Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On the Subject of Trademarked Logos, Images, and Other Intellectual Property

Graduation orders have trickled to a stop, but this is a relevant topic any time.  When I first started my shop, and in particular when I started making my graduation exploding box cards, I did not give a thought to using logos or graphics from the internet and whether they might be trademarked or copyrighted.  Starting out, I was just making cards with local school graphics, and it didn't occur to me that it might be a problem.  However, since joining Etsy in 2010, I have made an effort to spend time in the user forums, where I have learned a lot about many issues involved with selling on Etsy, and as it happens, trademark violation is a huge issue.  There are thousands of discussions about how some of the larger companies, such as Disney, Harley-Davidson, and Tiffany, are vigilant about violation of their trademarked materials (you can't even describe something as "Tiffany blue", come to find out.)  As it happens, many colleges and universities have similar protections on their own logos and other graphics, especially the larger, more notorious schools with big athletic programs.  Thankfully, I became aware of this early on when I began selling my graduation exploding box cards, and have made an effort not to be in violation of any school's policy on use of their logos.  Unfortunately, it's not always clear, and that's where I run into uncomfortable situations.

With school logos, my usual procedure is to first look at the school's website to see if they have a brand guideline.  Many of the larger schools have a document that describes everything from the exact fonts and colors in their official brand, to information about permitted uses.  Some have a request form that can be filled out and submitted to request authorization to use the materials, but most that I have dealt with do not.  In those cases, I have to search the website for contacts in their marketing, public relations, or branding department and send an email requesting permission to use their logo.  I would estimate that the rate of response is about 50/50: half of the time, I get an email back granting me permission, and half the time I get no response at all.  Only once have I received a message denying permission.  If I get no response, I will not use the logo- I will only use it if I can document that I have permission to use it.  It is disappointing when I can't use the logo, because most buyers do want it used on their products, but most are very understanding about this.

You might ask, what's the big deal, anyway?  Would some big university or company on the other side of the country (or world) really care that some small-time paper crafter on Etsy put their logo or image on a customized greeting card?  The answer is: I don't have enough money to find out the hard way.  In other words, if I use an image without permission, I am risking a lawsuit.  The fact is, logos and other trademarked images are protected by law as being the property of the trademark holder, and many can and will do what they have to do to protect their property rights.  There are a number of companies that are well-known for doing sweeps on Etsy for sellers using their trademarked property illegally.  They file a DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice with Etsy, and Etsy must comply by taking down the offending listings.  Etsy has a 3 strikes policy regarding violations of trademark or copyright- if a seller gets 3 strikes, their shop is shut down and they are not permitted to reopen.  Period.   Check out the Etsy user forums any day, and I guarantee you will find at least one post from someone complaining that they were shut down for trademark/copyright violation and don't know why.  Ignorance is not bliss in this case- Etsy considers it the responsibility of sellers to know and comply with the laws.

I have been asked to use materials that I do not have permission to use, and while I hate it when I can't give a customer exactly what they want, I simply cannot take the risk.  Some may view a transaction between a buyer and seller as private, so what's the harm?  Well, the thing is, once the product leaves my hands, it is no longer private- it is in the hands of the buyer, and the seller has no control over what happens with that product or who sees it.  All it takes is one social media post with a photo of the product, and the audience is suddenly much wider than just the buyer.  While it's true that you can find thousands of sellers on Etsy willing to take that chance, I simply have never been comfortable with it.  And it's not even only about the risk involved, although that is a major factor.  But also, I've seen the shops that are chock full of designs that include trademarked materials from tv shows, movies, etc.  Knowing the law, and that these shops are blatantly violating it, cheapens the value and the name of that shop, because it's basically stolen merchandise.  They are literally stealing from the trademark owner by profiting from the use of that material.  I hold myself and my business to a higher standard than that.  I have built my shop and my reputation as a seller on honesty, class, and integrity, and am not willing to cheapen it by illegal use of someone else's intellectual property under any circumstance.

