Have you ever walked into a store to buy something and thought to yourself…“I wonder who made this?” I’m sure some of you make a conscience effort of doing this, but if we’re being honest, for most of us (myself included) we buy things out of ease, comfort, price-point, without ever really stopping to think about the person or the process behind that product. Mass-produced items from foreign countries line the shelves of our favorite stores and if we’re not intentional seekers and purchasers, we miss out on the beautifully unique, one-of-a-kind treasures of the local, small business community of artists right around the corner.
And that is what Handmade Hive is all about…Supporting the small business community of local artists, designers, makers, and crafters by promoting their handcrafted goods through an online marketplace.
Welcome to my first installment of a series of weekly blog posts called Meet The Artists, where you’ll get to learn more about the person and the process behind the products at Handmade Hive.
My first artist is soap-maker Hedge Sefcovic. Hedge is the owner of A Natural Alternative, is an advocate for the local, handmade community and this girl makes AMAZING products. I first met Hedge and her soaps, lip balms, lotion bars, bath fizzies, etc at Musikfest in Bethlehem PA while searching for a natural alternative (no pun intended) for bug spray for a camping trip my husband and I were going on with some friends. She recommended one of her lotion bars that proved to be a life-saver and a few years later, she was one of our most popular vendors at Handmade Hive’s Indoor Craft Market.
Let’s meet Hedge, the person behind the products:
“The question I get asked the most often is where my name came from. It’s from a recording group, Hedge & Donna and my parents weren’t normal enough to name me Donna.
I’ve been making soap professionally now for 15 years and I truly consider myself to be a soap-maker. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I live with my husband and father; both of whom are very supporting of my soap-making and help out quite a bit too.
When I’m not making soap, I love to garden, freeze and can much of our vegetables for the year from what I grow and what I get at our CSA.
I started off as a design student in Theatre and primarily considered myself a painter. When I got out of college I ended up working on some projects in a more managerial role and liked the scheduling and financial aspects of that. When I started making soap as a hobby it was a great meld of the two things…design and planning. I’ve been hooked ever since and I just follow where it leads.
In the beginning, I envisioned a brick and mortar store that was more of a place to go for all things natural: soaps, food, clothing, so I named my business A Natural Alternative so it could encompass anything I decided to do. Then the soap took off and the idea of a store didn’t seem like so much fun. I added “soaps and toiletries” onto the name, but if I was starting out now I would probably have gone a different direction with it. But I branded now so I am stuck with it! :o)”
“When it comes to making the products I sell, I’m mostly inspired by my customers. I keep a book of suggestions and things they ask me for each year, special orders, and things I see out in the wild that interest me. At the end of the year I go through this list and see how I can put my spin on things. Some things just become the cream of the crop and I go for it.
I’m also inspired/influenced by a boss I once had named Peter. He taught me two important lessons. First is to never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself, always being the hardest worker in the room. Second is to find some balance. He was an exceptional boss and person, but I watched him miss out on family stuff because of work. I try at having balance between work and life. I often fail, but at least I try.
At the end of the day, it’s about being able to make decisions and sticking behind those decisions. There is no one to blame but me. I wear many hats, learn things every day, and each day is different than the last. It certainly isn’t a boring way to live.”
Hedge is also inspired by the nameless, faceless people that she would most want to spend time with, like the fragrance chemists who can teach her about blending and mixing, so she can learn about why certain things work together and certain ones don’t. She wants to spend time with the farmers who grow the spearmint plants, and the distiller of the essential oils. She wants to spend time with herbalists, and molecular gastronomists, and people who can help her make her products better and help her understand why they work at all.
To wrap things up, I wanted to find out from Hedge what the word “handmade” means to her and her answer is very insightful –
“Doing things handmade for me means doing things by hand, in small batches. There has been a lot of technology for the small soap maker that has come out in the last 10 years. Machines to cut your bars, pots for really large batches, hydraulic bath fizzy presses, anything you can think of. I still use 6 qt crock pots and my batches are 10 bars at a time. Small keeps the quality, it keeps flexibility, and it keeps it hands on. Handmade means making it by hand, not making it by a machine that is run by a person and calling it handmade. That’s a cottage industry and that’s a different thing.
It also means the days are long, the weather can be cruel, and you don’t get days off like “normal” people. If there was a job in the newspaper and it said” work 40-50 hours per week minimum, and only get paid if it doesn’t rain on Saturday” would you take the job? Well, that is essentially the life I lead. So many people see me at a craft show and think how much fun it is. I work all week making things to go out on the weekend and sell them and mostly be at the whim of the weather and the promoters who marketed the event. So many variables are out of my hands and impact my chances at selling my goods. It certainly isn’t: “if you make it they will come”.
I would like to have a craft show schedule that is a little smaller than the one I have now and have more internet sales and wholesale to make up for that. I think that will let me be home a little more and take into consideration the fact I am getting older and craft shows are physically demanding.
Handcrafts are being inundated by copies. Things are being mass-produced not only overseas, but here as well. Handcrafts only have value when the customer cares. Ask questions when you are at a “craft” show. Weed out the junk and don’t feel bad about complaining to the promoter about the junk. Be heard. If you care about handcrafts, advocate for us. Every voice matters to our cause.
We are the backbone of your community and give so much to the local economy. Much of the money we spend in show fees are used as fundraising for places like historic houses and arts centers. We get many of our supplies and displays from local retailers. When you buy from us so much of your money stays in your community and in your state.”
A Natural Alternative’s Products:
You can find these products and more at Handmade Hive – A Natural Alternative. You can also find Hedge’s products on her own website: a-natural-alternative.com, Etsy, The Bethlehem Visitor’s Center and The Knitter’s Edge.
All images are courtesy of A Natural Alternative & Handmade Hive
Stuff mentioned in this post:
The Bethlehem Visitor’s Center – Main St, Bethlehem, PA
The Knitter’s Edge – Broad St, Bethlehem PA
Christkindlmarkt – Bethlehem PA
SteelStacks – Bethlehem PA
Etsy – A Natural Alternative