It all started for Noelle Gaughen because she didn’t want to pay $18 for a peacock feather hairclip. Always a crafty person, Noelle rushed home and fashioned a clip of her own. She never imagined that three years later, she would make her entire livelihood selling those leather-and-feather bands on Etsy to a very specific audience: brides. “Even if I don’t try,” she says, “brides buy my stuff.”
And with good reason. Gaughen’s Etsy shop, VieModerne, features feminine, colorful pieces—hair clips with ivory chiffon flowers and French birdcage netting, satin-and-organza flower brooches, satin flower fascinators with antique rhinestone centers accentuated by peacock feathers—that call to brides with a quirky, handmade aesthetic. “If I can’t make it myself, I try not to use it,” Gaughen says.
Lucky for her and other local sellers, DIY is an aesthetic that has erupted in the past five years.
“There’s a huge movement toward vibrant, truly unique weddings with amazing details,” says Lauren Cunningham, the owner of the stationery company The Creative Parasol. Rather than turning towards David’s Bridal, more and more people want the DIY look, from hand-drawn invitations down to vintage vase decorations, as the proliferation of professional and personal wedding blogs has proven. It seems that these days, you can hardly string a garland without swinging into at least fifty wedding blogs. “There’s a lot of pressure,” says Gaughen. “With all the blogs, you’re not just comparing yourself to your mom or your friends anymore.”
There’s a lot of pressure. With all the blogs, you’re not just comparing yourself to your mom or your friends anymore.
Cunningham put it best: “Weddings have become the ultimate stage for the DIY craft.”
But what happens when couples run out of DIY time or aren’t as handy as they’d imagined? There’s a host of tiny local businesses specializing in eclectic goods that look bride-made or vintage. And foremost, there’s Etsy. As Gaughen says, “People in the DIY sphere are always going to Etsy, looking for ideas that are different.” She focuses her efforts entirely on the well-known website; in June the national Etsy site sold $38.4 million of goods and listed over 200,000 items in the Weddings section.
Curiously, many of Gaughen’s customers come from the Midwest. But other businesses are focusing on the local scene, such as Cunningham’s The Creative Parasol. TCP designs custom wedding invitations and day-of paper goods. “I get to know my clients,” she says, “because the best design comes from having an understanding of who they are and what they want their wedding and paper goods to reflect.”
The StationeryBakery also offers modern-looking, custom-made invitations as well as fine art on its Etsy site. Sarah Donovan, the force behind the “bakery,” often starts by looking at a client’s dress to develop a theme for the hand-painted portraits she prints on thank-you cards and other paper goods. As for her business’s quirky name, “It’s a play on words,” she says. “I have a studio, but I end up working out of my kitchen. It’s also a play on the whole idea of the housewife.” (Interestingly, many Austin handicrafters co-own their businesses with their husbands.)
Almost all of these online businesses are working toward real-life stores. Caroline Vasquez, an Etsy seller who owns Paloma’s Nest, has been lucky enough to make that dream a reality. Paloma’s Nest sells wooden and ceramic ornaments, keepsakes, and, most importantly, its trademarked Ring Bearer Bowls. Every item has a handmade, precious quality about it, in particular the Ring Bearer Bowls. The shallow bowls replace those tired ring pillows, and they have sayings carved into them like “To Have and To Hold.” This year Vasquez added to her Etsy store and website by opening up a physical location, on South Congress.
For many of these handicraft workers, the joy comes not just from the creative work but from selling it directly to people they know will enjoy it. “There’s something wonderful and surprising about a handmade element,” says Cunningham. “And there’s nothing better than knowing you’ve helped make someone’s wedding day exactly what they wanted.”
Cunningham, Gaughen, and almost all of the other handicraft business owners work out of their home studios. That means long days that can be filled with distractions, Hulu queues, and art supplies flying everywhere. How do these creative ladies keep themselves on track? “I work one-hundred-and-ten percent every other day,” Gaughen says. “And I put a tie around my cat’s neck and pretend he’s my boss. That usually works.”