LDS meets DIY: How faith builds crafts businesses for Arizona Mormons
Friday, Oct. 14, 2016
SCOTTSDALE – When Kim Christiansen began regularly attending local craft shows this year as part of her new job, she was surprised by a trend she noticed among the many vendors of handmade goods.
“I’ll ask them, ‘Are you LDS?’ and at least 50 percent of the time — at least in Arizona—they are,” said Christiansen, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons.
Christiansen, 57, works for the Pinners Conference and Expo, a Pinterest-inspired event that came to Arizona for the first time in October after three years of drawing “do-it-yourself” crowds in Utah. As the event’s only vendor recruiter in Arizona, Christiansen helps invite local businesses to sell their wares and online personalities to lead DIY and lifestyle workshops.
Roxanne Bennett of Bennett Events, the Utah-based company behind Pinners, said they estimate 9,700 people attended the expo at Westworld last weekend. That’s less than the 12,000 attendees they average at their flagship event but she and her team “were really happy with how many people turned out.” Of the six events her company runs, Pinners is the first to expand beyond Utah. Bennett is also Mormon, and she agrees with Christiansen.
“A lot of times, the LDS community does participate in DIY,” she said, adding that her faith’s emphasis on the importance of learning is a big reason why she started Pinners.
It’s an interesting phenomenon: Mormon community members newspapers and blogs have sought to explain the group’s collective love of Pinterest. Search the DIY site and one can quickly find a flood of LDS-related pins, ranging from inspirational memes curated from the Mormon Church’s October 2016 General Conference, to pages upon pages of craft ideas for church-wide women’s events called Super Saturdays. And the LDS Church, based in Salt Lake City, has an official Pinterest and Instagram profiles. And don’t forget Etsy, where Mormon-themed goods include handmade scripture cases and LDS temple prints.
Cronkite News visited the Arizona Pinners Conference Oct. 7 to ask several Mormon vendors why their faith often aligns with the DIY movement.
Trained as future entrepreneur
Lifetime Leather Co.
In business since 2013
Ty Bowman credits his leather-making skills to the Boy Scouts and his entrepreneurial spirit to his family upbringing in the LDS Church.
An abandoned leather couch kickstarted the business in 2011. Short on cash, Bowman was looking for creative Christmas gift ideas for his family and friends when he happened upon the couch. He remembered the talent for leather-working he had developed while in the Boy Scouts.
“I got this idea: ‘I bet I could make stuff with that,” Bowman said. And make stuff he did, gradually amassing orders, more sophisticated tools and newer leather along the way. Less than 12 months after officially becoming a company, the venture pulled in $1 million in sales. Though the success was sudden, Bowman said his Mormon upbringing helped prepare him for the opportunity.
“The Church trains you to be entrepreneurial,” he said, adding that LDS Sunday School programs are structured to instill a lack of fear in children at a young age. He also mentioned LDS teachings that encourage self-reliance, such as keeping several months’ supply of food and water on hand in case of emergency. He’s noticed these and other teachings make Mormons “people who like to do things.”
“So Pinterest fits really well,” Bowman said. “They’re always wanting to craft, wanting to make stuff.”
Besides this, his father’s love of entrepreneurship rubbed off on all seven kids, who now own companies ranging from baked goods to rentals to home decor.
“When we get together, we pitch ideas and help each other out,” Bowman said. “The only thing you have to be careful of is playing Monopoly. It gets pretty cutthroat.”
Inspired to pursue lifelong learning
Mary Burkinshaw and Tracey Simas
In business since April
Mary Burkinshaw and Tracey Simas, friends for 20 years, said deciding to start a blanket business was spirit-led.
Choosing “Goosebumps” as the name of their blanket business holds a double meaning for the two. Cuddling up in a blanket is a great way to get rid of the chills. And goosebumps played a role in the women’s decision to become business partners.
“When I know that something’s right in my life, I always get the chills, like the goosebumps,” Simas said. “It’s always a physical thing.”
“Goosebumps don’t lie, it’s true,” Burkinshaw added. “Anytime you get the goosebumps, it’s like (you’re) feeling the spirit.”
The feeling confirmed Simas joining her longtime friend in marketing and selling the blankets Burkinshaw had been making as a hobby.
“For me, this was a very spiritual thing,” Simas said. She added the Mormon church has taught her to value lifelong learning and the development of individual talents, which this business allows her to do.
“As young women we were taught all different values of who we are, what our divine nature is, that our gifts come from a higher power, that they are our gifts and that we need to keep growing them,” Simas said. “Whatever it is — if it’s cooking, making blankets, photography — we’re just taught that.”
And though they sometimes disagree on fabric choices, the two enjoy this new stage of their friendship.
