On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast, we’re talking about craft fairs and plush taxidermy with my guest Jen Gubicza.
Jen is the designer and maker behind the handmade brand Zooguu. She graduated with a BFA in graphic design from Massachusetts Institute College of Art in 2001 and worked as a Graphic Designer and Creative Director at Big Blue Dot and the Boston Children’s Museum. In 2004, Jen started designing and sewing her own creatures as a hobby to get back to the enjoyment she feels when making things by hand vs. mainly on a computer. With the evolution of online selling tools like Etsy & the growth of the Maker movement, Jen made the decision to go full-time with Zooguu in 2008.
Together with her husband Brian, who is an illustrator, Jen sells her work at fine art + craft shows, conventions, online, and in small shops throughout the United States. Jen has also contributed soft sculpture to gallery shows, designed and produced custom toys and sculptures for corporate clients, and created the Lockheed puppet for the X-Men New Mutants film. The Zooguu Studio is a 1200 sq. ft. space located on the island of Nahant, MA.
This episode is sponsored by Craftsy.
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A few of Jen’s plush taxidermy.
I was lucky enough to visit Jen in person in her studio in beautiful Nahant, Massachusetts to record this interview! Jen’s studio is in the basement of an older school building and it’s huge and filled with fabric, her handmade plush, and collected treasures. It was August and had some ice coffee and scones together while we were talking.
Jen talks about her childhood, her college experience, and her first jobs. She explains that she began making plush for herself and for friends and started selling products on Etsy because Etsy seemed to make it so easy to start a business. Over time, her brand evolved and she renamed it from The Sweetest Pea to Zooguu and she explains the reasoning behind that change.
Jen’s studio in Nahan, Massachusetts in the basement of an old school building that is now a community center.
Have you ever been curious about the very earliest days of Etsy? Jen was friends with the Etsy founding team and in this interview, she talks about what the vibe was like in those early days. She participated in an accelerator that founder Rob Kalin funded in New York City, moving there for two years to be part of that studio space.
Jen is especially known for creating amazing plush taxidermy (one of her dragons is hanging in my daughter’s bedroom). She has some really interesting perspectives on why taxidermy is a sort of magical product that appeals to all ages and aesthetics. If you’re interested in learning more about product/market fit, her thoughts on this topic are very insightful.
Plush taxidermy of every variety! By Zooguu.
Jen has been a very active sellers at indie craft fairs for many years. She shares why she enjoys vending at these shows and how to really make the most of the experience. We also talk about her decision to continue to pursue production work, rather than create patterns to sell.
More recently, Jen has been exploring stop-motion animation and children’s book illustraitonand I got to see a preview of some of the wonderful characters she’s working on. She talks about the need to continue to challenge yourself as an artist and learn new things in order to remain excited and motivated to continue with your handmade business.
And, of course, I ask Jen to recommend great stuff she’s enjoying right now. Jen recommends: