?
Ever since I was a child, I loved to make objects that functioned. Much of the “function” was imaginary, but I loved the idea of something I made actually doing something practical. My formal education is in textile design, with a career doing graphics. Clicking a mouse to make art left me wanting more. That childhood urge to make functional objects was still there. I wanted to create products with good design, to work on something I could be proud of, to use my hands and hold the work as it takes form. I needed for my work to truly reflect who I am. And so begins Red-Belly.
What piece of business advice would you give someone just starting out in the handmade accessory business?
Stay present, no pre-visualizing. Allow change to happen. If you decide how things will go before you ever get there, you don't get to enjoy the surprises and possibilities that could happen along the way.
How did you start selling your products online?
I joined Etsy about a year ago. I started selling screen prints, magnets, and some downloadable illustrations.
Besides on your website, where do you sell your stuff?
Red-Belly is in about 20 stores nationwide, independently owned boutiques. I do art fairs like Renegade and Wells Street Art Festival, both in Chicago, and Rust Belt Market in Michigan. I also sell Red-Belly at wholesale trade shows.
Why did you expand off of Etsy?
I love Etsy, but my business is growing in more than a handmade arena. I needed an online presence that could stand on its own, a place where someone could not only shop, but learn more about Red-Belly, find wholesale information, view a gallery of designs that are no longer for sale. I wanted a site that was not visually affiliated with any company other than Red-Belly.
How are you promoting your business online? How are you using social media?
I have a blog that refers readers back to the site, and vice versa. I also post items from my site and my blog to my Red-Belly Facebook page.
Do you blog? How does that work for you?
I have a blog with a very cryptic title: Red-Belly the Blog :) Blogging is new for me, but it's a great way to lead readers to the website. It's also a great personal challenge as a writer, keeping it somewhat personal, interesting, and concise, all while being true to the self.
How do you stay in touch with your customers?
Many customers end up “liking” Red-Belly on Facebook. I keep them posted on the business, upcoming events, what I'm currently working on, what's new on the website, etc.
Why did you decide to try IndieMade?
A friend recommended it. I had wanted my own site for a while, but needed it to be affordable and easily managed. And there it was. I was sold.
What is your favorite part of using IndieMade?
I love that I can upload everything myself, that I don't need to know HTML, that it is so user-friendly.
What's on the horizon for you and your business?
I like to keep an open mind, and allow the business to grow naturally, not forcing it in any specific direction. I see it availablein more stores. Each line (wood buckles, wool accessories, magnets, etc.) is expanding. I'm currently adding more men's accessories. The magnets are turning into little dioramas. The wood will be more than just buckles. The future holds growth. I'll tell you about it when I get there.