Thursday, March 5, 2015

Creative Places to Inspire Your Next Steps: Foggy Notion

Living in the Inner Richmond, I love being able to purchase gifts just steps away from my apartment. Alissa, a long time SFEtsy team member, has owned Foggy Notion since 2011 and is a supporter of anything hand-crafted. It's a great "off the beaten path" stop for any visitor of San Francisco. You're sure to find something unique and beautiful.

What I find inspiring about Alissa and her shop is the importance that she puts on getting involved with her local community. Alissa is extremely involved in her local merchant association & you can often find her walking Clement as she hops from one shop to another. Her dedication to the health of her neighborhood, combined with her love for local arts & her life as a maker creates a beautifully rich story with loads of great advice for anyone looking to inspire themselves in the next step of their business.

First, I just wanted to say that I completely adore your shop. You're amazing at keeping a clear brand aesthetic while showcasing several makers in your shop. When you are you looking for a new maker to add to your selection, what is your process?

At first I sold my own goods, friends' work (like Shelter bags), and a few small local companies like Juniper Ridge that I knew about and admired. Relationships with vendors are super important to me.  The shop is really small so I carefully curate it with I only things I truly love and want to look at every day made by people I enjoy corresponding with.

Products come to me in so many different ways! I get lots of email every day from makers that want to be in Foggy Notion. For apothecary companies I request samples and try out everything myself. I decide based on quality, aesthetic, scent, packaging, price, maker's all has to be perfect for the shop! Social media can be helpful - I check out who's following Foggy Notion on Instagram and sometimes it's a maker that fits. I've discovered some makers (like Odsy Workshop) through local events like West Coast Craft, Renegade Craft Fair, and SFMade. I've also found a couple of vendors through Etsy Wholesale, including a greeting card line made in San Francisco. Sometimes I just meet people socially - I met ceramicist Caitlin Deane and raw chocolatier Wild Omen at a women's gathering we all attended. Sometimes I just search online for specific items I want to carry. And although I haven't had much luck at trade shows and gift fairs, I did find one of my favorite small apothecary companies that way (Molly Muriel).

-If a maker felt like they are a good fit for your shop, what process would they take to approach a shop like yours?

Emailing me directly with good product photos and a short bio works great, with links to website and social media. If you're interested in wholesaling send terms and prices. Make sure your product is retail-ready - cute hang tags and good packaging can make a big difference.

-You're very involved in your local neighborhood community. Tell me about about your current work with the Inner Richmond Business Association.
Although the Clement Street Merchants Association is actually the oldest merchants group in the city, when I opened Foggy Notion I had vaguely heard of it but no one reached out to me and there weren't really any pubic events happening. It clearly needed some new energy and fortunately it was welcome. Cynthia Huie of Seedstore and I decided to reinvigorate it, so we reached out to other businesses like Park Life and Green Apple and set up regular meetings to discuss bringing community-building projects to Clement Street. So far we've helped to create the parklet on 3rd & Clement, established the Farmers Market, and organized events like the Holiday Stroll and Sidewalk Sale.

Even though I've lived here since 2004, opening a business in the Inner Richmond has made me love it more than ever. I feel so much more connected to the community, the neighborhood, and the city. I love meeting neighbors that come into the shop and enjoy working with other business owners and our district supervisor's office to make our neighborhood an even better place to live. New projects on the agenda for 2015 are a mural and Inner Richmond Movie Nights.

a pic of Alissa with other Clement Merchants,
members of the Argonne Community Garden, and Supervisor Eric Mar 

-For local makers looking to open up their own shop/studio business...How did you find your current storefront? What attracted you to the Inner Richmond?

My house is directly across from Richmond Plaza, this weird mini-mall type building that sat mostly empty for years. I was staring at it out my window every day and thinking about how I wanted to move my sewing studio closer to my house (it was in the Outer Sunset) and finally I just thought, I should open a studio RIGHT THERE and have it be a retail shop, too. The space was so plain and institutional-looking but I thought it had great potential, so I got some help making it more cozy and inviting. A lot of times I wish it was a little bigger but I love the high ceilings and lots of windows. We get great natural light.

My advice to potential business owners would be to just look around on foot, be inquisitive about empty spaces, and be open to a weird or non-traditional but potentially awesome location. Walk around a neighborhood, take note of which storefronts are empty or closing, and try to get in touch with the owner or talk to nearby businesses. Don't be afraid of a space that's a little different - it's probably a lot more affordable than one that is more obvious! We're not right on Clement but we have great foot traffic. Now that we've been here a while we have lots of regulars and more people find out about us every day through word of mouth and travel guides like Lonely Planet.

Proximity to other successful businesses is huge for us. The Inner Richmond has no shortage of awesome shops, restaurants, and bars. I love being on the same corner as Green Apple, which is a legendary and amazing literary destination which attracts people from all over Northern California. If people don't know the Inner Richmond and ask where we're located, "the same corner as Green Apple" or "2 blocks from Burma Superstar" work pretty well! 

Foggy Notion is pretty unique to the neighborhood - when we opened, the Inner Richmond didn't have anywhere to buy the kind of products I was interested in carrying: organic skin care, high quality bath & body items, soy candles, wildcrafted teas & chocolates, home wares and accessories, and local honey.  Our customers really appreciate that they don't have to leave the neighborhood to get these kind of things. Our location also allows us to carry specific brands we might not be able to in a different neighborhood. Honestly our location is perfect in so many ways it's hard to imagine Foggy Notion being anywhere else! I feel really grateful to be part of such an awesome neighborhood.
If a shop or maker would like to get involved in their own local community, are there resources that you would recommend?

If you have a shop, definitely reach out to the local merchants association and see if it's something you might be interested in being a part of. It's much easier to make things happen with the help of other businesses and the support of the city. Even if you don't have a brick-and-mortar shop some of them welcome small business owners. Groups like SFEtsy or SFMade are also helpful for meeting other makers.

I love that part of your shop is dedicated to your own sewing studio. Can you tell the readers a little bit about what you make? 

At first my studio was inside Foggy Notion but I moved everything down the hallway to a separate space we share with Save My Seat upholstery. My personal output has never strayed from recycled materials but I'm reaching out to other options. In the past I've made recycled t-shirts and vinyl wallets, but since I opened Foggy Notion I've been primarily making tote bags from my collection of antique Army duffel bags. I love how durable the material is and how much history and character has. 

How do you balance both time for making & running a business? What advice would you give someone who feels like they don't have the time to do both?

Honestly time management is challenging for me and something I'm constantly working on. Nothing gets done unless I do it myself. Having a background in DIY and punk rock has been very valuable! Accepting that not everything will get done and not being too hard on myself about it is really important to my state of mind.  Also I go through phases with creative involvement that usually coincide with my focus on other things. Taking time off from making to focus on running the business side of things (especially during busier times like the holiday season) has allowed me space to think about design, materials, and efficiency for when I dive back into making.

How did you find SFEtsy? What part of SFEtsy has helped you within your own business?

I found SFEtsy through Etsy's website many years ago. Although I don't always post to the email group I read all the member's posts and frequently learn about events I'm interested in or supplies people are selling. It's comforting to know that in a big city like San Francisco there's a community of creative folks who want to help each other out.

Foggy Notion isn't too hard to find if you're looking for her amazing collection of items. You can find them on Facebook, Her website & at 275 6th Ave.

If you're an Etsy seller in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit Our Team Page about joining SFEtsy!

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