Working as an independent designer and maker, your brick and mortar rotates on a weekly basis surfacing at one of several pop up craft markets in the DC area. Spending weekend after weekend in these markets, you get to know your fellow vendors. One vendor who I have had the pleasure of getting to know is Eva Calonder of Printed Wild, a line of nature-inspired handmade accessories including but not limited to canvas and leather totes, clutches, makeup bags, throw pillows, glass candleholders, cards and illustrations. Printed Wild emerged on the DC scene two years ago and since then has steadily grown a presence in DC and New York craft fairs, entry into local stores like Salt & Sundry and a prominent full-page feature in the Washington Post. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Eva, who is coincidentally my neighbor. On a sunny morning in her dining room sitting on a chair hand-painted by her talented cousin, Andres Tremols, we sipped French press coffee and enjoyed homemade madeleines. We spent the morning talking about creativity, business, and all things Printed Wild.
Where were you in the world and in life before DC? Seven years ago, I was working as a graphic designer in Cambodia. While there, I met Bertrand, who is now my partner. We both came from the same region in France and after 8 months of working in Cambodia, we decided to move back to France to spend time with family. We lived in Paris where I worked as a freelance graphic designer and afterwards, we moved to Rome. Bertrand received a job opportunity to work with the World Bank and that is how we ended up in DC. We have lived here for 3 years now.
What is your background and what led you to start Printed Wild? I am trained in graphic design and illustration...I've always loved illustration. After a few freelance jobs with a few organizations in DC, I wanted to take the time to figure out what I really wanted to do. I love being creative but working for ad agencies was not the right fit. Bertrand and I worked it out and I began to research options online when I found surface pattern design and knew that this was it. It was such a good match between my training, love of illustration, and application of designs to fashion fabrics and interior decor. I love natural and interesting textures - Printed Wild seemed a fitting name.
Tell us about your process making your line. I draw the patterns in person as much as I can and make the stencil. I transfer it to the block or screen and use watercolor or ink to print it. A friend taught me how to sew and that is how I got started making the bags. My first craft fair was at the Hillyer gallery in Dupont Circle which was perfect. I was a mess figuring out everything for the first time but it was perfect for the size and vision of the venue where I had pillows, keychains, and coin purses to sell. Next, I took silk screening courses at the Corcoran Gallery where I learned dyeing, shibori, block printing, and screen printing techniques. I also took another course at the Textile Center in New York which focused on repeat printing. Locally, I took sewing classes at Bits of Thread to continue to improve my skills. I laugh because my friends ask me if I remember my first products and say how now, my products are much better. I love natural textures. This year, I added leather to my bags because it really adds another dimension to the product. The challenge with this is that there aren't any leather shops in DC so I travel to Baltimore or New York to find leather material.
What has been your experience growing the business? It has been a two year journey. In the beginning, it is so important to be patient. Recalling the first year of my business, I wanted so much for this to be my day job. Now I am not in a rush. I know this that works. I get good feedback but this is going to take time. If you want quality, you cannot rush it. It also took a while to learn and integrate each part of the process together. As a maker, you want to be in stores as much as you can. However, when it is just you and you get an order for 200 units of product sold at wholesale, it was difficult to find a way to do it and make money from the sale. Of course, it is so great to be in a store but now I will make sure that it makes sense for the business.
Is the product that you are making now your ideal product? Not yet I would say. I know what I want to sell. First I was limited by what I could do. Now I know how I want my brand to evolve. In the beginning I had no idea. I was just waiting for returns. At first, you see what people buy and what people don’t buy. What kind of quality are you looking for? How much do you want to invest in the materials? Now I know what I want to make and I feel the products can still improve.”
What has been the most challenging part of the business? Starting a business, you have to do everything. The creative, administrative, web, social media - you need to do everything. I love the creative part but you can't do all the creative part all the time. Also working from home is great but it's not great sometimes because working alone can be lonely. What is the best part of the business? Everyday it makes me so happy to be able to be creative and have a design or product come alive. Since I started this business, I also discovered the creative part of the city and it made me fall in love with DC. I also like getting feedback from customers. When they come back and tell me how much they love one of the products, that really makes me happy.
What advice would you give to other creatives who want to start something? I feel like I am still at the beginning of this too but I would say to others "Go for it." Start with the time that you can and find a way to support yourself while working on your creative business. Starting something in the States is different than in France. There is an optimism and encouraging environment - almost like it is natural to start something and have people be supportive of it until they're not. In France, they won't support you at the beginning until they eventually do. This made it easier for me to start a business in the states. So I would say find a way to do it. Many thanks to Eva Calondar and Bertrand for opening up their home to Fashion & Philosophers and sharing such good bits of wisdom, experience and creativity with us. You can find Eva's designs online at Printed Wild and purchase her products on Etsy.