I’m so excited to introduce Finkelstein’s Center as our next Made Series feature. These handmade plush creatures often rock a repurposed tee and their simple stitched faces pack a big punch of personality. Owner, Michelle Jewell, took time out of creature making to share a peak into Finkelstein’s and how these cute buddies come to life. I have my eye on a goat or pig for Oskar’s first birthday present. What is your favorite friend?
How did you get started making toys?
I started Finkelstein’s Center in 2010 after quitting my corporate job. I knew I wanted to find a way to work for myself and make things. In the beginning, I made various handmade items including little plush characters. Out of all the various items I made, the plush creatures were the most popular and fun to make. I did my first handmade market a few months later and have been growing the business since then.
Is it important for you to remain local and handmade as you grow your company?
It is important to me to try to remain as local and handmade as possible. I enjoy being able to contribute to my community and adding jobs (even if it’s only a few) to the market. When I first started, everything I made was hand stitched. It was hard for me to even use the machine because I was so dedicated to being handmade. It became clear after a while that it’s hard to grow without some modern conveniences. Now we use sewing machines, enabling us to create the toys faster and more durable. Those types of changes to our handmade business just make sense and I don’t feel that they compromise what is important to our company.
Where does your inspiration for your characters come from?
Most of the time the inspiration of my characters come from our customers. Our customers have great ideas! They challenge me to make animals that I haven’t thought of or dedicated the time to develop. I talk with my customers at markets, asking them what they would like to see that we do not carry. If there is a common animal that comes up, I’ll make sure to work it into the next line. I also work on custom orders where great ideas happen. Some days it just looks like sketching a doodle that sticks with me and I decide to make a prototype to see how it would look in 3D form.
Do you have a favorite part of the creation process?
It changes from project to project. Sketching can be really fun and relaxing. The development/construction process can be either fulfilling or frustrating depending on how it’s going. One really fun part is after you’ve stitched around the exterior and you get to flip the piece inside-out, it’s your first glance at what it’s going to look like. My least favorite part, pattern making!
Did you have a favorite toy as a child? Do you still have it?
I don’t remember having a favorite toy as a child but I do have a most memorable toy. It was a Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf flip doll. My dad enjoyed terrifying me with it around age 4. I very clearly remember him showing it to me and then flipping it over to see the wolf in grandmother’s outfit and giant teeth. It stuck with me even after my mother hide it so he couldn’t scare me anymore. Looking back, the thrill was the surprise. I still like little surprises that you aren’t expecting to find, I enjoy adding them to my dolls.
What does a typical day for you look like?
Emails over coffee, making a daily to-do list. Depending on the day, I get projects together for the creature makers who help me sew. I work on any shipping that needs to be done before our noon pick-up. If we need to photo items for Etsy, I try to do that between 11-2 since we use natural light. Then it’s project depending- I am always coming up on a due date of some kind so I’ll work on prototypes for a client or pre-proto sketches. I try to have those wrapped up by 4pm so I have time to tackle any emails that came in during the day. Depending on the day, I take a break between 5-6pm, then pick back up either filling orders, editing Etsy pictures and creating listings or finishing toys. It’s a long day!
What do you do outside of Finkelstein?
Outside of Finkelstein’s I am a big supporter of the arts in the community. I try to attend as many functions and lectures as possible. I really enjoy it and it’s also important to me to be moral support to the people in the art community. Where I grew up an art community did not exist so I want to make sure that it’s something that I take advantage of and am an active member in, in Charleston. It’s a growing, exciting, inspirational thing in our community.
What is next for you or Finkelstein?
We have a big year planned for Finkelstein’s this year. We hired a new creature maker and have plans for at least one more. We are attending a trade show this May in NYC to introduce ourselves to the retail world, it’s exciting and scary and exciting again. I love that I get to see this tiny company grow stage by stage. I try to make sure that I am taking time to enjoy small victories along the way so when I look back, I can remember this time.