Today I'm chatting with Jill and Kayla Haupt, the mother and daughter team behind Under a Tin Roof. I discovered Under a Tin Roof while reading Artful Blogging Magazine; Kayla's article was published in the same issue as mine. Her thoughtful words and unique business sparked my curiosity and I began poking around on their website. It didn't take me long to decide to invite them here for an interview.
ab: Hi, Kayla and Jill, thanks for joining us. Jill, you started your first business back in 1997 (when Kayla was only 2). Your focus then was on painting custom murals. Can you share a bit more about that? How did that business come about? How did you get from there to here and how did those early experiences help shape your business today?
jh: Murals were really popular in the 90s! I painted one for a friend, and it blossomed from there. I ended up getting clients quite often, I loved it because of the freedom it gave me. I was a stay-at-home mom during the day, and when my husband would come home from his job in the evenings, I would travel out and paint. I spent a lot of time in peoples' bathrooms! Ha!! There were lots of landscape scenes and florals. Painting murals led to painting children's furniture. I had a client that asked me to paint some furniture for her child's room to match how I had painted the walls. Eventually a friend brought me to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago so I could see how purchasing worked, and I brought along my portfolio. I met a woman in wholesale who wanted to purchase my hand painted furniture for her store. I was in awe and completely new at how wholesale worked! I signed on, and she was quick to tell me that, "It's a slow business. It takes a really long time for people to get noticed, so don't be upset if you don't get many orders." Before I could take a step, I was flooded with orders. It was too much to handle - my furniture was painted very intricately by hand with floral scenes, moons, each drawer was a different pattern. Very 90s! Instead, I decided to do small shows myself. I could paint what I wanted and when. Kayla remembers going to those quite often! My items evolved over time. I was graphic design major in college; that has really influenced a lot of the personal work that I do, along with package design, which I love! My experiences have helped me to realize that my mistakes in the past were all steps for our business to succeed today. I've also learned that I don't really want to own a brick and mortar shop - not that they aren't great! - but you don't need a physical storefront to make your business successful.
ab: Today your business is designed around the idea of an old-fashioned dry goods store – items made with a fresh take on beauty that is authentic and handmade. How do you decide what to stock in your shop? What has been your favorite product to date? What’s the most challenging part about running a handmade family business?
jh: The entirety of what is for sale in our shop are items that we personally use and love. While that doesn't always sell, we've noticed that people who enjoy the lifestyle we lead on the blog and have similar ideas also enjoy the products we sell!
We want to sell products to others that are useful, pretty, and will last a long time. If we try and like it, then we will see if our customers might be interested! I really love our linen tunic. It's a staple piece in my wardrobe and the kind of clothing that I had always wanted for years but could never find! I am also loving the embroidered embellishments Kayla has been adding to our linen clothing. Really fun! The hardest part thus far has been keeping up with the demand. Our products definitely take time; we continue to try and create items that can be produced a little more quickly, but the best sellers end up being the ones that take the most time. Having a shop run by only two people can be exhausting when it comes to demand! But our customers are so, so nice. We haven't had a complaint yet, and I really appreciate their understanding and patience. When it comes to family, we all know what our individual jobs are and trust each other wholly. It makes the journey easy!
ab: Kayla, in your Artful Blogging article you write about being faced again and again with the admonition, “You can’t do that…” and the fact that you didn’t let those criticisms hold you back in life or business. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling held back by criticism. Whether it’s from family, friends, acquaintances, society in general or our own inner critics we all encounter similar words of warning and insecurity and fear. How and where you find the strength to battle these limitations? Do you have any advice for others who are battling similar situations?
kh: I really love this question, even though I find it difficult to answer. I think overcoming fear is one part logic and one part confidence. I don't want to be the person that says my life was ever difficult growing up, because it really wasn't. I have a lot more to be happy about than to not be. My article for Artful Blogging did cover a small portion of the criticism I've faced throughout my lifetime - I find that I come across my admonition, as you say, quite often. People like to see you fail more than they like to see you succeed - they feel like they're missing out themselves when you take your own rise. And I think I gain my confidence from overcoming their words by being successful, by accomplishing the feats and climbing the mountains they tell me can never be climbed. They're all small steps towards a bigger goal. Then comes the logic. I figure, if I try to go for something someone says I can't do, then at least I'll have tried. Sometimes I do fail, but I feel proud that I tried it anyway.
My advice to someone else would be, if you don't try it, who else will? Right now, I'm struggling with finding the confidence to write about single parenting, something I want to try but am scared of putting out there. But there's this little voice in the back of my mind saying: "If not me, then who?" It's pushing me to try!
ab: One of your main goals is to live a simpler life, to be more self-sufficient and less wasteful. What brought you to a desire for this sort of lifestyle? What was your lifestyle like before you started simplifying? What have been the biggest challenges for you in this transformation?
