I had the pleasure of being introduced to Seabury Organizers at Vogue Knitting Live back in January. Every crocheter and knitter that I know is always looking for a way to organize the (ever growing) hook and needle collection, and Seabury Organizers has come up with a stylish concept. I’m happy to share an interview today Liz Cooper, co-founder of Seabury Organizers.
Underground Crafter (UC): What was your initial inspiration for starting Seabury Organizers?
Liz: I have loved sewing, knitting, crocheting, and inventing my whole life. My grandmother could do anything related to fiber arts, and I am so grateful that she spent the time to share her love of crafting with me. I still have a lot of her old needles. Some are horrible but I can’t bring myself to throw them away. (UC comment: Looks like we are in the same boat! I have a collection of my grandmothers needles, even in sizes I know I will never use.)
About three years ago, I decided to make a holder for her knitting needles. I made the typical slot and roll-up model and decided that there had to be a better idea. I experimented for months. I probably spent one thousand dollars on all sorts of materials from the hardware and fabric stores. It final occurred to me to create a holder out of a rolled length of fabric. It took another several months to get the correct lining materials that would provide the stability and shape I was going for. Although the spiral looks deceptively simple, if each of the seams aren’t sewn with just the right tension in the correct seam direction, the fabric warps all over the place and it won’t roll without wrinkles. Cramming that much fabric in such a small amount of real estate is challenging. I wasted yards and yards at the beginning. There aren’t any seams in the spiral, which requires a lot of fabric and lining.
Linda Garcia, a life-long friend I met in high school, was visiting and was so “taken” with it that she started to come up with names. We settled on the Seabury Spiral and our company was launched. (I grew up on Seabury Road in Garden City, New York, and Linda lived right around the corner.) We spent at least a year working on the infrastructure of the company and only started selling around May, 2011.
The nuttiest thing about the spiral is how it morphed into other things. Accidentally, we realized that it is very handy for jewelry, chopsticks, make up brushes, pens, and countless other things. You can even use it as the world’s largest pin cushion if you want to! Before I retired, I kept one on my table in my office filled with lollipops. Everyone, including the school system superintendent, would pop in to grab a quick treat as they passed by. As the uses expanded, so did the ideas for accessories such as hooks, embroidery thread holders, caddy for large eyed needles, etc. The Petite Spiral was born because I like to crochet better than knit (sorry knitters!).
UC: Your Seabury Organizers are geared towards needlecrafters and jewelry makers. What are your personal favorite crafts, and how did you first get started?
Liz: I have probably done most crafts at one time or another, but my personal favorite is probably quilting, although I haven’t done it for a while. I did a Baltimore Album quilt and a quilt featuring animals in their and natural habitats. This was my son’s request. Anyway, my grandmother taught me to knit and crochet, and I picked up everything else on my own. I love to make things out of junk or stuff from the hardware store. I made a pair of slippers for my mother when I was around eight years old. I cut out cardboard for the soles and covered them with terrycloth. She would have killed herself if she acturally wore them, but I was very pleased with myself. I also like to sew clothes without using patterns.
UC: It seems that you and your business partner have divided up roles pretty effectively. What tips and suggestions do you have for other creative small business owners about managing administrative and creative tasks?
Liz: We have been told that most partnerships don’t work out. We agreed that if it came down to the friendship or the business, the friendship would win. We are very different people with different skill sets, but we respect each other 100%. Linda takes on the business end and I’m in charge of the manufacturing/supply end. However, with that said, we consult each other about everything. We started out by making cards for each of our tasks, and put them up on a board for discussion. Examples were “logo,” “ advertising,” and “website.” We discussed each item, came up with an action plan, and then retired the cards as each job was done.
We also recently met for a “summit” to discuss where we are headed and our next steps now that we are ready to take the business to the next level. You have to have a plan. You also need to do a lot of market research. Every consultant we talked to at the Maryland state level and the Small Business Administration told us we were way ahead of most people. Everything they suggested we do, we had already done. We weren’t brilliant, all we had done was to read lots of books on setting up businesses, and we tried to be strategic. We had to be, because we were both working at the time. There wasn’t a lot of time to waste.
