Des Moines // For Creatives: Domestica Interview
I’m so excited for today’s interview with Chrissy Jensen of Domestica, a beautifully curated little shop, located in Des Moines’ East Village. When I initially discovered Domestica, I was so thrilled. It was like every print and handmade object I ever coveted online had materialized into one perfect little place made just for me. I remember being in awe that there was a place in Des Moines where I could buy concert poster art, which perfectly merges my love of typeface, illustration and music. One of my favorite things to do on a day off is head for the East Village, grab a cup of coffee, and stop by Domestica to chat with Chrissy and pick up the latest issue of Anthology or buy a gift for a friend (or myself). -Jillian
I know that you’re originally from Pennsylvania. How did you end up in Iowa and why did you decide to stay?
My grandfather was born in Des Moines just a few blocks from where my shop is + his sisters and brothers + their family were all still living here. I was all set to go to apparel design school in Philly, but I was young + not that smart + after a summer living with my mom in her one-room studio and working at an Orange Julius in the underground, I just freaked a little. Last minute, I said I wanted to go to my grandad’s alma mater, Iowa State. Sight unseen. Really, I just wanted a break, but I don’t regret it. I met the world’s best friends here. I spent every summer here working at Wellman’s + my aunt’s riding stables and I loved it.
When did you open Domestica and how long did you prepare for the opening in advance?
Oh boy. Well, I opened in 2010 with my friend, Leah. Without her, I’m not sure Domestica as a storefront would have happened. Another friend, Danelle Williams, and I started the idea of Domestica way back in 2008. Danelle founded Craft Saturday, Des Moines’ first indie craft show, so I knew she had a lot of the tools we needed to run a shop. We worked SO hard on every little aspect – business plans for SBA loans, cash flow charts, names, vendor lists – everything. Since the indie craft idea was so foreign to most people, we didn’t feel we had a lot of SBA support and really weren’t sure we’d get a loan – it was stressful. The economy wasn’t good at all + then Danelle’s husband Joe had to transfer to Minneapolis for work – it just didn’t seem possible.
In late 2009, I decided to see if someone in town wanted to open Domestica w/me as an online shop. Leah came to the rescue. Although she didn’t stay with the business, I have to thank her for the kick in the pants that got the storefront opened. I really think without the unwavering support of all my friends, Domestica would still just be a dream. Danelle and Joe have also been so influential in seeing this thing happen – Joe designed our bird [logo] and he and Danelle are both great sounding boards/support. Danelle and another great friend, Sarah of Sew Zinski did Renegade Craft in Chicago with me last year and Danelle will be my sidekick again this September. I lean of my friends to cover the shop + help out at events – I’m just so fortunate/blessed.
Did you launch your web shop prior to opening the brick and mortar location or afterwards? Would you say that having an online shop is an important part of your business?
The online shop opened after the storefront, but not long afterwards. It was always part of the plan. Hosting an online sales portal is so affordable (and often free). It makes no sense to slack on this aspect. We use Big Cartel that lets you list a certain amount of items for free. It’s free. If you never sell a thing from the online site, it’s another place your business exists – people can go there to get info + see product samples. Even if they never buy a thing or step foot in your store, they know about your business, they have the potential to share your story with others – today that’s invaluable.
We’re constantly working on the online shop – adding items, updating the look. We sell a ton of prints/posters through the shop so we’ve just opened a print-only online shop spin-noff, DomesticaPrint.com.
Why did you want to be located in the East Village of Des Moines instead of other locations around town? How important was location to your business plan?
I’m a North of Grand girl (Grand Avenue runs East/West through Des Moines), but I knew from the beginning that it was East Village or bust. I love other parts of town and I’d kill to be in the old Jensen or Pgh Paint buildings on lower Ingersoll (Ingersoll is an older, established Des Moines neighborhood), but money’s still an object (I know, huh?) To please customers, to get them to come back, you need a great neighborhood – fun, but still convenient. To get people in your shop, to get them to re-visit time and again, you need the foot traffic, you need the grouping of like-minded shops. I was a freak to start my business off Locust in an old office space on Walnut Street, but 5 minutes later, I get Subsect Skateshop and Ichi Bikes as neighbors – it felt like the universe was on my side.
Your shop features an amazing selection of art and products by artists both local and from all over the country, and you have such a great eye for design. Do you mind sharing what you look for when you search for new merchandise?
That’s so awesome of you to say – you have a great eye, as well, so that means a lot – thank you. Man, if you only knew how much time I’m online…I’m just constantly trying to stay informed. I check in with like 25-30 blogs/day, I get tons of newsletters, I’m talking everything from O’Reilly web coding blogs to woodworking to nail polish blogs (yes, these exist) to skateboarding to street art right back to indie craft. I’m looking for what’s next, what’s hot, what’s quirky, weird, smart.
Ultimately, for the shop, I’m looking for well-made, modern, cheerful handmade or cottage industry items. That may change as people’s tastes change, but I always say that I want Domestica to be like your best friend’s cool older sister – a place that reflects the cool things you’ve seen online/in zines with some really cool stuff you may not already know about. Now, if only I could keep my own blog up…
How can an artist catch your eye when pitching their products for wholesale or consignment opportunities?
It might be easier to say what things turn me off, but I think a quick read through Meg Illasco’s Craft, Inc. will give anyone the tools to avoid those pitfalls.
