I wandered onto Zooguu’s etsy shop one day as I was browsing for cute stuffed animals… and I’ve been an admirer ever since! Jen and Brian of Zooguu make adorable, bubbly, cuddly plushies in a range of sizes and colors- they’re just begging to be hugged!
The etsy shop is adorable, but the real treat is when you hop on over to Zooguu’s webpage, where each product page has an interactive color chart. That’s right: an illustration that changes color as you select your faves… so you can see how your custom animal will turn out! Love it!
And, if you sign up for their RSS feed (like I do), you’ll be delighted not only by plushies, but adorable calendars and games to match the plushies (Brian’s an illustrator!)
How cute is that? So, you can imagine the ‘squee-ing’ that went on when Jen (sewer and designer of Zooguu) agreed to join Plush Week! Yay! Now, you get to meet her, too:
How long have you been making plushies? How did you get started?
I was a graphic designer for over 10 years, working primarily for the audience of kids and families. This meant designing a lot of logos, character style guides, web sites and most importantly, package design. I think it is that experience of taking a drawing and making it into a 3D box that helped inform my pattern making skills. I made the first plush as a gift for my illustrator husband (then boyfriend) in 2003, based on one of his sketches of a little, fat bird. From there, I started designing other animals and monsters and giving them as gifts to friends & family.
What inspired you to turn it into a business?
In January of 2006, I heard about Etsy and opened up a shop at the suggestion of friends and coworkers. They started to sell pretty quickly, and soon I started signing up for craft fairs. It was all over after that. I quit my job in 2008 because I had an opportunity to share studio space with a bunch of artists in Brooklyn, NY. We lived in New York for two years, treating it like a graduate school experience, and then we moved back to Massachusetts. It’s been our full time source of income for the last three years!
Where do you get inspiration for your creations from?
I built most of the original designs off of the first round, dome shape that I created. I thought, “What would this animal look like as a dome?” and then did sketches and worked out the plush designs from there. Some of them get re-worked and adjusted over the years to perfect the crisp look. I really love doing special edition plush for gallery shows. These pieces are challenging and I try to incorporate new techniques into each. I’ve experimented with anything from intricate applique techniques to hidden button joints, allowing the plush to move like action figures. I also enjoy breaking the dome shape that I’ve developed and stretch my pattern making skills.
Describe your average day.
My husband Brian does all of the fabric cutting for Zooguu. My schedule is based around how many orders we have to get out. We are quite organized in our production, and all of my orders are cut and ready on shelves in the studio. It’s a visual list, and I can see how busy the day will be by how many shelves are full. I typically sew by color, so I might sew pieces from a number of different plush in one day, and then after a few days I’ll have a lot finished. I try to get outside every day, because it can be really easy to just spend the day sewing. We live just a couple of streets away from the ocean, so it’s nice to be able to take a walk to a peaceful place. I go to the post office a few times a week to drop off packages. At the end of every day I enter in the items I’ve made into a spreadsheet. This is my working inventory list and I can easily see how many I’m making and compare it to other months and years.
yes… making sure you get outside every day is important! What are your favorite materials to use?
I love non-stretch and non-fraying fabrics like faux suede cloth. I also add materials like “footy pajama” and terrycloth to some of the animals for texture and cotton prints for accents in the ears of elephants and rabbits. I like things that are durable and brightly colored.
What’s your best tip to share?
I like to use template plastic to make my pattern pieces. It makes for long lasting patterns, and is available in the quilting section of your local fabric store.
Describe what’s in your ‘tool box’. What’s crucial to your craft?
My industrial sewing machine, embroidery needles, tiny scissors for small areas, ginger sewing scissors, forceps for turning tiny pieces inside out and pounds and pounds of fiberfill.
What’s your studio space like?
We’re currently renting a townhouse, and we turned the master bedroom into the studio space. I’ve got a really large closet with built in shelves that holds all of the fabric. We combined two tables and put them on risers to have a large 4’x8′ cutting table. Next to the table is the shelving that holds all of the ready to sew animals and the patterns. Every pattern in every size has its own envelope to help keep that organized. There’s a seating area with a small sofa and table and chair. I hang out here to do embroidery work and to stuff animals. I have a desk that has my industrial sewing machine on one side of the room, and storage for finished toys organized into different drawers for stores, orders and markets. There’s also another large closet that we use as our packing and shipping area. It has a table inside along with the scale and all of our shipping supplies. The studio has four, wide windows with deep sills. I like to display artwork that we’ve collected over the years from Etsy, from other artist friends, and at craft shows.
What’s your absolute favorite thing you’ve made?
It’s so hard to pick! Right now, I’m in love with the jointed dinosaurs I’ve been making. If you asked me next month, I might change my mind!
Tell me… do you have any other hobbies? Crafts you like to do? Do you make things for yourself, or is all of your energy devoted to the business of plush making?
Right now I feel like most of my energy is devoted to making plush for others, but occasionally I get to break away from regular production work and make something special for us, a gallery or a friend. I just started making my first quilt. It’s going to be a Christmas present for one of our nieces and I had to start it in April to make sure it gets done in time!
Where do you live now? What’s the best thing about your town? If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
We live in Beverly, MA. We feel so spoiled to live so close to the ocean and to have such a nice and peaceful living environment. Right now, this feels like the best place for us. After living in Brooklyn for two years, we realized we enjoy a quieter every day life and can enjoy visiting the big city every once in a while. :)
Where can we find you?
website: http://zooguu.com (Play with our interactive color charts and order a toy in your favorite color combination!)
etsy shop: http://zooguu.etsy.com
Thanks so much, Jen! Love those plushies! And thanks, everyone for joining us… more tomorrow!