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Fox Valley crafters selling their wares to the world

Nikki Barrows Oswego will be designing jewelry for wives stars TV show 'Duck Dynasty.'  |  Sun-Times Medifile

Nikki Barrows of Oswego will be designing jewelry for the wives of the stars of the TV show "Duck Dynasty." | Sun-Times Media file

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Valley Crafters

Dream N Color, by Nikki Barrow of Oswego

Barrow is an independent designer specializing in boutique jewelry and accessories, children’s artwork, portable murals and custom room decor.

Tin Tree Gifts, by Ingrid Johnson of Aurora

Johnson makes personalized kitchenware, dinnerware, cell phone cases and gifts for children, and for all occasions.

Isette, by Jennifer Putzier of Oswego

Putzier makes jewelry inspired by the past, but created with modern technology. Her laser-cut jewelry is one-of-a-kind.

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:08AM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year... and, if you’re Ingrid Johnson, it’s also the most hectic. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Johnson and hoards of other local crafters are working overtime this holiday season, taking their at-home businesses to new heights online.

Just over a year ago, the Aurora woman left her job as a teacher to stay home with her own children.

The time at home afforded her the opportunity to turn a hobby into a bustling business venture.

Now, instead of taking holiday break, she’s having a holiday break-down, as she rushes out orders for her personalized plates and other creations via her online shop Tin Tree Gifts.

Customers worldwide

This driven mom is just one of MANY local entrepreneurs who have turned their finesse for crafting into profitable businesses, thanks to Etsy is an online website that allows local crafters to forgo the physical craft show world, and peddle their creations in online shops to audiences around the world.

Orders taken by Oswego mom and shop owner Nikki Barrow, for instance, have been sent to Jerusalem and Rio de Janeiro.

“It just blows my mind,” Barrow said of the boutique jewelry and custom room decor business she’s grown over the last six years thanks the Etsy platform.

The former fortune 500 company recruiter turned in her heels and pants suits for life as a stay at home-mom after her daughters were born. Online, she found a world filled with artistic women like herself, who were aching to share their creations with the world.

“This allows me to do the mom thing, and still have my thing, too. To be able to stay at home and have that? Wow,” Barrow said. “I’m so lucky.”

Cost savings

But, it’s not just for the stay-at-homers. Jennifer Putzier, who works full-time as the curator of the David L. Pierce Art and History Center in Aurora, joined Etsy in 2005, just two months after the site launched. Since then, her business has evolved from a beaded jewelry shop to a branded store of custom, laser-cut jewelry.

“Etsy has really helped me grow my business. My jewelry is in shops all around the nation and in Canada. I don’t have to have a brick-and-mortar business to have a business,” she said.

Instead of paying upward of $500 to rent a booth at a big show, Putzier pays just 20 cents to post an item on Etsy. The site takes 3.5 percent of her sale, and by the time she’s hit with Paypal deductions, she gives up about 10 percent of her profit.

“It really is the cheapest way to go,” she said. “It’s just one of those things you’ve got to take into account with running a handmade business.”

Being able to show and sell online has also taken Putzier to a whole new level of success. Overhead costs are kept low, and her brand reaches a much wider audience. As a result, her business has been catapulted into success.

“It’s really crazy right now. Like a three-ring circus,” she said of the holiday season when orders easily double.

After working a full shift at the downtown Aurora Art and History Center, Putzier heads home to spend at least four hours making jewelry and preparing orders.

“I think I’m a harder task master than an actual boss would be,” she said. “I just like the idea of starting a business and making it grow. I have that mentality, and I know the effort it takes.”

A family operation

Johnson is quickly learning that lesson. A year ago, she began making personalized plates and platters to sell in her online store. When that took off, she moved on to creating cookie jars, cutting boards and cell phone cases.

“We’ve had so much success with it, I’m really grateful for what it has become,” she said. “This has provided for me to be able to stay at home with the kids... The cost of day care was outrageous. I couldn’t do it on a teacher’s salary.”

Now, the kids get to ride along to the post office with mom as she sends her wares across the country and world — including Hong Kong and Australia.

“When I first opened, I didn’t have any networks or groups. When I started forming those, that’s when business really took off,” she said. “It helps so much to help each other, to promote each other and share products.”

Once the kids are in bed, Johnson and her husband, Chad, work until midnight or 1 a.m. creating products in their basement — which is half dedicated to the kids, and half dedicated to their craft.

“My parents come over during the day to help out with the kids while I e-mail and proof. Then, we make the products at night, and the kids help me ship them out in the morning,” Johnson said.

“A year ago, I couldn’t imagine I’d be where I am. I’m excited to see what happens next. Even if we stay where we’re at, I’m happy and content with what we’re doing.”

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