Q&A: Jennifer Perkins of Naughty Secretary Club

Posted by Rob Walker on June 2, 2008
Posted Under: Buying In (the book),DIYism,Q&A,Subculture Inc.

jen and burt, originally uploaded by Naughty Secretary Club.

Here, as promised moments ago, the first of a three-part series of Q&As with Austin Craft Mafia members who pop up in Chapter 13 of Buying In. Jennifer Perkins makes and sells jewelry through her Naughty Secretary Club, and like the rest of the ACM is one of the crafty world’s more impressive success stories.

In addition to the Austin Craft Mafia’s unique small-business support-system model, she talks here about her TV hosting experiences (and whether she would do that again), about the Etsy impact on the DIY scene and crafty businesspeople, about how much she loves Twitter (among other social-networking tools), and about the future — which for her includes a book she has coming out later this summer, The Naughty Secretary Club: The Working Girl’s Guide To Handmade Jewelry. Here goes:

Q: Let’s start with the Craft Mafia(s). One of the things that really interested me about the ACM is I’d never quite seen an arrangement like this — you’re all independent, and your affiliation seems, to an outsider at least, to amount to sort of quasi-formalized mutual support. How do you see it at this point, and how do you think a setup like this helps the new Craft Mafias that seem to keep forming?

A support group is exactly what the Austin Craft Mafia is. We have an understanding that if we do an interview we are sure to mention the Austin Craft Mafia. If any of us take out advertisements we mention the Austin Craft Mafia. I have the Austin Craft Mafia printed on all my products packaging and more! It is a very reciprocal relationship where it behooves everyone involved and their businesses to be a part of the Austin Craft Mafia.

In the early days Jenny Hart, Tina Sparkles and I could not afford to place ads in magazines like Venus and Bust alone, so we split the ads three ways. When we started branching out and taking out individual ads, we decided to mention that we were the Austin Craft Mafia. That way the members of the Austin Craft Mafia still benefited from our individual ads in some way. If Jenny was taking an ad out in Ready Made and I wasn’t, as long as the ad said “Austin Craft Mafia” it helped my business in a roundabout way. If Vickie Howell sends out an order it has a Naughty Secretary Club postcard inside the envelope as well; when I ship out an order it has a Sublime Stitching postcard inside. We are like a small-business support system.


We don’t regulate to a great degree what the other Craft Mafias do with their groups. We have a few guidelines, but how they run their show is up to them. We are very open about our structure and how it works and some groups have started a similar thing and others have taken it in different directions. Some craft mafias are interested in using their group to help their businesses along and other mafias use the group as a form of crafty camaraderie. The Austin Craft Mafia only meets as a group once every several months (though we see each other socially constantly) we use a Yahoo group as our main form of communication to make life decisions. Some other mafias get together and craft together weekly and monthly. Either way it is supportive.

Q: You’re among the ACM members who have dabbled with television, on the DIY Network (where oddly they don’t seem to identify you as Austin Craft Mafia members — odd given the recognition that the name has in the indie craft movement). Is that something you see being part of your future, either in a bigger way, or a different way? And what did it mean for your career/business?

The Austin Craft Mafia filmed Stylelicious for the DIY Network several years ago. We each wrote our own individual biographies on the DIY Network website so it was up to us whether or not the words Austin Craft Mafia were included. On my profile for both DIY and HGTV, it is mentioned. I agree, however, if they had asked me I would have flat out called the show The Austin Craft Mafia. I think the word “mafia” scares people in mainstream TV land, so Stylelicious won instead.

Unfortunately a lot of the indie crafters who would recognize the name Austin Craft Mafia do not have the super deluxe cable package you need to get the DIY Network. Stylelicious is no longer being taped, and they are currently showing re-runs. It was such a fun experience being shipped to Los Angeles to film the show. Like craft camp with your best friends. We all designed and made our own projects, so creatively it was really challenging. I think some of us liked the experience of being on TV more than others. It is a really stressful job. More than most people might think.

After Stylelicious wrapped I was dead set that I was never going to TV. It was fun to craft, not so fun to stand on a stage under hot lights in a room full of people expecting you to remember your lines and be witty and crafty. Six months later the production company came to me and asked if I wanted to have my own show for DIY called Craft Lab and I said no thank you. A few months later after they had made the circuit at various crafting events interviewing for hosts they came back and asked me again and by this time enough time had passed since Stylelicious and I said yes.

