Branding is key to success for makers and Jess of Fox and Brie knows that well. Her work instantly struck my fancy when she popped up on Etsy’s front page and I knew as soon as I saw her shop that she was perfect for a feature as a success story. I think you’ll really love Jess’s work and her wise words of wisdom when it comes to striking a balance in life.
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
As a child, when asked by well-meaning adults what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered politely, “I just want to make neat things and go on lots of adventures.” It’s taken 27 years and two college degrees to realize that I just need to create useful, beautiful things for people to enjoy. I began Fox & Brie as a side project while working on my MA in Advertising. As an art director, most of my days were spent staring at a computer screen; so, I began to fill my nights with tangible projects and odd little creations. After graduation I behaved accordingly and worked as a designer for a short time, but missed the simple, tactile act of creating something with my own two hands. Finally realizing that my naive childhood wish was a possibility, I took a chance and started out on an adventure. I began working full-time as Fox & Brie in March 2012, constantly trying to improve my methods, seeking out unique vintage & dead-stock fabrics, and looking for new opportunities & sources of inspiration. It’s been an incredible experience, filled with long nights of work, a lot of trial & error, and an amazing sense of fulfillment that I never really expected to feel in my lifetime.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
I have a hard time shutting off from “work mode”, so it can be a challenge to balance my business and personal life. Working at home, I have the luxury of spending the day in ratty pajamas but am constantly surrounded by unfinished projects. It’s a daily struggle to just take a break and relax when there’s always something more to do. I’m lucky enough to have an extremely understanding & supportive husband who inspires me to work hard but also reminds me that life does exist outside of my studio walls. Though it’s taken some effort & a bit of sacrifice, I’ve started to realize that I’m allowed to own a business and have fun with people I love.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
Owning a creative business is the most rewarding and frustrating life I could ask for, and I love every second of it! Even when it isn’t fun—when I haven’t gotten enough sleep or I begin to second-guess a decision—those are the times that keep me going. Though sometimes I may forget, every day I’m making a little bit of progress, growing stronger and more confident in my abilities and myself. The small moments of clarity, when I can see the big picture of how far I’ve come as a business owner and as an individual, are the ultimate moments of success.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
There isn’t a set plan for my creative direction, but I have no doubts that I will continue on a creative path. Will I make bow ties forever? Maybe not, but I will continue to make useful, creative products that I [and hopefully others] will love.
Time is always a factor in my creative process—there are just too many ideas and never enough hours in the day. Currently, I’m trying to start a second business, which will hopefully launch later this year, though time restraints are slowing down the process more than I’d like. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so I just can’t accept shoddy craftsmanship with time as an excuse. Time may be an enemy to those on a deadline, but I’m happy to take things slow if I know I’m building something great.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Absolutely. There are times when I think I’ll never have another good idea in my life, and that scares the hell out of me! Waning creativity usually springs from exhaustion, from looking at a problem for too long without finding any viable solutions. When that happens, I just have to take a break and walk away. Inspiration will eventually return, but only once you really stop looking for it. Sometimes I take to the forest to reconnect with nature & clear my head. Other times, I’ll get together with friends to share stories and gain perspective. When I’m feeling stuck/unmotivated/self-
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
To help keep some semblance of balance in my life, I’ve developed a few odd little rituals to keep me on track. Each morning, I spend a couple of hours outside with my two dogs and a cup of coffee. I use this time to tend my garden, respond to emails, and relax with my husband before the real day begins. Once I’m fully awake and ready to tackle to day, I finish up the day’s orders then move on to long-term projects—wedding & wholesale orders, designs for the next season, product photography, budgeting & marketing work, or whatever needs attention that day. Most days I work 10-12 hours, but it varies pretty wildly depending on my mood and motivation level. I’ve found that real balance comes from keeping myself motivated and happy, not forcing myself to relax when I feel like working and trying to infuse some fun into most aspects of my day.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Branding! No matter what you make, there are a hundred other people making the same basic thing or something similar. Aside from the quality and design of my actual product, I spend most of my energy on the Fox & Brie identity. Logo design, packaging, photography, business cards, website design—they all play an important part in setting my business apart from the masses. Keeping a consistent brand identity across all platforms is an important part of this job, and sadly it’s often the most overlooked.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Sometimes, it’s going to be the worst. You’re going to face exhaustion, self-doubt, failures, naysayers, and every other problem you didn’t even know existed. Some days you may look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What am I even doing here?”
Keep going. It means you’re on the right track.
If you are so afraid of failure that you never take risks, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. Failure is essential to creativity. Embrace your mistakes as a chance to grow, learn what doesn’t work and then find out what does. Become an expert at your craft and continue to experiment with new techniques & designs. Each time you overcome an obstacle, you will grow stronger and more confident in your craft and in yourself. Yes, sometimes owning a creative business is the worst, but it is also the most rewarding, fulfilling, fantastic experience of my life and it has made me a better person in spite of myself.
Just keep going.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Truthfully, I’ve never been able to answer this question. Five years ago I was in undergrad, earning a BA in Psychology and clueless about my next step. Five years from now, I could be any number of things and that uncertainty is oddly comforting. Under what circumstances, I can’t say; though, in 5 years I’m certain that I’ll still be learning, experimenting, growing and creating something wonderful to share with the world.