Today, I chat with the founder of Peach Treats, Tif Blue, about her work and starting the business, breaking into the local fashion scene and becoming a local standard, thoughts on crafts and festivals and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of Peach Treats.)
Gavin: Hey, Tif. First thing, tell us a little but about yourself.
Tif: I'm a wife, mother and lover of all things crafty. I’m grateful for the small things, and for my family and friends. Just turned 30, and am so happy that this early in my life I have had the opportunity to be a full-time artist doing something I love. Before starting my business, I worked for 10 years as an HR manager for a large payroll company. I'm thankful to them for the business skills I learned while I was employed there. I love my dogs. I am completely in love with the great city of Salt Lake. Oh, and I love me a good amber beer.
Gavin: What first got you interested in jewelry beyond just a fashion accessory, and what kind of designs did you like?
Tif: My mom and I have always been pretty crafty. If you went into my grandma's basement, you would find nearly every type of craft and supplies ever thought of. We worked with polymer a lot, making clay figurines and magnets and such. I realized that the faux wood grain that we made would look pretty perfect in my stretched lobes. I started to research the toxicity of the clay, and found certain types to be non-toxic enough to ingest. As long as the earrings are worn in healed lobes and cleaned correctly, they would be perfect. I started making my own in the summer of 2009. People noticed, and started asking me to make pieces for them. I decided to try out Etsy, and listed a few items there. The first month, I sold about 10 pair. The second month, I sold close to 100. And there you have it.
Gavin: Where did you get the name from?
Tif: One of my nicknames growing up was Peach. I also felt like the name was symbolic of how all people want to feel "like a peach." Lastly, a peach can be considered the definition of "hard core" -- literally. I thought it fit my idea perfectly.
Gavin: How did you go about learning the craft and working with metals to customize it?
Tif: I actually started with polymer only. I didn't start adding the salvaged copper, steel and brass until later, in 2011. A friend of mine who has an Etsy shop based in Detroit is my supplier of the titanium posts that I use in my "fakers" -- faux-gauge earrings. He began selling some amazing copper that was pulled from the old buildings in Detroit. I felt like I could make something interesting from it, and starting working with the hoop-earring idea. From there, I moved on to steel and brass, as well.
Gavin: What inspired the idea to create earrings that looked like gauge studs but fit a normal ring size?
Tif: I have seen other artists on Etsy make fake gauged earrings out of wood and bone. However, I found that they tend to swing in the ear and don't hold tight to all different sizes of lobes. I began making my own using a tighter rubber backer and have had much success. My patent for the design is currently pending. I feel like so many people love the look of stretched lobes, but have a few different reasons for not moving forward with it. Either they don't want to commit to the work it takes to stretch correctly, or they have a job that doesn't allow it. In some cases, people have so much other beautiful jewelry that they don't want to risk not being able to wear it any longer.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in making a new pair of earrings, from the design to the final product?
Tif: Most of the time, it flows pretty organically. There are only a few instances when I have drawn something and finished the look from start to finish without straying from the initial design. Each piece seems to create itself. It's intriguing and inspiring and hard. The clay hates the heat of my hands so I have to work quickly.
Gavin: Looking at the designs, how difficult is it for you to create those on the material and make sure they withstand use?
Tif: Re-creating the pieces becomes easier over time. However, all pairs are slightly different and definitely one-of-a-kind. There is no way to be certain that the clay will pull the same way, or that the curls will be the exact same. I just do the best I can. I feel like people love the idea that their piece is one-of-a-kind; I know I do. As far as withstanding goes, I think my biggest challenge is the customers and how hard they are on the product. Polymer is very durable and slightly flexible. I think people get the idea that because it bends, that they can bend it further than it needs to be bent in order to get it in your lobes. I have very few issues with breakage, but when it happens it's usually because of that, or a possible air bubble within the piece. In general, though, my pieces are more durable than bone, stone or shell, lighter weight than metal and glass and don't warp the way wood can.
Gavin: Considering how much you work with each of the earrings, do you play around with the design much while making them or do you stick to the plan you started with?
Tif: The only time I really stick with the plan is if someone orders a custom piece that they request to be a certain size or dimension. If I am playing around making a piece, it becomes whatever it wants to become.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking out into the local fashion scene and getting your products out to local shops?
Tif: I am so surprised at how amazing and open most other local artists and businesses are to me. I have been so lucky to meet the people I have and to get to know them by working together on projects, festivals or collaborations. Most people have been so friendly, giving and kind. The local shops that carry my product have been so helpful to me, as well. I'm proud to say that I am partnered with them.
Gavin: You also launched an Etsy account and started selling items out of state. How has it been appealing to online shoppers and a broader audience?
Tif: Online sales are amazing for my business. I actually made my Etsy account prior to working local markets. When it's slow locally in the winter, Etsy seems to pick up to make the snowy months better for me. I am so lucky to have a big online following of new and return customers. I prefer Etsy over any other site because of their search engine. They base their searches on relevance, and because I sell a lot online and get 100% positive feedback, my items are more likely to show up on the front pages of searches related to my product. I don't have to format the site, I don't have to worry about it working properly. I pay them to do that, and it's worth it to me.
Gavin: You've also become a frequent sight on the craft scene, participating in festivals and weekly gatherings. What made you decide to take your products out, and how has it been featuring them to those crowds?
