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LaRessa Mattson takes creativity and launches a new career

She and her business partner opened a store called Simply Swag, which sells locally made products

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LaRessa Mattson operates her Simply Swag store in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.
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After being in the veterinary field for 15 years, LaRessa Mattson made a bold decision to leave and change course entirely: she wanted to open a retail store to sell the handmade products of local crafters like herself. She found a fellow crafter who soon became her business partner, Jessica Erickson, and the two began exploring options for a space.

Once they settled on a storefront — located west of Target — the duo began filling it with products from vendors who wanted to get their goods in the hands of customers. And they did all this nine months after the coronavirus pandemic started.

“We just decided to take a leap,” LaRessa said as she stood behind the counter at Simply Swag on a Tuesday afternoon just before the store celebrated its first anniversary.

The store is a collection of home decor, food, clothing and more, and because the crafters are making new items all the time, the inventory changes constantly. “No one’s stuff is the same,” LaRessa said. “And no two things are the same.”

With three teenagers at home — LaRessa’s kids are Elle, 17; Emerson, 16, and Dru, 13 — the career change required some adjusting for the family. Yet because her kids are able to handle so much of their busy schedules, LaRessa has been able to focus on the store and her own creative projects. She started crafting through scrapbooking but has since branched out to producing wooden signs, gnomes, bath bombs, candles, chapsticks and more. “I just love crafting,” she said. “I started scrapbooking years ago to have reminders of when my kids were little, and after I finished those, the hobby just grew from there.”

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The life she’s created for herself is still a work in progress, but this mod mom is enjoying learning as she goes.

You switched careers and started a business during a pandemic; how scary was that?

Many people thought we were crazy for opening a business in the midst of the pandemic. But it worked in our favor. There were no craft shows in 2020 so a majority of our vendors were sitting on a bunch of inventory, which we got to have for the store. Leaving a stable career in the veterinary field after 15 years was a very hard decision to make. I love the veterinary world and everything about it, but it was time for a change. After 15 years, your heart starts to hurt a little.

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LaRessa’s family includes son Emerson, daughters Dru and Elle, and husband Brad. Photo courtesy of Kaytlin Dargen Photography

What is your favorite part of owning a store that showcases the creativity of yourself and other local crafters and creatives?

As a store owner, I see all the other crafters’ projects that they bring in to me to sell, and it makes me see how truly talented people are. My vendors always amaze me with the creative things they come up with.

How do you maintain a balance between your family life and work life?

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My kids are so much more self-sufficient than they used to be. They know that if I'm late coming home from work, it's because I had things to finish up. At their ages, they understand a lot more than they would if they were very young. And they support that.

What is your favorite thing to do as a family around the holidays?

We love to gather with both sides of our families whenever we can. My only sister is in Wisconsin, and my parents are in Arizona in the winter. So Christmas is usually spent with my husband’s family. The kids love hanging with their cousins and being tormented by their uncles!

What message do you hope to send to your children about their own dreams and aspirations through the decision you made regarding your career?

I’ve always told them I don't care what they do as far as a career is concerned, as long as they are happy doing it. They loved me working in the veterinary field because I'd usually paint a beautiful picture of the puppies and kittens I'd get to snuggle. But they also understood how my heart hurt after a particularly difficult euthanasia, or my distress over not being able to save every single animal that came through the door.

What does your family love to do together?

We try very hard to eat dinner together every night. With three teenagers, though, that is difficult. We love heading to the lake together on the weekends in the summer. The kids love tubing, skiing and hanging out on the Maui mat! (And Grandpa usually has a chore or two for them every weekend!)

Can you share a bit about Simply Swag Promotional?

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Simply Swag Promotional is a sister company of the craft portion of the store. We supply any kind of promotional item you can think of. Our list includes over a million items to choose from. From T-shirts and pens to tumblers and hats, we have it all.

You have older kids; what do you wish you would have known back when you were a mom of young kids?

People always say toddlers are the most difficult age. I think teenagers are more difficult but in a different way. You have to deal with three different stages of maturity and emotions. You deal with that first boyfriend/girlfriend and all the questions that come with that. And puberty. The driver’s license and first car. The first job. Getting ready for college, grades and scholarship applications. And so much more.

How do you unwind after a long day of working and parenting?

My favorite way to relax at the end of a long day is a glass of wine and chilling with my husband, catching up on each other’s day. We try to make dinner together as often as we can. And a good book is never far from my hand.

To learn more about Simply Swag or Simply Swag Promotional, visit https://www.facebook.com/simplyswagnd or stop by the store at 4302 13 1/2 Ave. S. in Fargo. You can also check out inventory online at https://simply-swag-nd.myshopify.com/ .

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LaRessa Mattson hangs inventory at her Simply Swag store in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

Related Topics: ON THE MINDS OF MOMS
Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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