ll archives: Native Bear's Leela Hoehn Robinson
Name: Leela Hoehn Robinson
Current location: Atlanta, GA
Where are you from? Augusta, GA
Education: Bachelor’s in English Literature
Business & Formal Title: Native Bear, printed goods and original designs, Owner & Creative Director
Tell us about Native Bear. How did it come to be?
Native Bear is a printed paper and cotton goods brand specializing in block printed designs and wedding stamps. The Native Bear aesthetic appeals to the modern bohemian; a throwback to 1970s' interiors, earthiness, and with a touch of magic.
Native Bear started on Etsy after I carved my first stamp of my dog “Maebe” to print on some wedding favors. I loved the way it turned out, so I decided to carve a few more designs and listed some printed cards on Etsy. Pretty soon I started getting requests for custom stamps for weddings and business logos and I realized there was a market for the hand stamped look. Since the summer of 2011, Native Bear as a brand has been through several phases, but over time I was able to bring the whole “look” into focus through the help of constant sketching and brainstorming, custom work, and thousands of hours of carving/printing.
What is your company slogan/mission?
“goods to energize your heart space”
What did you do before launching Native Bear? At what point did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur instead?
Before Native Bear I worked as a personal assistant and graphic designer for another wonderful Ladypreneur. While in that position I learned a lot about smart decision making, the importance of visualizing goals, game planning, and also how to just DO it. I always knew I wanted to start my own creative business but I hadn’t built up the confidence in my own design skills to really hone in on which direction to go. When I discovered artists and makers who were building their own businesses on Etsy right from the comfort of their own homes, I was hooked. I was obsessed with reading every article about successful Etsy shops and learning how they got started. I made some notes, stamped a few cards, and decided to start there.
Whenever you decided that you were ready to take the leap, what were your next steps?
Honestly, I had very little savings and I just winged it the best I could. When I left my full time job I took on part time work that was less involved to help supplement my income. By this point, I was already receiving somewhat regular orders for custom work every month but it wasn’t always reliable, and I still had a lot of promoting and brand building to do. I told all of my friends and family about Native Bear and told them to tell their friends, signed up for every local craft market I could get involved in, and just kept working hard on making new designs and streamlining my process. There were many months where I wasn’t sure if I was going to make ends meet, but somehow it always ended up working out.
What is the biggest thing you overcame launching Native Bear?
Realizing that I’m never going to please everybody, and that it’s ok. I feel like one of the consequences of working for yourself is feeling like you have to maintain 100% control over all aspects of your work, but that’s not possible. You have to forgive your shortcomings and learn from them.
Would you describe Native Bear as your “dream job”? Why or why not? What constitutes a dream job for you?
Absolutely. While I am always open to new opportunities and working on the next step up, I am also happy being right where I am most of the time. I am able to make my own schedule, leave town when I need to, and create new designs that make people smile. Even with all the stresses that come along with being a solopreneur I am still in love.
Any other projects/side hustles you’re working on? Tell us about them.
I’m trying to get back into painting and ceramics right now. After getting used to the grind of creating items to sell all the time I’m finding I need to separate some time for myself to make art for art’s sake.
Entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses. How do you balance work and life? Do you think that’s even possible?
I have definitely gotten better at the separation, but I’m never ever completely able to shut it off. I have a studio away from my home now so that has helped significantly. I used to think working in my pjs was my ultimate goal, but I achieved that and then realized that I missed “going” to work. So now I have my studio, AND a home office/painting studio. I guess I haven’t really gotten better at it...
What does your daily routine consist of?
I try and make it to the studio by 9 most days. I spend a lot of the morning answering emails and plotting out which orders I need to fulfill that week. Then I drink a lot of coffee and spend an absurd amount of time planning out my next Instagram pic. I might not even start making anything until after lunch.
You have to do it and you hate it – what are your least favorite tasks to do for Native Bear?
Organizing my expenses on my bookkeeping software, purchasing business cards, packaging and shipping orders (takes so much time).
You’re on the verge of a business-lady-breakdown. How do you unwind?
First, I leave the studio. Everyone needs to step away, even if it’s just for a little while. Sometimes I just need to shut my eyes and lay on the sofa, or play fetch with my pups. I often like to cook myself a nice dinner because I love to cook but don’t always have enough time these days.
What did you think you’d be doing now at age 10?
I thought I was going to be a famous artist like Mary Cassatt or Picasso.
Tell us 3 of your cannot-live-without ladypreneur apps.
Top 5 favorite cities?
Atlanta, Asheville, Seattle, San Francisco, Nashville
Red, White, Sparkling or stronger?
Tell us the best place to eat in Atlanta. If it’s your kitchen, share your best recipe.
This is a tough one! There’s so many places I’m yet to try. Get me some Pho from just about anywhere on Buford HWY and I’m a happy girl.
Words to live by:
“Everything you can imagine is real.” - Pablo Picasso
In 3 years you’ll be:
What advice would you give to budding ladypreneurs interested in hand stamped stationery and décor?
Try not to look around and compare yourself to other designers. Focus on what makes you unique and start building from there.