I remember following the updates from Folksy as you got ready to launch the site! It was the first big UK marketplace and we were all big fish in a little pond… we all learned from each other.
Seven years ago in the summer of 2008, Folksy was born… and Asking for Trouble was our first-ever shop!* Marceline Smith opened Asking for Trouble on 6th July 2008, before Folksy had even officially launched, as she helped us test the site and discover its glitches. Now seven years on, Marceline’s super-cute designs still brighten up our lives on a daily basis (many a cup of tea in the Folksy office is taken in our Jammy Dodger cup). So to celebrate this seventh summer of Folksy, we’re dedicating this week to Marceline’s historic Kawaii emporium! We caught up to Marceline to see how her business has grown and changed in those seven years. All hail, Asking for Trouble!
We’d love to know when you joined Folksy, how Folksy has helped you, and how your business has grown since you first started. We really want to hear from you so tell us your story in the comments at the end of the post!
How did Asking for Trouble start?
While I’ve been making things all my life, and studied printmaking at art school, I somehow ended up on a boring career path of designing corporate websites and it was only when I was diagnosed with RSI (repetitive strain injury) back in 2007 that I started drawing and making things again to give myself a rest from the computer.
Folksy was so small at the beginning that it felt like a real community of makers working together to grow the site and help each other with tips on photography, listings and promotion. That’s still the best thing about Folksy – how friendly and helpful everyone is.
I started out sewing things from felt and cute fabric I’d bought in Japan and sold them at local craft fairs. This was just as ‘handmade’ was having a resurgence, so it was easy to find like-minded people locally and to sell online. I remember following the updates from Folksy as you got ready to launch the site and I was one of the first people to sign up!
What was it like on Folksy right back at the beginning?
Even though I was working as a web designer, it was great to have a quick and easy way to get my stuff online and start selling to a ready-made audience. Folksy was so small at the beginning that it felt like a real community of makers working together to grow the site and help each other with tips on photography, listings and promotion. That’s still the best thing about Folksy – how friendly and helpful everyone is.
How did you come up with the name Asking for Trouble?
Asking For Trouble was originally my record label, but I only released one record – a double 7″ vinyl box set with inserts, zine and mystery gifts! So I reused the name for my creative work. The name sums up how I work – I tend to do things my way, even if it isn’t the correct way.
How would you describe the brand that you’ve developed?
It’s a range of cute and colourful stationery, accessories and gifts inspired by Japanese Kawaii. All my products feature my gang of happy characters, whether they’re printed on paper products, cut from wood, acrylic and paper or made into repeating patterns for fabric.
Kawaii is all about making people happy and the idea that growing up doesn’t mean you have to stop wearing bright colours or using cute stationery.
Can you explain what Kawaii is and what you love about it?
Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute, but it’s been adopted over here by designers and makers who are inspired by Japan and the characters of companies like Sanrio and Nintendo. The most well-known form of Kawaii is putting a happy face on anything. Kawaii is just a way of life in Japan – it appeals to all ages, and cute characters turn up everywhere from food packaging to government services.
It’s all about making people happy and the idea that growing up doesn’t mean you have to stop wearing bright colours or using cute stationery. Why should kids get all the fun? The general rule is, if it makes you squeal like a Japanese teenager then it’s probably Kawaii. It’s even pronounced like a squeal – ka-wa-eeeeeee!
Is there anything (or anyone) else who inspires you?
My three trips to Japan are still a huge inspiration and I can’t wait to go back next year and recharge my cute-o-meter. I’m always amazed by the imagination of the designers at San-X and Sanrio who bring out seasonal ranges for each character multiple times a year, as well as my fellow indie designer/makers. But mostly I’m inspired by the things I love and the enjoyment I get from figuring out how I can make them cute – everything from food to astronomy.
My style is suited more to pocket money prices, so I needed to find ways to make my products more affordable and accessible
After launching your shop on Folksy, how did the Asking for Trouble brand develop?
Although I started out selling things I’d made from other people’s fabrics, I eventually worked up the confidence to make some products featuring my own drawings and characters, and I was so happy when they sold well. There are only a couple of those early products left in my product range because once I quit my job to work freelance, my time became more precious and I couldn’t earn enough money making everything by hand. My style and characters are suited more for pocket money prices, so I needed to find ways to make my products more affordable and accessible.
When you realised you couldn’t make everything yourself by hand, what did you do?
I started by getting some of my cards printed by online companies like Moo, who are great – they have really small minimum orders so you can try things out without spending a lot. I soon discovered that outsourcing was the solution to all my problems – it bumped my whole business up a level as I was able to add more detail to my designs that wasn’t possible with home printing, plus I could charge lower prices and I had the ability to order in bulk for wholesaling to shops.
I had to make some tough decisions – I had to refocus my brand and drop a lot of older products and designs that sold well but didn’t fit in any more.
I now had access to all kinds of products that would have been out of my reach before – printed notepads, wrapping paper, letter writing sets and laser-cut brooches. The main downside was deciding what to order and finding the money upfront to pay for printing. I had to make some tough decisions and refocus my brand to just my happy colourful Kawaii characters and drop a lot of older products and designs that sold well but didn’t fit in any more.
Where are you at with your business now?
I feel like I have the best of both worlds now – my designs are available on a huge range of products worldwide but without needing as much input from me, so I have more time to come up with new designs and characters, promote my work and collaborate with other creative folks for small-batch products. My mum sews up purses with fabric I design, Serious Stamp has helped me create a range of polymer stamps featuring my characters and I’ve created some cute cross stitch kits with The Bellwether.
I now have more time to come up with new designs and characters, promote my work and collaborate with other creative folks for small-batch products.
How has being on Folksy helped you during those seven years ago?
Folksy was great for me when I started up because it was the first big UK marketplace and we were all big fish in a little pond. It definitely helped with sales and promotion, plus everyone was so friendly and we all learned from each other. Folksy is still one of the easiest sites to sell on and even though I’m an old hand now, I still learn a lot from the seller tips and interviews on the blog.
It’s better to jump in and learn as you go than to wait until everything’s perfect.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d know when you started?
I don’t have a lot of regrets – I learned a lot from my mistakes and I don’t think I would do much differently, given the chance. I do wish I’d known that one day there would be a famous cartoon character called Marceline, so I could have chosen a different username online that wouldn’t get me bombarded with misdirected fan-mail and abuse from outraged fans at daring to use my own name online. I blame my parents.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Do it! There’s nothing more satisfying than complete strangers choosing to spend their money on something you’ve created. Take some time to learn the basics like photography, social media promotion, pricing and copyright – but it’s better to jump in and learn as you go than to wait until everything’s perfect. Most importantly, make things that are uniquely you – embrace your odd little interests and passions as they’re what will make you work stand out.
The funny thing is that when I was at art school, my tutors were always giving me a hard time about my love of cute things and bright colours. I even had a piece rejected from the class exhibition for being “too pink”! But now I make a living designing cute colourful things and I couldn’t be happier!
* Asking for Trouble is the first shop created on Folksy.com that’s still selling today!!