Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tessa Ann Designs (Buttons, y'all!!) interview time!

Holla, y'all!  Tonight, I'm featuring an interview with Tessa of Tessa Ann Designs.  She and her husband design and sell super fun polymer clay buttons on Etsy, which people use for knitting, sewing, hair accessories and even collecting!  Her Facebook page can be found here, and just drop a convo on Etsy if you are needing any customs - or look through the pages and pages of ideas!
Here are a couple pictures of Camden in projects with her TA buttons!  (And let me tell y'all out there that it is WAY a LOT of WORK to scour for old pictures that show what you want in DETAIL.  Argh.)
Oliver and S Book Report dress

Springtime in Hollis

Wendy Sweater

Without further ado....
What started you in the business of making buttons?  Did it start out as mostly a hobby/side business, or did you have big plans from the beginning?  
In an effort to create a new idea for a scrapbooking embellishment for a project of mine, my husband and I discovered polymer clay in our local craft store aisle. We knew we wanted to make handmade buttons with it, but had no idea how we would even begin. We scoured the aisles of Michael's, pulling things that were good shapes and textures in order to possibly make buttons. I was working at my local scrapbooking store part-time during this time and my employer really loved the buttons I was creating and let me put a row of buttons up on the shelves for sale. Within the day, they were mostly sold out. This excited me. I went home, and Steve and I baked trays and trays of buttons to take and restock the shelves. Again, they sold out. A customer suggested we open a little shop on Etsy. I had never heard of Etsy, so I had to check it out. I was so impressed at the level of creativity on Etsy. I read success stories about how people were supporting themselves through their hobby. I had to try. This had always been a dream of mine. To support my family doing something I was actually passionate about and loved doing, not just clocking in at a meaningless 9-5 job, where I was just present and getting through the work day. In April of 2008, I opened my Etsy shop, selling my buttons on handmade decorative pillows. After many e-mails and messages from potential customer,s inquiring about where they could find the buttons on the pillows, I only then was confident enough to list a few sets. Again, they sold out. This little bit of success excited us and we began trying out many styles of buttons and really mastering our craft.
For your particular business, did it take a lot of capital to start up, or was that not a huge factor?

It took us literally, under $10 to start our business initially. Product cost was super low and Etsy’s  fees were reasonable.

I understand this is a husband/wife effort; was it that way from the beginning?  How did it come about?  

Steve and I have worked on buttons together from the very beginning - always a team, but at that time, he worked full-time, managing a bank, and would come home to help me fill orders. Two years later, we realized we could do well with both of us at home filling orders and creating new designs. It was January of 2010 when we decided to see if we could make it work... if we could earn a living all on our own, making our handmade buttons. It was scary and we were unsure, but we did it, anyway. We believed in our buttons, and by that time, they had become a huge hit and we were shipping them all over the world.

Buttons soon to find a home

It's all in the details!

Is the business now something bigger than you thought it would ever be, and what are your hopes for expansion, in terms of new products that you offer?  I see, for example, that you recently came out with stitch markers for knitters - had people been asking for them?  What else do you offer now, besides buttons?

I am always dreaming of expanding and taking our business to the next level. I dream of teaming with a manufacturer and creating an entire line of product based on our button designs. I can envision an end-cap at the end of Joann Fabrics, with a collection of fabric, buttons, yarn and trims that all coordinate. We really try and pay attention to what our customers are asking for, and stitch markers were something that was continually brought up. “Oh, your buttons would make the most adorable stitch markers” is what we heard over and over. We decided to buy some supplies, make a few up and see how the response was. Just like our buttons, the response was awesome and we now have a rather large list of custom orders that we are excited to create.

What makes this the best job for you and your family?  How does it help and how does it hinder you when you need to make plans/go out of town?  Do you and your husband work together or separately during the course of a week?

Working from home has its benefits and struggles. The benefit is we can raise our daughter together as a team, and we can come and go as we please. We can work as much or as little as we want. We can show up for work in our PJs!! Nothing is tying us down. We also love that we can literally run our business anywhere in the world. We have even dreamed of living abroad for a year or two. Travel plans have to be really planned out ahead of time, as we never close our business, and we always have pages of orders to fill each week. So, going out of town means working double time to get caught up. This means we really don’t go out of town but only 1-2 times a year. It’s a sacrifice we have to make now, but we feel it is worth it, as our business is just growing and growing. We feel we live in the most beautiful town on Earth, so just taking a drive to the river or heading downtown Bend to have some cocoa is enough of a vacation for us!  Before our baby girl was born, we worked side-by-side 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week creating and filling orders. We can’t really do that now with an almost 2 year-old. We have a good system in place. In the morning, I answer emails while he gets her breakfast. When she goes for her morning nap, I head up and help him fill orders. In the afternoons, we trade off working, based on who has the most buttons to make and who can get them done most quickly. Admittedly, Steve is much quicker at reproducing buttons than I am. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist and a bit too meticulous ;)  

Lastly, when creating custom products for customers, what helps you in the design process?  What do you like a customer to help out with?  Photos, etc.?

When customers contacts us for a custom order, they usually have an idea of what they want, and I just help them decide what colors they would like if they are matching to a yarn or fabric. There are times, though, when a customer has no idea what they want and that’s always fun too! I usually reply with an outline of what I need to get the creative process going such as: What size of buttons does your project call for? How many buttons do you need for your project? Most of our customers are knitters, so a colorway name is usually given or a photo is attached by the customer of their work in progress. And, lastly the theme. Do they want simple buttons or something with a design? Once they reply with these questions answered, I am able to brainstorm and come up with ideas for them to choose.  I always love taking photos of the finished custom order and proudly (okay, sometimes nervously) presenting the order to the customer, hoping he or she will love what we have designed for them. Each button is made with a lot of heart and soul :)

All those buttons!
Thanks so much to Tessa for this great interview!!!  Her is a photo of her super cute family!


  1. Nice interview. Cool and inovative spin on an item few of us give much thought these days. Good on them! Inspiring to see that working as a family & following your passions is still alive and well in many unexpected forms.

  2. I love interviews! This was great!

  3. I've been a customer of Tessa Ann for a few years - she's designed more than one set of custom buttons for me. :-) I absolutely adore her work - her creativity when I don't know *exactly* what I want and the attention to detail (a pair of glasses on a little owl!) are fantastic!

    Nice interview - thanks for giving us a peek into how it all started.

  4. She is someone I associate with SUCCESS and I've had the pleasure of watching from start to now and am elated for her and her family and that this is the way it all turned out!! Congratulations Tessa Ann Designs… deserve all this and more!!

  5. Great interview! I know personally how hard these two work! They pay great attention to detail and customer satisfaction! There has to be a company out there that needs a "TessaAnn" line of products! I sure would love to see fabric,scrapbook paper, embellishments, etc. Your day will come! Hugs!

  6. I've been a customer for a few years as well (one of the european ones), and I LOVE Tessa Ann! She's always exceeded my expectations on my customs and I keep coming back. I am so happy for her and her family! They are very deserving of every bit of success.