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Building a Business by Hand | Interview with Roxi Olivas of Lana Rae Handmade

Roxi is absolutely incredible and SO inspiring. Not only is she talented and sweet, she has built a business around her stunning handmade bags and lives life to the fullest. You'll love our interview! Check out the show notes here and then go give the entire interview a listen on The Creator Catalyst Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Play!

Tell us a little about yourself and your business!

I am the owner and maker of all of the products at Lana Rae. I specialize in leather bags and purses and like to use classic brown and black leathers but mix them in with fun, crazy print and patterns. I feel like our bags should be classic and timeless but also show our unique personalities . Most of my bags are multifunctional. I like to make products that can take you from date night to beach day seamlessly. 

How/when/why did you start working with leather and learn how to create such beautiful bags?

I first started with quilting fabric because it was all that my first little machine would sew. I slowly got more into diaper bags and needed to use thicker canvas and my machine couldn’t handle it. At the same time I was very into leather bags personally and dreamed of making them. When my machine just couldn’t handle what I was doing anymore I decided to take a plunge and buy an industrial leather machine and started experimenting. I have basically learned everything through trial and error an YouTube! 

What was the catalyst that led you to create Lana Rae Handmade and officially launch your business?

I went to school to me a teacher, and honestly never thought I would be doing anything else. But when California budget cuts hit in my first year teaching and I was laid off, I moved into substituting. My love for teaching started to disappear, and I was also pregnant and knew that I would much rather be home with my daughter. I was always sewing and creating a lot and after making a few bags for family members it kind of morphed from there and I fell in love with running my own business, making my own schedule, and being able to create. 

What was the process of product creation like for you as a handmade business? 

I find inspiration from so many different sources. My number one source of inspiration is necessity in my own life. I often make bags that come from a need I can’t find anywhere else. I also will see bits and pieces from Pinterest, instagram, runway shoes and create a personal style in my head to incorporate into my bags. Another huge source of creation inspiration is custom orders! While I don’t do them as much anymore, I like to ask my followers all the time what they are looking for and want to see. I also have a facebook group to talk about production and get customer feedback. 

What has your journey been like to find vendors you can trust and love working with?

I don’t have a ton of vendors yet, mostly just supply vendors for leather, hardware, fabric and labels. I have developed a great relationship with the ones I do have and it was definitely a journey. I like to find local people who can get my supplies to me quickly. Leather was probably the hardest vendor to find, but I mostly worked from word of mouth to find them. 

You are an OG Etsy shop owner! I would love to hear about how you were able to find success on Etsy, your strategy for driving traffic there, and what led you the transition to your own website?

At the beginning, success on Etsy was actually fairly easy. The market wasn't overly saturated and there weren't many options to do paid promotions so everyone was on the same level. This was before there was  an algorithm or promoted listings and it was basically a matter of having a lot of listings with great pictures and renewing them a lot. 

Of course after that you have to build a great customer rapport. I have always prided myself on good etsy reviews. In my opinion, good reviews is one of the best ways to get sales on etsy. As the years went on I had to start adding my listings to Pinterest, start an instagram, getting in local boutiques, and marketing with paid ads. All of which worked great, but honestly in the last few years I found most of my orders coming from local customers and social media so I greatly felt the need to get off Etsy. 

I had two main reasons for getting off of Etsy. One was that you truly cannot get a good brand feel if you have Etsy as your main website. My branding has become really important to me and I feel like Etsy washed out my style and brand. The second is that I have been bringing in a lot of my own customers and now that Etsy is so large, I feel like my time, efforts, and money is better put into my own website where I have a better chance of being seen. 

You mentioned before a little about your social media progress and the realization that you can't just "create all day" when owning a creative business. I would absolutely love to hear more about this! 

