• Chad

Interview with Amarin Pokrivnak of mAKeable

Our next interview is with Amarin from mAKeable! We talked about how she got started, the pitfalls of cutting boards, and more. Without further ado...

Just start with introducing yourself and just telling us a little bit about mAKeable.

AMARIN POKRIVNAK: So my name is Amarin Pokrivnak. And I started mAKeable, I think, in 2016. It's kind of a blur. I started really doing it, I guess, in June after I left my full-time job. So I started it because I needed stuff for my wedding, and I was tired of paying an arm and a leg on Etsy. And then, I just did little craft fairs here and there. And now, it's like everyone wants personalized things, and it's awesome. *laughs* Yeah, yeah. Been blowing up, I'm sure. AMARIN: Yeah. So I have a bachelor's degree in Business Management. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I'm managing my own business, so I guess it works. Yeah. Well, it seems like that was the perfect kind of transition because you were able to take that knowledge. AMARIN: Yeah. Entrepreneurial. Yeah, it's a good thing. Right on. That's awesome. And so, starting out, did it take a little while for things to get rolling? AMARIN: Yeah, it definitely did. I had a terrible logo before too. So I don't think that that helped. I'm on all these boutique wholesale groups. So I found this girl who is like, "I need practice. I'll do it for 20 bucks." I'm like, "Sweet." *laughs* I'd found another local person and I was happy to support her, but she wanted about $700 just for a mockup. I'm like, "I don't know if I can do that." *laughs* Right, yeah. When you're starting out especially, that's a lot. AMARIN: Yeah. Maybe when I'm big one day, but not right now. Yeah, for sure. These days you make a lot of different things but when you were first getting started, what products did you work with?

AMARIN: I think more apparel, t-shirts, mugs because that's kind of what I needed for my wedding stuff. So, now, I do literally like a hodgepodge of stuff. I still do apparel and drinkware. I do cutting boards, wood signs. I make a lot of my daughter's clothes actually. It's kind of funny. People will ask me "Where did you get that?" "Oh, I made that." That's cool. Are you finding that that's becoming more of a thing now too? AMARIN: I feel like it is, yeah. I try to wear my own stuff to shows. It just depends on the day and how cold it is. I tailor it to what time of year it is too. That makes sense. AMARIN: Yeah. I bring a lot of, I guess, gag gifts, stocking stuffers, little toilet papers with cute sayings on them, little cute things for kids like magic reindeer food. And so, it's not just vinyl work anymore. It's a hodgepodge of things. Cool. Do you have something that you enjoy making the most? AMARIN: Probably the cutting boards, but I don't feel like they're the biggest seller. I don't know why. It's just it's hard to display them and so some people don't really know what they are when they come up to my booths. I got to figure that out. *laughs* I have a lot of fun with those. Very cool. What about them specifically? AMARIN: They're a unique gift for people for wedding gifts, for housewarming gifts. Christmas gifts because I can personalize them and put the family name, or whatever. Personalized things are what I like the most. I do a family tree thing in a float frame and that one is pretty fun to do too. Awesome. Do you find with something like that that people, if they get them, they don't want to use them because they look so cool? AMARIN: Yes, definitely. *laughs* Yes. And my husband is the same way. He's like, "Why do you make all these things, and we don't use them?"

*laughs* That's funny. And so, you were mentioning how you'd gotten your degree, and you weren't sure exactly what you wanted to do. So, starting this, you didn't go into it wanting to start a business yet. AMARIN: No, no. It was something that just sort of developed over time? AMARIN: Yes. So I was at a nonprofit for eight years, and I was the program manager there. I had planned on staying there until I graduated. And then, I graduated, and I was still there. I was like, "I'm not digging this." Wasn't feeling fulfilled? AMARIN: Yeah. I enjoyed the program, and what I got volunteers to do for kids. I mean, it's financial literacy and entrepreneurship. So it's kind of the same area, I guess, but I just was -- nonprofit, you're like maxed out in what you can make, and I was done. So last month was the first month that I was able to pay bills just from my craft. That's awesome. That's a really good feeling. AMARIN: I know. And it's kind of weird because I'm like, "How did I do that? I have no idea." *laughs* But I did. That's great. And so, what was the ultimate -- you graduated, but that wasn't the ultimate catalyst. When did you hit the point where you were ready to go all in? AMARIN: I was kind of already doing it on the side. But I'm very -- I try to be active on social media. For example, the Bear Box, I'm like, "Hey, I do these things. I do koozies all the time." I was thinking it was something small enough to fit in a box. After that, I got a lot of huge orders. And it's like no one even really knows yet because that box hasn't come out yet. That was a stepping stone for big orders after that. So that was awesome. It also helps that my parents own Main Event Catering too. So we kind of know all the same people. Oh nice. I didn't know that. AMARIN: So that's how I know LeeAnna. Gotcha. Right on. That's awesome. Small world. AMARIN: Small big town.

