Ally: You have been helping me with the shop since I started nine years ago, but we really became business partners about five years ago. A lot has changed over those years. What are the most significant changes?
Michael: Five years ago I wasn’t really thinking about the larger picture – I was just following your lead, mimicking how you did things, honing new skills, pitching in and being helpful – & sometimes messing things up in the process! Consequently I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the changing landscape of the business, which of course was changing rapidly all around us.
While the stylistic markers of handmade have been adopted by large chain stores and corporations, there are fewer spaces that actively support do-it-yourself ethics. Etsy.com, where Feral Strumpet began 9 years ago, was once a supportive online community of buyers and sellers. They now avoid using the term “handmade” entirely. Much of what is often perceived as handmade on Etsy is now made using cheap labour from the developing world. Feral Strumpet actually wakes up each day and says: let’s see what these 4 hands can create! This has become anomalous on Etsy.
Ally: You are often the first point of contact with the shop as you cover customer service. What is your favourite aspect of this job?
Michael: Our customers are the best! I never tire of reading the kind words and wonderful feedback customers have to say about their Feral Strumpet purchases. It’s also incredible to hear from customers about how they’ve quickly forged relationships with their pieces and found kinship with both the designs and their maker. These personal connections are a big part of why some people prefer buying from small, handmade businesses.
Ally: What are your favourite designs in the shop?
Michael: It changes all the time. Since being in charge of inventory, most days I get to see the whole range of items Feral Strumpet sells. Let’s see: I love your classic, rustic wire-wrapped stone bead pieces, like the Seven Wonders Necklace in Bifrost. I have also long been captivated by your range of Fairy Drop Earrings, which as a piercing-less person I can’t wear. But they really catch the light perfectly. Right now though, I am most excited about our new Micro Tesla hoops – I love their tiny simplicity, and they are satisfying to make. If I had any kind of sea legs – and I don’t, I turn green at the sight of a ship – I’d wear a pair of these proudly throughout the world’s oceans.
Ally: You were my first model. Which were your favourite designs that you have modelled?
Michael: I’m too self-conscious to be a good model; I recoil at the sight of a lens. But yes you did steal a few usable shots of me back then. There was that one Vintage rosary medal necklace we sold to a crew member on Peaky Blinders . . . I wonder if that ever ended up around Tommy Shelby’s neck? But seriously I always loved the weight and feel of the Hop Pendant Necklace, and since I was a big craft ale drinker in my younger days, this one immediately resonated with me. And I really like my soft Feral Strumpet t-shirt – I’m actually wearing it as I type this.
Ally: You used to be a mental health social worker. How is working in a small handmade business similar? How is it different?
Michael: Mental health social work is an endlessly fascinating, extremely rewarding profession in the country like the UK that has an honest-to-god system to help and support those experiencing mental health problems. But: in the days of extreme public service austerity, such work comes with an immense toll on one’s own health, be it mental, physical, or spiritual. Starting to work at Feral Strumpet was like starting over, in the best way possible.
Ally: Where do you see our shop going next? What is your vision for the future?
Michael: Our shop continues to grow and in many ways has already outgrown Etsy. Our independent online shop is beautiful and more expressive of our aesthetic, and we now strive to make it a destination online to come look at and read about common interests we have with our customers.
I’m excited about our dreams of eventually moving from Aberdeenshire into the Highlands to a larger house with a workshop. So we’ll see what happens with that.