Eco-Conscious Success: An Interview with Olive Bites Studio

I figured that if we all want to know a little something about making sales on Etsy, I’d better contact Cat Ivins. She’s got more than 8,800 sales between her two successful Etsy shops, Uncorked and Polarity.

Cat gets her Etsy Veteranship from Uncorked Jewelry (the most fantabulously awesome and original handmade cork jewelry on the planet!), opened in late 2007 with well over 2,500 sales. Below, she describes the process in harvesting the renewable cork she uses for these unique pieces.

In addition, Polarity (the original magnetic, interchangeable jewelry!) has made more than 6,000 sales. This jewelry is made from recycled metal, and Cat teams up with other Etsy sellers to use their artwork in some of her lockets!

This is what Cat has to say about herself: “I am a mad scientist mom and recycler living at the Jersey Shore using repurposed, recycled and sustainable materials in new, unique and beautiful ways committed to leaving the lightest possible footprint in my wake.” Buying from either of Cat’s shops feels like being part of a global effort to shop smarter.

All of Cat’s products are birthed from her Olive Bites Studio. She also writes about her life and her shops, as well as selling on Etsy, at the Olive Bites Blog.  I personally loved her ideas on marketing her shops in this post. Please enjoy the interview!

"stick a sustainable cork in it"--Uncorked

You have TWO successful Etsy shops! How demanding is that?

Ugh! Yes, I wouldn’t usually recommend this! I really have one studio – Olive Bites – and then 2 lines right now which I have in separate Etsy stores. If I had it to do over again I might have had just one store named for my studio, but who knows if that would have totally mucked it up- this big old internet demands niche thinking and the names of my lines are may be more memorable this way. My lines use some of the same materials and of course have a similar aesthetic and viewpoint so it is really all one in my head.

Which of your shops gets more love and playtime, Polarity or Uncorked? Do you have a favorite or do you love them both equally?

I usually say Polarity is my head and Uncorked is my heart. I do love them both equally – Uncorked definitely gets more play time and Polarity definitely gets more work time. Although my work is often play (not always– this is a maker myth, I think- when I read the Quit Your Day Job people saying how they get up at 10 and walk the dog and sip their coffee- I think, huh? – I have to hit the ground running every day- this stuff is work).

Between the two, you’ve made more than 8,800 sales. That’s amazing! Do you feel that the higher your sales, the more momentum your shops have?

Not exactly. I definitely have a lot of repeat customers and I have a lot of hearts and people definitely find me that way and I think there is some of the ‘nothing draws a crowd like a crowd and people wanting what other people want’ thinking that sometimes goes into buyer’s habits, so it definitely helps to be established. For people starting on Etsy today it is definitely harder. But, I find that everything has a certain life cycle and what works for a while for you will eventually stop working, so I constantly have to evolve and change things – and try new ways to get seen and new places to sell.

Do slow sales days (weeks, or months, for that matter) still freak you out? Or have you learned that the customers are always coming and the business is ever-expanding?

I used to have a cart in the mall during the holidays and every day I never sold a thing for the first 2 hours and every day I would freak out and think I would never sell another thing ever again … I still get this way sometimes, but not as much. I have a little more trust now that there is more out there for me – and as with everything there is a definite ebb and flow you have to work with – some people work harder during ebbs to get things moving, but lately I’ve been trying to just go with the ebbs, too, and spend that time recharging with other things and doing less and then really working the flow periods.

He said, "Cat, girls want to wear silver and gold and gemstones and stuff that is shiny and new."

Describe your “zone.” What’s it like when you’re creating your lockets and other jewelry?

My favorite zone will probably always be time alone with some junk to just play with new ideas, but since I do a lot of production work- most of my locket making time is the repetitivecleaning, drilling, brazing and sanding and I used to fight against the sameness of production work, but in the last year or so I have grown to appreciate it more  – it has an almost meditative quality to it – you really can’t be thinking about anything else when working with fire and there is something very centering about that.

What would you say has been the best marketing strategy for Polarity?

Definitely the collaborations with other artists – when I first launched Polarity it sold pretty quickly because I was already somewhat established with Uncorked, but nothing amazing really happened with it until I started working with other artists for the illustrations. I think the energy of multiple makers working together is multiplied by a thousand!

Polarity artist collaboration locket

 

Uncorked Jewelry is made of cork oak from Portugal (a renewable material). Describe its harvesting, and please tell me how you discovered this material!

Cork is harvested by removing the bark of the cork oak – an extremely delicate process done by experienced harvesters with machetes (yes, extremely delicate work with machetes – these guys are amazing!) There is a very thin skin-like membrane between the bark and the inner trunks of each tree and they need to make sure to leave that intact. The bark grows back over the next 9 or 10 years and gets harvested again.

I have loved cork for a long time- the first cork I worked with was flooring underlay because we had some left over from a floor we put in and I transferred images on that with an iron and made coasters for Christmas presents.

I was reading through your blog, and I loved Wednesday Whines (a sort of behind-the-scenes into Cat’s life)! What started your Wednesday Whines file?

I’m not sure- probably something that drove me crazy happened and I just felt like whining about it. I know I got more comments on the whine posts than regular posts so I made it a regular thing  – I have cut back a little bit because I found myself looking for things to whine about and realized this may not be a good way to go through life! But I don’t think we have to act like everything is always perfect and like we have it all together on our blogs- I think we have to keep it more real than that or what’s the point …

Finish this sentence: When I was 18, I thought … I knew everything, some days I wish I still thought this.

What is the neatest thing you have ever bought or made from recycled material?

The neatest thing would be a table that my husband fabricated from a rusted truck hood- it is gorgeous. At the time we thought he would start a new business with work like this- but he a perfectionist maniac and spent weeks and weeks making it so we realized it was not something he could do right now for money unless we wanted to stop eating, but it is very cool. My favorite thing I made lately is a cork chandelier which I will be posting a tutorial for on my blog sometime this spring.

What was the last book you read or movie you watched that moved you?

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of business books- loved ReWork – and Scandinavian detective fiction like Henning Mankell. I loved Still Alice, A Discovery of Witches and Inside a Dog.

I need to get to more movies! I did see The King’s Speech and it was excellent although I can’t totally deal with Colin Firth as anyone other than Mr. Darcy.

I recently realized that if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t change much about what I do every day because I’m doing so much of what I love! So, I’m wondering: if you won the lottery tomorrow, what would change about your life?

I would travel much, much more- we work way too much and have been talking about this lately- how life is short and we need to do this more. I would expand my production and hire lots of people in my town who are out of work and I would somehow buy my way into my own eco-crafting show on the green channel …. and mallomars, I am addicted and would buy lots of mallomars.

Thank you, Cat! It’s been absolutely captivating ♥ Stop by Uncorked and Polarity and Olive Bites Studio for more inspiration from Cat. Until next time!

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Comments

  1. You rock Lisa – thank you so much for interviewing me – your questions were really wonderful!

    xo

    – Cat 🙂

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