kh: Before we started simplifying, our life was fairly normal, a typical American family. Growing up, I lived in a large, Victorian home. It was over a hundred years old, beautiful. I loved that house, I still do, but we didn't use much of it. It was filled to the brim with stuff! I had so many toys, piles and piles of toys, clothing that I would wear out and tire of in months, furniture we had accumulated over years of thrifting and hunting. It makes my insides ache thinking about all of the clothing I bought and threw away. Donating is nice, and I'm glad I kept my things nice for that reason, but just the amount of money my parents spent on clothing that I didn't really love... it's sad. We moved across the country in 2013 and decided that we didn't feel like bringing all of our things with us. We purged, gave things to friends and family, had a giant garage sale, donated and moved to our new home with a few pieces of furniture and what was left of our clothing. Then we moved again and did the same thing. It took us moving three times within three years to get rid of our bulk of belongings. Now we only own a couch, two mattresses, a couple of chairs, and a small table to eat at. It's refreshing - it's easy. It takes us under 20 minutes to clean our entire house, which is a small cottage. There's no stress of buying new things. We're minimalists, and we didn't even realize that's what we were doing. We just didn't want to haul all of our furniture anymore!!
The biggest challenge, so far, has been trying not purchase any new things. One of my goals this year is to not buy myself any new clothing or luxury items like unnecessary beauty products or gadgets. So far, so good!
ab: Last year Kayla, you wrote a blog post about finding your beauty and mentioned “teetering back and forth between feelings of empowerment + acceptance along with grief + confusion”. All women struggle with self-image to some degree or another at some point in their lives, no matter their age or background. Jill and Kayla, would you each share your perspectives on how you nourish your self-images and the roles that self-care and self-compassion play in your lives as women, mothers, daughters and as self-employed creative souls?
kh: I definitely still feel this way. Even today, walking up to the mirror and taking a moment to really look, I feel different. It's a daily struggle, and then it's not a struggle at all. The phase of motherhood I'm currently in doesn't really give me a lot of leeway to self nourish. I try to take a bath once or twice a week to just unwind and, in a way, reintroduce myself to my body. It's constantly changing, but I'm grateful for the change... I think my struggle with self image comes more from allowing someone else other than me appreciate all that my body has done and all it has gone through. And I'm not sure I really want someone else to be there to do that. Because I'm currently living through these feelings, it's hard to say how I should nourish myself, but I think that realizing I can accept myself for what I am is a tremendous place to begin.
jh: This question is interesting for me, because I don't find that I'm ever too worried about my appearance when it comes to other people. I accepted my body a long time ago, and I think that Kayla's essay had a lot to do with discovering your shape after birth, after weaning. My husband loves and appreciates what I have. I know that another woman in my time might struggle with accepting age, at least that's what I notice the most. To that, I say just accept it for what it is. Every grey hair or wrinkle is another year for me to be here. I'm thankful for that!
ab: Gardening with a particular interest in herbs and herbalism has become a main focus for you, Kayla. You write about finding solace in tending your plants and how your family turns to you for herbal remedies. And yet, you are relatively new to it. How did you come to be interested in gardening and herbs? Can you share a bit about the kitchen garden you’re planning for this year?
kh: Yes! I am completely new to herbs and herbalism. Well, I suppose it's been almost a year of my interest - wow that went by fast! My interest, I suppose, initially came from reading Diana Gabaldon's novel Outlander. One of the first things you learn about the main character, Claire, is her newly found passions of herbs for healing. It was a far off interest for me! I had never grown plants before, unless you counted elementary school group projects, and I didn't know a thing about them nor did I really have any passion for them. When we moved to our rural community in Iowa, my perspective changed. I was intrigued by the Amish's way of living; they had lavish, immaculate gardens with gorgeous produce and bright, colorful flowers lining the outsides. I wanted to know more about them! I was inspired by the colors and the simple beauty of a kitchen garden. I loved driving down the backroads and stopping at their vegetable carts to purchase an eggplant or a ripe, heirloom tomato. I had never cooked with so many vegetables before!
It was around a year after living in Iowa that I broke off a new relationship, with a broken heart read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and decided that I wanted to buy some small, clay pots and plant some herbs from seeds. I needed to heal. When I brought them home, I immediately started reading all I could about what the herbs did, what properties they held, their history. It was fascinating! I mean, these herbs had been used for thousands of years to heal and no one even looked at them anymore - at least no one I knew! I started writing blogs on them, and it just clicked. I'm really excited to plant outside this year - my indoor herb garden started to become too much to handle. I was growing over 20 different herbs without anymore room to put them! I'm hoping to plant vegetables, herbs, and we already have some fruit trees and bushes planted. It will be exciting to share our journey!
ab: Under a Tin Roof has been seeing so many successes during its short time in existence (Congratulations!!). What’s your greatest desire and biggest goal for your company? What’s next on the horizon for you?
kh: Thank you so much! It's been a really wonderful experience so far. I am just so grateful for every opportunity. My biggest desire in this business would be to become comfortably self-sufficient. So far, we're still struggling. Our vision for the business has definitely changed. We had originally wanted the main focus to be handmade items, and now it's looking like we're more interested in writing the blog, teaching classes, and having e-courses available on our website. My dream is to write books on sustainable living and gardening, maybe a cookbook. I want our blog to come to life! It's a dream that I can see in the far distance.
Thank you, Jill and Kayla, for sharing your story with us today!
Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed today's interview. You can find out more and connect with Jill and Kayla:
On their website
On their blog
Missed any of my past Artist Interviews? You can catch up here.
*Photos in this post © Under a Tin Roof. Used with permission.