Life Over Lattes: Making and Creating with DIY Expert Janet Crowther
The love for DIY is deeply rooted into the DNA of Janet Crowther. With both parents in the creative field, Janet developed an undying passion for handmade goods and a fond appreciation of purposeful design at a very young age. Having a huge craft room located directly next to her childhood bedroom, it’s no wonder why this creative maker starting DIYing even before she could walk.
Fast forward a bit, and Janet is still shaking things up in the design world. With titles such as trend forecaster, entrepreneur, author—I could go on and on—under her belt, Janet’s work has since appeared on nearly every major fashion publication, such as Vogue, InStyle, and Harper’s Bazaar. Pepper in that recognition with launching her own company and being chosen as one of 10 Pinterest Ambassadors in the United States, and I think it’s safe to say Janet takes the crown of the Queen of DIY.
Ever since Janet and I first met over a cup of coffee a few years ago while both living in Brooklyn, I have found her story to be such an inspiring one. To me, Janet fully embodies the saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” While there is no question she exemplifies hard work on a daily basis, Janet is proving time and time again that you can turn your passion into a career—and a very meaningful one at that.
Without further ado, I’m thrilled to introduce this week’s Life Over Lattes creative!
Name: Janet Crowther
Location: Hillsborough, North Carolina
Ah, where do I even begin!? Your love for DIY started at a very early age. With the assistance of your mother, you began DIYing even before you could walk!
Can you tell us more about the creative household you grew up in?
Ever since I can remember I’ve been making things with the help and guidance of my parents. We’re collaborating and helping each other creatively to this day! They helped me with some of the projects in my upcoming book, which I think we’ll talk more about later.
My mom has always been a maker—way before it was cool or trendy—and owned a craft supply store when I was a little girl. The entire upstairs of our house was my bedroom and then a huge craft room. I was happily surrounded by sewing machines, a paper station, floor to ceiling bolts of fabric, a ribbon wall, etc. It made school projects a breeze!
My dad is a carpenter and cabinet maker—among other things—and knows how to fix almost anything. I have very fond memories watching him in his workshop and still admire his effortless style when working with his hands. They showed me the best of both worlds. Construction and aesthetics. Form and function. I feel lucky to have learned from both and I think that has reflected in how I try to balance and execute my work.
When did you realize your love for design & DIY didn’t have to be a hobby, it could be your full-time job?
When I was in college, I started making jewelry and selling it at local boutiques. What started as more of a hobby became a fun way to make some extra cash. With college and a business degree soon to be behind me, it ultimately inspired me to apply to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York City and continue my education. FIT opened amazing doors and brought me together with a strong group of peers and friends in the industry.
Once you graduated college and made the move to New York City, you started working for some major top-name brands. From Henri Bendel, Alexis Bittar, Kate Spade, and Juicy Couture—just to name a few!
What were those experiences like? How were you able to first get your foot in the door of the fashion world?
Networking is a must. I met a lot of wonderful people through FIT who were able to send me in the right direction, but it’s really about hustle and experience. If you are new and don’t have a deep resume, you have to put together an impressive portfolio.
Design your own projects and show people your technical and creative versatility. Early in my career, I was able to foresee the industry was heading towards utilizing CAD and 3D modeling, so I just kept practicing and working that muscle.
While most of the industry was painstakingly carving models out of wax, I was quickly learning to craft computer models faster and more precisely than the competition. It paid off and I picked up all kinds of clients along the way. Word of mouth and referrals were the key to the next job. It was a great experience, allowing me to work with a lot of unique companies and hone a broad set of techniques.
After several years of designing and consulting, you took the jump and started your own business, For the Makers, in 2011. Tell us more about how you came up with the idea for the company.
Was there a certain moment when you knew it was the “right” time to take this leap and embark on the entrepreneurial path?
I really appreciated working in the jewelry business and was fortunate to see so many different perspectives, both creatively and in a business sense. Honestly, I always knew I wanted to be my own boss. Never being completely satisfied working for anyone else and always of the mindset—for better or worse—that I can do it better has really shaped my career path.
The idea for my first company, For the Makers, came from a simple conversation over coffee. A couple jewelry friends of mine would get together semi-regularly, and we would talk about ideas and trends in the industry. FTM started while I still working full-time in design. Once the company had legs and it started making money—and once I was honest with myself on how much time I was actually putting into the development—I decided to leave jewelry design and focus on it as my full-time job. It was scary, but also really exciting. I had saved up some money and gotten a small investment which really put me all in.
Looking back, it was the right thing to do at the time, but for anyone else looking to make a similar decision I would recommend planning and budgeting out 3-5 years so that you really know what goals to set for yourself and the business. I am not a big planner and like to go with the flow, but I could have saved a lot of time and resources by hunkering down in front of a spreadsheet that first year!
For the Makers served as the perfect place for fashion and design inspiration, while also making DIY fun and easy for all the makers out there yearning to create. What a refreshing concept!
How did you constantly stay inspired to come up with and execute new DIY ideas and tutorials?
I’ve been collecting bits of inspiration for years and years and years. Torn magazine pages have been stacking up long before Pinterest was a thing.
