In this brand-spankin-new series, we’re going to feature a wide variety of designer-turned-entrepreneurs who have elevated their design and engineering skills into functioning businesses.
Among other details we’ll cover include how these entrepreneurs leveraged their industrial design and/or mechanical engineering knowledge to create a business, how they work, how they market their products and ultimately, why they do it.
So whether you’ve always considered using your shop after-hours to start a side business, have been looking for a way to leverage your CAD skills outside of the daily grind, or are an existing design entrepreneur yourself and love to see how others work, consider the Design Entrepreneur Series your new home base for inspiration.
Design Entrepreneur Series | Melanie Abrantes
Melanie Abrantes is a Bay Area-based producer of handcrafted objects who operates under the business name of Melanie Abrantes Designs. Her philosophy towards product design stems from the belief that in order to create something beautiful, you have to get your hands dirty.
She founded her company in 2013 after realizing that there was a growing American market for handmade goods. In less than two short years, her business has expanded to offer a full catalog (sold in both retail and wholesale markets) of solid wood and cork products that she hand-turns on the lathe including bowls, plates, cups, stands and other vessels. Her passion for woodworking originates from the simple fact that every piece is as unique as the material that it came from.
Aside from the process of making the goods by hand, her time in the studio also revolves around researching, testing and adapting each product to best suit the end user. Additionally, Abrantes hosts workshops in the Bay Area where she teaches others about the process of making by hand – including an ongoing workshop series that teaches participants how to carve spoons out of a wooden block using traditional Japanese woodcarving tools and techniques.
Moving forward, Abrantes is currently developing plans to broaden her product line to include furniture and lighting using the same handmade techniques that have made her existing products successful.
How’d you get started?
In college, I learned how to use my hands to create beautiful objects. After graduating, I explored graphic design but quickly realized that I missed the tactile feeling of making with my hands. I began small, crafting woodworked gifts for friends and family, and in 2013, signed up for my first craft show. After the experience, I knew I wanted to do this full time. Melanie Abrantes Designs was born!
There is a feeling of accomplishment when you can look at an item and say, “I made that”! With the tech world taking over our lives, it’s rewarding to put the phone down and use my hands to do something other than swipe right and left.
What’s your process like?
Functionality is a major focus of mine when designing. I think about what I could use the item for and then design something in mind. For example, draw out the spoon first on a block of wood and then cut the shape with the bandsaw. I then spend the next 5-7 hours carving the spoon, depending on the size and type of wood.
What was the most challenging part of starting the business?
Being an entrepreneur takes thick skin. I think it’s important to continually press forward and treat every challenge as a learning opportunity. My first hurdle was in trying to figure out how to use my time most efficiently. When you have a lot to do, you can get lost in the mayhem, and do a whole lot of nothing. When I set specific goals for myself and started establishing strict deadlines, it became much easier to keep up!
Why not just sell ’em on Etsy?
Haha I do sell them on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/MelanieAbrantes). It was hard to get traffic on my own website at first. I honestly don’t like to advertise I am even on Etsy for the most part because it has a bad stigma with most designers. There is so much on that site that a lot of people end up thinking it is just for crafters and hobbiest, not full fledge businesses.
If you could start over again, what would you do differently?
For most artisans it can be a struggle to grasp the accounting side of things. I was not a special case here. If I had to do it over, I think I would have kept my day job a little bit longer and saved more of a cushion to fall back on. I thought I was ready to go full time but it put a lot of stress and pressure on my business and me.
Where is this headed for you? Any big ambitions?
I can only take one step at a time! Growing a business like mine is a slow, thoughtful process. I’m careful that I’m not expanding for the sake of expansion. Each new addition must be in sync with the whole. I’m in the early stages of designing a line of lighting and furniture and am really excited about that. I think my largest ambition is to be able to have a house full of my work, from the spoons you eat with to the chair you sit on!
Real quick! Can you tell us more about your upcoming workshop?
Using traditional japanese tools in this wooden spoon carving class, those in attendance will learn how to design, carve and hollow out the bowl of the spoon – as well as sand and finish the piece. It’s a fun class and easy for anyone to learn. The best part is that you get to leave the class with your very own custom creation. All supplies, a 15 mm spoon gouge and Mikikicha carving knife, are included and will go home with attendees so that they can continue designing and carving long after the workshop.
Be sure to check out more about Melanie and her full catalog over at Melanie Abrantes Designs.