I have turned down several requests to make exploding box cards with Disney and other trademarked materials.  Yes, I lost money that I could have made, but my conscience is clear and I can sleep at night.  As complicated as copyright and trademark law is, that really is what it comes down to: how I feel about the integrity of my work and my shop.  Maybe only someone's immediate family would see the product that I make for a customer, and no harm would come of using that trademarked Harvard or Disney image.  But I can't set that precedent, because that might not be the case with the next one.  Or the one after that, or the one after that.  I have a firm policy, and just can't cross that line, not even once.

As disappointing as it is when I can't use a logo or other image, it's also an opportunity to push my creativity and find something else I can do instead.  That has resulted in some things that I am truly proud of, and that is what keeps me as a crafter, and my business, moving forward and continuint to innovate.  As Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sometimes we have to make a choice "between what is right, and what is easy", and in my business, as well as in much of life as possible, I choose what is right.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Graduation Season Begins!

It's only March, but already the graduation exploding box order rush has begun!  I received two orders last week, and another one this week.  Crazy!!  Last week, I got orders for one high school and one college graduate.  I try to be really careful about using school logos and imagery...it's not really an issue for high schools, but for colleges/universities, it definitely can be.  The graduate of the college order I received goes to University of Alabama.  Being on the west coast, and not being a big sports fan, I was unaware how very notorious/important this university is, but upon researching their logo usage, was duly informed, lol!  They have an extremely strict policy about using any logos, including a licensing procedure that I did not have time to go through.  So, I had to get creative.  I have had to deal with these situations before, and managed, but this time I think I hit it out of the park!

So, breaking this down: I used the school colors of crimson and gray for the card box bases.  Since I could not use the university logos, I instead used a letterman font for the graduation year in the school color, and added some script to add "Class of".  Love. It!!  Also, since the university has trademarked the phrase "The University of Alabama", I dropped the "the" and printed University of Alabama in the school colors, in a font close to the letter font used by the university.  The rest is the usual, including general graduation graphics on the printed panels with the graduate's name.  I am really happy with how it turned out!  I sometimes struggle with what to do when I can't use a school logo, but I think this really worked out well.

In addition to working on custom orders, I am working on stuff for the SET Spring Sale at the end of April.  I recently ordered a sample pack of paper from a company that makes seeded paper- that is, paper that contains wildflower seeds, so you can actually plant the paper and grow flowers.  How FREAKING cool is that??  The sample pack I ordered came with 2 sheets of 5 colors: pink, blue, white, yellow, and green, and I also ordered one sheet that is white with red/pink flower petals embedded.  I have started making some floral gift tags, which I plan to sell at the spring sale.  Here's a sample of what I've made so far:

So, as you can see, I've made some tags that are blue with daisies, as well as white tags with pink carnations, and green tags with butterflies.  The tags are 2x3" and I have added natural twine through the top holes, for a natural look.  I am really liking how they are turning out! The seeded paper is pretty spendy- the company I ordered from is in Canada, so shipping is not cheap.  But I have wanted to try this for some time, so am excited about offering these tags at the upcoming spring sale!

That's all for now- will update again soon!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mother's Day Exploding Boxes

I know I gave a sneak peak of my new smaller Mother's Day-themed exploding box cards last time, and since then, I have actually sold the one pictured in my previous post!  My husband's cousin stopped by the day before Valentine's day and asked me what I had for Valentine's day, as he had not had time to shop for his wife.  I showed him one of the never-ending cards I made in the last year or two, and he bought it.  Then he spotted the Mother's Day box, along with a second one I'd made but had not had time to photograph, and ended up buying both of them for his mom and wife!  So that was a nice surprise!  It left me without any Mother's Day boxes for the Salem Etsy Team Spring Sale though, so since we had a long weekend this past week, I took a day and knocked out 5 of them at once!

I really like how they turned out, and I hope that having these smaller boxes at a lower price will make them more appealing to the local market.  I have listed them in my Etsy shop, as I find that having a wide variety of products brings in the browsers.  I have listed a similar box in my shop before, though it was the larger size, and it did not sell, which tells me that that might be the wrong market for them- however, as I said, it helps to have interesting things for shoppers to look at.  Besides, I really want to be able to sell them at the SET spring sale, so won't be heartbroken if they don't sell on Etsy anyway!

