Rachel Wallner and her mother, Nora Norby, started Scrappy Products together in 2007, and from the beginning, sustainability and earth-friendly production has been the focus. Through designing, printing, and sewing modern textile products using recycled plastic bottle fabric, Rachel and Nora put Scrappy Products on the map. And though Rachel became sole owner in 2016, the commitment to sustainability remains.
See Rachel's work at the upcoming Homespun Craft + Gift Show at the Veterans Park Pavilion in Richfield, MN on August 25, 2018 from 2pm-7pm. This is an event for all ages that will showcase the work of more than 40 local makers, plus live music, a local food truck, kids activities, and more! More details about the show here!
You and your mother, Nora, started Scrappy Products together. How has the business evolved and how have your roles evolved since?
I am now the sole operator (though I do get help in sewing), so I'm always a bit behind. My mother has taken other work and I run Scrappy on my own. Scrappy was started by the two of us at her former company Banners Creations, Inc. When BCI closed in April of 2016 I bought the Scrappy line from her. We didn't know what her role would be at the time since life was total chaos for all of us. The closing of BCI was not something expected and was a traumatic experience. But that is life and business; we keep going trying to get stronger and better no matter what comes down on you. Now my mother contributes the time she can helping me with in-person sales events and consulting and I need advice. So that's all the time. :)
I also want to give my sewer, AJ Hokland, the credit she deserves. AJ is great; she has a home sewing business, Heart Held Designs, four blocks from my home office in Northeast Minneapolis. She's a lifesaver and Scrappy would not be possible without her continued hard work and support. We make a good team.
What did your path to creating Scrappy Products look like?
My mother, Nora Norby, owned at custom banner company in the heart of Minneapolis since 1989. She's always worked towards an environmentally delicate way of manufacturing. We used to screen print first with the standard solvent inks, then moved to water based inks. This was totally new at the time. Then we moved onto dye sublimation, which is a much more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way of printing. She was the 2nd dye sub shop in the Twin Cities. There are dozens now. This print method opened the doors to a wide range of possibilities of textile printing—and it's what we currently use to print Scrappy Products. My mother also looked for environmentally friendly fabrics such as our 100% recycled plastic bottle fabric. NO ONE was doing anything like this in the 1990s. She was the first woman honored with the Industry person of the year by Industrial Fabrics Review in 1992. She made it back on the cover in 2008 and was dubbed "The Queen of Green". So it was my mother's sense of what was the right thing to do that laid the foundation. In 2007 we had a huge order for banners that the customer wanted to be "eco-friendly". The carpet line they were launching was also eco-friendly so they wanted the point of purchase banners to be the same. We needed 30,000 yards of the plastic bottle fabric. The rolls came in 60" wide and we only needed 38" so we thought, "what the hell are we going to do with 30,000 yards of 22" wide fabric?" So we started making totes out of it and it grew from there.
When it comes to your tote bags, it seems like your two main themes are dogs and Minnesota. Are these sources of inspiration for you? Or was it a decision based more on what your customers are interested in buying?
The Minnesota images started because I thought they'd be hot back in 2009. Minnesotans love their state and their MN gear. My mother had the idea for the MN Passive Aggressive bag back in 2009 and was sure it would be a hit. She actually said it would make us millionaires. Well it didn't do that, but it's been our #1 image ever since. We are passive aggressive, but we like to laugh at that. It always gets a laugh and always starts a conversation about what we're like in this state. It's a great ice breaker for our customers.
We started doing the dogs because I thought, "I love dogs and I'd carry a bag with a dog on it even if I didn't have that type of dog". I was not a dog owner at the time actually. Well, was I ever wrong about dog people in general—they want their dog on it. If it's a French bulldog, they want the color of French bulldog they have. I love my dog bag customers, but they also challenge me. So my dog series came out of my reaction to customers wanting their breed, their color dog and my interest in getting better at illustrating them.
What is your process for creating your illustrations? What mediums/materials are you using?
As far as the dog series goes, I get in a photos from customers who want to make their dog, as my daughter calls it, "bag famous". Once I have a couple of photos of a dog/breed I draw on top of the photo, deciding what areas are most important to visually communicate the animal. Once I've done that, I go back and look at the photo to add in more details and fix anything that looks off. It used to take me weeks to work out a dog and now I can get it done in one week, typically. That is working on and off. I was not trained in graphic design, so much of what I do is self taught. I learned on Corel Draw before the world new Adobe was going to be everything. But I still use Corel since it feels very intuitive to me. Anytime I try my hand at illustrator I feel handcuffed.
You make scarves and aprons and tote bags and more! Is functionality a big part of your inspiration/vision to make the objects you do?
Yes, functionality is very important to me. We are trying to inspire customers to use sustainable products for everyday items. Like the old days. We'd like to be part of doing away with the throwaway culture. We only have one planet, and what am I going to do to make it better for my daughter's children? Well, so far I've helped re-purpose 4 million two-liter plastic bottles with the Scrappy line. Being stewards of our planet and the wildlife that we share it with is what we should all being doing.
In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place? To any communities in particular?
Minnesota has a great makers community. I feel most connected to the places I've lived and love. I grew up in Uptown and feel very connected to the place it used to be. I live in NE Mpls now and feel very connected here—the small business community is very strong and we support each other. I feel this is especially true among the female entrepreneurs I associate with. 'We all do better when we all do better' is a philosophy I live by. The North shore also has my heart. I grew up camping and skiing there and I was married in Lutsen, MN. I often fantasize about retiring up there. If we get to retire anymore.
Do you find that achieving a balance between being an artist and a business owner is one that comes easily to you? Do you enjoy wearing all the hats that are required of you on a daily basis?
I struggle with doing it all and being it all. I'm very grateful for my family support, I could not do it without them. I'm working towards a place where I can feel contented. The struggle is real and I became a business owner at the same time our country started going in a direction that is 100% the opposite direction of my values. I believe this has impacted my performance and the attitude of my customer base. It's made my progress much harder than I anticipated.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve made? What makes them special to you?
I love my animal illustrations, especially the dogs. I love seeing the progress in my illustration abilities from the first one to the next, and then the next. I love animals. My favorites are the Black lab, French bulldog, mini Schnauzer and the Yorkie. It's usually the ones that challenged me and then I like the results.
Do you find it important to support local businesses, artists, and makers? Any favorites you’d like to share?
Yes, we have to support each other. Only we know what it's really like to try and make it out on our own. I love the work of Kimberley Tschida Peters of Vandalia Street Press; she's also a great person. I love the team at i like you for supporting me and helping me grow with various opportunity they give me. I can't say enough about how supportive they are of their artists. Patti's Granola is delicious, the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market is awesome and run by a fabulous woman, Sarah Knoss, who is a joy to work with. Emily Floyd of e.Floyd earrings is so good I decided to give up my jewelry making pastime and just wear hers. I could go on and on.
Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?
I think I answered this with my sustainability commitment. However, my daughter and my nieces keep talking about how when they get older they want to work for me and Scrappy Products. I hope I can give them that opportunity. Every time they say it, I'm conflicted because I want an easier life for them, but it touches me so deeply they see Scrappy as a future for them.