I’m no design authority, but I fall hard for ingenuity, great use of color, thoughtful form, slick execution. I honestly feel excitement when I finally get a design crush’s work in the shop. I’m a geek for great design. Simple.
Which trends are you loving right now? Any trends that you think are over?
You’re totally putting me on the spot here. What I think is over is usually not even close to being over, but I’m super fickle. I ingest so much that I feel like I’ve seen tons of examples of something that may just be gaining momentum.
What I think it totally out is everyone getting their aesthetic from one or two design sources. In the late 90′s/early 2000′s, you really only had a few really great design info sources – House + Garden, Martha, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Architectural Design + Trad Home for the well-off. And then Living, Etc. and then ReadyMade and Domino and then Blueprint (which I miss SO much)! Somewhere in the middle of that Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge and Decor*8 started up, but weren’t yet the go-to blogs they are today. But that was it til about 2007/2008 when you started seeing smaller people gain momentum – now you’ve got people with real followers showing the best of so many different design philosophies. Bigger box shops will always have a following, but The Selby will set you free.
Which leads me to the home decor trend I’m loving most right now – what I see as space simplicity. Love seeing a small print tacked to a wall next to a painting in an ornate antique gilt frame. I love that people sometimes leave unsightly old concrete floors bare. I love that people are bringing iron chairs inside and inappropriate-for-outdoors soft furnishings outside. Kinfolk magazine shows this at its most basic. My other favorite, Anthology, shows this style closer to my cluttered-up aesthetic (I am a hoarder).
You’re very active on social media. Is there one site that you prefer over the others? Do you have any tips for maximizing social media for promoting your business?
I prefer Twitter because it’s so informative, but Facebook definitely gives you the most reach – I think a lot of not-so-techie peeps still have a FB page – a lot more than Twitter. Once again, I think it’s easier to lay out what not to do. I think a lot of the tips for using social media are out there – lots of great ideas for FB page design, campaigns, contests, etc. I think some people overlook two essential details, though – one, it’s absolutely imperative that you have a social media presence. It’s no longer a fad.
People tell me all the time that they don’t have time for it. I just shake my head. You can’t change people, but in order to get the most from what they’re doing, they need to change their social media perceptions yesterday. Part two of that is that you do have to make the time – I try to dedicate the first hour of every day checking social media – I follow a ton of people, so most of what I do’s interacting with others abut their posts, re-Tweeting, commenting on and sharing others’ posts on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook’s a little more laid back – you can post stuff when you have things to post. No one expects you to do more than use it as a message board.
Twitter’s tougher + you should really plan to play give and take if you want to make it there. You can’t just have a Twitter name, you have to participate. They’ll dump you like a hot potato if all you do is update your feed with Etsy listings – so many people seem to miss this nuanced difference between Facebook and Twitter. Also, on Twitter, some peeps still get away with not following people back. You aren’t one of them.
Which blogs do you always check regularly?
Man, I’m terrible. I flit all over my Blogger follows – I follow hundreds of blogs, so I can’t regularly check any of them, but I do hit a big majority of them every couple weeks. Just about every day, I check the Huffington Post headlines, Gawker, Man Made DIY (one of super faves ever!), Jezebel, Cool Hunting, Refinery 29, Design Milk, How About Orange, Wired, Fast Company, Tastespotting, Grantland, Deadspin, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Seth Godin, Etsy’s blog + FFFound. I have Pulse and Flipboard on my iPad + they’re both full. I spend at least an hour every night after work just relaxing with my “paper.”
Do you have any favorite shops in Des Moines? Any favorite places to grab a bite to eat?
Des Moines is so suddenly crazy cool! I love all the indie shops – really. I think more guys need to check out Subsect even if they don’t skate – the clothes they carry – Altamont, Brixton, Vans – so cool. You really can’t find that kind of casual city style anywhere else in the city.
My newest favorite is Silo (near Seed on E. 5th + Grand). I could live there. So much industrial awesomeness. It’s modern and old all at the same time – I think Jordana and Kasey really get me, whether or not that’s what they were going for.
My favorite place to eat in Des Moines is Noah’s. I love the way they do dinner there. I love the atmosphere – you really get one there – and the classic dishes and the fact that they get a little fancy with the menu sometimes. I could write a book about how much I love that place. I try to eat there once/week. My goal’s to try to turn it into the new hipster hangout – the sunken bar’s definitely on the DSM must-see list.
If someone were visiting Iowa for the first time and asked you what they should see, where would you send them?
If they’re coming to Des Moines, I’d send them to one of my favorite places anywhere – the Des Moines Art Center. The building’s amazing, the art’s as good as you’ll see anywhere, and to eat lunch or have a drink by the pool outside is just a wonderful, relaxing treat.
I hope you enjoyed this conversation with one of Des Moines’ most creative entrepreneurs. If you’d love to learn more about Chrissy, you can check out this interview with her on the Pinterest blog, follow her pins (she’s got an awesome collection), and connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.
Jillian lives in Windsor Heights, Iowa with her boyfriend Keegan black labrador Miles and ultra-charming shepherd mix Eddie. She is currently one semester away from her Master’s degree in Interior Design and keeps busy creating jewelry for shop on Etsy j. Frances Design. In her spare time, she loves sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine and a good book. This summer, she is looking forward to shopping at the Farmer’s Market, attending outdoor concerts, working on her golf game, and taking time to relax.