For Linda Hsiao, building off of an industrial design background has launched an entire business revolving around innovating on the objects that people interact with on a daily basis. Read her story about Knotwork LA below.
Q&A with Linda Hsiao, owner and creator of Knotwork LA
This interview has been gently edited for length and clarity.
GoDaddy: Tell us a bit about how Knotwork LA came to be.
Linda Hsiao: Originally, Knotwork was kind of a pet project that my now-husband, Kagan, and I had started and we decided that it wasn't part of our regular work, but it should never feel like work because all of the products that came from it were things that we were passionate about.
It was coined as "not work", using the spelling K-N-O-T.
On the weekends, my husband and I would work together in the woodshop, making spoons and utensils on the side. But it actually ended up truly becoming Knotwork when we made a baby rattle together on the side. We decided that it wasn't part of our regular work, and it should never feel like work because all of the products that resulted from our collaboration in the woodshop were things that we were passionate about.
From there, we developed classes to teach people how to make these objects themselves. Although the business has become much more of my ceramics, Knotwork still doesn't feel like work. I hope that it never will.
GD: What specifically drew you to collaborative creative projects?
LH: When we initially made the baby rattle, we realized that we wanted to really get that design honed in and sell it. But at the same time, we were a young couple and we didn't want to start a whole entire collection of baby products.
I had already been doing ceramics on my own for a while, taking community college classes and being in different studios, to get my hands working on a real product. Because so much of my work was on the computer at the time, ceramics was my outlet to just be creative with no restrictions. And when we started selling the baby rattle, I started thinking about the products that I made in ceramics very differently.
I started thinking about the things that I wanted to produce and replicate and create into actual objects for people's homes. And so that just started taking on its own life. At some point, like maybe two years into the company, the ceramics have completely taken over. The baby rattle is still going strong, but the ceramics have definitely had a life of their own.
GD: How did you initially promote your products?
LH: A large part of it was doing craft shows and the timing couldn't have been better. Instagram was really, really important because I'm not really somebody that speaks about my product so much, but I like showing people images of them since everything's so visual. I was able to use Instagram as a tool and then later went on to build a website.
I was able to show enough of the outside world what I was doing without needing to say much. But the key part of locally being able to go to small craft events and getting feedback from customers, feedback from the public, and just also seeing how things did was a great way to grow what we were doing and what I was trying to do myself.
GD: How else has technology influenced your business?
LH: It has helped me reach out to customers directly. When I was doing wholesale primarily I could rely on those clients to market me within their networks, but now that I am primarily direct sales I'm having to reach new customers and keep my existing customers engaged.
GD: What does the day-to-day for your business look like?
LH: It has changed so much this past year. With our son Saben home for much of it and me being pregnant again, some days I have been lucky to get an hour to myself in the studio. But more recently we have settled into a rhythm where we get up and eat breakfast all together, Kagen takes Saben to daycare and I work in the studio until it's time to pick him up in the early afternoon. Then I try to spend some good time with him before dinner. Between Saben and the new one who is very much making her presence known, I have never had less time to devote to work.
Right now my studio is split between one the master bedroom of the house and the garage so there is not much separation as there was in the old place when it was in my backyard but it has been nice having a bathroom so close!
GD: Do you have any plans to expand your business?
LH: I'm not sure. I've thought about that. I've thought about expansion quite a bit. And I think there are two ways to go. Either I could make my studio grow into a much larger entity and then need to hire maybe another three, four people, or I figure out a way to keep it small and keep it at home, but still just taking on as much work as I can handle.
Right now, I'm hoping to keep my studio small, but do as much direct selling as I can. I'd like to make efforts to directly reach more customers next year and be able to work at home and also be a mom at the same time. It's that weird balance of being small but big.
GD: Do you have a favorite product that you make?
LH: The baby rattle is still probably the most special thing we could make out of this small piece of wood. And it's difficult to make.
Even though Kagan takes on most of the production, every time you see a young baby or infant hold onto it, you know that it's a treasure that they'll hopefully be able to pass on to their next sibling.
It's such an heirloom piece that any other designs out of wood have just kind of fallen away in our minds.
GD: What has been your biggest business challenge?
LH: We have been so fortunate, and yet this last year has still been a huge challenge. Like most people, we lost our childcare at the beginning of the Pandemic. We were also in the process of moving and re-setting up my studio. Lots of things that we thought would be done quickly are still only part way completed (Including a bathroom remodel that is going on a year and a half and is still not finished, and my studio is not fully set up yet let alone the addition/expansion that we had planned) everything has taken so much longer than anticipated. My wholesale accounts were hurting and many were forced to cancel or delay orders. I in turn pivoted to focus on direct sale which helped me survive financially and emotionally. It was such an unexpected joy to hear encouragement directly from my customers in the middle of a really scary time.
GD: How do you measure success?
LH: Although the business has become much more of my ceramics lately, Knotwork still doesn't feel like work every day, and I hope that it never will. If you could wake up every morning and just be happy that you get to go to work, I think that's a pretty good way of measuring success, I'd say.