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Conversations with Helena Bates

Today we’d like to introduce you to Helena Bates.

Hi Helena, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
We started designing and creating pieces in the summer of 2014 in the small patio of our Kansas City townhome. My daughter Natalie began returning home from her job at a custom drum set shop with different varieties of exotic wooden drum shells and veneers that the company was unable to utilize for their drum kits. Not wanting to see these materials go to waste, we began creating shelving units first inspired by Asian bridge architecture. The same year we opened our Etsy shop and quickly acquired customers across the world. In late 2018 we were fortunate enough to find a shared carpentry space close to where we live. This has helped us to increase our production, create large custom pieces and to be able to ship our designs across the United States, Canada, UK, Germany and as far out as Australia. My daughter and I continue to work as a two-person team to design, fabricate, sell, advertise and ship our pieces. Natalie designed our logo and website and we work together to take the product photography. Throughout our business venture, we continue our mission to reduce, reuse and recycle as many materials as we can. Most of the packing materials we use for shipping is also repurposed from large local vendors. We feel fortunate to have access to the great small business community in Kansas City. It’s the support from local artists and entrepreneurs that have helped us get to where we are today and is helping our business continue to grow.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It was a challenge for us to learn how to run a business but we had a lot of fun employing our friends as interns, meeting every weekend and discussing strategy how to work social media, advertise, acquire new customers and balance the demand of orders with our other full-time jobs. For a couple of years, we had to rely on friends and family to store our inventory and borrow tools we didn’t already own. This was a major struggle to overcome. Other challenge has been our wide range of inventory of different wood types, diameters, depths and thicknesses. This often limits us to making each piece one-of-a-kind instead of being able to sell a consistent design at a wholesale price.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Helena – With a degree in architecture from Prague, Czech Republic, I have a great sense of design and proportion I can apply to any new product Natalie and I design together. I learned most of my woodworking skills from my father growing up and over the years also from collaboration with many skilled woodworkers in Kansas City. I am proud of being able to offer a high-quality handcrafted product designed and individually produced by us to our customers all over the world. Our one-on-one direct communication with customers allows us to create custom pieces which set us apart from most businesses.

Natalie – I have a graphic design/digital pre press degree as well as a BA in Jazz Studies from the UMKC Conservatory. Being a graphic designer has helped me brand our business with logo creation, website building/editing, building 3D illustrations of custom designs for clients and designing our marketing materials. I’m most proud of giving a purpose to these materials that were otherwise not seen in that light. I love creating and being creative. Having the ability to combine my passion for design and drums while working with my mom is more than I could have hoped for

What were you like growing up?
Helena – Always curious, interested in drawing, art and music, but also loving nature growing up just a few feet from a forest. Learning lots of different sports from skiing and ice skating to windsurfing. However growing up in a communist country, I always felt limited in my choices and with help from my American boyfriend then (husband now) was happy to have a chance to emigrate to US to pursue my dreams.

Natalie – I was always on my own, constantly re-organizing the furniture and posters in my room, watching the xgames, experimenting with photography and trying to find new music. When I was in high school, I became obsessed with photoshop and would spend hours taking photos and editing images to create new screensavers for myself. I’ve been very active, physically and mentally for most of my life and definitely feel more comfortable having a day off where I try something new or get a full list of tasks done than taking a nap and decompressing. I’ve always been drawn to people who expressed themselves with art more than with words.

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