Featured Artisan: FlakyFriends
Please start by telling us a little about yourself and your studio.
My name is Sarah Flake (no, that’s not a pretend last name!) and I’m a 32 year old toy maker from Henderson, NV. I’ve always considered myself creative, but never was able to find an art form that I really excelled in. So I stuck to doodling all over the edges of everything – my bug eyed cartoons filling countless school binders and work pages. But once I had a child, and my home starting filling with blaze, soulless plush toys, I realized something had to be done. I began doodling on fabric and my first mangled creations were born. My daughter was thrilled and so I continued on until a few weeks later friends began asking how much I would sell them for. The Flaky Friends business began and I have been making my off-beat, imperfect creations ever since. I leave the totally cute, 100% symmetrical stuff to the big brands, but reserve all the funky, angsty, runt-of-the-litter stuff for my brand. I try to make toys that you can empathize with. We are all flawed, why not our toys? From mutated lab rats to homeless polar bears whose homes have melted away, my toys beg to be understood by that special someone who has been through the same thing. The Flaky Friends line is always growing and I’m currently working on a line of plush fruits and veggies that will really spice up your shopping cart.
What role does your family play in your art?
Becoming a stay at home mother when I had my first child is what inspired my business to begin with. I started making toys for my toddler when I noticed the house was quickly filling with cheap, uninspired goods and decided we should have cool custom toys instead. Within weeks of beginning to sew toys I began selling them to friends as well. Now, my children are very involved in the creative process and help me with color choices, stuffing, and endless request from their friends at school. My husband, an attorney, has also gotten into the spirit of things and sells with me at my events and has taught me how to be a great salesman (after all, isn’t that being an attorney is all about?!) The business had become a whole family hobby.
Where do you live and what is it like?
I live a few miles from the Las Vegas strip in Henderson, Nevada. The city is starved for indie arts, the only real art museum here closed its doors in 2009 due to poor attendance. The art scene here is fighting tooth and nail to overcome this super-branded, strip mall culture. When I first moved here from a vibrant art scene in Southern California, I was worried I’d never find people here who understood my passion for art but after some digging, have found a very strong, delightfully talented group of local artists who are just as passionate about indie and local shopping as I am.
Where did you learn your medium?
My mother had 7 girls and she taught us all how to use a sewing machine as soon as we were big enough to reach the machine. We all were required to make at least one quilt, a few clothing items and learn how to follow patterns and work the machine. After I became a teenager, I stuck to the basic stuff like tailoring/repairing clothes but once I became a mom, I realized there was a whole world of toy-making just waiting for me to jump in and try it out. I looked at the toys in the house around me and at the toys on shelves to see how they were made and how where the seams were. I eventually figured out basic techniques for construction and my creations are constantly evolving. My toys are all based off my doodles so I first sketch a doodle on some paper until I get the right personality and then usually just draw it directly on to the fabric and start sewing. You really never know what is going to happen though!
How did you come to selling online?
I was an active blogger and knew many other bloggers with online shops. So when I decided to offer my products to my blog readers, selling them online was the natural way to go since most of them I didn’t know personally. I opened my online shop just weeks after my first creation was made in less than a week had my first sale. A few thousand sales later, I’m still going strong online and have sold my toys to dozens of countries around the world!
How did you come to find a home on ArtFire?
I needed a online hub with the flexibility I required to add my personal content such as outside
links and a variety of products. I have limited edition items which have been manufactured as well my my handmade items and wanted to be able to sell them all in the same place. Also, the super low, FLAT rates of Artfire were the deciding factor. It’s wonderful that I can sell and list an unlimited amount of products at one flat rate on a very user friendly interface. My and my customers love it!
What is the best piece of advice you can give other artists?
You’ve got to love it. Running a business is really hard and much more of the time is spent on administrative nonsense than is ideal so you really better love what you’re doing otherwise you’ll quickly lose steam. I’ve got a crazy, obsessive love for my little critters and would go to the ends of the world to make sure they are made and passed out world round. That keeps me going through all the hard bits and sales slumps. If you are just doing it for the money, you’re in for a long road.
Why do you think that buying and selling handmade products benefits society?
So much of the stuff we buy these days is on a whim and comes and goes so easily. People’s garages and attics are stuffed full of these types of items which as easy come, easy go. However, if consumers take a moment to slow down and really look for quality, lasting goods which have more meaning than the big box items, they can start enjoying their possessions instead of just cycling them through yard-sales. Understanding where an item comes from, the work that goes into it and having a relationship with the creator helps consumers value what they have and hopefully curb them spending binge which many Americans find themselves caught up in in the quest for bigger and better. Also, by supporting local artists and crafters, these skills are validated and hopefully can be taught to younger generations and passed down. It seems like nobody owns sewing machines anymore, nobody knows how to knit, even basic home cooking is becoming a hard to find skill. By supporting handmade items, hopefully we will be able to preserve these types of skills for the younger generations and pass down a legacy of creation instead of just consumerism.