Indie Crafter Spotlight: Rachel DeCavage of sugarplum USA

I met Rachel DeCavage at last year’s Brazen Betties Black Friday Indie Craft Fair, and immediately fell in love with her hand-sewn aprons, upcycled vintage skirts, and organic cotton tees. We became fast friends, and I continue to be inspired by her creativity, ambition, and energy. In a recession, Rachel has a thriving eco-friendly clothing/home goods brand-turned-brick-and-mortar-shop {sugarplum USA} and also founded Evergreen Design Co., a 501c3 nonprofit organization focused on educating the community about, and providing, sustainable design. {They hosted the Trashion Fashion show in honor of Earth Day this year.} I knew Rachel’s would be the next brain to pick for an Indie Crafter Spotlight.

Poor & Pretty: Rachel, you have an insane amount of creativity. Where does it come from?
Rachel DeCavage: Ha! I have a very artistic family and they’re all wildly talented in different ways. I spent most of my childhood learning various trades, which helps me look at materials in different ways. My grandmother taught me how to roll paper beads when I was about 4 {the first craft I can remember doing}. I also learned how to hand sew and hook rugs from her. When I was 10, my dad taught me to how to screenprint tee shirts. Because of these different experiences, I almost never do things the conventional way; that’d be too easy. I also learned in college that a project is never really finished, and can always be improved upon. I enjoy finding ways to push myself creatively.

P&P: What led you to make the decision of going into business for yourself?
RD: Ever since I was — well, born! — I wanted to have my own store. I’m fairly certain every move I’ve made my whole life has been in preparation of being self-employed. It took a while, but when I was 26, I was working 100 hours a week, running the family print shop, pulling my hair out from stress. I thought, “Enough! If I’m gonna work this hard for someone, it might as well be for myself!” I quit the next day.

P&P: You braved a tough economy and opened up the sugarplum brick-and-mortar store this April. How did you do it?
RD: I can be creative with my resources. After several years of participating in fashion shows and indie art markets, I had enough of a following to really make a “go” of it. With all my saved designs, and turning a lot of material in my studio into finished product, I built a strong inventory. I used scrap wood and hardware to build the furnishings for the store, and I bartered for other stuff I didn’t have. I used my last paycheck from my previous job as the deposit on the space in Southington. And I have been hustling ever since.

P&P: Tell us more about sugarplum.
RD: I believe in designing and  producing eco-friendly objects and fashion with heart. Sugarplum is a brand that evokes a sense of fun and happiness. My hope in growing the brand is to employ a slew of talented artists who can be a part of the design process and build everything from scratch. I’d love to have a furniture shop, ceramics studio, and even a full printshop {letterpress, screenprinting, etching}. I want sugarplum to be a full lifestyle design company that utilizes the skills of artisans in many, many fields.

P&P: Okay, got it. You’re a big supporter of independent artists. Who’s currently vending at the sugarplum store?
RD: Right now I’ve got Kate Stephen Jewelry as my premier jewelry designer. What I like about her designs is that she utilizes found objects — such as shells and coral — in very artistic, hammered necklaces & rings. Mourning Glory by Emile Dube is a line of men’s and women’s tees that evoke darkness & rigidity while still feeling organic in nature. 24Peace is a local brand who buys art, prints it on apparel, and gives a portion back to charity. Donna Marlak is a paper designer who makes beautiful framed compositions from old greeting cards.

Poor & Pretty makes up the entire bath & body section of the store. I appreciate the playfulness of your sweets-themed products and the array of color available in the cupcake soaps. {I’m big into color.} What ties all of these artists together is sustainability; I want to carry products that are good for the planet in some way. Plus, everything needs to be handmade and designed by them.

P&P: Clearly, sustainability is a core focus of your businesses. Why is it so important to you?
RD: I firmly believe in the mantra “reduce reuse recycle,” and on a daily basis, I repeat to myself “waste not, want not.” Putting these ideals into business just makes sense. Here’s an example: My dad’s business, CT Shirt Man, spent over $1000 on plastic bags last year to package customer purchases in, which we all know inevitably end up in the trash. This year, I asked all of our employees to save the bags instead of tossing them. We used them to package orders, which saved us heaps of money, and saved the earth from 50% of the plastic we normally go through. It just doesn’t make sense to not practice sustainability. I, for one, do not want to live in a landfill. I opened sugarplum, my little 350 sq ft store, fully furnished it, stocked it with inventory, all with less than $1000 {and $700 of that was for the flooring I installed}.


P&P: If you saw someone litter, you’d…
RD: If I’m driving, I mutter cuss words. If they litter in front of me, I either make them pick it up or I pick it up and say, “Reeeal nice, jerkface.” I’m kind of a snot about it.

P&P: Back to sugarplum: how often can people expect to see new things in the shop?
RD: Every day! I have a personal goal of making 5 new designs a week. It’s a bit extreme, but I’m surprisingly adept at it. I can make something and say, “Okay, let’s try that in a different color, or a different medium,” and before I know it, I’ve got a bunch of new product in the shop.

P&P: Got any events coming up?
RD: Yes!  I’m vending at the CADC’s Pop Up Shop at NoRA Bakery in Middletown on Friday, the Hartford HodgePodge this Sunday, and at the Hamden Holiday Craftacular on December 1st. As for in-store events, I’m hosting a debut for Sugar Lips lip lotion collection on November 29th, and a DIY sugar scrub demonstration by Sami Jensen of Poor & Pretty on December 2nd. These events are a part of sugarplum’s 12 Days of Christmas, where I bring in local artists to do exhibit at sugarplum and host demonstrations at the shop.

Keep in the loop with sugarplum via Facebook and by joining the sugarplum mailing list.

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