Next up on my list of incredible geek chic boss babes who I want the world to know about is Lara Cooper of Level Up Nerd Apparel. Lara makes gorgeous nerdy crochet and knit accessories that constantly impress me (she made a Zoidberg out of thin air! And yes, she made that Super Mario Brothers blanket below). I have the privilege of calling her a customer and a friend. Donate to the "We Are All Wonder Women Fundraiser Contest for Planned Parenthood" by May 31st for a chance to win one of her Wonder Woman inspired headbands!
Tell us a little about yourself!
I am the owner and designer of Level Up Nerd Apparel, where I crochet and knit geeky accessories. I get my inspiration from video games, comic books, anime, tv shows, and general geekery. I am a fan of Avatar: Last Airbender, Dr. Who, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Harry Potter, and many many more! I came out of the nerd closet when I met my husband, who is an even bigger nerd than me and brought me to the dark side. We have two fur-babies, kitties named Bumi and Odin (just in case we weren't geeky enough) who gives us all the parental satisfaction we can handle. Crochet and knitting is the bulk of my entertainment, which I do in front of the tv with either a nice cup of tea or a tall glass of wine. When I can drag myself away from that, I enjoy playing board games and occasionally Magic the Gathering, and if I have any spare time after that, I'll indulge in some puzzle-based video games. But deep down, I live and breath yarn - merino wool flows though my veins!
Why did you decide to start your own business, and is it your full-time job?
Five years ago, I designed and made a viking hat for my husband. He and his friends said that I should sell them, at which point I scoffed and told them they were ridiculous to think anyone would pay for my hats. But it got me thinking, and I decided that since there was very little risk involved, and it could be a nice way to supplement my grad student income, I could give it a shot. It has been a wonderful roller coaster ride ever since, and I do not regret a single day of it. It is a side enterprise for me, because I have another love in my life: science. I work full-time as a wildlife reproductive physiologist, making endangered species have babies. I only wish I could split myself in two so I could pursue both full time!
What is your most popular item vs your favorite?
My most popular item is the Link hat, both as a finished product and a crochet pattern. I think it has a comforting nostalgic simplicity that draws people to it. My personal favorite is probably the Pokéball scarf; I just love the subtle geekiness of it and the look on people's faces when they realize the ball is a scarf. Also, I'm quite proud of how quickly I came up with it.
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?
My biggest challenge is that these are handmade items that take time; I can't crank out dozens in a day. So my best advice to budding entrepreneurs is to be realistic: how many items you can make in a day/week, how much the materials will cost you, how much you can charge for them, if there is a market for it, if you can live off of it. Of course, you can and should still dream big - but stay realistic and pragmatic.
What gives you the drive to keep doing what you do?
I have so many designs floating in my head, I'm going to create them whether people want them or not. So I might as well share them with the world. Also, nothing quite beats the look of exhilaration when a customer sees their favorite fandom represented.
What is your favorite convention that you vend at?
I have only vended at MAGfest, but I'm sure it would still be my favorite even if I did hundreds of other ones!
What comic book/ nerd culture character do you identify with the most and why?
Poison Ivy is my favorite character of all time. She's not a villain, she just has a different priority: Nature. Everything she does is to protect nature from the wrath of mankind, and if that means taking down a billionaire playboy who probably doesn't recycle his batarangs and who drives a gas-guzzler like the Batmobile, so be it. If I had her abilities, I would do it too - though it would also extend to animals.
Why is it important to you to support other women in the industry? Name drop a favorite boss babe that isn't Little Petal.
As women, we are constantly told what we can't, or shouldn't, do. I think it's important to remind ourselves that we can and should. We face all the same challenges as male business owners, but we have another set of social standards, expectations and constrains piled on top. One of us can succeed by pushing the others down, or we can all succeed by helping each other up. That why I love seeing women do well in their industry, especially when it's not done at the expense of others. One boss babe everyone should check out is Karen Hallion - it takes a lot of willpower on my end to not buy every single one of her prints!
In fifty years, if the world could remember any one thing about you and Level Up Nerd Apparel, what would you want it to be?
The year is 2067. Her Divine Yarnship the Empress Lara, Queens of Hooks and Needles, Mother of Yarn, looks over her dominion with pride and satisfaction, for it extends far beyond the reaches of the visible universe and was filled with equal opportunity crafters. The royal biographer asks her, "Your Yarnship, would you like to make a closing statement for your biography, perhaps looking back at your beginning." "Ms. Rowling, I'm so glad I figured out the formula for eternal life. Those 28 sequels to the original Harry Potter series alone have made it worth it. But yes, please take this down: it all started with a silly hat; love and support made the rest possible."
Check out all of Lara's beautiful designs at www.levelupnerdapparel.com