I came across Kristin Sirota of BenaeQuee Creations in an online Artist Alley group I am part of, and was immediately impressed by her bag designs. I tend to really love crafters that create pieces inspired by the character's costumes - the mindset being "what would they wear or carry with them in day to day life. Every piece she puts out is handmade and done with a tremendous amount of care. I am super thrilled to finally get to meet her at Awesome Con this year, where she is joining us and Jordandene at our Girl Power After Party!
Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm a mom to 2 adorable fur kids, River Tam, and Princess Leia (cats). I'm happily married to someone that was willing to uproot from NYC to move to sleepy Eastern Shore of MD, so that I could have a shot at finally doing what I love. I'm a costumer and have been sewing for over 20 years. It all started because of my love of dressing up as something different. I have more costumes than actual clothing, and most of my shoe collection is geared towards those costumes. I love craft beers and checking out new breweries with my husband. He's a trained chef, so we both also LOVE to eat and cook. My favorite fandoms are Star Wars and Doctor Who, but I really love mostly all sci-fi. When I'm not chained to my sewing machine, I can be found swimming at the local gym or photographing my cats.
Why did you decide to start your own business, and is it your full-time job?
I've always been the entrepreneurial type, from as far back as I could remember. I would organize my own lemonade stand (yes, cliche, but I did it) and yard sales. I made jewelry in 4th grade that I was selling to classmates. I was top cookie seller one year for girl scouts as well. My mother and father had their own business for a long time, and have expanded it since then. I love what I do, it is my full time job, and a true passion. I've had many jobs working for other people, I finally had enough and wanted to work for me. It's NOT an easy task, when you are the one producing everything you sell (with some help from my hubby), plus managing social media, emails, promotions, accounting, etc. I'm making it work though, and have come a LONG way in a year and a half since I started!
What is your most popular item vs your favorite?
My most popular item, is probably my Star Wars Light Speedy bag. Its a custom order item, since I have to get the fabric specially printed for me. My favorite piece that I've made, is actually a recent piece, which will be at Awesome Con. It's an all vinyl Wonder Woman inspired handbag. There are so many fun details I put into it. It was a challenge for my poor sewing machine though, so it may be a one of a kind for the moment.
Owning a small business is incredibly rewarding but can sometimes be viewed through rose tinted glasses. What are some challenges you face? Do you have any advice for others thinking of starting their own?
It's not always fun! It's a job, like any other. You have responsibilities and duties to attend to. You need to make sure your taxes are paid on time. You need to account for all your costs for your inventory. This includes gas and mileage on your vehicle. I've had to go 3 hours out of my way to source a fabric for a custom order before. That got factored into my cost. If you are making your own inventory, it is tiring. I have an alarm on my phone that reminds me to drink water and stretch. I often times start working at 8am and stop at 11pm with maybe 2 hours interspersed for various breaks. However, the reward of seeing my pieces in my booth at a show, and watching people light up when they walk out with their new purchase, makes it all worth it. I had a guy recently Skype show for his wife, who was unable to attend. It was the sweetest thing I've ever seen. She followed my FB page and saw what I was going to be selling and sent him to my booth to get them first thing. I've also made new friends from this adventure, and we all help each other out along the way.
What gives you the drive to keep doing what you do?
Seeing people get pure joy out of my items. My best friend cried, big tears and practically hiccuping, when I gifted her a purse she was eyeing up. I saw a woman give her husband the biggest hug ever when he pointed to a bag and said "I'll take it, she likes it". I make things that are useful and beautiful, for every budget. I have a ton of fun designing things as well. Most of the time, it's in my head and I just start cutting fabrics. Sometimes I'll actually stare at my pile of fabrics and accents materials and start laying them all out to see what looks good together.
What is your favorite convention that you vend at?
I've only been at this for under 2 year so I haven't done many shows yet. ReGeneration Who in Baltimore MD has been a favorite though. This year was my second time vending, 3rd attending. The crowd is full of fun and they come ready to buy something unique. My friends all go to the con as well, so I have them to hang out with after hours!
What comic book/ nerd culture character do you identify with the most and why?
Star Wars, forever. I met my husband through the fandom, we were married with music from the movies, and we even named our cat Leia. We're both members of the 501st and Rebel Legion and have been since 2002. We have enjoyed dozens of events over the years. The charity events are my most favorite. I LOVE seeing little kids (and kids at heart) light up when they see the characters they know and love. I've gotten so many hugs from little girls, saying that Princess Leia is their favorite, and they wanted to be just like Leia when they grow up. I was that little kid, and now I get to be the hero they look up to admire.
Why is it important to you to support other women in the industry? Name drop a favorite boss babe that isn't Little Petal.
You have to look out for your sisters. We're finally in an age (at least in this country) where we don't need our husbands or fathers to cosign a Credit Card for us. We get to do more than be secretaries and teachers (nothing wrong with those careers BTW). We can speak out voice and march to be heard as a much larger group. We still have a bit of a ways to go, and we need to support one another along the way. I really have way too many list to be honest. My friend Becka Doodles does amazing little cartoons inspired by fandoms and everyday life, She's teaching the next generations to also be awesome. Just a plug, she makes this ridiculously adorable BB-8 as a kitty pin (and tee shirt). I wear it on my Finn jacket and people LOVE it, he's just so CUTE!
In fifty years, if the world remembered any one thing about you and your business, what would it be?
That I was the handbag lady. The one to go visit at a con or check out online. With custom bags for every taste and fandom, some of which were limited to one piece only. I'd like to think that my pieces will last that long (or longer) as well lol
Check out all of Kristin's gorgeous designs at www.benaequee.etsy.com