Last year, our best-selling shop by a country mile was Buttonsy (and we’re pretty sure that if you were to walk that country mile, it would be very pretty indeed). Anna Day only launched her Folksy shop in January 2014, but quickly built up a legion of devoted fans who have since bought over 3,000 pieces of Buttonsy between them. We can absolutely see why: at the very heart of Buttonsy is happiness and joy. We talked to Anna to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself?
My name’s Anna, and my lovely husband is Travis. We run Buttonsy together from a beautiful village in Derbyshire, not far from Bakewell, home of the Bakewell tart. I often tell people that’s a coincidence.
What did you do before Buttonsy?
Before Buttonsy I was at Bible College, and before that I worked with young victims of crime for Victim Support. I’ve always, always been creative. As a kid, during Summer holidays, my parents would take us to a villa in the wilds of Finland – where my grandmother was from. The villa had no electricity or running water. It was stunning in a cold way – all wood and big glass windows and tall trees and the Baltic Sea being grey and choppy – but it was dreadful for a child. The thing I loved about it, though, was spending entire days drawing and making things out of plasticine. Whether it was painting, baking, writing or making things with sticky-back plastic and glitter, I’ve always needed to create things.
How did Buttonsy start?
I met my lovely husband on a mission trip to the States. He was a cameraman and editor in Kentucky and we fell in love. We were married within five months and came back to the UK, and neither of us could find decent work, so Buttonsy started out of necessity. I think at the time I just wanted it to earn us enough to tide us over until we found “proper jobs”, but it became obvious incredibly quickly that Buttonsy could, and would, be a proper job.
Can you describe the Buttonsy aesthetic?
It’s joyful. I read once that happiness is insipid but I fundamentally disagree. I think, if anything, depression and sadness are more normal nowadays, and we want to encourage and foster happiness. I see real beauty in nature and we celebrate that in what we make. Whether it’s dandelions, flowers, rainbows or working with driftwood or walnut shells… all of it is about encouraging happiness. We often talk about choosing joy, and I think that’s the condensed aesthetic of Buttonsy.
Where do your ideas come from?
Generally speaking, it’s things I see around me. I love dandelions, and wanted to preserve a whole clock, so I tried to work out how. Travis and I took a walk two Autumns ago, and I wanted to capture that feeling in a piece of jewellery. I saw a murmuration of starlings on the way to the supermarket and wanted a piece of jewellery to represent it. I saw a picture of a cenote (a sinkhole that opens up to reveal a pool of freshwater) when we signed out of Hotmail and needed to see if I could make something that captured the magic of it. Like everyone, I love rainbows, so they feature prominently in what we make. Equally, I started writing a children’s book years ago (before Buttonsy) and a lot of the ideas in there are now incorporated in our jewellery – the Tiny Adventures, for example. Ideas evolve and change as you work through them too.
Can you tell us more about the Jar of Joy feature you run on your Facebook page and your Boxes of Happy?
For me, they’re a fundamental part of Buttonsy. I did my own Jar of Joy for a full year before I started sharing them on our Facebook page every day, and it changed the way I look at life. It almost meant re-learning how I see things, but it was wonderful, and I wanted to share that. We get so many emails from lovely people who tell us their stories; they’re often depressed, or going through something that feels unmanageable, and they can’t really see the wood for the trees anymore. We talk to them and listen to them, and I often encourage them to start a jar: to acknowledge the small things that make life seem so much kinder. Last year I shared a Jar of Joy entry every day on our Facebook page, and it was beautiful seeing how people responded. We all need joy, and to be reminded that life is wonderful. Even if it’s hard, it really is a gift, and it really is wonderful.
Our Boxes of Happy are a natural off-shoot from that: they’re a year-long happiness project – something for people to interact with throughout the year, and a way to find joy in the little things.
What would be in your ultimate Jar of Joy?
Being published. Both lovely husband and I love to write. It’s not always easy to find the time and I always worried I wasn’t any good at it, so I let it fall by the wayside a little, but I started again recently. I have a blog with a section called Perfect Moments – short stories celebrating those tiny split seconds in life that make you catch your breath. Writing them has reminded me of how much I love to write; how much I need to write. So my ultimate Jar of Joy entry would be being published.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
Husband and I will talk through ideas, and I’ll jot them down in our Ideas Book. Then I’ll doodle them or try to work out the logistics of how to put it together. Then I’ll start making. Or, at least, experimenting. I’ve had countless ideas that, in practice, didn’t turn out well, so they’ve been consigned to the annals of “hugely, hugely pants”. We’d never show people something we ourselves didn’t like. Saying that, I am immensely critical of what we make so sometimes I have to squash that and squeeze my eyes shut when we show people a new design.