Next up- more bookmarks!  I recently added a few new floral bookmarks to my shop, as my supply had run low, and I plan to make some washi paper bookmarks next.  I also want to try some laminated pressed flower cards, similar to the ones I did in the fall with the leaves, but with flowers instead.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Catching Up and Getting Ready for Spring!

Well, I sure fell off the blog bandwagon for awhile there!  Life sure is busy these days, and the holiday season was INSANE!  The Salem Etsy Team had our holiday sale in December at a new, larger venue, and it was EPIC!  We had over 80 vendors, and more than 2,000 shoppers came through!  Now we are gearing up for our spring sale in April, so I am already crafting away and getting ready for that.  Being one of the organizers of such a large event takes up a lot of my time, so in order to have time to make items to sell at the sale myself, I have to get started pretty early.

I've launched some new products in the last few months, including these:

These are cute little pillow boxes that I made with my Silhouette Cameo in two sizes- the large are about 3x5, the small are about 2x3.  I'm selling gift wrap kits in my card rack at Top Drawer, which include one pillow box, a coordinating gift tag, a piece of white tissue paper, and a white ribbon.  Aren't they cute??  I made a bunch for the SET holiday sale too, using holiday-themed papers.  Can't wait to sell springy, flowery ones at our Spring sale!

I'm also experimenting with some smaller sized exploding boxes than the standard 4x4x4, since I've found that at the in-person sales, people are reluctant to pay what I charge for the larger ones.  Here's my first attempt:

These are 3x3x3 and have two layers instead of three.  I'm planning to make a few for the spring sale, and maybe even a couple for my Etsy shop as well.

I have lots of plans for other products, but of course there's the issue of time, which I am pretty short on these days!  I'll do what I can though, and will try to remember to share what I come up with here!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

It's Looking a Lot Like Fall.....in August!

Yes, it's August, and yes, it's in the 90s outside.  And here in my part of Oregon, the Willamette Valley is blanketed in smoke from forest fires both to the east and the west.  But I've been looking toward fall, and making items to stock in my Etsy shop and my card rack at Top Drawer Upscale Resale and Boutique!  Up first- pressed fall leaf/flower laminated bookmarks, which I've been making for a number of years now.  I haven't made any new ones for awhile, and it was so much fun pulling out my stash of pressed fall leaves (which I, along with my daughter, collected and pressed myself) to make these!

I threw a few flowers in there as well- I love the Black-Eyed Susans with fall leaves!  And there aren't a lot of orange flowers out there, but the fuchsias I used in that last one coordinate perfectly with the orangy leaves.

In addition, and I alluded to this in a previous post, I recently ordered some matte laminate from my laminate supplier, Oregon Lamination Company.  The reason- to experiment with making pressed flower and leaf  greeting cards!  As it has been a busy summer, I did not get around to making any with flowers, but since I had my leaves out and was playing with them, I figured I'd take a stab at some cards.  I used a collage style on an off-white background, and used paper colors to compliment the leaves.  I think they turned out nicely!  The matte laminate, unlike the gloss that I use for bookmarks, does not reflect any light, and you almost can't even tell it's there.  After experimenting with different ways of putting pressed flowers and leaves on greeting cards, this is the only one that has really worked to protect the delicate flora from breakage with use.  Being laminated, these leaves will last for years, assuming it is not stored in direct sunlight.  Wouldn't these be gorgeous in a picture frame?
These cards are standard A2 size (4.25x5.5) and come with an off-white envelope.  I've listed the top two in the photo in my Etsy shop, and will be taking the bottom two to my card rack at Top Drawer.

In addition to the fall colors now exploding in my Etsy shop, I have also listed some pressed flower bookmarks.  I recently got an order for 3 bookmarks, and after reviewing my remaining listings, I realized that I only had one bookmark left in my shop!  Well, I had some inventory that was not listed, so today finally took the time to take pictures and get them listed.  Along with the regular pressed flower/leaf collage bookmarks, I also listed 3 of the Jane Austen book page bookmarks that I had left over from the Jane Austen Faire last year.  Surprisingly- one of them was favorited only minutes after I listed them!

