In the Fold: An Interview with Rachel Aughtry of Rachel Elise
THREEFOLD Gifts–as young as it is–has always had professional makers in-mind. We developed this business as a way to find more of a home in a world where we didn't have to compete with folks practicing the infamous side-hustle. Part of that reasoning is because we were surrounded by so amazing professional makers as young business owners in Texas. Rachel Aughtry was one of those makers.
We met Rachel at the beginning of her time as an entrepreneur nearly a decade ago, and we've been lucky enough to watch her handbag business, Rachel Elise, grow over the years. She and her husband, Bo, are great friends of ours. We relate on all of the important levels, business and non. We can't image better folks to introduce you to in our very first maker interview.
How did you decide on your business name? It seems so personalized and friendly!
Our business name is Rachel Elise, which is my first and middle name. When I first started RE, I struggled with what to name it, so naming it after myself seemed simple enough. Also, my mom blessed me with a sweet name combo, so I figured I shouldn’t let that go to waste.
What caused you to start making bags?
I started the business when I was in college, studying art. I was in a zillion studio classes, but felt like all my “creative” projects were driven by deadlines and assignment parameters. I wanted to have a creative thing that something I simply wanted to do-- little did I know it would be my job (and my husband’s job!) ten years down the road.
Introduce us to your creative team!
It’s me and Bo, my husband. Plus the cats.
Where do you make your bags, and what's that space like?
Bo and I work from our home studio in Weaverville, North Carolina. Our house sits in the woodsy Blue Ridge Mountains, so we get to leave our windows open for natural light and free bird sounds. Our two cats hang out with us on the reg as well.
How often do you find yourself in the studio?
We’re both full-timers, so we’re usually in the studio 8ish (or 9ish lol) to 5ish, Monday-Friday. We follow the Barbara Corcoran philosophy that taking a real weekend makes you a better human and a smarter worker.
Could you share a little about your average day of work?
My day is pretty much behind the sewing machine. We print together once or twice a week, but that usually just takes a couple of hours. Bo’s day varies a lot, but can include cutting fabrics, trimming threads (this seems like a ridiculous task, but trust me, it’s a thing), and shipping out orders.
What is your favorite way to creatively warm-up?
This is maybe the most boring answer ever, but organizing? (That’s such an non-artist answer, but I am what I am.) Making a to-do list or reorganizing materials gets me amped to tackle all the things and creates brainspace for the fun stuff.
Can you tell us a little about the making of your products?
If you insist! Bo cuts all our materials, I do most of the sewing/designing, and we tag-team screenprinting. Yes, we screenprint own our designs/fabrics because sewing them from scratch isn’t enough work on its own! ;-)
What is something that you wish people knew about your business?
It’s a true team effort! I do most of our sewing, so sometimes people don’t understand the importance of Bo’s work for our buisness. But trust me, he’s a busy dude! There is so much more to a handmade business than just the obvious.
Which season is the most difficult for you, sales-wise? When is your busiest? How do you handle those highs and lows?
January to April-ish is our slow season. There’s a great appreciation for the art community in Western North Carolina, but a lot of that appreciation happens at craft fairs that start in May and go through the end of the year. But there always seem to be put-off projects for those early-in-the-year months!
How do you see your work or processes changing in the near future?
We already have some new materials in our possession that we’re super excited to include in our work later this year! But for now, it’s top secret.
Which part of your process do you get the most satisfaction from?
Colors are my favorite! So combining new materials and fabrics is always the best.
If you could outsource any part of your current process, what task would you choose?
Making straps, hands down. Bo cuts them; I sew them. A lot of time and love goes into those suckers, and many of our customers don’t even realize it’s a component we make ourselves. But we do make them! With love! Even if we don’t love to make them ;-)
What motivates you to do what you do?
Being your own boss is an excellent lifestyle– you get to make what you want, when you want, can change it up when you need to, and can reward yourself with a break when you’ve earned it. I love to create and am so glad that’s my job, but maintaining autonomy is often the biggest motivator.
Do you have a favorite tool or technique that you love/can't do without?
My Juki industrial sewing machine is everything! Having the proper equipment to do what you need to do is imperative. But I also really really love the screenprinting process, partially hand-painting the screens. Swoon.
Who has had the greatest impression on you as an entrepreneur?
My grandma. She owned a gift shop when I was a kid and has been a maker her whole life (though I don’t think she’d give herself credit for that). Her shop inspired me to also own a brick and mortar for a time, and her free spirit definitely encouraged me to go after what I really wanted in life.
What do you like to listen to while you’re working?
A mix of music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Thirty to forty hours of sewing a week is a lot of sewing-- you gotta mix it up! My favorite podcasts right now are 99% Invisible and Stuff You Should Know. And I also listen to a lot of politic garbage, but we don’t have to get into that ;-)
Let’s say that you find some spare time in your schedule… what do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Go outside! Bo and I are both native Texans but moved to WNC for the great outdoors. Hiking is definitely how we spend our weekends, and I try to spend some down time on our patio every day.
Are there any specific makers or creators in general who you think our readers should be paying attention to?
Heck yeah! My friend Emile recently opened a brick and mortar workshop space called Wildflower Art Studio in Denton, Texas. I’ve known Emile for years and it’s been so cool to watch her develop Wildflower from a print/card company, to a series of workshops, to a DIY kit behemoth (seriously, she’s sold tens of thousands of art kits on Amazon), to running her own permanent workshop space with sold out classes. I love when makers can (seamingly) flow from one focus to another and still stay true to their mission and brand. It’s inspiring to see how people and businesses reshape over time.
What is your favorite thing about running your own business?
I love that I can change my schedule or what we’re making or how we’re making it just because I’m tired of doing it the old way. Flexibility is the best!
What advice would you give to future makers of all ages?
I JUST talked about flexibility in the last question, but seriously, be flexible! You aren’t locked in to one product or one style or one path. Change it organically as you see fit! Don’t limit yourself with too many rules. Rules are good (but so is breaking them!)
What’s one question that you wish we would have asked… and what is your answer to that question?
mmmmm maybe “What’s Bo’s nickname for himself in the studio?” The answer to which is Bo Elise.
Shop a selection of Rachel Elise bags at THREEFOLD Gifts, where you can find goods from 45 national professional makers!
Visit us every Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm at 13339 Madison Ave. in Lakewood, Ohio.