We don’t always agree on things. I tend to jump in and do things without a lot of thought, and Linda likes to analyze the problem, and think before she acts. We make a good team for that reason.
Also, the business is truly a family affair! My parents are in their eighties and have helped cut fabric, made hooks, and have given me great advice. My husband helped me with the bases for the spiral and is all-around terrific. My neice is assisting and giving advice about social media. My sons are helping with YouTube and other things. Linda’s husband is a professional photographer and takes the website pictures.
UC: You travel to many fiber events to display your organizers. Do you ever get a chance to enjoy the activities and workshops, or are you working the whole time? Tell us about some of your favorite fiber events.
Liz: So far, we are pretty much working and haven’t had a chance to enjoy the various places we have traveled to. I’m hoping to see a little bit of Atlanta when we go to STITCHES South in April, but with all of the hauling, setting up, and talking we do all day, it is kind of hard to get up the energy to do much at night. We just started selling around May, 2011, so we haven’t been to too many shows — actually, only five at this point.
We launched at the MAPACA show in Harrisburg, PA. This was very interesting. There were 1,000 alpacas in this huge farm convention building along with us. Linda and I grew up in Long Island, so this was quite an experience because neither one of us is a “farm girl.” We didn’t know that alpacas have to be cold so the building was freezing. It also rained all weekend and somebody kept opening the door near our booth. There was a LOUD loudspeaker over our heads which blasted out announcements non-stop. It was fun and not quite the right venue, although we did a nice brisk business. It was the first time we had tried to sell the spiral, so the experience was great. It was a blast to have people walk by, do a double take, and then walk backwards to see the spiral. It happens all of the time now, but we were so happy and relieved that people “got it” and our product had merit.
We then moved on to Lambertville, NJ for the Sheep and Fiber Festival. It was very small and nice (except for the torrential downpours that trapped people in our barn on and off all weekend). We met many nice people. At the end of the show, another vendor walked the length of the fairground to tell us, “I don’t know if you ladies are aware of the fact, but you are the talk of the show.” It was nice to hear that!
STITCHES East in Hartford, CT in October, 2011, was the most elegant event we had done at that point. Luckily, the snowstorm that devastated Hartford held off until the following week. We had the time of our lives at this one. The colors and textures of the yarns and products are simply stunning. It is a virtual fashion show because so many people were wearing their creations. We were lucky to win a prize from XRX for our Ravelry posts in the vendor thread. I had drawn a cartoon series, “The Runaway Needles” and a ton of people stopped by the booth to tell me they looked forward to each episode. You can see it in the 2011 STITCHES East Vendor Preview thread. I may resurrect it for the next STITCHES, but I am too busy at the moment to even think about it. Anyway, we immediately signed up for the other STITCHES, except West which is too far to consider this year.
Lastly, NYC, for Vogue Knitting Live. What can I say??? It was terrific. Gorgeous hand knits wherever you looked, beautiful venue, very nice people, great sales!!!!! The folks from Vogue stopped by to chat. They had already photographed the products they requested last month to review in the spring issue of their magazine. It was nice to meet them in person. (UC comment: Expect to see Seabury Organizers in the products section of the next issue of Vogue Knitting, as well as in an upcoming issue of Knit Simple.)
The only trouble we had was driving around Manhattan and trying to get into the loading dock at the Hilton. The carrier fell off my car on Broadway and Linda jumped out and tried to throw it back onto the car. I’ve never seen her move so fast. I ended up driving with one arm out the window to try to keep it from hitting other lanes of traffic. Good times! (UC comment: Don’t feel too bad ladies, I think every New Yorker has a similar story!)
UC: Where can we find Seabury Organizers next (besides online, of course)?
Liz: We’ll be updating the list of shows on our website, and we will be at STITCHES South,
STITCHES Midwest, STITCHES East, the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, and the Garden State Sheep Breeders Sheep and Wool Festival. You can also watch our video on YouTube.
Thanks for stopping by Liz, and best of luck to you and Linda!