Monday, May 11, 2009

Tressa Brotsky

Tressa Brotsky, Victoria BC, Canada
Dress Me Up

1. How would you describe your style?

Clean, artistic, and quiet, sculptural and playful.

2. What was it that made you want to start creating? Do you feel like you were born with a desire to create or did something trigger it?

Living and expressing myself creatively is definitely something I was born with, and raised by – my dad is a retired drama teacher and community theatre activist, and my step mom has her own design and sewing studio. As a teen I took art in school, signed up for drawing lessons at the Boys & Girls Club, loved walking through art galleries and museums on holidays, and found solace in art magazines and books. I went on to studying Painting and Sculpture, and completed my Honours degree in Fine Arts at the University of Victoria in 2001. Today, I embrace creativity in all aspects of my life and am raising my daughter (and in some respects, my husband too) to live an inspired, creative life wrapped up in piles and piles of organic fabric and stuffed with wool.

3. How do you come up with your lovely designs, could you describe your creative process?

I love things that are really beautiful to look at, that are comforting and easy to hold, that perform some sort of function and that make me giggle. So, when I come up with a design or a concept, those are the qualities that inform it.

I want my organic soft toys to have a place of belonging and longevity in a child’s life, and I want the toys to make a room fill up with laughter and creative play. Seeing my 2½ yr old daughter with her little friends kick and stack and cuddle and wrestle the balls and blocks is hilarious! When coming up with original drawings that are screen printed onto these toys, I connected with a local t-shirt artist and we waxed poetic about birch trees and gardens and ripples in the water. We created the drawings and I hand screen print all of the fabric myself.

When I designed the Teething Bonbon® in Summer 2007, it was about function first – my questions were how to make something that was safe (that summer there were many teething product recalls, worrying so many parents), soft and yet could be hard, easy to hold, and easy to care for. The knots were a given, and stuffing the hand’s place with wool was a quick decision too (wool is naturally anti-bacterial, making it a perfect stuffing material for something to be chewed on). Then, thinking about the look of the product I knew that I wanted the design to be fresh and unique, and to make people crack a smile when they saw it. I remembered saltwater taffy, one of my favourite candies (until I ate too many one summer in the Okanagan). I shaped the product like a candy and voila – the Teething Bonbon® was born.

4. You've sold a good number of items in your shop and have a healthy list of press mentions - can you give us some advice on the best way to get noticed. Is it just a matter of luck and good timing or do you have a recipe for success?

My recipe for success in every area of life is to make intentional, well thought out decisions, and to look back and evaluate how things are going on a regular basis. With Dress Me Up Organic, I started out so teeny tiny, making simple organic baby accessories with an artistic touch, and steadily grew from there - my first organic flannel order was for 5 yards, and my latest is for 300. Taking my time, keeping things simple and embracing the model of local production is what has got me to this place where I feel proud, authentic, and successful and am so excited for future growth.

I am a huge, HUGE, huge fan of Etsy, and I never underestimate the power of positive word of mouth. My first online review, on Celebrity Baby Blog, came when the writer, Missy, found my organic baby toys and Teething Bonbon® while searching on Etsy. Since then I’ve had a number of other exciting reviews (including the Teething Bonbons® in three glossy American parenting magazines!) that have come from the enthusiastic support and cheerleading of the amazing retailers who I work with.

I am definitely creating and producing organic soft toys and teeters at the right time in our social consciousness. People are becoming more informed and more aware about health and safety choices for their littlest ones, and are making decisions based on those values and understandings. I was active in the environmental movement through out my young adult years, and got pregnant on the cusp of this new, larger social awareness. I knew what choices I wanted to be making for my daughter, but there wasn’t a lot out there to choose from. Designing and making Dress Me Up Organic products started with me making things for Little R. Timing, whether personal or global, is everything.

5. You state the following on your site: "By embracing organically produced goods, and choosing our sources carefully, we know that we are making a difference in the hands of our little ones, and in the cotton fields and farmlands of the world."

Can you share 3 tips/things that you've recently learned that we could all do to be more environmentally responsible?

1) I read laundry detergent labels. Because I pre-wash all of the organic fabric for my entire product line, choosing which laundry detergent to use is an important decision, one that I have to be well informed on. I take time to read the labels and look for key pieces of information. Baby’s skin is about 3 times thinner that adult skin - they are more sensitive and susceptible to harsh ingredients and persistent chemicals! Is the detergent vegetable based? Petroleum-based detergents, which most mainstream brands are, are terrible for our washing machines, clothes, our skin and the environment. Are there added fragrances? Synthetic scents are stabilized with persistent chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Is their entire company committed to sustainability and the health of our families and the planet? Soooo many detergents (and other cleaning products) are ‘green washed’ – made to look eco-friendly or with the addition of one or two natural ingredients.

2) I compost food and yard waste. Recently I was reminded about a Community Composting initiative in my town of Victoria BC and we’ve signed up. I’ll be supplied with a large wheeled tote with tight closing lid and will fill it with compostable food and yard materials. Twice a month the tote will be emptied, and I’ll receive a bag of compost for use in my garden. Participating in a program like this makes it easier for my family to compost, reduces landfill waste, teaches my daughter about gardening and sustainability, and I don’t have to do a pile of maintenance work on a personal composter.

3)I try to manage my time well. My daughter’s day care is only 10 blocks away from our home. It a lovely walk, even on rainy days, But, if I’m scrambling to get sewing finished or an order packed I often loose the 15 minutes I need for the walk to the day care, and I end up in the car. Each night I plan out my next day on a re-used envelope and I keep it on my worktable to help me stay on track. There’s nothing better than ending a day spent hunched over my sewing machine than with walking and breathing fresh air on the way pick up my little R!

6. You're proud to choose USA grown and milled certified organic cottons, and USA produced lamb’s wool for all of your products, can you tell us a little bit more about "slow organics"?

‘Slow organics’ is a term I coined, quite unimaginatively referencing the ‘slow food’ movement, to describe my values and practices when sourcing my materials and in building relationships with the folks I do business with. For example, organic cotton grown and traveling from the US to Canada has a much smaller footprint than organic cotton grown in Asia, milled in Europe and shipped to me. I am mindful of details like these in each aspect of my work and creating, and strive to make decision based on the big, environmentally-friendly picture, not just the bottom line.

7. What were you doing prior to starting Dress Me Up?

Dress Me Up has lived many lives, first as Dress Me Up Darla in 2001/02. I made duvet covers from vintage cotton sheets and sold them at my local community market, then gave it all up to graduate from university and to move overseas with my beau. When we returned to the west coast in 2004, I revitalized Dress Me Up Darla, designing clutches and wrist cuffs from recycled leather and selling them in a Main Street boutique in Vancouver BC. It was after having Little R in 2006, that Dress Me Up Darla became Dress Me Up Organic – dedicated to hand making artisan soft toys, Teething Bonbons® and baby accessories.

Thank you Tressa!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

Tessa's products are absolutely I know what to get for my dear friends who are expecting their fourth.....Lovely, thank you ladies!

Laura. said...

what a great interview! i love your approach and inspirations, as well as the finished products. i feel encouraged, inspired, and challenged from reading this!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! It's great to hear how people come up with their businesses and designs!