Personalized pillows: Local maker finds success selling in boutiques across the country

FARGO-One might say Melissa Steedsman has a way with words. The local maker paints catchy phrases on her handmade linen pillows that attract buyers from all over the United States.Steedsman, who does business as 521handmade, said "Uffda" and "Eat...
Melissa Steedsman is a local crafter who started designing and sewing pillows in her studio apartment and now sells her pillows in stores and at events in 13 states. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO-One might say Melissa Steedsman has a way with words. The local maker paints catchy phrases on her handmade linen pillows that attract buyers from all over the United States.

Steedsman, who does business as 521handmade, said "Uffda" and "Eat More Tacos" pillows are local best sellers. "Do More Yoga" and "Eat More Kale" tend to be popular with customers on either coast.

Ashley Morken's personal favorite is "All you need is love and a dog." The owner of Unglued in Fargo-one of 30 boutiques that carry Steedsman's pillows-said store favorites include "Bison Fans Live Here" and "Come In We Are Awesome."

Morken said Steedsman's personalized pillows make really unique gift items.

"They are also super well-made and work for just about anyone's decor, so (it's a) win all around," she said.

Shoppers will get a chance to make their own custom pillow during 521handmade's open house on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25. Attendees can choose a quote from Steedsman or paint a personal message.

Sewing success

Steedsman said she's always been a maker, but her skillset did not include sewing until about three or four years ago.

The native of Reynolds, N.D., avoided learning how to sew when she attended North Dakota State University to study apparel and textiles.

"I was too scared to take a class because I would hear people talk about making their outfits, and I thought there was no way I could do that," she said.

Instead, she concentrated on the retail side of the business, managing such stores here as Maurices and Motherhood Maternity.

In 2014, she needed a break from retail and decided to teach herself to sew using blogs and YouTube tutorials. Her first project was a handbag, something that might seem difficult for a beginner.

"Everybody says that zippers are so hard to sew, but I had no idea. So, I just thought 'I'm going to sew this,' and I did. I didn't think it was that horrible," she said.

Soon, she started sewing pillows and stenciling people's last names on them to give away as wedding gifts.

On her next birthday, May 21st, Steedsman decided to sell her pillows and other wares online through her Facebook page and etsy. Her business name, 521handmade, is a nod to that important day.

Steedsman said she really felt like she'd made it when Unglued started selling her pillows later that year.

"As a maker, when Ashley from Unglued says you're good enough to be in the shop, you're like, 'Oh My God,' " she said.

Steedsman continues to use social media sites like Instagram to promote and sell her products. She said that's how she reached deals to sell her pillows in many other boutiques, including two in New York.

"It's really exciting. Little North Dakota girl selling in New York," she said.

Lessons learned

Steedsman likes to share what she's learned with other local makers. Last month, she hosted an event for makers at her studio where she shared tips for selling online as well as reaching out to brick-and-mortar stores.

The most important lesson: Don't get discouraged.

"It really is a lot of work to create something from the ground up, but it's also so rewarding to see your products bring joy to people," Steedsman said. "Most businesses aren't an instant success overnight, and it's good to keep your own expectations realistic in order to stay motivated."

She said she loves "chatting with people about their crafty dreams," and encourages local makers to email her anytime at melissa@521handmade.com.

IF YOU GO:

What: 521handmade Small Business Saturday Open House

Where: 1001 23rd St. S. Unit L, Fargo

When: The studio is open to customers 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25. Personalized pillow painting workshops will be held at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Tickets: Workshop registration is required. Tickets are $47 and available on the "tickets" tab on the website.

Online: www.521handmade.com or search "521handmade" on Facebook