Thursday, November 17, 2005

Conversation with One Good Bumble Bee

Katey Nicosia of One Good Bumblebee is a queen bee of the indie designer world. She has emerged as a designer by day, designer by night (and blogger on the side), and makes each and every thing that she sells.

That includes paper things, piles of paper, jewelry, bags, cards, she's pretty much unstoppable, which means that she has enough variety to create her own little store online. Plus, she's an online sleuth when it comes to showing off other designers and finding a wide range of resources tucked away in the corners of the Internet.

To my delight, Katey agreed to share her story of how she emerged as a designer, how she gave up what she thought she wanted for something else she wanted more, and the most frightening part of all: the USPS.

Is One Good Bumble Bee a one-woman show? Who is One Good Bumble Bee, and where did the name come from?
Yes, it’s a one woman show. I do everything. The name, One Good Bumblebee, comes from a James Tate poem entitled “Head of a White Woman Walking.”

Do you have a day job? If so, how do you manage to work two jobs? If you don’t, how did you manage to quit to focus on your business full time?
I was the nanny of 2-year-old twin boys when I started OGB. And as I started to focus more and more on my designs and the business, the more I realized that I wanted it to be my full-time job. So I quit nannying and ever since I’ve sort of been cruising along, maneuvering my way through rent, bills, and everything else. I have extremely creative and supportive parents, and of course that helps too. Not to mention my boyfriend who generously helps with finances, as well. A “real” job with regular hours and cubicles is just not for me. I’m very independent and like to do things my way, and I’m sort of a homebody so working at home by myself is perfect and quite wonderful.

Are you an “indie designer”? If so, how do you define “indie designer”?
When I think of “indie”, I think small, intimate and focused. When I say focused I mean, money isn’t the goal, art is. At least that’s how I think of it. Of course I think of myself as an Indie designer, or business owner, because it’s just me doing everything, and because my goal is to create and provide, not to be rich and famous, although rich would be nice. I see it like this: If for some reason OGB makes it on Oprah, I probably won’t be very Indie anymore. Being an Indie designer also makes me closer with my customers. I feel approachable and friendly, something you don’t often find in big corporations. It also means I hand write thank you notes to every customer and I treat every packaged order like a gift to a friend.

How long have you been in business? Are you at the point where it’s paying the bills? If so, was the day you broke even the happiest day ever?
I think it will be a year in February 2006. I’m not exactly able to pay all the bills all by myself, but I am definitely making a profit, that profit just isn’t big enough yet.

Did you need start up capital? If so, how much?
When I first decided I wanted to start OGB, I called my dad and told him I needed some money. Haha! I think it all started with like $500, and that lasted about 10 minutes. So, no, no real capital to start out with. I can be very resourceful when I need to.

Did/do you have outside investors? How did you approach them?
Nope. None.

In what kind of stores is One Good Bumble Bee available? How do you approach stores to sell your products?
One Good Bumblebee is in all kinds of stores, but mostly independent places like Rare Device in Brooklyn, for instance. I’m very excited about having my things in actual brick and mortar stores. I love doing wholesale and consignment. It sort of reinforces for me the fact that I actually do have my own business, and that’s fun. I have honestly never approached a store and offered my things. Every place that sells OGB items has approached me. I do, however, plan on approaching stores soon. But I’m still just trying to get off the ground, and I’ll approach stores when I’m ready, but for now, I let them come to me, and fortunately they do! Yay!

You’re based in Texas, which proves that you don’t have to be located in New York to create and sell adorable things. How is that working for you? Do you ever feel like you want to be in New York to have little fabric and trimming shops just a few subway stops away?
I really do not like living in Dallas, just because it’s so not an “indie” friendly place. It’s all about big businesses and the like. However, I also don’t think I’d like to be in New York, where I’d have more competition. And about being able to walk to a fabric store…I don’t need that…that’s what the internet is for. Thank god for the internet!

Do you order a lot of your fabrics, trimmings and hardware online, or do you travel for it, or both? Care to reveal some of your sources?
I get almost everything online. My number one resource right now is Ebay, and that’s all I’m saying. :) Sometimes however my boyfriend and I will travel to some really great flea markets in Texas and that’s where I’ll pick up vintage fabrics and paper.

How do you handle your online orders?
When I get an order, I immediately print out the invoice and put it in my “new order” file. Then I package everything up and send it on its way. Pretty basic.

About how much time per week do you spend fulfilling orders?
Crazily enough, fulfilling orders is one of my favorite things to do. I’m one of those girls that adores wrapping gifts, so packaging orders is exciting and makes me happy. However, it does take a lot more time than I thought it ever would. It also takes a lot of supplies…tissue paper, labels, tape, stamps, etc. I’d say I spend about 2 hours a week packaging orders, give or take.

You are so versatile – building websites, painting, sewing, carving – and I know you built your own website. Is/’was there ever a point where you could or wanted to step back and let someone else build or manage it, or at least some components of it?
Of course! In fact, I did hire someone to fix it up for me, so that there’s an actual “cart” system available which is much much easier for me to manage and easier for my customers.

Sales-wise, what came first – selling directly from your website or selling through boutiques (be them online or on land)?
Online came first.

Which generates more sales: your website or other outlets that carry your designs?
My website, definitely.

What advice do you have for designers selling their products directly from their websites?
Simplicity! I think a simple, easy to navigate website is crucial. So is aesthetics and good photographs. A good photograph of an item can make a world of difference. I’m still learning how to take the perfect photo, with the right lighting, background, etc. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks. Sometimes I take up to 50 photographs of one item and still don’t get a good enough shot. But yes, I’d say as long as the website is well designed and your photos are clear and of good quality, you’re good to go. But then again, nothing beats a great product. If it’s good, it’ll sell no matter what.

What shopping cart do you use?
Zen Cart

What bookkeeping software do you use (if any)? Or are you an Excel wizard?
I do it all by hand in a ledger paper spiral. Really.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” What’s been a pretty scary thing that you’ve done, that’s lead to a great result?
Well, to make a long story short, before OGB even started, I had been planning on attending graduate school for creative writing and poetry. In fact, I had been accepted into the greatest writing programs in the country, but I don’t know what happened…all of a sudden, I sort of forgot about poetry and started creating things and really getting into design. And in the end, I had to make a decision…go back to school and get a creative writing degree, or pursue my life-long love of being a crafty girl. It was very scary. I know I let a lot of people down by not going to school, but I had to think of me and what would make me happiest, and besides I’m making way more money now than I ever would as a poet. I have no regrets and no doubts that I made the right decision. I love what I do.

Sometimes the USPS can be pretty scary too. I always worry that orders weren’t delivered or that perhaps the mailman bent a “DO NOT BEND” envelope. Scary!

Do you have any advice or mantra for emerging designers?
Have fun. If there’s one crucial aspect of being a creative person, you have to remember to relax and lose yourself in your creation. Worrying too much about what others will think is the worst thing a creative person can do. It’s crucial to remember to play when you create.

"I love you more than ice cream" - cards

"Ice cream purse"

"Vintage fabric buttons" - who knew you needed these until right now!? love these

"Pile of Paper" - yes, a pile of paper...I have one and can't wait to cut it up to make the illustrated story of how I lost Dinah my kitty, and how she found me again...

One Good Bumblebee

More Conversations With Emerging Designers


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