Layoff leads artist to start online handmade accessories business

04/05/2014 8:31 AM

08/08/2014 4:43 PM

After being laid off from a local advertising company in March 2013, Jessica Buchanan was faced with a big decision: Find another job or make her own.

So she decided to take the entrepreneurial leap and start Appendage, an online business that sells handmade accessories.

“It was scary but it led me into something even better. It’s weird how things work out sometimes,” said Buchanan, who grew up in Newton and went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Wichita a couple of years ago.

“Working for other people just really wasn’t for me. I just always wanted to be independent, self-sustainable.”

Appendage got its name because “accessories are an extension of the body,” Buchanan says. Her products range from sloth sleep masks and skull wallets to exotic insects pinned in shadowboxes.

“Where it really starts is drawing, and I wanted to apply that to functional objects,” she said. “I took a scientific illustration class in college that I loved so you can see a lot of that influence. It was held at the Field Museum in Chicago.”

She designs all of the fabrics on her computer using Adobe Illustrator and a digital drawing tablet. She has a vendor who produces the fabric by the yard.

To prepare for the financial side of running her own business, Buchanan took free workshops through the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Wichita State.

The center met with more than 700 entrepreneurs last year, said Marcia Stevens, regional director, and in 2012, its clients started 57 businesses, generating more than $48 million in sales.

Buchanan meets monthly with a consultant through the center.

“She helps me with all of the hard stuff, like getting business insurance or getting something trademarked,” Buchanan said. “She helps me prioritize things and makes sure I don’t forget to pay my taxes.”

Most of Buchanan’s sales are online at her website and on Etsy, an online marketplace for small businesses. She’s thought about having a brick-and-mortar store, but online sales seem more profitable, she said.

Buchanan also goes to craft fairs, recently returning from the Renegade Craft Fair at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

She has no employees, but she said her boyfriend, Benjamen Benson, helps with the business – even sewing.

As the business grows, Buchanan said she’d like to eventually have two or three employees while still keeping production handmade.

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