It’s time again for our monthly maker and this time we chatted with one of our newest Make Baltic residents, Sophie Mason founder of Pop Up Poetry. Sophie and I were (finally!!!) able to meet in person in our Incubator at Make Baltic, socially distanced of course. After chatting about our upcoming staycations and jam-packed weeks, Sophie told us all about how and why she started Pop Up Poetry, some maker advice and what’s coming up next. To find out more about Sophie and how you can get her handmade gifts, have a read of her interview below.
Just a heads up, anything from now on written in bold is, in fact, me Amy talking and not Sophie.
Hi Sophie! Can you tell us a bit about how you started Pop Up Poetry?
I started my business a few years ago. I started off writing personalised poetry for people, and it is something I have always done on birthday and Christmas cards. One of my friends told me that there were lots of people on Facebook asking for poems and pieces of writing for their wedding. She suggested that I get myself out there and start writing these pieces for people. So my business started with writing, and it became super popular on Facebook.
At Christmas time I decided to write Santas letters and make Christmas eve boxes with the letters in them. They were really popular, and I really enjoyed making them. After Christmas, I started putting together more hampers with the poems in them. My first proper hamper was Halloween themed. For each hamper, I write poems that are related to the theme, and then I make all the things that go in them, including candles, soaps and knitted bits. So my hampers got more popular, and eventually, I was able to give up my full-time job; as I just started it as a hobby at first.
How has your business changed more recently?
More recently, I have been very interested in the environmentally friendly side of life. I’ve looked at all of the hampers and redesigned the way that I want them to work. Now everything in my hampers is made from sustainable, eco-friendly materials. I want to provide gifts that are a bit different and personal but also very kind to the environment.
Some of the products in my hampers are things from other people that I can’t make, like knitted things or felted creations, and I use suppliers that are local to the area. I try to find people that may not necessarily have a big business, for example, the one that makes my little felted witches is retired so she makes them as a hobby. Recently I’ve been including eco-friendly soap, stems of lavender, things I grow in my garden. I would like to work with the community a bit more with the growing elements.
One of the hampers I did over lockdown was a quarantine box, and I included flower seeds so people could grow their own.
What would you say sparked your passion for making and creating your hampers?
I’ve worked in lots of jobs all over Liverpool over the years, but I found that I’ve struggled to work for other people. I have always made products in my spare time, and been writing and crafting as a hobby and had an entrepreneurial nature. When I was younger, I had a little tuck shop in my back shed, and I used to sell Chocolates, like Freddos. I got told off because I was charging too much for the sweets. Isn’t it like a pound for a Freddo now?!
I studied English at university, so I didn’t really have any business experience. Running my own business wasn’t my aim, but it kind of just happened. In my last job, I was feeling a bit underappreciated. I was going home and making the hampers as a hobby, getting great feedback and feeling really great about what I was doing. It got to a point where I was earning the same from both my job and Pop Up Poetry, and I just wanted to go full time and quit my day job. After Christmas, I felt a bit of dread about going back to work, I thought why shouldn’t I focus on this? So I quit my job and went full time on the hampers. And it has been fine as a source of income to support me.
There are ups and downs to running your own business. You’ve got to do your own accounts, be your own marketer, be a bit of a jack of all trades. It can be stressful, but when you have been doing it for a while, it comes more naturally to you.
I bet when you get the nice feedback from customers it becomes all worth it?
Yeah, every time I get a lovely message from a customer or a great review, it brings me so much joy and makes it feel worthwhile.
I love that buying off an independent business can be a really personal thing for both the customer and yourself. I often get messages asking if I can swap things in some of the boxes if people have preferences. It’s nice that we can communicate to do that or I make a box more personal for a special occasion.
Now I’m at the point where I’m giving back more than I take, that’s my ethos at the moment. I have taken a lot of care to ensure all my materials are from responsible sources, I try to reuse and repurpose as many things as I can. For my packaging, I reuse cardboard to build the parcels with. It’s quite a saturated market for gift hampers and gift sets, but I feel like people can choose this gift set and it is more sustainable than those you might buy in a shop.
