Mompreneur Monday ~ Handmade Hope Rags

If you know me very well, you know I have an enormous passion for the entrepreneurial spirit. Homemaking is great....I enjoy it so much. But the love I have for the creative process is like a time warp for me: dreaming big and reaching for goals that might seem unattainable under normal circumstances.
I think I am not alone in this. And for that reason, I have been dreaming for months about starting a new series focusing on mom entrepreneurs or "mompreneurs" as they are sometimes referred to. There is so much we can learn from each other and so much to be inspired by!
So on the first Monday of every month I will be spotlighting a mompreneur. If you know of one that should be spotlighted, let me know!
Without further's the first in the series. Joanne Couch is a truly inspirational, intelligent, passionate and innovative woman who is making her mark as a mompreneur.

Click below the picture for the full interview.

1. What is your company's name? How did you come up with the name?

Handmade Hope Rags, LLC.
'Handmade' because each piece is one of a kind and handmade by me. From beginning to end, my fingerprint is on the finished product.

'Hope' because it is my middle name and ironically enough, something I didn't have a lot of growing up in my teens. But have found a new affinity for my given name because of my faith in Christ.
'Rags' is sort of an irreverent nod to my former nihilistic attitude about life but truly has a greater meaning to me in that God can take something akin to a "rag" - a discarded piece of trash that has been spent past it's prime: tattered and torn, seemingly useless; and redeem it and refashion it into a construct of something beautiful, simply by implementing a new design/purpose upon it with the Hopeful desire of meaning and worth.

 2. How did your business come about?
My husband and I arrived in Lexington, Kentucky in 2009 to seek a better, stress-free life to raise our 11 month old son, Ian. We left family, high-paying careers as archaeologists and took a leap of faith leaving California for Lexington, Kentucky. My husband began studying nursing and I embraced my new career as a stay-at-home mom at 37 years old. Needless to say, despite how "innovative" my parenting and involved my plan was, there seem to be a plateau for me. My husband and I began exploring the wholesome genteel life God had brought us to, including more organic living, responsible sustainability and stewardship of the environment and conservation of our resources. In a nutshell, "How do we make a difference in ours and our child's life and teach him to care about the future of the environment and future generations and how to glorify God in our actions?” During our research I stumbled upon a lot of 'old timey’ wisdom books with all the sweet precious graphics of an innocent era. It was in there that all of my loves collided and I decided to promote our new-found vision in the form of a children's clothing line of turn of the century Antique*Art*Chic images.

3. What is the company's focus/vision?
I love creating aesthetic crafts with a personal touch that bring people joy - memorializing a special person or a special event, a favorite nostalgic image or inspirational era. It's always fun creating cherished items from historic art pieces that were once long forgotten. It is the perfect combination for the artist and archaeologist in me.
Handmade Hope Rags gives 30% of all of our proceeds to the Good Shepherd Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti. In Christmas 2009, we sent 55 presents that my husband, son and I wrapped for the children at the orphanage. It was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things we have ever been blessed to do. You can imagine our heartbreak when just less than a week later the devastating 7.0 earthquake happened. It has been an on-going grassroots effort to help them rebuild, at the time I didn't have any money to give them but what I did give was a piece of my heart. As a jewelry artist in California, I had several hundred dollars in inventory of pearls, semi-precious stone beads and crystals that I hadn't used in over two years, so I donated all of it to the UK Wesley Foundation so they can make jewelry to raise money towards rebuilding efforts at the orphanage
Music has always been a huge part of my life, so often times it is musical artist which inspire me like: Merle Haggard (at 19 he was in prison, but upon getting out he went to every single person he'd ever stolen from and paid them back and apologized); Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Ryan Adams, Ben Harper.

4. What inspires you?

Redemption - People have beautiful intimate stories of how our Heavenly Father spoke to their heart and convicted them to change their ways. Life is a journey, so their Redemption isn't complete. It's a daily walk with God.

5. What's been your most effective marketing tool thus far?
Doing local art/craft fairs like the Woodland Arts Fair in Lexington, and the Wilmore Arts & Crafts Fair in Kentucky. The feedback from customers is amazing. It really helped me find out what they loved and what they didn't love; what translates well and what doesn't translates well, but overall I get to see their genuine joy and excitement and that, for an artist, is priceless and well worth sharing your heart in such a personal way. 

Least effective?
I would say I have not had a marketing tool that was "least" effective, sure there were some that were not "monetarily" profitable but as a wise business person and true artist you have to learn to take the bad with the good, and have the patience to wait out the eb and flow of the market without compromising on what your company's vision and mission is. Especially as an artist you have to be true to your heart and the creative design God has governed you with through your life experiences, otherwise people can see through your esthetic incongruities. There will always be "markets" of people who get what you do and other "markets" of people who don't get what you do. The general public's fancies trend with consumer fetishism which relies on multi-million dollar marketing corporations. I'm not trying to reach that market.
6. How do you juggle mommy-hood and entrepreneurship?
Now that my son is 4, he does great and is really supportive, just as long as he gets to sit and play by me when I’m working. I have had to learn to take breaks to "stop and smell the roses" and play a little with him when we aren't doing home school or making meals. I incorporate him into the family business as much as possible; we dialogue about my creations and the process; I bring him to boutiques on business meetings and quite honestly he impresses clients all the time with his charm and manners.


7. What has been the biggest challenge?

Overcoming fear of rejection. I've spent the last 20 years in a very Alpha-personality dominated, construction industry field.  There was an artistry and craft but it is in people, politics, and ideology presentation. You do have a passion, but it is a very vocal, protagonist, activist passion dealing with tangible scenarios.
Now, being an "Artist" and pouring my esthetic affinities into something so personal and then having to put a price tag on that gift and ask someone to pay for it? Well, it can be literally an immobilizing fear. But since coming to know Christ 5 years ago, He really has done a great work in me. That is the only thing I can chalk up all these blessings of my company too.

8. What is the future of your company?

Being 6.5 months pregnant now with my 2nd child, a little girl, I know God will bring me and my company a lot of blessings as I see Handmade Hope Rags future through her eyes and needs. Right now, I'm in the process of making Isabelle Skye's own personalized baby bedding adorned with vintage equestrian images of lovely ladies and their horses since Isabelle Skye will be born a Bluegrass, Kentucky-native! I would love to eventually make this line of bedding available through my company. Currently, five boutiques carry my line, and three of my Vintage Equestrian Memorial feather pillows will be auctioned off soon at the Woodford Hounds 30th Anniversary Annual Ball, which is an honor.

Life is changing for the better in all areas of my future as God showers His blessings upon us. My husband Jeff is tremendously supportive, helping me with most of the logistics and always giving me a discerning opinion in most of my creative and business affairs. It's interesting that not too long ago we had a .25 (quarter) million dollars just sitting in our bank account after selling our first house. At that time we had seriously thought about opening up an interior design company and moving to Kentucky. That was almost 8 years ago. Now in God's timing, everything has fallen in place with blessings beyond our wildest dreams, all because we finally chose to make that decision and put Christ first, rather than ourselves.
9. Where can readers buy your goods?

Our etsy store is a great place to start:

Also our website has a form for custom orders:

If you are in the Bluegrass area, you can find my things at:

Click on the above links for the store's FB page, and while you're at it you can go to mine here.

Thanks Joanne for a great interview!