Interview: Bee & Mae

It could just be my opinion, but I strongly feel that the small businesses that find the most success are the ones with business owners who are unapologetically themselves and make that known. Commerce is so saturated that it's not enough to just have a good product anymore, it also takes a person who customers root for and want to support. You can see where I'm going with this, right? Yep, today's feature is one of those shops that I think is easy to root for: Bee & Mae.

Amanda Thiessen, the creator behind the brand, is making items that she loves and selling them while keeping her authenticity. Bee & Mae found success with pop culture enamel pins (fun fact: I first discovered the shop when I placed an order on Amanda's Etsy for a Bob's Burgers/X-Files mash-up pin and a Larry David pin), and she's gained a loyal following through her relatable motherhood themed items. I was so pleased to learn more about how Bee & Mae came to be, and I'm positive you'll enjoy her story as well. Read on to learn more about how Amanda is designing for everyone (not just moms), learning the business side of things, and entering the podcast world. Enjoy!

Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?

A: So I started by making a super simple Etsy page. I think I had like 1 or 2 products at most? I knew that I wanted to start a business, I’ve always had a small business since the kids were born. My first business was called Wild Frays and I made/sold bows for kids, then it morphed into infinity scarves for toddlers and then minky blankets for babies. I can honestly say I hated doing it so much - I loved keeping busy but hated what I was making. So I closed up that shop and took a year break from it all and then came back with wanting to make stuff I actually liked and would be able to use myself. Found a manufacturer within my budget and took the plunge. I’ve been going ever since and it’s been a fun ride --also exhausting, overwhelming, expensive and insane but still, totally fun.

Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?

A: So the first item I made was an enamel pin (never nude shorts, Arrested Development) and it was a HUGE hit at the time and every batch that was made would sell out so I just continued making pop culture pins and then I wanted to branch out a bit. So, I made 2 shirts on a whim that were my own designs and I was terrified they would do terrible (which they did in the beginning) haha. And then I wanted to create something that could connect more with the customers so I started making “mom theme” tees :) Mother Deer was the first one and a couple months after Mothers are Magic came out and it’s been our best seller ever since.

Q: Did you work another job while you were starting? How long did it take you to turn this into a full-time venture?

A: I didn’t work another job but I watched my kids full time (they were 4 and 2 at the time) and my oldest was receiving in-home therapy 35 hours a week so it was kind of like I was working haha. I found little bouts of time throughout the day to work on new designs, try to market my brand, make a website, create an office space that worked, etc. It took a good year/year and a half to really get the ball rolling on the business. I never thought it’d be as big as it is now, sometimes it’s to much to keep up with. Especially since it’s still just myself doing everything (social media, marketing, packaging, designing, returning emails, etc) It can be a lot of work! BUT I wouldn’t change it for anything. Being able to do this, something that is really fun, AND take care of my kids is really special for me. Definitely don’t take it for granted.

Q: Did you always intend for a lot of your products to have a focus on motherhood? How have your products evolved over the years?

A: I actually didn’t intend on doing any motherhood products but it just kind of naturally went in that direction. I think after I did so many pop culture references I wanted to do some more stuff that was original - which is also way more scary - but I was really itching to connect on a deeper level with customers. I always said I’m going to make what I like first, and if people dig it and want to purchase it that’s a bonus. So being able to make products about motherhood and have solidarity in that with so many people has been amazing. Mothers are Magic has been our huge seller and that spinned into Lonely Moms Club, Pretty Good Mother, Mothers are Really Fucking Tired, etc. Trying to connect on all levels like I SEE YOU, MOMS. We’re all just trying to hang in there and do our best so being able to create the Magical tees along with the lonely and tired tees is great. BUT I am really happy to create products for everyone still - I always want to keep that in my mind. Motherhood is great but everything isn’t a mom so we gotta continue making products for everyone. I am such a rambler, I’m sorry.

Q: It seems to be pretty common for entrepreneurs to start their shops because they have a specific talent and then have to learn the business side of things (marketing, finance, eCommerce, etc.) as they go. Was this case for you or did you go into it having that knowledge? What was the most challenging part for you?

A: I had zero knowledge of anything haha. And to be honest it still confuses the hell out of me. I love to be creative and draw so that was literally the only thing I knew. I had to google everything, I asked fellow shop friends for help, youtube, the works. I still don’t know how to use photoshop and I’m sure I do everything “the wrong way” but for now, it works for me.

Q: What do your kids think of your business? Are they involved at all?

A: My youngest has helped me package before but they honestly don’t care either way. Although, I think they get frustrated when they see me in the office working, rather than playing, so they get annoyed. I try to schedule work time when I know they both have something going on because they’d rather just play all day.

Q: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about buying from a small business?

A: That we aren’t Amazon. We are trying our best but we also have a family to look after, a home, our own life. And while we wish we could pop orders out in 2 seconds it just isn’t possible or mentally healthy. That shit drains you, hard. So just understanding that small shops are people and we’re trying our best. ALSO! When you buy from a small shop you’re helping that person stay afloat financially, contributing to new shoes for their kids, new books, medicine, art supplies, etc. It’s appreciated from the bottoms of our hearts.

Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?

A: I honestly don’t have long term goals for the business. If I could stay where I am that’d be awesome. I don’t know if I’d be able or even want to handle the stress if it got much bigger than what it is now. I already feel like I’ve spread myself too thin, adding more to it might put me over the edge. I’m content where I am now :)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the podcast you launched with your husband and what that process has been like?

A: So we started a podcast called I Now Pronounce You Mom and Dad. It’s been really really fun. I’ve wanted to do a podcast forever and so has my husband but he gets really into his head and has trouble with taking the plunge so I basically just started it and he had no choice haha. It has been the best thing for us though. We usually record on Tuesdays when he gets home from work (the kids go to their grandparents) so when we record it’s usually the first time we’re talking that day and it’s pretty fun! We are still getting the hang of it and still trying not to be too nervous lol and not go on tangents but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to stop that ha. Hoping to dive deeper soon about our upbringing and certain lifestyles/experiences that were traumatic that we are still trying to deal with as adults. It’s been so great though, still blown away that more than 5 people listen to it haha it’s been a cool experience to share together.

Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?

A: There are SO many to choose from but here are a few (I’ll leave their instagram handles): @daisy_and_aster, @thesilverspiderprintshop, @ellucystitches, @amyrosestudios, @jessweymouth_, @jesiiii and about a billion more.

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