What has been one of your favourite projects or hampers you’ve worked on?
I do feel proud of them all, but I think for me I love Halloween and horror and witchiness. My best seller is my magic hamper which is Harry Potter inspired, but I do love the Halloween hamper. I feel like with that one I can stretch the weirdness. A couple of the new ones I’ve made recently are a horror box and a dark magic witch box, and I feel like you can be really gory and fun with that. The Halloween hampers are most like my personality because I can just go to town on the weirdness.
Hearing this makes me super excited because I’m a big horror fan too. I Might have to get my hands on one of these boxes!
My hampers were originally made as a self-care type hamper, but now they’re kind of like a cosy night in. A lot of them have things that you can do on your night in, usually quite autumnal themed, with candles, or soap.
You can check out the halloween boxes here:
What advice or words of wisdom would you give to anyone who’s thinking of working for themselves?
I overthink everything, and I am a massive perfectionist. The best advice I’ve ever received was to just do it, set it up, throw out a page, and get on Etsy. Even if the listing don’t look perfect and you’re not fully there yet, just get it done and then you can come back to it and tweak it. That mentality is not something that comes naturally to me. Once you start putting them up and getting a bit of interest in them, it forces you to improve on it, and you will get a good view on how it will perform. You’ve got to just go for it as long as you’re not putting yourself at a huge risk!
In the office we always say ‘don’t let perfect get in the way of getting something done’.
What’s coming up next for Pop Up Poetry?
I predominantly sell on Etsy at the moment, which means I’m selling to people in lots of places. I’ve been working from home up until recently. And when I moved into my space, one of the most important things was to feel like I’m part of a community. I would also like to work with the garden communities and the garden at Make Hamilton.
For the quarantine boxes I made during the lockdown, I donated £1 of every sale to the NHS charities, and I managed to raise about £800. (AMAZING!) I loved being able to offer that, so I would love to go in that direction with my hampers. I’m not sure of the format, whether it would be giving part of every sale to the Woodland Trust or if I could plant a tree for each sale or something. I want to use my business as a way to raise money for good causes and find a sustainable way to work with the community.
Also, I would like to offer educational aspects in my hampers, such as how to recycle the hamper. Or to include seeds to encourage people to grow their own and show how easy it can be. In my magic box, there’s a bookmark with information on mandrakes on it, so I’m looking on including some more things like that. Maybe an infographic included with the positive impacts of veganism and that kind of thing.
Plant lovers don’t hate me but I honestly thought a mandrake was a mythological screaming plant from Harry Potter. I was today years old when I learnt it was, in fact, a real plant. (Sorry)
Can you tell us something interesting you’ve recently learnt or realised or even pondered!
There have been times over Christmas and over lockdown where I’ve gotten overwhelmed. I find it hard to say no and often put myself second. Over Christmas last year I completely burnt out, I worked right up till the 24th December, working morning and night. I was too tired to enjoy the Christmas festivities, and I love Christmas. I’m now learning to be stricter with my own wellbeing. I want to give everyone what they need, but you also have to be kind to yourself. I’m trying to get to a point where I can say no more. You’ve got to look at yourself as if you are a friend or someone else, and take your own advice!
But here’s a bit more of a random fact. I read it a while ago so it might not be accurate now but, apparently, the average person spends two weeks of their life watching TV. But I feel like that will be even higher now because of Netflix and streaming sites.
I wouldn’t even want to know how long we spend on our phones!
So, what’s it been like having a studio at Make?
Before Make I was working in my dining room, so this is my first studio space. I love coming to work every day, which is not something I wanted to lose when I left my job. Working from home can be lonely, you’ve got no one to talk to when something good or bad happens, so I love the community here. Everyone here is friendly and similar-minded and has the same purpose, they want to be creative and want to create something nice. It’s great having people to talk to and share ideas with. The support has been helpful here too, being pointed in the right direction of opportunities and things that could be helpful.
Where can people find your hampers and gifts?
You can find my products on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/PopUpPoetryShop
Follow me on Instagram and Facebook @popuppoet
You can also see my products at Ten Streets Market along with lots of other talented makers.
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