I wish I could say that all of our ideas are the result of artistic genius. But the truth is, a lot of our designs begin with a problem looking for a solution.
The first minis/ornaments we produced were made simply as a way to curb waste.
All of the wood we used in our large wall hangings was scavenged back then, often found in trash piles during the city’s bi-annual bulk pick ups. We liked the idea that we were taking stuff that was meant for the landfill and giving it a chance at a completely different life, but we couldn’t use 100% of the wood we scavenged. We often ended up with narrow strips of wood that would pile up in bins around the shop that we had no use for. We needed to get rid of the stuff, but we didn’t want to throw it in the trash.
So, an idea was born.
I can’t remember whose idea it was, but one day I glued up a bunch of these colorful strips into roughly 6 inch wide panels, made a 5 inch Texas-shaped template, used it to mark the panels up with a Sharpie, and then cut them out by hand with a jigsaw. Kelley or I had the bright idea to add a loop of string and sell them as Christmas ornaments.
We sold them on our site in limited quantities the first year, and they were a big hit. The next year (2016), we took them to Magnolia’s Silobration, and we sold out.
But we had a problem.
People come from all over the country (and the world) to attend Magnolia’s events, and the question we heard again and again that weekend was “why don’t you have my state?”
People wanting your stuff is a good problem to have, but the reality was that these ornaments took more time and individual steps (13, to be specific) to make than our large wall hangings. Neither Kelley nor I are engineers. We’re both English majors. Figuring out how to produce our ornaments in every state - by hand - simply wasn’t a problem we knew how to solve.
As time went on, the subject of manufacturing came up as a possible solution to our problem. But that was a completely foreign world to both of us. We didn’t even know where to start looking to find a manufacturer that would take this on for us.
Lucky for us, a guide seemingly fell out of the sky. Or, to be more precise, Instagram.
Our (now) good friend Chase Kerlin, of Chase Ryan Furniture, who was a complete stranger to us at the time, DM’d us out of the blue and asked to meet over coffee. Kelley was working full time then and with time in such short supply for her and his intentions unclear at the time, she put him off. But Chase was persistent and eventually we agreed Kelley should meet him.
As it turned out, Chase’s intentions were about as pure as you can get. He just wanted to help us. He said he liked what we did, had intimate experience with manufacturing through his own experience designing and building furniture, and thought he could help us automate some of our processes. Initially, we discussed replicating our larger wall hangings, but we quickly shifted gears to solving the problem of producing our minis/ornaments.
This time, in every state.
Chase got the ball rolling by reaching out to his contact at Miller Imaging & Digital Solutions (a 100-year-old family-owned company) to see if ours was a problem they were capable and interested in solving. They were, and after laying the groundwork for us, Chase turned us over to Vittoria Mottler and her team in January of 2020 to begin hammering out prototypes. We gave them the HUGE task of helping us to create 49 state minis/ornaments in our '76 color way for Magnolia's Spring at the Silos event in March. Not only did they deliver, but they exceeded our expectations in the result.
That was a little over a year ago, right before the pandemic hit.
We’ve done all of the states (including the major Hawaiian islands) in two colorways, the state of Texas in 28 different colorways, and we just released our first ‘81 Chevron Heart Mini just in time for this Valentine’s Day.
Miller has been amazing to work with.
And the best part is that these ornaments are still made in Austin, Texas USA using reclaimed materials (a plywood made of compressed sawdust).
We’re proud to be partnered with Miller IDS and can’t wait to show you all the new ideas we’re working with them on. If you are a fellow maker and would like to chat about our process in transitioning from handmade to manufactured goods, we're here for you. Just let us know how we can help - it takes a village y'all. ;)
-Kris & Kelley