Do you ever suffer from a creative block?
Not too often, actually. The amount of ideas I have can ebb and flow, but I can only remember being truly blocked once, and that was over this last Christmas holiday. It was awful, and it sent me into a bit of a panic. Looking back I think I was just burned out, and some stuff happened that was demoralising; my creativity went on strike. Husband advised me not to panic – to actually have some time off and forget about Buttonsy for a few days. (It’s amazing how all-consuming running a business can be. You sleep, think, eat, drink, sit, stand, dream and drive your business.) I took his advice, consciously forgot about it all, and a few days later I saw the picture of the cenote I mentioned earlier. It was like someone had pulled a cork because, after that, the ideas started to tumble out again.
Can you describe your workspace?
It’s a bit schizophrenic. It used to belong to an aerospace engineer, and I expect he needed it to be functional more than pretty. But we’ve created a gorgeous area of it. Lots of sage-coloured wood and gauze-y fabric and polka dots. I’ve made some wonderful friends through Facebook – other makers and designers – so we also have a big collection of gorgeous things we’ve been sent. It’s a nice place to work… though very, very freezy in winter.
Are there any artists, designers or periods you particularly love?
I love old Scandi designs (my Finnish heritage, I reckon), and original 1800s Pennsylvania Dutch fabrics and patterns. Ellen Giggenbach’s work is truly, amazingly beautiful. Adolie Day and Helen Dardik make my heart sing… and some of my loveliest friends on Facebook are amazing designers and artists. And I think Cath Kidston is absolutely marvellous. I’m mildly (lots) obsessed with 1950s Lefton bluebirds, too. In terms of design periods, I absolutely love the 1920s/30s. Art Deco is gorgeous, and in my head it is inextricably linked with PG Wodehouse, who I think is splendid beyond words.
You were our bestseller last year. How did that feel?
It was a wonderful shock as there are some incredible people on Folksy. To my mind it’s the best British selling platform with the best designers and greatest selection of handmade loveliness. It meant a lot to us to be the bestselling shop. [You can see the full list of bestsellers here >>]
Were you expecting to be so successful, and how did you cope with being inundated with thousands of orders?
We always hoped but I don’t think we expected it. To be honest, we work so very, very hard we rarely look up. It’s like the donkey going up a hill: it just keeps its heads down and puts one foot in front of the other. That’s us most of the time, so we just work and work, and when we’re not working, we retreat into our bubble together so we weren’t overly aware of what was happening. We often stay up all night packaging, or making, and we don’t stop until we’re done, and then we give ourselves permission to fall into bed… but we love it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve looked at each other at 4am, grinned a huge grin and said we have the best job in the world. Being busy when you have the best job in the world is an enormous blessing.
What does the future hold for Buttonsy?
More jewellery designs, more happiness projects, more stationery, more joy. We’re doing a week-long course in silver and metalwork during the summer and we’re excited about that. Eventually, we’d like to take on staff and start focusing on wholesale production. Last year we gave three small grants to three small businesses via Facebook and it’s important to both of us that we do that again. We want to encourage people personally – emotionally and spiritually – but we’ve always planned on being able to encourage other small businesses, too. If we were to write up a bullet point business plan or mission statement, supporting other small businesses would be at the top.
What’s your favourite word in the world?
I LOVE words… I don’t know if I can choose just one. “Lullaby”, maybe. I love how it sounds, how it feels when you say it and what it means. But words in general are glorious. In fact, one of my Perfect Moment stories was partially about the loveliness of words. Isn’t it amazing that we just string them together and use that to communicate? Thoughts, feelings, ideas – these ethereal things that become absolutely tangible because we put them into words. I’m in my 30s, but the novelty of words still hasn’t worn off.
Have you got a secret for happiness?
For me, it’s gratitude; being grateful for everything. Even something that seems negative on the surface, I try to find something in it to be grateful for and it pretty much means sadness doesn’t get much of an opportunity to take root. But I learned to be this way. I was clinically depressed from the age of 21 until I was 28 so I understand it and remember it, and I know that when you’re being tossed around by it, you can’t see which way is up. But I know, too, that it’s possible to make it to the other side. I’ve learned how to not let it in the door now and being grateful is key.