“We always go back and forth on who the boss is, but we’re both the boss,” Simas said.
“You can just say ‘Mary thinks she’s the boss’,” Burkinshaw added.
Built to thrive in tight-knit communities
Salt Lake City, UT (wife, Natalie, is from Mesa)
In business since 2015
When Nate Ipsen started a men’s fashion company, his LDS community proved to be a built-in market of early adopters.
He wore a shirt and tie every day when he served as an LDS missionary in California. With little to no allowance for variety in his wardrobe, he grew to appreciate ties as an accessory.
“A tie was the only thing I could change to express my personality,” Ipsen said. “I came home after two years with probably 200 ties.”
Unfortunately, he returned from his mission to find his ties were out of fashion and skinny ties were the rage. Ipsen began cutting apart his ties and sewing them into skinnier versions of the originals. That adaptation grew into an interest in necktie design, which led him to consider the possibility of outsourcing designs to people with more sewing experience.
“I did a lot of research online and sampled from a lot of different factories, and finally found what I thought was the best quality,” Ipsen said. “So from there I made a small order, started just selling to friends and then taught myself how to make the website, created an online shop, and it’s taken off from there.”
Building Dazi, which comes from the Indonesian word for “necktie,” was challenging, but Ipsen said being part of a large family in a tight-knit LDS community helped him get off the ground.
“They were all very supportive, buying a few things from me just cause I was starting out,” he said. “Everyone’s very close, so spreading word of mouth is very easy.”
Ipsen had another job until February, when he quit to work on Dazi full-time. His faith helped him to take the step.
“Growing up LDS, faith is a big aspect — having faith that you can believe in something and you can make it happen,” he said.
Determined to enjoy best of home, work worlds
The Polka Dotted Girl
In business since 2014
Being a stay-at-home mom is integral to Brandy Reed’s beliefs, but her DIY business also allows her to be a breadwinner.
Reed runs The Polka Dotted Girl out of her 1,600 square foot home, where she lives with her husband and three children. She sells handmade home decor and DIY kits, travels around the Valley teaching crafting classes and strives to make her home a haven for her children.
“I’ve always worked in some capacity since we’ve been married, and I’ve been happiest when I’ve been home doing it,” Reed said. “I love that I can make an income and be home, and I think that is why so many LDS women learn to be independent and make an income in that way.”
Growing up, Reed remembers honing her love of crafting with her mother at women’s group gatherings sponsored by the church. The gatherings showcase the heritage of LDS women who bond through crafts, from scrapbooking to today’s DIY projects.
“In a month from now, we are doing a Super Saturday where it’s Saturday and we just craft all day long,” Reed said. “I’m providing the craft for our group — we’re doing Subway Art with all the names of Christ.”
Her DIY business also allows her the flexibility to create a safe home environment where she feels her children have the best opportunity to grow.
“Our doctrine talks about ‘the Lord’s house is a house of order’,” Reed said. “When your house is organized and clean and a place where you can feel that spirit — that ideal learning environment for your kids — things run smoother.”
Created to spread the word
In business since 2012
Kim Jackson, whose hand-crafted signs sell nationwide, said her business can be a form of ministry.
She started her handmade sign business by accident after she created a sign for her sister as a Christmas gift.
“I started doing them at church functions with neighbors and then ventured out into my first boutique, called Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market,” Jackson said. “From there, it exploded.”
Jaxn Blvd now occupies a 4,000-square-foot warehouse and has 20 designs featured in Hobby Lobby stores nationwide. Jackson, a hairdresser by trade, did not intend to turn one sign into a big business, but she sees herself as having a unique opportunity to share her faith through the signs she produces.
“I’ve been able to share a lot of words from the LDS community, from prophets and teachers throughout our church, and I’ve been able to put them on wood and share them with the world,” Jackson said.
Hobby Lobby carries one of her signs featuring words inspired by LDS leader Elder Daniel P. Hall, who gave a talk about the importance of the home.
“The best part of it is it doesn’t really matter that a Mormon said it,” Jackson said. “What matters is that there’s a commonality between the importance of family and the importance of being at home and being great together.”
Raised LDS with three younger siblings, Jackson’s parents became her business model.
“My father starts businesses often. My mother was extremely supportive and stayed at home to raise us while my father tried new things,” Jackson said. Today, she and her siblings all have their own businesses. Her sister’s company — Wildflower Beauty Bar — was just a few booths from the Jaxn Blvd booth at Pinners. But even as Jackson enjoys her company’s success, she takes Elder Hall’s words to heart.
“I often refer to myself as a ‘mompreneur’,” Jackson said. “We talk about equal rights and women being able to do what men can do, and I love that idea, but we should be home with the kids, and I feel like you can do both.”
Photos by Cassie Ronda/Cronkite News