iCraft Spotlight: The Bold and the Beautiful Designs of Vicki VK
Hardworking and seemingly fearless, Vicky Vander Kooi, began creating jewelry after finding inspiration as an English teacher in Thailand. Over the course of two years in a totally foreign environment, Vicky pushed herself to experience new things she never knew she was capable of doing. From trying new foods to dealing with language barriers and exploring beautiful new territory, Vicky learned that her abilities were not restricted to teaching! While in Thailand, she uncovered the great excitement and variety of Thai markets.
Discovering a new method of expression was just what Vicky needed to satisfy her curious, creative, and disciplined nature, all characteristics that have lead her to become one of the most enterprising jewelers and businesspeople. Balancing life as a busy mom and evolving artist, she is always thinking up new designs – and great ways to promote them! For Vicky, stumbling across new materials and methods of beading in Thailand was just the beginning…
Lyra Pappin: How did you transition from creating in Thailand to starting a business back in Canada?
Vicky Vander Kooi: Once we moved back to Canada I took along my collection of beads and continued experimenting. My husband was in school and I was pregnant and waitressing. I was acquiring quite a collection of jewelry so I decided if I was going to continue my hobby, I should try selling some of it!
I set up shop at a farmers market every Saturday morning that summer and was surprised at the response. I was selling my creations to people who liked my style! It was encouraging and I thought perhaps this could be more than a creative outlet for me.
I did this for a year, had my baby girl, and then continued the next summer. Wanting to stay at home with my young daughter, I researched the benefits of working from home and focusing on online sales.
LP: You have been very active on iCraft, as well as finding other methods to market your beautiful work. Did this come naturally to you?
VVK: Actually, no! For the first couple of months I didn’t have many views or sales and I couldn’t understand why. I realized that if I just sat and waited for a sale, a sale would not come! I peeked into other online shops and started reading about different, low-cost ways to advertise. I had to get the word out and start networking, just the same as if I was starting a business offline.
I joined different networking sites such as indiepublic, squidoo, flickr, and kaboodle. I learned which one worked best for my type of product. I read about and listed my jewelry on different online shops, learned of their benefits and stuck with a couple that worked well. I created a Facebook group for my jewelry and invited my friends to join. Some of them invited their friends to join.
I came to the conclusion that it was also very important to promote myself offline. I started talking about what I was doing to friends, family and acquaintances. I made up business cards and started handing them out. I sold at craft sales and handed out business cards there. Though they weren't always successful I was able to make good contacts, one with a popular bridal shop for whom I designed a line of wedding jewelry.
I wore my jewelry and ladies from my church were very complimentary, encouraging me to try having a jewelry party. I went for it and it was fun and successful. I spent the time walking up the street in our downtown and inquiring if any of the stores would be interested in selling my jewelry. A gift store now has a collection of my work.
I am always working on new pieces and keep my shops up to date, trying to list at least one item per day. I make sure that I communicate with buyers and give good customer service.
LP: Have you noticed changes in yourself resulting from your changing business strategies? Has it always been easy?
VVK: When I started, my first pieces were quite primitive. My designs have evolved over the past years. I never took classes or had someone teach me what to do, so I've spent a lot of time learning through trial and error.
LP: Do you ever get frustrated, or just simply tired? :)
VVK: This all has been a lot of work, but it's been fun work. I love seeing what my efforts produce and what venues and ideas work best. Sometimes it can be discouraging, but I have learned the most through those times. I am still at the beginning of my journey of creating and selling jewelry and hope to continue to refine my style and methods.
LP: As you continue to mature as a mom, a creator, and business person, what do you find inspires you now?
VVK: As many other jewelry artisans would say, inspiration comes in many different forms. I am always on the lookout for new ideas including looking at magazines, browsing through jewelry supply shops, looking at what pieces women are wearing, or just sitting at my beading table and fooling around with what's in front of me. I tend to create jewelry that I would really enjoy wearing myself.
LP: What materials do you prefer working with?
VVK: I really love to work with an assortment of materials. I usually purchase supplies that catch my eye, they don't have to be a particular type. I do find I am more drawn to glass, stone, and especially wood.
LP: How do you balance being artistic with looking at your creative work as a business?
VVK: I try not to take things too seriously. I don't put serious pressure on myself to make money through this business. I really enjoy being creative and if someone likes my work enough to buy it, that's great! It might pay for a night out for dinner once in a while, help us save for a vacation, or perhaps buy some clothes.
LP: What is a typical day like for you? (When you are working)
VVK: I am a stay at home mom and that job comes first. I take care of and play with my daughter and give myself the chance to 'get to work' when she is having her nap or when she is in bed in the evening. My husband helps out a lot with her and the housework so that also gives me time to create jewelry and work online.
LP: Where do you see yourself in 5 years (or 10)? What is on the horizon for you?
VVK: I'm not really sure. If you would have asked me that same question 5 or 10 years ago I would never have imagined I would be where I am today with the experiences I have been able to enjoy. I trust that God has a plan for me, my future and my family and that “[He]... is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I try not to imagine where I will might be in the future because that would be putting myself in a box, and I want to experience more than that.
LP: Finally, what makes you happiest?
VVK: I'd say I am happiest when I am spending time with my husband and daughter – and of course it helps when I've sold something online that day! :)