The Imaginarium of littleoddforest
Posted on March 12, 2013
Lynda Lye, SINGAPORE
Founder/Designer of littleoddforest™
Tucked in a quiet room within Lynda’s cozy residence lays a mini-showroom and workshop filled with the handcrafted creations of littleoddforest™. Some might see it as an imaginarium of odd wonder, while for others a cumulation of a lifetime worth of work. As a sole entrepreneur who built an entire business thread-by-thread and dollar-by-dollar, Lynda is no stranger to blood, sweat and tears.
Tell us about your brand and the idea behind it?
Founded in 2004, littleoddforest™ is a quirky, whimsical, independent lifestyle fashion accessories label, whose nature, fairy-tales and wanderlust-inspired creations include limited edition, one-of-a-kind quality handmade bags, purses, pouches, plush cushions and toys, home decor, wearables, and various other accessories including sleep eye masks, indoor footwear, baby goods and so much more. littleoddforest™ goods are all as honestly produced as much as I possibly can ensure; made with lots of love and in limited numbers, with many one-of-a-kind creations, both in my tiny Singapore home-based studio and our very own fair-wage labor workshop in The Philippines, which was set up almost 8 years ago. We are the anti-orthodoxy of big brands, shiny leather bags and all things flashy. Many things in our mass-produced world tend to be too de rigueur, slick and cold, and my wish is to make good quality and usable goods that are fun, quirky, odd, and colorful with personality. I make only what I like and my unbridled passion is in pervasive creativity — I will lay my hands on everything if I could!
Tell us about your previous working situation and did you have a background in design?
I’ve worked in both the United States and Singapore as a Graphic Designer after graduating from The School of Art Institute of Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications. Even while schooling in the Science stream, I’ve been making pencil cases, hand-sewn cards and soft toys for friends, with rave reviews, ever since my Mum gave me her very retro-looking vintage Singer sewing machine (it was part of her wedding dowry!) when I was 13, when we had to start our Home Economics classes in Secondary One. It came as no surprise to me when some of my favorite classes in art college in Chicago eventually turned out to be Fashion Accessories Design and Packaging Design, which I took for 2 semesters.
What is your favorite part in the process of designing accessories
I enjoy conceptualizing and prototyping because I can go wild with ideas while sketching, and then transforming that drawing into a raw working craft piece excites me, even when a particular idea doesn’t work out eventually (and this happens more often than not!).
What’s are some of the most popular items or line to date?
1st: Wanderlust Critter Backpacks (The Fantastic Fox and Hoot The Owl)
2nd: Our entire Hoot The Owl series
3rd: Our entire range of Satchels and one of my very first bag designs, The Snotty Bird Bag (discontinued)
Where does your creative/design inclination come from?
I’ve kept all my childhood storybooks, including classics written by Enid Blyton and Rold Dahl. I even have a children’s bedtime storybook that’s a few months older than me, bought by my Dad for me before I was born. Those, together with art/design books I collect, have been my constant source of inspiration. It also helps that my Dad is an artist (painter) and avid art collector, and I get to have paintings and art pieces displayed at home, and even get to swap them with other pieces if I wished to.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I enjoy the flexibility of working in the still of the night, playing hooky for tea with some friends, but burning the midnight oil till dawn after that. But being an entrepreneur also means I work 7 days a week. That was tough when I was carrying a child, and as much as I did not want to (it was really frustrating because I love and really missed my work), I had to cut back my work load and hours, and try to keep them within “normal” timings and more or less stick to a routine.
What’s the first thing that gets you excited in the morning when you wake up?
Right at this moment, it is a tie between seeing my 4-month-old son sleeping blissfully in his crib, and walking into my work studio with plans for the day’s work.
What are some of the things you do on a daily basis which keeps you happy?
Kick-starting my day with a big cup of Milo and 3-in-1 coffee mixed together, dreaming up new things, doodling new ideas and whatever that comes to my mind in my sketchbook, working on and packing orders, and communicating with our awesome customers, and recently, conversing in alien baby talk with my 4-month-old son.
What are your best marketing tips to grow a brand?
In the early part of the business back in 2004, I partnered up with The Sampler which provided samples to major events in the US, which got us exposure in shopping magazines. I was also using Blogads.com, a blog advertising network, to target relevant audiences. Then subsequently, Etsy came into the picture and in their second Christmas, things went crazy and so did my sales. These days, most of my site traffic comes through referrals on Facebook.
What tool or technique has been most effective in getting buyers to your online store?
I currently run campaigns with targeted Facebook Ads on different collections. But back then, before there was Etsy or Facebook, my initial online sales came through the wonderful craft community in the United States. We promoted each other’s site and bought from each other.
What about offline channels, did you push for any of those?
My first stockist was Anthropology Homeware (closed a few years back), a fabulous lifestyle store, which I secured through a cold email and eventual meeting. I also displayed my wares at InQBox, over at Far East Plaza, a concept store which displayed different products in glass cubes, the first-of-its-kind in Singapore back in 2005. That led to a trade show opportunity and eventually a local TV feature on prime time.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Everything, or nothing, about running my own business is hard. There isn’t one single hardest part. As a one-woman show outside of production, I have to juggle sales, marketing, sustainability, competition, finances, customer service, and so much more, besides everything else that involves the creation of a product (design, make etc.), but these are all part and parcel of running my own small business. If I really have to pick one, it will be something which I have no absolute control over – employee management, including hiring and training. I also have a small group of makers in Philippines where I provide fair wages and accommodation. It took time for me to learn their culture and adapt to their ways, which is extremely important. And it took a lot more sweat and tears, sharing with them how I wanted things to be done and my vision, and to somehow try to balance out expectations.
So what’s the most exciting part about running your own business?
My fans and customers: I feel incredibly fortunate that I run a business that feeds me and my passion.
Who’s your greatest pillar(s) of support in your life right now?
Is there an ultimate vision or plan for your business?
I’m aiming for worldwide distribution and having my very own littleoddforest studio/boutique shop in Singapore that I own (not rent!).
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
Save up enough to cover your living expenses for 1 year and whatever you require to fund your business expense. I made the mistake of not saving up and for the first year, I only had $50 in the bank. I avoided my friends and gatherings, and had to have all my meals at home while staying with my parents. You really can’t expect to pay yourself for the first year.
My parents didn’t really understand what I was doing initially. My dad saw me crying and sleep-deprived while rushing to make orders and packing them for delivery, surrounded by tons of goods and boxes in my studio-in-a-tiny-bedroom at 3am during my first crazy Christmas peak period because I was completely caught unprepared and simply could not catch up with the sudden increase in orders all alone by myself. My mum, a businesswoman, came to understand my persistence and passion and they’ve been very supportive of my endeavors since then.
Could you recommend three songs or songwriters that inspire your work?
I listen to music all the time, but it does not influence my work nor inspire me in that way. So how about books then? I can’t name 3 specifically, but I’d say almost all fairy-tales (Lewis Caroll, C.S. Lewis, Grimms’, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and so much more) inspire me because they teach you that a world and life without heart and imagination is not a world worth living in or a life worth living for, and probably fantasy books like those by Terry Brooks (the entire Shannara series), and The Life Of Pi, etc.
What are you currently working on?
So many things! I’m here, there, and everywhere. I’m constantly looking for new sources to work with, coming up with a couple of brand new series (I design in series instead of collections) for the rest of this year and 2014, lots of custom work, and looking out for possible collaborations/partnerships.