My spare time is short these days, but I'm hoping to get some more fall products completed for both my Etsy shop and my rack at Top Drawer soon.  I already have a start on a couple of Halloween cards, using a paper that I bought last year and had some left over.  I had made 2 cards with it, and both sold out, so hopefully someone will like these too.  I just LOVE fall- it is my favorite season, and it's so fun to finally be able to make some more fall items!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

New Product- Laminated Signs!

Well, this is something that I have been working on for a few years now.  Quite awhile back, when I first got my laminating machine, I made a No Soliciting sign for myself, and made a few extra and gave them away to friends.  I always put a few out on my table at craft sales, but never sold any.  One reason why I never really pursued making this product for my Etsy shop or other venues was because of my personal experience with my own: being that they are outside, they tend to fade in time with exposure to the sun.

The company that I buy my laminating supplies from, the Oregon Lamination Company, does offer a UV laminate that is supposed to help protect items from the harmful UV rays and resist fading.  It is not inexpensive though, which is why I had not bought any before.  My previous signs were about 6x8 inches, which would have necessitated me buying the letter sized laminate sheets.  I decided to try making smaller signs, 4x6, and went ahead and ordered the 4x6 UV laminate.  Let me tell you, every single experience I have had with the Oregon Lamination Company has been nothing short of stellar.  I bought my laminating machine from them, and soon after, I managed to jam it, and not only did they fix it for free, they had someone pick it up and deliver it back to my house, because they had an employee who lived in my area.  How amazing is that?!  I buy most of my laminate pouches from them, and though these particular pouches are on the spendy side, I have no problem paying for them, because I am happy to support a local business.  And guess what?  I ordered this laminate, along with some other laminate (for an idea I will be working on later), and it arrived in my mailbox THE.NEXT.DAY.  Yes, I had my order in 24 hours.  Ok, yes, it helps that I live 30 miles from them, but I just find it amazing that they are SO prompt to fill their orders.  LOVE this company!

So, back to my signs: now that I have the UV laminate and feel a bit better about my product holding up over time, I felt a better about offering these for sale.  Actually, my old signs, which I made with plain old Scotch 3M laminating pouches, lasted about 3 years on my east-facing front porch, and yes, the card stock border and printed text faded a bit, but it was still perfectly readable.  I want something better for paying customers, though.  I like the idea of a smallish doorbell sign- something that can just sit unobtrusively next to the doorbell for those pesky solicitors who would otherwise disturb our peace and quiet, but not be garishly obvious or out of place on my front porch.  I have, by the way, recently begun doing some sprucing up of my front porch- it is an area that I have never paid very much attention to, but after some Pinterest-surfing, have decided needed some prettying up!  I found this gorgeous bronze metal plant stand, which I have been accessorizing with plants and other cute things.  So when I remembered that the Dollar Tree had picture frames in various metallic patinas for only $1 each, I went and picked up a bronze 4x6 frame to put my sign in, and mounted it to the wall above my doorbell.  Well, I already know that it worked, because yesterday when I was leaving to run some errands, I found a business flyer taped to my door.  Hey, at least they didn't ring the doorbell!  You can see by the above photo that it is pretty and stylish and still delivers the right message.

I made some in a few different colors, and I did them two ways: with the "Youth fundraising OK", and without.  I know that some of us really appreciate our Girl Scout cookies and little league candy bars, but some don't, so I wanted there to be options for both!
These signs I have packaged up and taken to Top Drawer for purchase from my card rack- that is the other nice thing about these being a nice compact size, they fit nicely on my rack!  I have also put up a custom listing in my Etsy shop so that people can choose their own custom colors, designs, and even text.  Just think about a "Quiet, Baby Sleeping" sign, or even just a simple "Welcome to the Smith's" on a cute laminated sign!  I don't provide the frames with purchase, but they will fit into any standard 4x6 frame, and with purchase I do include 2 Command strips for damage-free mounting to a door or wall.

I'm kind of taking it easy this summer, and not pressuring myself too much to make a lot of new things, but this has been fun!  I have a few other ideas up my sleeve, so when I have a chance to try them out, I'll be posting about them here.  In the meantime, take care, and stay cool!  (Oh my, but it is a HOT summer!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Graduation Season!

