Photos courtesy of Marisa Morrison
Pompoms and tassels are happy things—joyous, whimsical additions to any outfit or décor. Throw in neon-bright colors and it’s a party with yarn. But pompoms as a business?
Yes, says Marisa Morrison, who made pompoms and tassels the cornerstones of her 2-year-old business, The Neon Tea Party, a New York-based DIY website and brand that offers crafty classes and parties, kits, yarns, and more.
Her mission, she says, “is to make crafting cool and to empower (people) to get in touch with their creativity through colorful, globally-inspired crafts.” Poms are a good start.
Morrison was always a crafty kid. When she was eight she created a “fashion line,” and her dad helped her develop an actual business plan for “Designs by Marisa.” At age 11, she made crystal bracelets she sold to classmates, and by 14 she was throwing themed parties.
“My parents were both entrepreneurs, and very creative,” she says. “My mom was a jewelry designer. I was very empowered by them. They always encouraged my creativity.”
Although her early dream was being a fashion accessories designer, she studied magazine journalism at Boston University. In 2009, she co-founded a student lifestyle magazine, The Buzz, which still exists.
While in college she started a fashion blog “just for me to express my thoughts, to post my fashion musings.” She named it after two things she loved: neon and tea parties. The name stuck and couldn’t be more fitting since Morrison lives in a world of vibrant color.
“I always had a thing for colorful yarns, threads, bright embroidery,” she explains.
The blog languished as Morrison worked various jobs, including managing editorial content and e-commerce for a small jewelry company. When the company closed in 2016, she revitalized her blog, and in October 2016, with the encouragement of her then-boyfriend, now husband, she launched The Neon Tea Party.
With no formal business plan, she experimented with ways to monetize her blog, even enrolling in a $500 blogging class. “That was a wake up call about how much time and energy it takes to make a blog a business. (The class) jump started me thinking about the business.”
In 2017 she tested various business models, including teaching crafts and selling handcrafted items, such as woven baskets, garlands, and pottery she bought in Mexico while on her honeymoon.
Her pompom epiphany came a month after she launched her blog when she saw the Loome, a 5-in-1 tool to make pompoms, tassels, friendship bracelets, weavings, and cords, at a Renegade Craft Fair. She was smitten.
“I went right to Michaels, bought yarn, started making pompoms, and never stopped.”
She realized no one was teaching how to make these fluffy balls of fun, saw an opportunity, and began teaching at CraftJam, a DIY creative space in New York. She also made and sold pompom accessories but realized that the inventory issues made this impractical.
“I thought, ‘What is my goal here? What is the mission behind the business?’ The mission is to inspire creativity. I want to empower people to make their own things, and provide them with the skills and tools to do so.”
By the beginning of 2018, she was figuring out her business model. She hired branding expert Quinn Tempest to rebrand The Neon Tea Party, honed her online and on-site classes, and developed kits to support the workshops.
She also learned the importance of finding multiple revenue streams (i.e., teaching, selling kits, online classes, etc.) and to “focus on the thing that enables your business to make the most money, because that will enable you to do the things you most want to do.”
She expected it would take at least five years before her fledging business became profitable, but much to her surprise, the business grew quickly and “evolved and shaped itself.” Part of her plan included “figuring out what I enjoy, what is lucrative, and where is a unique opportunity in the market. I’m constantly asking those questions and testing ideas.”
One unique niche is teaching crafts at corporate events such as team-building activities or press activations “where they need ways to entertain their guests.”
“Crafting takes people out of their comfort zone, which is a good life and business lesson,” she explains. “Also, crafting is a group activity. You are using your creativity, following directions, and just having fun with your team.
“Corporate events are the most lucrative part of the business, so I’m working to better structure that part.”
Morrison, a seasoned traveler who is inspired by multicultural designs, is passionate about creating and encouraging others to be creative. “That is where I saw the opportunities and where the business meets my passions and interests.”
She loves “seeing people’s faces when they make something the first time, especially something as fun and joyful as a pompom. Even people who think they are not creative can make a pompom. One of my goals is to remove that ‘I’m just not that creative’ thought.”
Being a solo entrepreneur, however, can be lonely.
“Most of my days are spent at the computer or making stuff alone on a couch in my small apartment, which is filled with boxes of craft supplies. There are new challenges, new problems to solve every day.”
She is now looking for office space and figuring out how to scale the business as it grows, how to reach more people, how to have more courses and content, how to do more events, how to bring on and pay for help, etc. “I have so much to learn.”
She has never sought loans or funding, and hopes to keep it that way. “I prefer to be self-funded, but you have to work harder to make the money to do that.”
Morrison is constantly refining her workshop offerings and trying to look ahead. “Right now, the big focus is on pompoms and tassels,” she says. “The demand is still there. As long as people want to learn, and I want to teach, we’ll ride this trend for a bit.”
She has also taught macramé, embroidery, and piñata and jewelry making, and hopes to add those to her online and kit offerings. Friendship bracelets, she confides, “will be our marquee craft after pompoms and tassels.”
Her biggest challenge, Morrison says, has been figuring out a business model. “I am fortunate that I had the space to experiment and land on a business plan I feel passionate about,” she notes. “On the other hand, there are days where I wake up and think ‘what am I doing?’ I’m all over the place. That was a big challenge. But that also lit a fire under me to get to where I’m going.”
Her best advice for crafty entrepreneurs?
“First, you have to do you, follow the things that excite and inspire you, and try not to recreate anything that someone else is doing.
“Second, look for where the opportunities are in the market, figure out how your interests and skills can serve a need. You don’t have a business unless you are fulfilling a need or solving a problem for someone else, even if the products are beautiful, or warm and cozy, or just make people happy.”
Just like pompoms.
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