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Inside Leela Hoehn’s office, it’s hard not to feel watched. That’s because one of her best sellers is a sturdy spiral bound 12-month planner featuring a giant eye printed in decadent gold on black. When I first set foot in her window-lined space, I was completely enamored with Leela’s aesthetic, which she describes as a throwback to 1970s interiors combined with a certain earthiness and a touch of magic.
Leela’s company, Native Bear, first got its start in 2011 when she finagled a stamp of her pup to use for her own DIY wedding favors.
“I started out hand-stamping all of my cards and textiles using carved linoleum blocks,” she says. “The materials were affordable and it didn’t take up much space in my home, and this method allowed me to try out lots of different design directions.”
From there, her product line snowballed to include rubber stamp sets, greeting cards, tea towels, enamel pins, art prints, and notebooks—and she’s just getting started. Fast forward a few years, and Native Bear is in more than 200 retailers nationwide, as well as a few international shops. But as she tells us, between scaling and having to relinquish some control over her handmade products, revealing a new item can be a tricky endeavor.
Here’s how Leela decides when to launch new products:
Once she started dabbling in wholesale with a lot of retailers, Leela realized she wouldn’t be able to keep up the manual aspect of her craft. “I knew I had to let the hand-printed aspect go if I ever wanted to create a sustainable business,” she tells us. “Letting go of the labor aspect of my job has been hugely important so that I can spend my time thinking and sketching up new designs.”
She says she struggles sometimes, though, and finds herself lending a hand to smaller tasks. “I still find myself packaging and shipping a lot of orders because I just can’t help myself. It’s hard to let go of control!”
Leela typically launches fresh designs every spring and fall, but she’s always open to trying something new. If she has a gut instinct about a new product idea and gets a good response from showing progress shots to her audience, for instance, then she may release the item during the off-season.
“I’m very cautious of how much to put into a new product because, of course, there’s the possibility that it will flop and I’ll have a ton of a dead product left over,” Leela explains. “I suppose it’s a combination of budget, a good idea, and the thrill of taking a risk on something no one’s seen before.”
“Hey there, foxy!” Leela’s site greets visitors, beckoning you to sign up for an instant discount. “I love to write, and I find that Native Bear is a lot more than just a bunch of products,” she says. “People really like to hear about your perspective and what you’re all about, and I’ve found whenever I post anything remotely personal on social media, I get a huge response.”
“We all need more connection,” she continues. “So, I’m going to focus on using my voice more this year.” That includes more blogging, more newsletters—and maybe even another set of eyes to help the team.