Ellie Lum of Portland based Klum House has gone from bike messenger, to bag maker to Bluprint host. One of the tag lines on her website is; “Not many stitchers carry a hammer in their sewing kit, but we’re changing that”. Ellie and her team make strong and stylish bags using materials like leather and canvas. If you find yourself at Klum House you can buy one from her or sign up for a workshop to make your own. Can you blame me for wanting to taco about this Tuesday with Ellie!
Website: Klum House
1) What is the best advice you could give someone about the business of being creative and the creativity behind running business?
Having a guiding vision and being clear about your values in creative business is everything. It all comes down to what is most important—how you want to live your life and how you want your business to contribute to the world. In my experience, getting clear on those things makes you unstoppable.
2) Do you have a favorite place to go for business advice? Mentor group, book, website?
I’ve been an entrepreneur in one form or another since I was a teenager, so almost all of the business skills I’ve learned over the years have come through trial and error. At this point, I have a couple decades of business ownership under my belt, so I have a lot of personal, first-hand experience to draw from. I’ve learned to trust myself and stick to my guns rather than try to follow someone else’s rulebook for how a business should look. I’ve also learned to “listen” to my business and let it tell me what it needs, where it wants to go next, what needs to be expanded, what needs to be scaled back. That might sound silly, but I’ve found it to be true—running a business is a dynamic, two-way conversation. I shape the business and the business shapes me.
That said, I am so inspired these days by the work of people like Brene Brown, who champions courage, empathy, and vulnerability. I’m always thinking about ways to bring these qualities into my business and continue to make it human-centered. I want to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other, in addition to the bottom line.
3) Besides Creative Queso what is your favorite podcast?
4) How do you prevent creative burn out?
Whenever I get the chance, I head to the coast and get in the water. I grew up in California, always within a block or two from the beach, so the ocean has been a constant throughout my life. I’ve been surfing for almost 20 years now and, aside from bag making, it’s one of my greatest passions. When I’m surfing, it’s impossible to think about business strategy and marketing and my bottomless to-do list. Out in the water, all of that goes away. Surfing forces me to be completely present in my body, on planet earth, with the elements. It gets me out of my head, and that is always really restorative.
5) What is something your business could not live without?
My amazingly talented crew. The Klum House team has grown to five people these days. Five strong, smart, talented women who help keep all of the gears turning on a day-to-day basis (and are also just really fun to hang out with). From shipping orders, processing leather straps, writing marketing strategy, designing new sewing patterns, photographing products—there’s no way I could do it all without them.
6) What are some of your favorite Instagram feeds?
I love following Portland artist Lisa Congdon (@lisacongdon) on IG for all of her colorful illustrations and inspirational words. I’m also obsessed with the work of printmaker and textile designer Jen Hewett (@jenhewett), who has tried out a couple of Klum House bag patterns with her fabric lately, which is so fun to see. Justina Blakely (@thejungalow) for dreamy, plant-filled interiors. Jennifer Armbrust (@sister.is) for her feminist business philosophy. And Sylvester McNutt (@sylvestermcnutt) whose words just ooze wisdom, truth, and inspiration.
7) Tell us a piece of surprising trivia about yourself or your business.
Most people probably don’t know that my ethics as a maker and creative entrepreneur are rooted in my history in DIY punk culture. I grew up living in punk houses, skateboarding and working as a bike messenger, organizing a lot of protests. At one point I was living in a warehouse with a skate ramp in the kitchen. I would roll my bed out on top of my cutting table and sleep in my studio. I was surrounded by a crew of anarchist makers, with all kinds of rad skills. We made everything ourselves.
My life looks a lot different these days, but growing up in the punk DIY subculture has made me who I am and is very much present in my current business. It’s why I teach people to make things rather than buy them mass-produced. It’s about sharing an ethic of self-sufficiency and radical skill building.
8) Do you use a paper planner full of stickers and washi tape or are you a Google calendar kinda guy or gal?
I always want to be a paper planner and stickers kind of gal, and we do have tons of cute washi tape here in the studio. But, realistically, I’ve found that Google calendar just works better for my lifestyle. I have too many physical things to keep track of already—thousands of pieces of inventory! Another thing that I have to carry around is just doomed to get lost in the mix.
9) When you are working do you listen/watch podcasts, music, audio books, Netflix or do you like dead silence like a total weirdo?
I almost always listen to music while I work. Here in the studio, we have a variety of Spotify stations that we cycle through, depending on the mood. If we need an energy boost, we’ll put on Queen B. For chilling out, we’ve been loving local Portland artist Sávila. We also listen to lots of 80s stuff. Tears for Fears and Tina Turner are shop favorites. And 90s hip hop + R&B.
10) If I came to see you where would we go for queso?
We would go to a great little taco spot on Mississippi Ave called ¿Por Qué No?
Punk rock surfer chicks who sew and empower others to do the same. Yes please! Thanks Ellie for stopping by Creative Queso to Taco About It Tuesday.