Saturday, March 29, 2014

Meet Your Makers: Thea Okonak of John the Craftist

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business:  My name is Thea Okonak, but my crafting name is John the Craftist. I make greeting cards, shirts, totes, and other gift items which celebrate Pittsburgh -- the food, the language, the people, the culture. I started designing cards after I developed a chronic neuropathic pain condition. Receiving get well cards in the mail when I was first learning to navigate life with a new set of challenges was the highlight of my day. So I started making cards for friends and family, and, before long, I had a viable business.

How did you come up with your business name?  John the Baptist is my patron saint, so it's a shout-out (and a friendly wink).

Where do you live?  My husband and I rent a 19th century apartment above the local market (Feast On Brilliant) in the Aspinwall neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The market sells lots of in-house goodies, which means that my apartment is typically filled with delicious cooking smells. I work from home, so I'm pretty much hungry all day.

Who’s in your family?  My husband and myself. But my mom, aunt, sister, and brother are local, so I enjoy as many shenanigans as possible with that crew.

If you could sit down and talk to any person, living or dead, who would it be and why? How about a fictional character? My first choice would be Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that he would almost certainly be arrogant and morbid! Charles Dickens would be my second choice, because he died before he could finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood! I would also love to talk to him about social justice and reform.

What inspires you?  I find inspiration for my work in the city, my neighborhood, mid-century design, color theory, and classic typography.  I'm inspired to work harder by my maker friends, who never cease to blow me away.  The way I live my life is inspired by my mother, who is tough and smart and funny and compassionate. She always says that there's only one question you need to ask yourself when making a decision: "What is the loving thing?"
What is your favorite item you make for Boutique 208 and why?  My Pittsburghese magnet sets; I get the feeling that they are frequently purchased as souvenirs by out-of-towners, and I love spreading The Gospel of Pittsburgh!
What is your favorite item at Boutique 208 that’s not one of your own and why?  It's so hard to choose; if I had to list all of my favorites, we'd be here for days. But I really love the Natrielle Body Care bath tea, which has been a terrific weapon in my arsenal of pain management remedies.

What advice can you offer to someone who would like to start selling their handmade creations? 
JUMP RIGHT IN. Start small -- a neighborhood street fair, your grandma's church shindig. Build out from there. Social networking is your best friend; Facebook and Instagram are immensely helpful. Introduce yourself to other crafters -- we're a friendly bunch, we don't mind questions, and we're ALWAYS willing to give advice! Don't worry, at first, about your branding or identity; it'll fall into place as you grow. This is a wonderful time for makers and creatives and small businesses of all stripes, especially in cities like Pittsburgh. So much energy and excitement and support. So what are you waiting for?!?!







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