What kind of life did you live when you were in college? What kind of job did you have? I can tell you what I wasn’t doing: running a super successful online business. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve got it together enough to do that sort of thing now. Which is why the I was so impressed when I met with the owners of The Painted Press recently!
The Painted Press sells gorgeous, often personalized clay jewelry dishes. Each piece is handcrafted and handpainted by creator Natalie Fugere and her team in a studio just blocks from Fresno State – because Natalie and her fiance/business partner Josh are still in college.
Their story started simply – and almost accidentally. Natalie found herself unemployed during the holidays in 2014 and in need of budget-friendly Christmas gifts. She headed to Michael’s with a $10 bill and bought supplies to make clay jewelry dishes – something she’d seen but never tried before. The gifts were such a hit that Natalie eventually put a couple of the designs on Etsy.
“I kind of started one, put one item on there, didn’t do anything with it, [had] terrible pictures,” Natalie told me.
But the dishes eventually caught the eye of a jewelry company in Texas that wanted to sell Natalie’s creations. After that, Natalie realized that she might really have something on her hands that people wanted to buy. Beginning last summer, she started selling more and more of her dishes in various designs, with one of the most popular items being a dish stamped with a couple’s initials and the date of their wedding.
Natalie’s sister, Annie, also came on board and began doing water color designs on some of the dishes. Annie is incredibly talented and also, amazingly, still in high school! Each dish is made by hand, stamped and/or painted on, sealed and baked in a set of large toaster ovens in The Painted Press studio.
“It really was totally on the job learning,” Natalie said. “I had no idea what I was doing and every single time a new situation would arrive, you just kind of roll with it and learn from there. So we got custom requests and those turned into our top selling designs. Basically every design we have was a request at some point, so that was basically how we got started, and it just took off from there.”
Take off it did, thanks in part to a little help from The Huffington Post. One day in the fall, Natalie’s phone crashed because she was getting so many order notifications from Etsy. When all was said and done, The Painted Press has received literally thousands of orders from around the country. After some investigating, Natalie discovered that her dishes had been featured as the No. 1 personalized holiday gift idea on a story from The Huffington Post.
Natalie, Josh and Annie began working 18-hour days just to fulfill all the orders that came in. A bona fide business was born. Nicer pictures were taken. A better website was built. More people were hired to help complete and ship orders.
“I roll and stamp everything,” Natalie said. “Over the holidays we brought on a lot of people. Josh quit his job … We were getting 30 to 40 emails a day, and I was like, ‘I can’t do that AND this,’ so he started taking over customer service. … Annie does a lot of the watercolor stuff. I’d say about 90 percent of the water color is Annie. She paints. … And then I have a couple part time employees that do other things like painting the rims now because they are just too many. … I can’t do every step myself now. So I have some awesome high schoolers who come in and do that stuff for me during the weekdays. But I still roll out and stamp every one.”
In between all of that, all three partners of The Painted Press are still going to school full-time, and Natalie and Josh both also work other jobs. Their incredible work ethic makes their near-overnight success even more well-deserved. Just a few months into their venture, they are now making 40 to 50 dishes a day in their studio. In addition to a booming Etsy business, Painted Press dishes are being sold in 25 boutiques across America, including two of my favorites here in town (The Foundry Collective in Old Town Clovis and Three Graces in River Park). They’ve also partnered with several online sites and are doing many custom orders for local pick-up.
“A lot of local people were very supportive once they found out about it,” Natalie said. “They were like, ‘This is awesome. Can I come pick one up from your studio?’ ”
Speaking of shopping local, you know know I’m going to tell you that these dishes make awesome Valentine’s Day gifts! Since it’s getting close to the holiday and The Painted Press is already hard at work fulfilling many orders, your best bet is to grab one from The Foundry or Three Graces. But if the one you want isn’t available or a custom design is really what your heart desires, Natalie will do her best to accommodate local orders. You can check out The Painted Press on Etsy to see their full line and to contact them. More information can also be found on their website and Instagram.
The Painted Press jewelry dishes really make great personalized gifts for all sorts of occasions year-round. They are incredibly affordable at $10-12 each. Think Mother’s Day, bridesmaids, graduation, birthdays! Or you can be like me and just order one with a special saying for myself!
“It’s fun to do the personalized, because we get to know our customers,” Natalie said. “We know if it’s for their wedding or for a daughter who’s going to college. They tell us, so it’s a very personal experience for us and them.”
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