Joelle Scillia is a Chicago transplant from the sunny-state of Colorado. While she desperately misses the constant sun, Chicago has provided so many opportunities, including acting as the primary urban art subject for her business PageFree, which she opened on Etsy in 2013. With the support of her husband and their menagerie of pets, Joelle has crafted the most successful year yet for PageFree in 2016. Read our interview with the lovely Joelle below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I created my first decoupage project in 2005, shortly after graduating high school. A friend asked me to do a project with her, so I found an old vintage nightstand, discovered a Vogue fashion photography book for $1 on clearance, and got to work creating my first piece of decoupaged art! While I don’t decoupage furniture now for PageFree, the craft of decoupage left a strong impression on me; I could take something old or unwanted, like a beat up novel or photography book, and make it new again. That’s actually where the name “PageFree” came from, this concept of “freeing the page” or paper from it’s original form and using it to create a new work of art.
After several years of projects, I finally felt like I was finding a rhythm with the paper. That’s when I added in hand-drawn sketches and paint, two other mediums I’ve explored in the past. After many suggestions from friends to consider opening an Etsy shop, I finally took the plunge in April 2013.
Tell us about your business.
I run PageFree out our two bedroom apartment, with our spare bedroom currently acting as my studio, but it works! This is the most space I’ve had to work thus far, and I’m loving it. My goal with PageFree is to create urban rustic home decor. It’s art that’s accessible. When the business started in 2013, I focused primarily on creating original collage/mixed media artwork on gesso board (which is like wood, but with a canvas finish.) While I loved this, I needed a smaller medium that was more accessible to my customers. This is where the wooden coasters came into play. I created my first design, my Chicago coaster set, and have expanded from there. I currently source my wood from other Etsy sellers who are only cutting fallen branches on their land. Using reclaimed wood is super important to me since I’m already using upcycled paper. Promoting an eco-friendly brand is one of my primary goals.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes, for readers of Ladybossblogger, I’m offering a 15% discount shop-wide through January 31, 2017 with code LADYBOSS.
You can use the code on any of the item available at: pagefree.etsy.com
This year, I set a goal to table at/show at at least six craft shows. Prior to 2016, I had only done a few, at most two a year, but I wanted to push myself this year. Craft shows and markets are exhausting and I never would have gotten through them without the support of my husband. He’s definitely an awesome spokesman for the brand. I’m wrapping up the year with my final holiday show on December 10-11 and it’ll be the eighth market this year, so goal met and exceeded!
Where is your business based?
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Honestly, I did a ton of Etsy stalking first. I feel like for almost an entire year, all I did was read stories about other makers and artists on the site. I especially loved the “Quit Your Day Job” series because those makers had done it; they were selling full-time and living their dream. But holy cow is it a lot of work! When I was finally ready to launch, I wanted to be sure to have at least eight items in the shop.
The other big piece for me was branding. Aside from deciding on a name, I wanted to design a cohesive look that echoed what I was doing. Even down to my logo, the “page” font in “PageFree” was picked specifically because it looked like book page text.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Awareness has come mainly from in-person craft shows and markets. Having the product on display for people to view, feel, and interact with has been the best way to showcase my work. I have also gained a few custom orders from individuals I have met while working a show. Instagram is also my social media of choice and a great way to raise awareness and have fun with my work and the brand as a whole.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Time! No matter how much I try to plan in advance, it is a challenge for me to commit as much time as I would like to this business. It’s still growing, and I know I could grow at a faster rate if I restructured my time. But, it’s also about balance. I work a full-time job and freelance graphic design as well, so sometimes I have a tendency to bite off more than I can handle at any given moment. I have a hard time saying no to projects; maybe that’s a good thing.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Sleep less! But in all honesty, since my two hands make all of these products from scratch, I have had to learn to adjust my expectations in terms of time, particularly in prep for a show. One woman can only do so much in 24 hours.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
The people who are closest to me motivate me to keep going. I also find encouragement from hearing positive feedback about my work in person at shows. Recently, I had a repeat customer visit me at my latest market. She made a point to seek me out after loving an ornament she had bought from me me the year prior, and it was a joy to see her back. Making new things is also a great way to stay motivated. Sometimes, all I need is to spend some time with my sketchbook.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
This is tricky because thus far, I haven’t quite encountered anyone that does exactly what I do. Custom coasters isn’t really a booming market, but throw the decoupage and upcycled book text in there and I really think my designs are one of a kind! But, I also make greeting cards and prints, and that’s a very saturated market. I try to stay true to my style and look: rustic and natural meets urban icon, which echos throughout all of my mediums.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
If it’s important enough to you, it will get done.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Create because you love it to your core; work only becomes work when you leave your creativity at the door.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Well, Etsy, for one. Without it, I don’t know that I would have taken the plunge to start my own business. The site makes it easy to at least give it a go and test the waters.
Second to Etsy, my Adobe Creative Suite. My graphic design skills have been my secret weapon with this business and have allowed me to expand not only my branding, but my ability to reproduce original artwork into new mediums.
And finally, maker podcasts, such as Etsy Conversations or Dear Handmade Life. Learning from others and hearing their struggles and success stories has been the best kind of motivation and learning resource.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“How to Create a line sheet that makes selling easy” from Indie RetailAcademy.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I’m definitely going through a learning curve when it comes to making my items available via consignment and wholesale, hence the need to learn about wholesale line sheets.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
In the next few months, I would love to launch a standalone website. I have investigated a few platforms and continue to work on my product photography. I also want to challenge myself to keep creating new art and conceptualizing new products. After all, there is no such things as a bad idea as long as there is enough dedication to bring it to fruition.
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