I am so pleased to say that my graduation exploding box cards have, well, exploded this year!  I started getting orders in January, and have been getting them pretty consistently since about April.  Now that it's late May and graduation season is upon us, it is getting BUSY!  I am working on my 14th order of this year...that might not seem like a lot to a lot of people, but it's a lot to me!  The best thing is the incredible things that my customers have to say about my product. Just today, I sent photo proofs of a work in progress to a customer, and she responded "WOW!!!  This is just WONDERFUL!! LOVE IT!!!  Thank you so much. My daughter will just LOVE this!!!"    Well, that could not make me happier- I want, above all, for my customers to love what I do for them!

Last time I updated, I mentioned that since I got my Silhouette Cameo, I had made the process of making the graduation exploding boxes much more efficient, so I thought I would share some of the results from that:

I love how the layers now lay exactly diagonal from one another.  Before, the inside layer was only barely offset from the middle layer.  With my Silhouette software, I was able to create cut files to exact dimensions, and experimented until I got it right.  I love the result!  What an improvement- it looks so much better!

You might notice that a couple of these do not have school logos, like I usually include.  That is because for colleges, I will never use a logo if I am not authorized to do so.  I send an email to the college licensing office to ask for permission for all college jobs.  About half of the time, I never even hear back from them.  Sad to say, but they have better things to do than deal with a small request like mine.  I have never had one turn me down- if I do hear back, it is to give permission.  Anyway, two of the above photos show boxes that I had to make without the college logos, due to the fact that the university never responded to my request for permission to use the logo.  On the Sacred Heart one, the customer (the mom of the student) suggested that I just use the heart graphic.  On the one for the University of Illinois, I did actually (finally) hear back from someone, but it was too late- I had already completed the box and shipped it.  In that case, I simply used general graduation graphics found on the internet, and the customer was happy.  I do prefer to use the logos, but I think I am getting better at the ones where it is not possible.

I am so happy that my product has taken off this year- I have actually had to keep it unlisted at times so as not to get too overwhelmed with orders!  Most of all, I am happiest with the feedback from the buyers- I have been blessed with customers who are happy and thankful for what I have created for them, and that is all that a crafter like me can ask for.

In other news, I have transitioned out of my booth at the consignment store Top Drawer, and now just have my card rack there.  It will be interesting to see how it does!  I think I did ok for Mother's Day, so we'll see what happens after this month.  I still think I did the right thing giving up my booth, and will be happy as long as I can sell enough cards to make the rack fee worth it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finally, Some New Stuff!

I am well into my transition from my previous booth at Top Drawer to my scaled-back focus on my crafting, and it is going well!  I have gotten rid of a number of furniture pieces, and this weekend went through my crafting stuff and posted some crafting supplies that I will not need since I am pulling my attention away from the other crafting activities apart from paper crafts.  It feels good- I do wish I had more time to do the other crafts, but for the time being, it will have to wait.

In the meantime, we had our Salem Etsy Team spring sale last weekend, and it was fantastic!  We had the best traffic we've ever had at an event!  I sold a number of cards, and my daughter Meredith sold some things to raise money for her choir trip. Now that that is over, the pressure is off, and I have time to get things organized and plan for the future.  This weekend, I did some cleaning and organizing, and managed to get in some crafting as well.

I have gotten a number of graduation exploding box orders this year- I just completed my 10th since January, which is a record for me!  I'm very happy that they are doing so well.  Since I got my Silhouette Cameo, I have spent some time creating cut files for my box cards, and it has really made things much easier and efficient for me!  I can now cut out the box layers and panels in a fraction of the time it used to take to do it by hand, and they are much more precise and even in size.  It takes a bit of time to set up the print files in the Silhouette Studio software, but once done, it prints and cuts easily and quickly.  Hooray for efficiency!

For our SET spring sale, I made some new products- some cards, as well as these little reusable gift tags/bookmarks. This is something I have played with in the past- in fact, for the holiday sale last year, I made mini-bookmarks for the swag bag contributions, very cute, with paper snowflakes in them.  This time, I made them with pretty washi papers and added on a blank white square to the backs with temporary adhesive.  They can be used as a gift tag, then remove the white square to use a as a bookmark after.  I sold a few at the spring sale, and just today listed some in my Etsy shop.  We'll see how they do- I realize they are kind of different!  I really like them though:

I especially love that bird and foliage paper in the first photo- I have made some cards with that paper, and just love it!

Also just listed a few new cards in my shop:

I got a few new washi papers back in December, so used some in these. I really love that peacock feather pattern paper!  The pink/white quatrefoil is not washi paper, but I really like that pattern- it is geometric without being too blocky and regular, and it looks nice paired with a flower.  I just got an embossing folder with a quatrefoil pattern, so will be experimenting with that soon.

It is nice to be focusing once again on my paper crafts!  Looking forward to doing more.  I recently ordered a bunch of new washi papers from a seller on Etsy, and these are in patterns and colors I have not used before, so should be fun to work with!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Catching Up and Changing Direction (Yet Again)

Wow, I can't believe it's been since Christmas that I last posted!  I guess I have been otherwise occupied.  Family obligations have taken up a lot of my time and focus in the last few months.  My dad passed away in November, and though he didn't want a service, I took my kids to the other side of the country over spring break to visit my step-mom and other family members, sort through photos and other things of my dad's, and spread his ashes in the mountains.  It has been a different, and sometimes difficult, time, and has definitely affected the time I am able to spend on crafting and my Etsy and other craft businesses.

Lately, I have had to reassess my commitments and make some decisions about them, because I have been feeling spread very thin.  I did not do the Jane Austen Faire this year for this reason, and am kind of scrambling to fulfill other commitments.  So, I have made the difficult decision to give up my booth at Top Drawer Upscale Resale and Boutique, as much as I have loved having it.   I am not leaving Top Drawer altogether though- I will be keeping my card rack there, which will only cost me half of what my booth fee has cost.  I have found that I have been spending way more time and effort on the "supplemental" things in my booth than I have on cards, which were the main things I wanted to sell there.  In fact, they are my best selling items there, so removing my focus from them has been a disadvantage all this time.  Making this decision has been very freeing- I feel better than I have in months, because I do not have all the pressure that I have been putting on myself any longer.  I have really enjoyed refinishing furniture and making the other items that I have done, but I simply do not have the time for everything at this stage of my life.  Maybe in a couple of decades when I don't have to work full time and have 2 teenagers to raise/guide!

SO...I am in the process of clearing out my garage of the furniture I had stockpiled to refinish.  I have gotten rid of a number of items already, and it feels great!  That's how I know that I have made the right decision.  In the meantime, I have been working on some new cards, for my card rack at Top Drawer, as well as in preparation of the Salem Etsy Team Spring Sale, which is scheduled for May 2nd.  I don't have much made yet, but hope to crank out lots of Mother's Day cards in the next couple of weeks.  Also, my daughter is still raising money for her choir trip next month, so will be making some items to sell there.  She'll be making some seeded gift tags (gift tags with flower seeds that can be planted to grow flowers), bird seed cakes in fun shapes that can be hung from trees, and pretty clothes pin magnets.  All of the proceeds from those items will go toward her trip to Seattle, which is coming up quickly!!

I have learned a lot in the last few months, not the least of which is what my personal limits are.  There may be things that I want to do, but those must be balanced with what I *need* to do.  It is a delicate balance, and as every working mom knows, is a moving target- no 2 weeks are exactly the same.  While I am sad to have to give up some things for the time being, I feel really good about moving forward in a way that will not create so much pressure on me, and I can enjoy my craft again.  My graduation exploding boxes are currently, well, exploding!  I have already done more orders so far this year than I did all of last year, and the momentum seems to keep building!  It is nice to once again focus on my Etsy shop, since I have had little time for it since having my booth at Top Drawer.  Hopefully the decisions I've made to scale back will benefit every area of my life and business(es).  I will be able to focus on what sells the best at Top Drawer, which is the cards, and my most popular product on Etsy, the exploding box cards.  And not go crazy in the process- it's a win-win!!  I am excited that I have been able to reduce a lot of my physical labor on the exploding box cards by using the Silhouette Cameo, and look forward to making more efficiency changes in the near future.

So- onward! :)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone!  Santa came to town, and look what he brought!

Wishing you good cheer and blessings for the New Year!  I am looking forward to a new year of creating great things, and sharing theme here with you.  Can't wait to start making some new stuff in 2015!