Cardboard, Kiddos and Courage Combined to Turn Kim Baise's Whimsical Crafts into a Good Business
Kim makes papier mâché mobiles unlike any you’ve seen before — when she’s not training her kids to be rockstars, that is.
She honed her unique style in art school before finding work at a gallery in New York, where she also played bass in a band. 15 years later, and after moving her family across the county to settle in LA, she's now running a small business out of her home and selling her one-of-a kind mobiles online and in boutiques across the country.
With an approach to life that’s as quirky as her designs, we just had to find out how Kim’s making it all work on her own terms.
I was born in LA, but moved to New York to get my Master's degree in art. I lived there for 15 years, making a living by working in a gallery, running little art shows of my own and playing bass in a band. When my kids were born, my husband and I decided to move back to the West Coast, but we did it in stages, moving 4 or 5 times in total.
During the moves, I wanted to make something to keep my youngest son entertained. We always had a lot of paper and cardboard lying around, so I decided to make him a mobile — just a little tree branch with some papier mâché houses hanging from it.
I didn’t really know what I was doing and had never worked with papier mâché before, but I loved the mobile so much that I posted pictures of it on my blog and listed it on my Etsy shop, thinking I’d like to make something similar for whoever wanted one.
It sold immediately!
Now I produce art every day. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few big companies buy designs off me to reproduce themselves, but I always insist that they use papier mâché and make everything by hand. I’ve found that my blog is a great way to show people what I do, but I also show my work at galleries and art shows.
I have three little kids, so I created this business to keep me sane. If I’m not creating art, or making things with my hands, I can’t be happy. This business eases my mind and gives me a creative outlet so I can express myself.
I still spend a lot of time every day making custom orders, which I fulfill in my backyard where I’ll often have 10-20 items strung up in the tree to dry at any one time — like a tiny assembly line!
When did you know your business was going to work?
I knew that my mobiles appealed to a larger audience when they started getting featured on major websites like Design*SpongeandApartment Therapy. But when a beautiful shop calledJoineryin Brooklyn asked if they could purchase the designs exclusively to reproduce wholesale, I knew that I was on to something.
What has been the biggest surprise after starting your own business?
The rewards that have come from taking the risk have surprised me.
It was a risk to turn my style into a brand and a risk to release my quirky mobiles into the world, but it’s paid off. Seeing thousands of people enjoying my art has taught me that I should never have been afraid of making a mistake.
How do you price your products?
I priced my first mobile at $25 because I wasn’t sure if anyone would get it. It was different and definitely a little bit out there, so I needed to test the market.
It’s hard to work out an exact formula for pricing because each item is different, but now I sell my large mobiles for $125. When I started selling to stores, I had to raise my prices to match theirs.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days are crazy. I wake up with coffee and browse my emails before anyone else gets up, then I get my three kids ready for school.
After dropping them off, I go shopping for groceries and art supplies, then come home and start packing orders, or go out into the backyard to start working on new ones.
I work straight through until lunchtime when I answer emails from customers, generally regarding bespoke items, and try to get them all done before I have to pick my kids up. I know I’ll be too distracted to work when they get home!
At 4pm, the whole family gets together for band practice. My kids are 6, 8 and 12, and they all play an instrument — the six-year-old has a ukulele and some maracas, my middle child plays tamborine and my oldest is the lead singer. I play bass and my husband plays lead guitar — we’re practicing at the moment for an upcoming show at the Huntington Gardens.
In the evenings, my husband cooks dinner so I can work all the way up until bedtime. I make my mobiles outside during the day, but I have to leave the painting until nighttime because it dries too fast in the California heat.
Fitting it all in is a challenge, but it’s incredibly rewarding when it pays off.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you’d do differently when starting your business?
As soon as I think I have things under control, everything changes. However, it's always worth it because I like making my own money and having to live with my decisions.
It’s like playing a game — the more I play, the better I get. I don’t have any regrets, and wouldn’t change a thing because I like learning every day and I always try to do the best I can.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I would like to get to a point with my business where I can focus purely on designing new products. Having to create items by hand for wholesale orders from smaller businesses can be overwhelming, so I’d like to know if there’s a way for me to connect with local artisans who might produce my mobiles for me.
I’m lucky because I have unique products, and I’d like to bring them to a wider audience so I can compete with other brands.
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