Lynda Kanase’s experience as a graphic designer and product developer gave her the skills to develop a complete line of crafting tools, including stamps, dies, inks, stencils, brushes, even a die cutting machine, for her new business, i-crafter.
Photo courtesy of i-crafter
Lynda Kanase knows how to turn lemons into lemonade. Or in this case, turn a job loss into a new craft business, and do it in record time. In about the time it takes to have a baby, Kanase built a business.
In April 2019 Kanase, an experienced graphic and product designer, was among several employees laid off from the craft company Ellison/Sizzix, where she worked for more than a decade.
She looked for other work, with little luck, and toyed with the idea of selling digital designs for electronic die cutting machines. A friend connected Kanase with someone looking to build a craft-based business. They connected via a video call “and started talking about what we were both willing to bring to the business,” Kanase says. And i-crafter was conceived.
“I had design, packaging, and some web marketing skills and my partner had production and sourcing contacts to make my designs a reality,” says Kanase. “We both brought complimentary skills to the business. My partner needed designs and I needed a way to produce them. A very serendipitous partnership was born.”
This person, who prefers to be anonymous, became her funding angel and in September 2019, Kanase applied for a booth at the January 2020 Creativation, the creative industry’s major trade show, organized by the Association for Creative Industries. Never mind that the show was less than five months away.
Although she had been brainstorming i-crafter ideas since her layoff, it was still a push to get a full product line ready for the January show. But they did it, and the booth sported stamps, dies, inks, stencils, tools, even a die cutting machine. Kanase also designed packaging, did project photography, created an e-commerce website, designed signage and displays for the show, and more.
The i-crafter booth generated a lot of buzz at Creativation 2020. Kanase’s unique dies include several that are interactive, including an exploding box and a “window wiper” pop-up card. She also developed a line of tools, including a retractable cutting blade and a self-mending die cutting mat.
Photo courtesy of i-crafter
It was a breathtaking ride, with Kanase virtually a one-woman band.
In a sense, Kanase, a life-long maker, has been working towards this her whole life. Her graphic design degree led to work in a variety of industries, including toys, computers and crafting. She’s done magazine illustrations, logo and package design, catalogs and brochures, and product design.
At Sizzix, Kanase took every opportunity to learn various facets of the business, even those outside her job description, and eventually became a product designer.
“The biggest thing I learned (at Sizzix) was to stretch myself to learn, without expecting compensation. I was hired as a graphic designer, but I kept pushing to do more. It was always about ‘what else can I learn?’ ”
For instance, when a co-worker was doing “clean-up” work on die designs, “I offered to help so I could learn.” When they needed someone to draw dies for a licensed artist, she stepped up. “I learned a lot at Ellison.”
Those skills, plus her industry knowledge, were key in developing i-crafter, says her partner, who was impressed by Kanase’s “reputation for innovative ideas and understanding of the (craft) industry.”
“After speaking with (Lynda) I realized she was sincere and a motivated go-getter,” the partner says. “Besides that, we had great chemistry from the start.”
They also had a tight budget.
Many of Kanase’s aqua-hued dies can be used to make dimensional and/or interactive cards and projects. For instance, the cheery Cherry Blossoms die looks like the blooms pop right off the page.
Photo courtesy of i-crafter
“My first task was to come up with as many designs as possible, then we would discuss what (we could) produce within our budget,” says Kanase. “Between the challenges of being a small startup company and the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t predict when we’ll see major profits.”
It was a leap of faith for both as they started with little legal paperwork, a move Kanase wouldn’t usually advise.
“I knew my future partner as an honest and fair business person, so I felt pretty confident going into a partnership without all the paperwork. But I highly recommend setting up a legal agreement in writing.”
Her partner, she says, “has a lot of faith that I know what I’m doing, which is a little stressful. I feel honored to be trusted and I don’t take advantage. (My partner) is betting on the success of this venture and appreciates that I have a lot of the skills because I stayed within my industry, proved myself within the industry, and people believe in me. I’ve had a lot of years proving myself.
“My skill set was unique,” she adds. “I knew how to create dies. I knew about packaging, about design. I knew a bit about product photography. I knew bits-and-pieces of what other people did.”
Ideas came easily. “As a crafter myself, I was my own audience.” For instance, she wanted a retractable cutting knife “so I don’t kill myself,” and a self-mending cutting pad for a manual die cutter.
“I looked for ‘pain points’ in my crafting experience then tried to find design solutions. My ideas are inspired by crafters and for crafters. If something makes me happy, I think it will make others happy.”
There were, of course, things “I knew nothing about, like where UPC codes come from. I knew a bit about spread sheets, but not about keeping track of things like product and shipping. I’ve done blogging websites but never set up an ecommerce site, so I had to research that. There was a little learning curve.”
Kanase does have a design team and a coordinator “who keeps everyone wrangled and on track,” and someone who makes samples for the package fronts.
When asked if she created a business plan, Kanase laughed.
“That was always on my to-do list. But then I would have to research how to make a business plan, and it was more important to draw designs, to get product ready. In my gut, I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to have. Because I came from this industry, I knew some things, like where to go to get dies or stamps made.”
Like many of the dies Linda Kanase designed for i-crafter, this Animalopes set (perfectly sized to hold a gift card) offers lots of creative opportunities. Make animals, or leave them plain.
Photo by Roberta Wax
The Zip Tag die is designed to offer several design opportunities from a simple tag to a tag with a pull-tab strip to make a hidden pocket perfect for a gift card or special note. The elements can also be used separately to create plain tags or cards.
Photo by Roberta Wax
She also knew who to ask when she needed advice. For instance, she’s worked trade shows, doing demos and more, but she didn’t know how to physically get her furniture and products into a booth.
A friend offered useful tips, such as putting items in a flat-pack box because the service fee is based on size and number of forklift trips needed to deliver to a booth. “I wouldn’t have even known to ask about this,” Kanase says. Friends also helped with sales and distribution questions. “I had no clue about what was required to get my products into both domestic and international stores.”
Although still without a business plan, “every night I make a list of what I want to jump into the next day.” She also uses her time deliberately.
“When I worked full-time I figured I had five free hours in the evening on a work day. In those five hours I can either sit around watching TV, do nothing, or do something. So I used those hours to learn things, like how to shoot videos.”
She still uses those five evening hours to learn, whether it’s tracking the latest trends or designing new products. “It’s all about using your time and not wasting it. I try to use my time wisely.”
Today, the biggest drain on her time and energy is keeping up with social media — “an insatiable monster that constantly wants something new” — and never-ending emails.
The one thing she did not do in the months leading up to the show, was marketing. “We were silent until Creativation.” So when attendees found her, there was quite a buzz. Sales from the show came mostly from smaller retailers, as well as online sellers Simon Says Stamp and A Cherry on Top.
She’s good with that.
“I’m a cautious person. I don’t want to disappoint people by not having product available.”
Kanase, who once taught workshops at a local scrapbook store, also wants to support small retailers “because they get feedback directly from consumers. I don’t want to leave the small stores behind.”
Her advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Take educated chances. Don’t just jump in and not have something figured out. If you do something within your passion, it doesn’t seem like work. Also, have some means of income during the first year because there will probably be more money going out than coming in during the startup period. There are stressful challenges, but don’t give up.”
After all, Kanase says, “If you don’t build your dreams someone will hire you to build theirs.”
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com