Yeah, exactly. Is there anything that you've had ideas for, that you've wanted to create, but you haven't had the chance yet? AMARIN: Yes. One day, I want to have a storefront, a whimsical gift boutique or something like that. My house is just too small. *laughs* Yeah, the more stuff you make, it's hard to find a place to store it. AMARIN: Yes. My poor husband, he's like, "You have so much stuff. You need to sell it." "Oh yeah, sorry." *laughs* I feel like Alaskans are really big on supporting local people. I mean, that was what was hardest, I think, is at the beginning, my friends were still ordering their stuff -- if they needed a custom shirt, they were ordering it from like a big box person even when I would tag them. And it's just frustrating. I try to support everyone, so that they'll remember, "I can do your shirts next time, or mugs, or whatever you need." I know a chiropractor that's having me do some acrylic sign stuff for her office. You just got to show me a picture, and I'll run with it. Sure. It's cool that you're able to work with more businesses too. It's not just, "Oh, hey, I want this shirt for myself or whatever." It's businesses making stuff for their office. That's pretty awesome. AMARIN: My other part-time thing right now is I'm at a business consulting place called The Business Boutique. That's helped connect me with a lot of people in the business community. So I just want to tap into other areas. I feel like this new job will be a good avenue for that. Oh yeah, totally. Is that what you found so far, that's it's helped with networking?

AMARIN: Yeah, she already wants me to -- I'm working on redoing the office right now. So she'll pay me to do vinyl work for the wall or whatever. I'm going to get to do our apparel so that we have matching things to wear when we're out. It also means that I can stay home with my daughter. That is the biggest reason I left my job was I'm not paying for daycare. I don't want to work and then have to turn around give all that money to a daycare. Yeah, it's expensive. AMARIN: Yeah. So I get to be home with her, and I can take her to my other job. The owner has four-year-old twins. Oh nice. So that works out. As far as your name, I really like how you did that, with the capital letters. AMARIN: It took me a really a long time to find a word that had AK. Yeah. Was it always mAKeable from the jump, or was that something you got to over time? AMARIN: It was always mAKeable because I didn't want to start anything until I had the name. And looking back, I'm like, "Is mAKeable a stupid name?" But no, because it's all-encompassing. So mAKeable. *laughs* There was a lot of Google searching. "Words that have AK in it that are crafty." *laughs* That's cool. I've found that usually when you're searching for something like that, you'll be searching, searching, searching, and then when you find the what you're looking for, it's a bit of a light bulb moment. AMARIN: I know. And it just stuck with me. Everything that -- it's like a whole day at my other job that we were -- she was very gung-ho about helping me too. That's awesome. It helps to have that outside perspective sometimes. AMARIN: Yeah. She's like, "Oh no, that's a great one." "You like this too, right?" Yeah, very cool. So really appreciate the koozies. Thanks for making those. What is your process when you start working on something? And I'm sure it probably differs between items but just your general process.

AMARIN: In my garage, I have a little work area. So if it requires something to be precisely cut, I have a little die cutting machine and I cut everything. I can do stencils that way too. That's how I do my wood signs. And if it's apparel, I have -- so, for the koozies, that counts as apparel. I have a big heat press in my garage. And it makes my garage like a million degrees. *laughs* I'll just line everything up and press it. For bigger orders, sometimes, I outsource it, but it depends because shipping stuff up here is ridiculous. Yeah, that's for sure. It's because we're "international." AMARIN: I know. What the heck? Half the time places won't ship up here. And that's a big problem for me because I feel like I'm shorting myself sometimes. But I'll look at other businesses here, and I'm like $45 for a T-shirt? People are complaining about my $18 shirt. So I have to just make sure. That's, I think, the hardest thing is pricing because I want people to buy my stuff because it's affordable. I'm not trying to rip anyone off, but I definitely need to make a profit. The sweet spot, the middle ground. Makes sense. As far as shows and stuff like that, do you have the ones that you've been doing every year since you started? What are good places where people can find you? AMARIN: I just did the Mears Middle School Bazaar last week. And that was my first time there, but I'm doing that every year because I did really well. Others, I'm not going to go back because you can tell, there's just not a lot of foot traffic. So I try to do the bigger ones but those also cost a lot more. There was one that I was doing every year from the beginning, but they're actually not having one this year. That works out though because I was told about a different one that's on the same day, which has a lot more foot traffic. And the tough thing is there's a lot of people that do vinyl work and have a lot of the same stuff as me at these booths. And so I've been trying to branch out into some other things. I'm trying to get away from vinyl and just do screen printing type stuff where I have a special printer and it's a whole different process, I need special material shirts. But it also means it's going to be better quality because vinyl, you can put it in the dryer, and it will be ruined. People don't listen to you when you tell them not to dry it. They're like, "My shirt is ruined." I'm like, "Well, did you dry it? I told you not to dry it." I feel like moving away from vinyl will be a good thing. At least for apparel and the koozies. For the koozies, I've been doing the special sublimation type ink instead. And is that something you've discovered over time?