Taking photographs of patterns and colors. Cataloging styles and trends. Just as a hobby, but I think when you soak up all that information it can distill down into lots of great ideas. I like to take the right approach to design, and understanding what the end goal needs to be is a great place to start.
What is the purpose? Who will use it? How will it be helpful? All are great questions to ask yourself upon designing a new product. When I would design jewelry I always had to understand trends and predict where the market was headed. Same goes for the DIYs and tutorials at For the Makers. I think Pinterest is a great resource (find me here, let’s be friends!), reading current magazines and publications, as well as keeping up with the runway shows helps understand a larger trend. But, above all else make sure you stay true to your own creative process. Your end result should feel authentic and as original as possible.
Before closing its doors in the beginning of 2016, For the Makers received high praises from Forbes, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living—the list could go on and on!
How does it feel to have elevated the art of making while also inspiring the lives of so many makers?
Thanks for such flattery! I really just tried to make myself and my employees happy and put out work we could be proud of in hopes of inspiring others. I think it worked with For the Makers and I was sad to close the business, but on to the next thing!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to pursue a startup? If you could start the process over again, would you do anything differently?
SO. MANY. THINGS. Deep breath! It’s hard to really write a list for this because I do believe learning by mistake is a real gift. The process of trial and error can really shape your business for the better.
But, I would say some things should not be trial and error, like your accounting process and paying your taxes. Now looking back, I think I would have grown the business a bit slower. I was living in NYC and startups were taking off all over the place, people in the industry just wanted to see big numbers and not really see the heart.
A lot of the companies that got insane funding around that time are now struggling in one way or another. The companies I admire now are not gigantic but those built with love and intention. I started For the Makers this way and was really passionate about it, but I was looking to other people to validate my success because of the funding we received.
If I were to do it over I would start small and grow organically. Sometimes I think the most powerful thing to know is that we are all in this together and no one has all the answers.
Find your own path. Be a rebel. Make a difference. And above all know what will be your true happiness, don’t worry about what another person’s definition of success for happiness is.
What do you want to create? What kind of life do you want to live? Set those parameters and get to work. And finally, you must be so very passionate about your idea and your business. Things get tough and if you aren’t 100% invested it will be easy to get discouraged and give up.
Aside from designing for top fashion brands and starting your own business, you also managed to find the time to write a book, Make a Statement, in 2015, and will be launching another book this fall. You truly are Wonder Woman!
Can you tell us a little bit more on what this new book will be about? What has been your favorite part of this creative process?
Yes! I am really excited about my new book, A Well-Crafted Home. I pitched the idea to Penguin Random House a little over two years ago, so it has been a long process. Just this week we finalized the cover design and I am in the process of catching any last minute changes. This book is all about making objects and furnishings for your home with 60 distinctive projects plus techniques for dyeing, sewing, woodworking, and other crafting methods.
I can’t give away too much yet, but it is a beautiful book filled with tons of inspiration and actionable projects.
Designing and making is always my favorite part. I made about 100 projects and edited it down to 60, which was really hard to make the final call. I found homes all around North and South Carolina to shoot the book and my photographer and I jam packed a minivan and drove back and forth shooting all the rooms and projects.
It was so much fun and a lot of hard work, but I can’t wait to see the book finished and out in the world!
Because creating is weaved into your everyday life, do you ever experience creative blocks? If so, what have you found to be the best ways to overcome these stumps?
Of course. It’s sometimes frustrating, but I’ve learned the feeling never stays too long and not to stress.
I’m lucky in that my designing is very diverse at this point and it’s not like writers block where if I can’t continue it’s a problem. For me, I might be stuck on one thing but able to move onto another thing and then pick it back up when the time is right.
Get moving and stay creative. You never know where the breakthrough will happen.
So you recently moved back to North Carolina and are currently renovating a home, you’ll be launching a new book this year, and I’m pretty sure you have some other creative projects up your sleeve.
Can you give us a sneak-peek as to what’s next?
Our new home is taking shape, but we have a lot of renovating left to do which I am afraid will take years to complete. Just another thing not to get stressed over! Moving from a small NYC studio into an actual house with walls was positive enough for us so we are taking the rest slow and steady.
On the side I am still working on creative projects for myself and others. I can tell you that I am always and forever drawn to design and the design of products and objects. I love to figure out how things work and make them work better. Recently I’ve been painting and designing surfaces for textiles, papers, and home goods. That might make it’s way into my next endeavor.
I am wishing I could be like the Madonna of crafts and design, always able to reinvent myself while never losing traction! Here’s hoping. Until then you can find my current work here. Also, be sure to sign up for my DIY newsletter, the Likely, where I send projects and inspiration completely irregularly to your inbox.
Lastly, what does creativity mean to you?
This is the part in high school where I would totally break out the dictionary and be completely unoriginal. Defeating the purpose of this question of course!
I think creativity is a couple things: Self expression, individuality, the ability to produce original works, seeing the potential and possibility in everyday life, and basically the reason my brain functions.
Thank you so much, Janet!
To read more about Janet, her background in design, and view her portfolio, click here. If you’d like to sign up for her newsletter, The Likely, you can do so here. For daily inspiration, I recommend following her on Instagram, too. This lady knows how to curate a bea-u-ti-ful feed!
*all photos provided by Janet Crowther