Artist of the Week - The Cuddle Cult
Edited for content and clarity by Shannon Parris
In this week’s Artist of the Week interview, we’re talking to an I Made It! Market artist who hails from Ohio! Our community is mostly local to Pittsburgh, but we welcome artists from other cities and states to apply!
Ashley Ross is the woman behind The Cuddle Cult, based in Lakewood, Ohio. Find her at www.thecuddlecult.com.
Shannon Parris: Hi, Ashley! While we're mostly a Pittsburgh community, we welcome makers from other states to participate! Can you talk a little about what your experience has been like in that regard?
Ashley Ross: I feel very welcomed by the PGH maker community. It's nice to get out of my hometown and make new friends and meet new clients. I have a pretty great following in Pittsburgh, mostly because of IMI and Neighborhood Flea.
SP: Please introduce yourself! Feel free to share any background about your personal life, family, work outside of making, etc.
AR: I'm Ashley Ross, and I am the designer/owner of The Cuddle Cult. I'm also a full time tattoo artist at a shop here in Cleveland and have been tattooing almost 11 years. I'm married with an adorable 4.5 year old boy who loves everything his mommy makes (and regularly adopts them as his own). I spend most of my time at either one job or another, but I do love brunching and spending time out with my friends and family.
SP: Your art makes so much sense in the context of your being a tattoo artist. Do you have an “elevator pitch” for your business that you use to sum it up when people ask what you do?
AR: I just tell people they’re “Pop Culture Inspired Plush Toys.”
SP: Where does "The Cuddle Cult" come from?
AR: Everything about this whole thing was very organic, I think I was stuffing dolls for a show and throwing words out about them, and it just kind of happened. Then, I texted all my family and friends, and threw the name out to them, and that was that.
SP: How long have you been a maker?
AR: I have been a maker all my life, but I didn't start doing markets until right after my son was born.
SP: Have you always made plush toys?
AR: I've only been The Cuddle Cult since October of 2016. Before that I had a crochet business called Crochet Til Death. I made quirky hoods with ears, animal scarves, fun kids hats, and crocheted taxidermy heads.
SP: What surprises you about this kind of business?
AR: I am always surprised at how the public views makers, and I guess it’s on a show by show basis. Some people really understand that we are artists, and this is our job, and you will pay more for something handmade. Some think that we do this for fun, or as a hobby and do not understand why we aren't just selling to buy more supplies, or willing to do work for free or next to nothing. This is a blanket statement for anyone in a creative field. I feel like since people view what we do as "fun," then it cannot be a sustainable job.
I’m surprised at how large the market and handmade community has grown even in the past 5 years as well. There are new markets every year.
SP: What motivates you to continue?
AR: Whenever someone whom I've illustrated shows interest or commends my work, it's a huge push forward. I have at least three celebrities with my work and all have told me that they love them. I also hope to give Neil Gaiman one next week when I go see him speak. He's my favorite author, so I'm hoping he will respond favorably to it.
SP: What is the most challenging part?
AR: I find it challenging when I receive rejections from shows, for whatever reason I have a hard time dealing with the rejection, even if it’s not about my work specifically. I actually have reached out to others in the maker community to ask them how they deal with it. I like to have tools that others might provide to deal with stress and rejection.
SP: I see the growth of the market/handmade community being the result of both increased interested from makers to bring their wares to market and of increased interested in supporting small, local businesses. For the artists' perspective, what made you decide to apply to your first market?
AR: Oh gosh, I wanted a reason to continue crocheting, and now that I think about it, I guess I started at the Cleveland Craft Coalition before I did my first Cleveland Flea. Anyway, I started going to the first Cleveland bazaar when it was the Bizarre Bazaar back in 2004. I always wanted to sell at shows like that but never had anything marketable. I also always wanted to go to the Stitch and Bitch at Capsule, but I was an eastsider and not actually that great of a crocheter at the time, and I was too embarrassed to go. But right after my son was born, I went to a couple of the Cleveland Flea shows when they were still at their first location. I loved it, but I made hats, and it was a summer thing, so I didn't think it was accessible for me to apply. Then that winter, they had a holiday show, so I applied to both the Cleveland Flea and the Cleveland Bazaar and was accepted to the Flea. The rest is history.
I can totally understand why they didn't accept me into the bazaar my first year. My etsy shop was empty and I had like 3 sales. I was not established at all, but the flea was very new then, so they gave me a chance.
SP: How long have you been vending with I Made It! Market specifically?
AR: Only since last February. This past year was my first full year of doing shows.
SP: What was your journey to your first IMI event?
AR: After the holidays, I reached out to vendor friends about what shows to apply for in the new year, and I had made friends with Ashley Aranda of Papyrusaurus, and she is who told me about IMI. It was the first time I had traveled outside of Cleveland as well.
Now, I'm in Pittsburgh once or twice a month, I sell at a shop near Children's Hospital, Songbird Artistry, and my work will soon be available at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I just received my first order from them!
SP: At this point, artists who desire to bring their wares to market for the first time will look to you as a veteran - what advice do you have for these people?
AR: For indoor shows, buy a cart to carry your stuff from you car. They're like $30 at Harbor Freight and worth every penny.
When it comes to displays, lighter is nicer if you can get away with it. I used to have these heavy wooden shelves that I would bring, and they were awesome to look at but took up most of my car and weighed a ton. I’ve switched them all out for grid walls and wire, which doesn't work for everyone but works great for me.
Oh and zip ties, always have zip ties. They're good for everything.
SP: There's definitely a lot of trial and error involved in display! IMI artists do SUCH a good job!
AR: I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s good to only have one or two examples of each piece out at a time - it makes people think that’s all you have left, and they'll be more likely to buy right then.
Doing shows all year vs just a few shows a year is like night and day. My displays for my crocheted stuff was so sad because I didn't want to invest in a display I would maybe use once or twice.
Oh, also do not be afraid of your neighbors - everyone is nice, and if you do shows alone like me, you need to make friends so you can get bathroom breaks.
And always have like 3 card readers, one of them will stop working at least once during the year.
SP: What is your favorite thing about being a part of the I Made It! Market community?
AR: I would say the diversity. I also like the idea of repurposed venues like the vacant retail storefront IMI uses, I know that’s unique to IMI. We don't do stuff like that in Cleveland.
It gives the space new life, and you get to be in areas where there wouldn't normally be a cache of handmade and local items.
SP: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever overheard or funniest interaction you've ever had at a show?
AR: Making what I make, I get a lot of weird questions from people. I wish people would stop asking me to make a Trump doll. It’s the most uncomfortable thing to deal with. I never know why they're asking, supporter or detractor, and I just smile and end up mumbling at them. This happens multiple times at every show.
SP: Do you have anything about yourself or your business that you'd like to add?
AR: No, just that I look forward to seeing everyone at future events and thank you to you and Carrie and everyone at IMI for being awesome!
We can’t wait for Ashley to join us again - in the meantime, you can shop at www.thecuddlecult.com with free shipping on orders $25 and over - use the code IMILOVE. Find her on Instagram @TheCuddleCult, on Facebook, and on Twitter @the_cuddlecult!