This interview has been a long time coming. If I'm being honest, Five15 was one of the very first shops I thought of when I started reaching out to business owners for interviews, but of course, part of supporting small business owners is understanding that most of these women are doing things on their own and juggling a million things at once to make it work. Angie Coates, the creator behind the brand, and I have been trying to make this work since I started this site, and I could not be more thrilled to finally share her story with you today.
Part of why it was so important to me that I feature Angie early on is because I feel that she fully embodies the spirit of what I'm trying to accomplish here. In addition to being a skilled artist and business owner, Angie is just a fan of other women in general. She's supported this site since day one, constantly cheers on others with genuine enthusiasm, and uses both her shop and her platform as a voice for equality. Every sale from Five15 gives back to a worthy organization (more on that below), and if you've followed Angie on Instagram, you know that her Good News Friday series is a source for all things positive and progressive. Oh, and did I even mention that her shop is filled with adorable pins, sassy keychains and works of art, and candles with the Queer Eye cast (among other inspiring queens)? Because there's that too. So, yeah, you could call me a Five15 fan girl. But don't be surprised if you've become one too by the time you're finished reading about Angie and her work. 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: I started freelancing (graphic design) about 4 years ago but also knew I wanted to start a shop. I knew I wanted to do something creative and even started a Society6 shop, but that didn’t feel quite right. Not because of the platform (which I love!) I just hadn’t come up with an idea or product that I was 100% passionate about at that time. I took a step back from trying to ‘figure it out’ and the catalyst was the adoption of our rescue dog, Meatball. I wanted to make something to support the rescue we got her from, and the ‘Dog Mom’ design and pin was born! It felt right and it was my first product ever, followed closely by ‘Dog Dad’! After that, I had no doubt I wanted to continue to design products that a. meant something to me (and hopefully others too!) and b. to give back to causes that I cared about.
Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?
A: The first product to take off was the Dog Mom pin! It is a fluke, and I know this doesn’t always happen. I am lucky and grateful it resonated with others too. My second product to ‘take off’ has been the MFM design I did a couple of years ago. It’s a bunch of icons that I drew just for fun and was actually worried to share online. I thought perhaps it doesn’t match my brand. It’s very ‘murdery’ and hesitated to post it. I am glad I did because (to my surprise) it resonated with others too (shoutout to all murderinos out there!) and was even reposted by MFM. I shrieked when that happened. It’s still one of my favourite things I’ve ever done, and I released it initially as a shirt and I am now super excited to release that design on a mug! It has since been plagiarized A LOT. It is my most plagiarized design. I won’t even get into that, but I do want to thank everyone who, in true murderino fashion, have supported my work and my products over the years. You are truly magic and I am so grateful for you!
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 was working as a freelance graphic designer when I started the shop. Initially, the shop was my hobby, which quickly turned into a part-time gig. I spent the first year of the shop doing freelance graphic design part-time. I made the switch two years ago to focus solely on my shop. It was SO scary to do but I wanted to take that leap. I am so glad I did and I haven’t regretted it yet! I know this may be cheesy but I am going to say it anyway: I heard Brene Brown say on a podcast interview (I am paraphrasing here) ‘leap not because the net will appear (cause you may well fall on your face), but because the pain of standing on the edge is greater that the risk of falling’. I was in pain on the edge and so glad I took the leap!
I still enjoy working on design projects for clients and take on the occasional commission (maybe once or twice a year) but for the most part, the shop is my full-time job.
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 am grateful and lucky that I’ve had lots of business experience before launching my shop. I’ve always been a creative person but the majority of my work experience has been in administration. My last non-design job was managing a very fast-paced small business. Because the business was small, being in charge meant I had to wear MANY hats, which is not so different from being an independent creative/shop-owner. Running the business side of my shop is something I really enjoy. So much so, that I think the challenge sometimes is for me to prioritize the design part of it. Over the years, I’ve had to be very mindful to make sure I carve out time to create and come up with new ideas, and realizing that ‘creative time’ is just as important (if not more!) as answering emails, ordering supplies and packing orders.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your decision to put a focus on activism and donate a percentage of the proceeds from purchases to worthy causes? What are some of the organizations you donate to?
A: The simplest answer is that it feels right. The shop is an extension of who I am, and giving back is important to me. I make donations either in cash or by donating products at least 4 times a year, depending on the products I sell and what’s happening in the world. For example, during the earthquakes in Mexico, I donated to the Mexican Red Cross and I have also made donations to non-profits that help families separated at the US/Mexico border. For the most part though, I try to donate to local non-profits that advocate for (self-identified) women, lgbtq+ folks and rescue animals. You can learn more about these organizations here.
Q: What do you wish you knew about creating products and selling your art before you started?
A: The best advice I would give myself (or anyone!) is to look after yourself. I am the most important resource in my business. The best business strategy I could ever have is always to invest in myself. That means, giving myself time to rest, to fill up, to create and that also means hiring help! If I had a time machine I would go back and tell my old self ‘yes, you can afford to hire someone to help you at least once a week! Do it!’
Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?
A: All the mugs!!! Especially the My Favourite Murder mug, of course!
Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?
A: I don’t believe in growth for the sake of growth, so my goal in my business is the same as my goal in life: to keep being happy, healthy (physically, mentally and spiritually) and doing things I love! If I am doing that, then I know my business (and me!) will be killing it.
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: This is not a shop, but my first shoutout is to PB&Chi, the dog rescue we got Meatball from. Without them, there wouldn’t be a Meatball, and there wouldn’t be a shop! If you’re in the Greater Vancouver area and are interested in rescuing, please give them a follow! They do great work and an amazing woman, Kelly, started the rescue and runs it.
I want to also point you to my amazing wholesalers. They are all listed here. You can find most of my products in person in a bunch of cities in Canada and the US.
People often ask me if it’s better for me when you buy directly from my shop vs from a brick and mortar shop. My answer is this: when possible, please try to buy from a small and local brick and mortar shop. This way you help TWO businesses instead of one and it’s also way better for the planet. When I sell my products to a small brick and mortar shop, the carbon footprint is significantly smaller. I am using way less packaging shipping in bulk and also less fuel.
Bonus: most of my wholesalers are owned by either women or members of the lgbtq+ community, so really, it is aTRIPLE win!!
Lastly, I really do admire a tonne of female artists in person and online, and I could list hundreds, so this is hard! Here are a few:
Kimi from KWT Designs
Dani from Positively Present
I could keep going! Basically anyone I follow is someone I admire, so these are just a few of my favourites!
Follow along with Angie: