Making the Maker, an Interview with Carlee Caster

This is a very special Making the Maker today! Not only do we have an incredible interview from Carlee Caster of Little Pine Outfitters, but we are also hosting our very first Maker's Monday at our studio this morning!! We decided to start a weekly get together with our lady friends who love to make to enjoy some yummy treats and chat away about anything and everything. We miss having those mornings where people used to stop over for coffee, and why not make a few new friends, too? If you're in the Kalona and Iowa City area, feel free to come stop on by the studio between nine and noon to hang out with us! We love meeting new people who love to make!! Check back this afternoon for photos from our first gathering.
But back to the important things: Little Pine Outfitters! I fell in love with this brand several months ago after finding Carlee on Instagram. Her tiny goods for babes make my heart soar, and after receiving our pair of moccasins, I was blown away even further! The quality is just... I am making that "mmmm" yummy sound (; Carlee grew up in the Tacoma area and moved to Oregon eight years ago; she now lives in Bend with her husband, Garret. 

Kayla:  Tell me about yourself! Do you have any hobbies or other jobs?
Carlee:  We have a dog, Cooper, and my horse, Tarrah, and you can usually find me at the barn in my spare time riding or showing! We also just bought a house and we’ve been doing small renovations and LOTS of yard work in between all the lake days and hiking this summer! 

Kayla:  Can you tell me more about showing and caring for your horse? That's so cool!
Carlee:  Showing is relatively new to me, I had always wanted a horse and to show since I was a little girl. Now at 29, I’m finally able to break into the show scene! I have been riding since I was 7, my parents bought my sister and me my first horse when I was 12, and I’ve owned them ever since. Tarrah, the horse I have now, is my third horse and I’ve had her for 10 years. People are always surprised to learn I have a horse or that it’s a passion of mine, but it is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences my parents could have ever let me have. People often don’t see the time and dedication it takes to have a horse, from feeding to riding, to daily and monthly maintenance like having shoes put on her hooves, but it’s not just a hobby like most think! I ride 6 days a week and also participate in weekend clinics when time and transportation allows, and also do small monthly shows with my group. Tarrah and I have only done 3 shows, so we’re still a little green in our skills, but it’s a great way to get her out and experience new things. We participate in stock horse classes at our shows, which are classes that apply skills of ranch horses. There’s a cow/horse class where we even get to work a cow - and every time we go in the arena she’s either scared or excited! I never know what I’m going to get that day! haha!

Kayla:  How did your business begin?
Carlee:  My business began back in 2011, when I opened my first Etsy shop, Little Pine Knitting Co. I had originally started out selling adult knits (hats, scarves) and then in early 2015 I made my first bonnet for a friend who was having a little girl, and it all snowballed from there. I also started making leather moccasins at that point, too, and found my love for baby accessories and dedicated my time and efforts solely to creating things for little ones.

Kayla:  Why do you make handmade?
Carlee:  I really enjoy creating things! The feeling I get after creating a new bonnet or moccasin design and then seeing it worn by a baby is so wonderful. I pour endless amounts of time into my work, and I find it so satisfying to know that other people appreciate it and support this venture. Handmade items are so much more sentimental and unique, as well - there’s one person or a few people behind that product, rather than a warehouse full of mass-produced items.

Kayla:  What inspires your products/business/designs?
Carlee:  So many things! I find a lot of inspiration for my bonnets just based on the color of the yarn; certain colors can just design themselves. I also look to vintage designs, I feel like they have such a classic look that can outlast any trend. I can see something and tweak it to make it my own and more representing of my style and creativity. When it comes to moccasins, I mainly try to keep it simple and unisex, usually looking to Pinterest for shoes that I personally think are cute, and then try to translate that over to a moccasin.

Kayla:  What is your design process?
Carlee:  For bonnets, I’m usually doing test swatches of my stitch patterns, and then what a lot of people don’t know is that there’s quite a bit of math that goes into it! Lots of calculating to figure out measurements, because no two stitches will produce the same measurements for my bonnet sizes! It usually requires a lot of trial and error, I’m usually knitting and then tearing stitches out to make sure I get it just right. Once I get my measurements, I knit a sample bonnet - sometimes I like it, sometimes I change a few things. I try to create 1-2 bonnets for each season, which can be hard! Moccasins can be a little more unforgiving though! Leather is tough to work with in the sense that once you punch a hole in it with your needle, it’s there forever, so I try to cut and sew with that in mind! The hides I use are pricey, so I try to waste as little as possible. I usually make one pair in a smaller size to test out the design, then send it to a few people for opinions, and then it’s either good to go in the shop or I add/change anything that I don’t like. 

Kayla:  What is your day-to-day life like?
Carlee:  A day in my life usually goes like this: I wake up around 7, post to Instagram to update followers on any new happenings, then I work on bonnets for a couple hours while I eat breakfast and cuddle with Coop. Then, I head out to the barn mid-morning to ride and spend time with my horse, and once I’m done there I head back home and work on bonnets and moccasins for the remainder of the afternoon. My husband and I try to go for a walk in the evening or out with friends to unwind on his days off, and when he’s working I usually work long days. I probably spend about 10-12 hours a day working when he’s gone, just so I can stay on top of my orders.

Kayla:  How has working through Instagram changed your business? Has it helped it to grow?
Carlee:  Working through Instagram has been amazing! I remember when I first opened my account and how surprised I was when I got my first 100 followers! And now I’m close to 10,000! Blows me away that all these people like my stuff and want to follow along! But it’s where I generate most of my business, and it’s the easiest way to get your shop seen, I think. I post all shop updates there so it keeps all my customers up to date on new products and changes and sales when they happen. I definitely don’t think I would have the customers I do without Instagram; it really is a great tool for all shops.

Kayla:  What opportunities has making by hand opened for you?
Carlee:  t’s opened up this whole new network of friends for me! It’s so funny and coincidental the connections you can make through just making something. I have other small business friends that I like to collaborate with and get opinions from, it’s nice to have that network to fall back on and seek advice from. 

 Kayla:  Do you have any regrets or have you made any mistakes when it comes to running a small business?
Carlee:  I wouldn’t really consider anything a mistake, everything has really been a great learning experience; whether I decide to do things differently the next time in a specific situation or not. I’m in control of everything that happens with my business, and I love that I have that control, so ultimately I feel like I’m making good decisions for myself and where I want my business to go in the future. If I were to have any regrets, it would be that I would have wanted to be more confident in myself, my skills, and my product in the past, but I feel pretty happy and secure with where I’m at. I like the pace at which I’m growing, nothing feels overwhelming at this point!

Kayla:  What is the hardest part about running a small, handmade business?
Carlee:  One of the hardest parts for me was finding the confidence to reach out to others and network. I was so scared of rejection from other small brands and influencers on social media, but once I started talking to people, I realized it’s not that bad! I had to find this confidence in myself and what I was trying to achieve, and once you have a few solid supporters, it really is a piece of cake. There have been a few instances that have brought me back to those early days where I didn’t have that confidence, it just sucked the wind right out of my sails; especially during a really great time in my business growth, but the best thing you can do for yourself is focus on what you’re doing and not worry about whatever it is that’s trying to creep into the back of your mind and sabotage you. 

Thank you for that awesome, in-depth interview, Carlee! Aren't her products amazing? One of each, please!! I loved reading all about Carlee's business and lifestyle. I'll say it again, every single one of these makers interviews teaches me something new, and I instantly want to go to my worktable and get to creating!! If you want to read more about Carlee and shop her adorable baby items click here. Follow along on her Instagram account (@littlepineoutfitters) for any new product releases, updates, and promotions!

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xoxo Kayla