AMARIN: Yeah, definitely. And it's not cost-effective because when you cut the vinyl, I mean, half the time, if it doesn't cut right or if you pull it apart, there's just so much room for error that I just got so frustrated with it. Totally. Once something like that happens, is it still salvageable in some way? AMARIN: No. And for the longest time, probably the first year, I wasted so much vinyl just learning how to use my machine. I don't want to give people something that's going to fall apart. I always tell people, if something goes wrong with -- the one thing I always have issues with is these water bottles that I have. I think it's because people put them in the dishwasher. It gets ruined in the dishwasher. So I'm trying to find a way to get around that. Yeah. Not easy to do sometimes. Let's do a little bit a different kind of question, something that's not business or Bear Box related so that those reading this can learn a bit more about you. What's your favorite movie? AMARIN: Probably Where the Heart Is. Nice. What is it about it that makes it your favorite? AMARIN: I don't know. It's a very sad story, but it's a good story. I don't know why that's been my favorite. I watched it when I was little and it's always on Lifetime. It's one of those that I watch on repeat. Right on. Sometimes you just have to have that balance with the happy and sad moments. As far as the Bear Box, what did you think when you first heard about it? AMARIN: I remember bothering LeeAnna a lot about it. Like, "Hey, these koozies would be great." *laughs* What was it specifically that made you want to be in it, besides just that connection? AMARIN: When she said she wanted Alaskan business owners. I was like, "This is a great opportunity because word of mouth can only get me so far." So if people actually get a physical product, I knew that would help. Also, I'm all about local. Even when I go to Seattle, I try not to go to -- Seattle's my place. That's why I refer to Seattle a lot. But I try to not go to the big box places. I always go to local bakeries and places like that. I feel like you're helping people more that way. Yeah, for sure. There's always those big stores that are the tourist stores. If you're visiting a place and looking for things to bring home, all the stuff you find are sort of just the touristy sort of things, and not handcrafted and authentic. AMARIN: Right. I'll pay a few extra dollars for something that's good. Definitely. Yeah, a big part with us doing this is the connection side of it and the Facebook group. Seeing people ask questions, and just seeing people find out more about details and background about some of our local businesses. When we put you in this box, we want people to learn more about you. The products are great and cool. We also want that connection side of it, that relationship side of it. That's been a pretty big thing for us.

AMARIN: So how many people do you have in each box or how many businesses? We have it as four to six. Four to six is what we shoot for. Our first box had five. Your box will have seven actually. AMARIN: Wow. Yeah, LeeAnna had told us about needing an artist in Fairbanks. And my husband has a really good friend up there. He's super good. He can paint something really fast. I'm like, "How do you do that?" But he does prints and little things. It's kind of similar to me, like a hodgepodge. *laughs* So I tagged him and I hope he responds because he's got some good stuff. He doesn't do it as an official business. He just does it for fun. Gotcha. That brings to mind, you mentioned earlier about wanting a storefront and all that. So the plan is definitely to get things as big as you can? AMARIN: I hope so, yes. Also, I want my daughter to see that you don't have to go to college if you don't want to. If you just want to start a business, you can. You just got to know what you're doing. Ask for help. Network and market yourself. There's a lot of resources too to learn how to do things. AMARIN: Yeah. At my new job, I'm the training and testing coordinator. So what I do is I help business owners if they need to be certified at something or learn how to use something like QuickBooks. You help them bridge that gap. AMARIN: Yeah. We have classes. We offer free things but most of our things are paid. We work with you if you need help paying, that sort of thing. I like it. It ties both of my worlds together. That's awesome. I imagine that makes things a little easier in a way, especially when you have to wear all the hats. AMARIN: Yes. This is why I'm excited. The second she takes her first step, which should be any day. I'm going to teach her. "Can you help me?" And I need to have an assembly line of how we do stuff. Yeah. I'm sure she's going to be super excited about it just watching her right now. AMARIN: The other day, she pulled my vinyl out that I had organized. I sent a picture to my family. They said, "She just wants to help," *laughs* It has to start somewhere I guess! Is there wisdom or anything else that you'd like to share? AMARIN: Wisdom, I would say just don't be afraid to just go for it. I was really hesitant at first. Like, "I can't quit my job. I need money." But then, somehow, it worked out, and I paid all my bills. Of course, my husband helped too, but I was fine. I was so nervous. "I got to pay the mortgage." And then, somehow, I'm looking back at my Square reports and my Shopify reports. "Oh, we're fine." Because I do use marketplaces. If you put customized or personalized, they'll flag it because they want you to pay for a sponsored ad. So I don't put that. I just link my website, and I've had a lot of orders from all over the state, like Kobuk, and Kotzebue, Wasilla. Just the power of social media. Even a little village out on Kodiak. "Wow, this is crazy."

You're going from no one knowing and then to all across the state. That's awesome. Well, I wish you much future success. AMARIN: Thank you. Really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me and thanks for being in our Midtown box. AMARIN: Yeah, I'm excited. I need to subscribe for a Bear Box. I think I'm going to tell my husband that that's what I want for Christmas. Thanks for having me be a part of it.

I just want to give a big thanks to Amarin for the koozies (Bear Box swag!) and for being a part of this! If you ever need a personalized and custom gift, please check out her website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.