Tif: I was doing well online, but wanted to have more face-to-face contact with my customers. I applied to shows and started meeting the locals and it has been a huge reason why my stuff is known through the valley. The markets and festivals are my favorite! When winter comes, all I can think of is getting back to the market. My mom and I are so busy and so tired by the end of it all, but we love it!
Gavin: A lot of your pieces aren't just considered jewelry, they've started becoming works of art that people must have. How is it for you to see your work branch out in that way?
Tif: The response I have gotten has been amazing. It feels great to have my company represented as "Art" rather than just jewelry. I am not stating that jewelers aren't artists, because they most definitely are. However, my "jewelry" isn't like most others. I have a hard time fitting into that category. I'm grateful that the Utah Arts Festival 2012 included me in a new category called "wearable art" that was separate from the jewelry designers. I also think that people love the fact that their pieces are one-of-a-kind. I think they love knowing that I custom-made the piece just for them.
Gavin: Are there any plans on your part to expand or create different wears, or are you good with things as they are now?
Tif: Actually, yes. I am at the point in my business that I either have to be happy working and making what I am now, or I have to consider my options for expansion. I refuse to manufacture my items because I feel that it defeats the purpose of me following my dream to be an artist. I want to keep my items local and handmade. I have hired my beautiful mom as my assistant, and she is learning the molding techniques that I taught myself; she also helps with customer service, the markets and shipping/packaging. I am also in the process of hiring a wood artist. He will be adding a large selection of hand-carved wood plugs to the Peach Treats brand. I will be revealing his first pieces this fall. I think this will open my business up to a larger male audience. I eventually want to be considered a brand name in the body-piercing community, with many different artists working together on unique items. I'll continue working toward that.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on the Utah fashion scene, both good and bad?
Tif: I love the fashion scene here. People are all so different; it's a hard thing to do to market to the Salt Lake audience. You have conservative people, older people and travelers. Then you have the large group of people who aren't conservative at all and make certain that they aren't lumped into a specific genre. I love thinking of new ways to promote my items through the local fashion scene without changing who I am as a person. It can be difficult but rewarding, as well. I have found that my product sells from Ogden to South Salt Lake fairly well. When I move into the south valley area, people are not as open to my bold statement jewelry.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Tif: I feel like people all over the valley are trying to make things more prominent by having farmers markets at all different locations. In some cases, I think this is actually diluting their intentions. People aren't seeing the smaller markets as a unique place to be. Instead, it's becoming everyday, and less people are showing up. This has a lot to do with the fact that the markets are overlapping and scattered. I think a good way to promote the local crafters would be to support and promote the markets that have consistently drawn large crowds.
Gavin: While we're on the topic, what are your thoughts on the craft scene, and who are some people you believe people should be checking out?
Tif: Oh, man, my list related to this question could take hours. I'll name a few who really stand out to me. First, my dear friends Nile and Michelle Fahmy of Tattooed Tinker Studio. They are a brother-and-sister team who work with coins and found salvaged metals to make gorgeous jewelry pieces. Their stuff is unique, up-and-coming, and beautifully made. Next would be Suzanne Clements of Sorry Clementine Clothing. She is a self-taught clothing designer who recently won a 2012 Arty in City Weekly for her work. She is one of the hardest-working, strongest and most talented artists in this valley. And last but not least, AJ Wentworth with The Chocolate Conspiracy. He makes organic chocolate and other treats out of his new little shop that's on 9th South and 265 East in Salt Lake. My list honestly could go on and on. Kat Martin, Ashley Loya with Sweet Sin Couture, Glitter Gutter Glamor, Kasey Danzig -- artist, Bonnie Seeley -- tattoo Artist, Beth Fischer of Patiri Photography, Dez Lacruz of Dezcreepcore Photography, Leah Freeman Photography, Salt City Design, I Am Salt Lake Podcast -- available on iTunes, and Asana Natural Arts.
Gavin: What's your take on events like Craft Sabbath, Beehive Bazaar and Craft Lake City and the work they're doing to promote local craft?
Tif: All of those shows are amazing. Craft Sabbath was actually my first local show and I am now a Co-Op member with them. I have been a vendor at Craft Lake City, with huge success. I also plan to attend the winter Beehive Bazaar. I think the founders and promoters of each of those events have done great work in making the shows bigger and better each year. I know that Angela Brown with SLUG Magazine has done an amazing job listening to the artists needs regarding Craft Lake City. I think the show, as well as the others, will only get better with time.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and Peach Treats over the rest of the year?
Tif: As I mentioned, I'll be releasing a new line of wood pieces in the fall of this year. I will also continue to make my product and business bigger and better with more designs, more product and the best customer service. Il'l always stick to local and handmade, and promote all the amazing people who have always helped me.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Tif: I want to plug Dustin Robbins, owner of Iris Piercing Studio in Sugar House. His beautiful shop currently carries a line of my work, and he has done nothing but promote my business. He is a talented piercer, and I'm so proud to know that my business is associated with his. My husband, Dave -- without his support, I couldn't have made the leap of quitting my corporate job. Last, but not least, I want to plug my Grandma Verdel. She is the reason that I was able to quit my job and start this amazing business. I couldn't have started this process without her love.
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