Celebrating 5 Years!
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
Hello there everyone! It's been quite a while since I've written a blog post, but I'd like to keep up with it once again, especially now that our site has been renovated to be its own store front! We've gone through quite a few changes recently, and in general, and I thought that it might be a good place to start to reflect on that!
Last month in July, Atomik Cupcake Designs celebrated its fifth year as an online business! We've come an extremely long way, and I hope you'll join me in this journey through its history--happy birthday, business!
OUR HUMBLE BEGINNINGS:
Our very first logo!
At the time, I didn't really have a clear idea of where I wanted the business to go, only that I wanted to sell my illustrations online. My first aspiration to open a store on Etsy came with the design pictured to the left--this is the humanatee!
The humanatee started as a funny idea that I talked with my parents about, of a manatee who was also part human. They thought the illustration was hilarious! I only sold a couple of these shirts, mostly to friends and family, but the humanatee was the starting point for our humble beginnings and encouraged me to keep creating.
Though a lot of my illustrations are influenced by my career as a tattoo artist and my background as a pencil artist, I've also always been a fan of kawaii-style art and anime. I ended up pursuing my long-term desire to go to college for graphic design around the time that I created Atomik Cupcake Designs, and I learned the absolute magic of how to use Adobe Illustrator, which opened up a whole new world of how to approach making kawaii-style art! As I became more comfortable with digital art, I wanted to learn how to simplify my art into this style. The first kawaii-inspired design was the "I'm Pho-King Awesome" t-shirt, which actually sold really well! (It made me wish I was more adept at making an Etsy store, because I bet if I had more items, the success of this design would have brought a lot of traction to my new store...heh...)
As I leaned into this aesthetic and got even better with Illustrator, I decide that it was time to update the logo as well to reflect the idea of where I thought I wanted Atomik Cupcake Designs to go. This rendition should look a little bit familiar!
THE PIN THAT STARTED IT ALL
By 2017, the business on Etsy had only made about $1,000 total (a combination of sales and freelance commissions that were billed through Etsy), but considering that my expectations of what success looked like were EXTREMELY low, I was thrilled! I decided that I wanted to expand the types of products that I offered--at that time, mostly prints, t-shirts, and a couple sticker sheets--and I wanted to try to make what I didn't realize would be a very popular endeavor: enamel pins!
It should be known that I knew absolutely NOTHING at all about enamel pins. I saw some online, I saw you could make your own, I got curious about it, and something told me to go for it. I found a middleman (for those who aren't pin-savvy, this is a U.S. based company that works with factories in China to make pins for you, rather than you working with the Chinese factories directly) that was near my home city, and for a price that I later learned was WAY more than I should have been charged, even by that particular business' standards, I had a very small batch of 20 of my very own pins!
The "Bite Me" Muffin soft enamel pin is sold out now, but I've thought about making a second batch with a more educated perception of how enamel pins work, because this design is still so cute! No one told me that I should make a backing card--it was just kind of something I assumed a pin should have for retail presentation (full disclosure: I had never in my life bought an enamel pin before I made these. Complete newb.) This is also the point that I learned the importance of product photography, which was a very challenging skill to learn! This was my first physical product--all my t-shirts and print listings had digital mock-ups. There was certainly a learning curve, but I was also in college at this time for multimedia graphic design and happened to be taking a photography class. Photoshop became an indispensable tool for editing these photos!
Around this time, I also discovered the joy of pinback buttons and magnets, which are way cheaper and faster to make than enamel pins, but still an adorable way to add bling to our inventory. =D
I independently funded another enamel pin (the "My Jam" pin), but as it turns out, self-funding pin designs is a bit expensive, especially when you're first starting out. I had heard of Kickstarter in the past, and in fact had an embarrassing attempt at it when I first designed the Humanatee t-shirt, and after joining a couple entrepreneur and artist groups on Facebook that helped me learn how to sell online, I learned that enamel pins kind of had their own niche on the Kickstarter platform. I set out to design my very first set of enamel pins: The Farm Friends Enamel Pin Collection.
I was so excited to see several backers within the first few hours of the campaign! It was very ambitious to want to make all these pins at once, as I later found out--most people added additional designs as "stretch goals" if the campaign reached its initial funding, but I really wanted to make the entire set. Otherwise, how would this adorable barn-themed box set work if I were to only unlock two or three??
I did end up having to self-fund the last $300 of the $900 goal, but still, having 2/3 of the costs covered, with inventory left over to populate my store, was way better than paying $900 out of pocket! The Farm Friends collection was funded in September 2018.
In February of the following year, the Kittea Ceremony Enamel Pin Series was funded! This time, I used the stretch goal concept previously mentioned, and I saved money on five of the eight designs by using the same mold and having the pins be available in different colors! The entire campaign was funded, and all stretch goals were unlocked! I was even able to upgrade to this fancy gold foil packaging that you see in the sakura kittea pin pictured above! This Kickstarter also came with a sticker, which is where I discovered that people will absolutely buy individual stickers on Etsy through snail mail. Last August, the Pup Treats Pin Series was partially funded, resulting in three new pin designs and eight new sticker designs. This is also the first pin collection where we included a logo backstamp on our pins!
OUR FIRST CONVENTION
As Atomik Cupcake Designs grew its inventory, one more rebranding seemed necessary, especially now that it seemed to have a cohesive theme and direction. The original rebrand included a LOT of pink, and while the majority of our customers are women, we don't want to exclude the guys from loving our kawaii stuff too! Plus, the pink stripes made a couple people actually mistake us for a bakery. xD Since early 2019, our branding has been predominantly blue, pink, and grey, using the cloud background that first appeared as a background in our product photography for our first couple pins! We also simplified our cupcake, gave it the kawaii face that is on 90% of our products, and tightened up the typography.
Participating in an in-person convention has been a dream of mine ever since this business' conception, and it's an overarching goal that I had in mind through this entire adventure so far. In November 2019, Atomik Cupcake Designs attended the Colorado local convention DakuCon. It was so much fun, and we (my wonderful husband and I) made over 4x our table cost! We also participated at GhengisCon in February 2020, just before COVID-19 shut down everything and made conventions an event of the before times. Once things go back to normal (or at least kind of normal?), we would absolutely LOVE to participate in more conventions!
HOW FAR WE'VE COME:
In the past five years, Atomik Cupcake Designs has created over 50 individual products--dozens of sticker designs and enamel pins, new t-shirt designs, and even jewelry! We've sold hundreds of stickers, and in the past two years each, made more than the first three years of our business combined. We hit this year's goal for number of sales by April! And, probably most notably, we finally made the jump to hosting our own online store, giving us more control over how we present our products and how we advertise. My husband and I also bought a house last year, which gave me an entire room to use as office space!
I keep saying "we," whereas I began by saying "I," but it's important to me to recognize the amazing efforts of my husband, who has supported my efforts since the very beginning. Never did he think that my investments in new products were a waste of money. Never did he complain when I took over the entire dining room table in our townhouse to grade and package pins. He offered to accompany me to my first convention without even being asked, and he's so enthusiastic when I do well. His support has been integral to my success, and I can't thank him enough for all he's done to encourage me to keep going and to believe in me.
THANK YOU ALL
Thank you all for reading this, and thank you SO MUCH for your continued support!
I'm honored to be able to make cute things that people like enough to actually spend their money on, and I can't wait to see where we'll be next year, and in another five years!