This is hilarious because it has been a relatively new realization to me! I always knew it, but

recently have realized that growth really will not happen if you aren’t doing a ton of the back-end work. This last year I have really focused on networking, PR, marketing and to be honest it is  a LOT of work, but it has made a MAJOR difference in my sales. I am very creative and always have a million ideas in my mind at once, so when I sit down to work, all I want to do is design and product development. I have recently started to force myself to have blocks of time for everything else.. Accounting, marketing & PR, photography, web development, and inventory. I am actually starting to enjoy that time too, and it HAS made me feeling like I am not spinning my wheels so much because people actually see all this fun stuff I am creating now!

Building a business is not easy, and comes with many of its own challenges. And in 2012 you also suffered the devastating loss of your daughter, Parker. I love that you have been able to honor her memory by living even fuller lives as a family and how you’ve infused that passion for life into your business as well. I would love to hear more about how you were able to keep going in life and in your business during such a hard time personally.

Losing parker is definitely the hardest thing we've ever gone through. It felt like traveling through a dark cloud. It took a long time to return to any sort of normalcy. Honestly at first it was just a matter of getting out of bed in the morning, and my oldest daughter pulled me through. Getting up for her every day was mandatory. I spent months just playing with her all day because it brought me so much joy. We turned Parker’s nursery into a palyroom and had rainbows and yellow blankets, a teepee, and toys everywhere. Those days in that room will always be my favorite memories because in the darkest days it was a little sanctuary. At first even seeing people was hard, but very slowly, as my body and emotions started healing I found myself returning piece by piece to normal life.

Running was also huge for my husband and I. It was a way to get energy out, get outside and collect my thoughts. We got through our grief by running and it also turned into more.. a gratefulness for a healthy body that she didn't have - that not everyone has. A way to push ourselves physically and use something so horrible as a positive in our life. We both ran our first marathons and it changed us physically for the better.

From there we started using that mentality in every aspect of our life. We made our mantra “Push it for Parker” and when we are faced with tough days, sadness and grief over her, bad news, or even just a hard workout we repeat it over and over. We choose to be grateful for our kids and family and eachother because we know how precious and fragile life can be. It is still a work in progress, as I am getting through PTSD and anxiety and working through it as the years go on, and then there are always the emotions that just hit so hard like it hasn't been 8 years and the pain feels fresh. 

But, slowly we have tried to turn her presence in our  life into a positive for us, our family and our close friends, we have used her memory as a way to be grateful and push harder in health, relationships and business. Working nights with the hum of the sewing machine brings me so much relaxation and peace and it has honeslty been some of the times I process much of my greif and find peace in a creative outlet. 

What would you do differently if you could start all over again?

I an not huge on regret. I believe that every thing in my life, even the negative, has been a step towards where I am now. It is all progress. It's not that I think I have done everything perfectly, FAR from it... but I have done what I could handle at the time. 

My business as grown very slow and steady because my main focus has been my family. Now that I am really digging into it and growing at a much faster pace I see things that I wish I would’ve done earlier. For one, I have been on social media a long time but just recently started getting really connected with my audience and I wish I would have had a better mentality about it earlier on. I pretty much ignored it because i didnt think I liked instagram and facebook. After taking a recent course I have realized i can make it what I want the space to be and I have honestly been loving the connection with my customers. My little ig and facebook family are my best customers. I really wish I would have started this way years ago because I woul have a lot more followers by now and been more advanced at it! 

Roxi's top 3 book recommendations:

  1. A new Earth Eckhart Tolle . I first listened to the series in Oprah’s Super Sould podcast where Oprah and Eckhart work their way theough every chapter and it has changed the way i live and view life. It brings me so much peace and clarity. 

  2. Shoe dog by Phil Knight. I have learned so much about running a major corporation and balancing a family, employees etc and what that would look like . It gives me insight into a future if my business grows 

  3. Harry Potter . My daughter and I our working our way through them 

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you were first getting started (on either business, or both!) what would it be?

Find your personal style and brand and dont worry about what other people are doing . Develop your brand and know it well 

Connect with Roxi:

Instagram: @lanaraehandmade


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