Stephanie Howsare didn’t exactly mean to become the next big thing in the dice bags game. But sometimes you just can’t help these things.
From “beautiful, weird” Austin, Texas by way of Baltimore, Maryland, Stef is surrounded by friends and family who kept asking her to use her just-for-fun new embroidery machine to create one-of-a-kind bags for their gaming supplies. After a few of these orders, she took the biz online and opened up an Etsy shop, Tote Uncommon.
Stef delights in creating embroidered drawstring pouches that combine quality with personality, working with customers to design the perfect bag to meet their needs and express their style (and not just for gaming!). She’s got some awesome geeky collaborations in the works, too. Read on and discover what makes these totes so uncommon…
Stef with Misser Poe, one of two black cat sewing assistants, and her embroidery machine Smith, which sews exactly in rhythm to “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths.
What started you into embroidery?
I have always been a crafter and cross-stitcher and in 2012, I had a desire to try something different and decided to look into hand embroidery. I searched the internet for “cool” designs and came across Urban Threads. I looked through the site and absolutely fell in love with all the designs. It was so refreshing to see such modern, edgy, and out of the norm patterns. I got a couple patterns to try, but seeing the beautiful machine embroidery designs whet my appetite, and soon after that I bought an embroidery machine with the intent to just “play around” with it and make things for myself and friends.
Where did you first find Urban Threads?
I did a Google search, looking for hand embroidery designs, and came across the site. I was impressed by the designs and so many different ideas on how to use them popped into my head!
What made you take the plunge into starting your own store?
My boyfriend came to me one day, asking me to make a bag to hold his gaming dice. He, like so many other people, had been using the same old bags for years — bags that looked the same as everyone else’s. He wanted a good, heavy-duty, big and unique bag. He then asked me to make one for a friend’s birthday. Then her boyfriend wanted one, and soon after I opened my Etsy shop, Tote Uncommon. I was pleasantly surprised when my shop took off like a shot!
What kinds of folks are your customers? Who do you hope to cater to?
My customers tend to be from all walks of life, but the common thread is that they are mostly all gamers. I have also had quite a bit of success selling the freestanding lace masks I make from Urban Threads designs. Those have been a constant seller and have been sent as far as Moscow and have adorned a dance troupe in Maryland and been used at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas. My intent is to cater to not just gamers,although they of course are my target customer, but also to anyone who wants a bag that is unique and reflective of their personality. I have sold to belly dancers and knitters, gamers introducing their children to gaming, and parents and friends who were looking for a “different” sort of gift. And yes, I have had a few people say, “I can finally get rid of my old Crown Royal bags!”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you began?
The biggest lesson I have learned is to not limit myself. I was hesitant to begin this endeavor because I was not sure it would succeed or that I had the talent to pull it together. But, with the encouragement of my wonderful boyfriend, Matt, I took the plunge and never looked back. The positive feedback and referrals and repeat business I have gotten from customers also makes all the hard work worthwhile. I have also learned that the stereotype of what a “typical” gamer is no longer applies. Gamers come from all walks of life, they are male AND female, young and old, and they all want something nice with which to carry their supplies.
Where would you like to see your shop in one year? Any fun stuff planned for the future?
I have recently launched my own website, CustomDiceBags.com. I have been networking like crazy and have begun to sell in a local game shop called Great Hall Games here in Austin and hope to move into other shops in the near future. As for fun stuff, I have recently been asked by the indie game designer Clay Gardner (designer of the anime game Ova) to make bags for his Kickstarter campaign to issue a revised edition. I have made bags for the indie roleplaying game Fiasco designed by Jason Morningstar which will be awarded as prizes at GenCon, PAX East and Origins gaming conventions. Soon, I hope to also be selling at those sorts of conventions to really get my name and shop out there!
Thanks, Stef, for giving us this glimpse into your studio and creative mind! It’s wonderful to see a creative endeavor that both turns a crafty skill into a business and brightens up others’ lives with custom-made goodies. Wishing you much success with your tote uncommon shop!
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