Now I have 2 seasons (120+ episodes) of Craft Lab under my belt and every Monday morning you can see the show on HGTV. Craft Lab is not currently filming new episodes either, and I’m not sure if it will again. I would totally do another TV show now. The first time around with Stylelicious I was scared and nervous, but now I have done so many episodes it does not faze me. My job on Craft Lab is to hang around with awesome people like Bre at Etsy/Make Magazine, Kathy Cano Murillo AKA The Crafty Chica, Susan Beal from Portland Super Crafty, Leah from Craftster and make fun stuff. I’ve had way worse jobs in my time, so hell yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I don’t really know how the TV show affected Naughty Secretary Club. I don’t think a lot of people that know me from TV know that I have a jewelry website and that I was making and selling crafts long before the networks came calling. On the flip, I’m not sure people who buy jewelry from Naughty Secretary Club even get the DIY channel. I tried to do some cross promotion like wearing Naughty Secretary Club jewelry on Stylelicious and Craft Lab. From time to time in the Craft Lab credits it says “Special thanks to Naughty Secretary Club”. In the Naughty Secretary Club ads I run in Bust magazine I used to say “be sure and watch Craft Lab and Stylelicious”. I didn’t see a huge spike or decline in business at Naughty Secretary Club. If anything it has opened a lot more doors for me in the craft industry. Not the indie craft scene necessarily, but at the crafty corporate level with major companies and places like CHA (Craft and Hobby Association).



Q: I think back when we spoke you either had just opened an Etsy shop or were thinking about it. How has that fit into your business, given that you had an established name prior to that — did it make a big difference?

I still have my Etsy shop, though I admit I do not update it as often as I should. I typically just utilize the shop to sell my line of Crafty Curios which are baggies of various craft supplies. From time to time I will list jewelry, but my experience is my baubles sell much better on Naughty Secretary Club than they do on Etsy. I think there is so much competition on Etsy it is hard to sell things unless you are constantly mentioned in a treasury or some other way. I actually plan to add some new goodies to my Etsy shop very soon.

But I think Etsy is a vital part of any craft business that can’t be ignored. When I first started Naughty Secretary Club I read an article about Ebay. What it said was even if you don’t sell a thing in your auctions you can list your website and with Ebay have an actual HTML link to your site in your profile so think of it as a $2 advertisement. I’m not sure what it costs to list on item on Ebay anymore, but the point is with every item I listed I was reaching a whole new set of people that might have never found Naughty Secretary Club otherwise.


The fees are so low on Etsy I think of it the same way. I have my website for the bulk of my business, and if I sell a crafty curio here and there through Etsy, then hooray. But what I am also getting for their super-cheap listing price is an advertisement of sorts. People who are browsing Etsy looking for jewelry and craft supplies might just click on my profile and either buy something from me through Etsy or cut and paste my URL into another browser and buy something through Naughty Secretary Club. Either way it is a helpful tool for my business.

Even if you consider yourself the belle of the crafty ball, I think you can not underestimate the impact that Etsy is having on the online craft businesses. It is silly not to be there and be present. If I were starting a brand new craft company I would just have an Etsy store and not even bother with a website. I also see websites now that are fully functioning, but when you go to purchase an item you are redirected to their Etsy store to check out. I think this is a super-smart way to integrate the two mediums.

Q: What’s your take on Etsy — is there an “Etsy effect” in the sense of an effect on pricing or other issues?

I love Etsy and shop there like a wild woman, blog about goodies I have discovered there, and encourage people to open Etsy stores almost weekly. However, as someone who has had a website selling my handmade goods as my sole source of income for several years now, it has most definitely had an effect.

I have spent thousands of dollars through the years with Naughty Secretary Club on advertising, web hosting, credit card processing fees and more. With Etsy those fees are not an issue so people are able to price their items much differently. Sometimes I think people are selling things just because they enjoyed making the item and not to pay a mortgage, which makes it hard.

I sold a vintage/deadstock necklace to a girl over the Christmas holidays through my website for $12 including postage. A few weeks later she sent me the link to an Etsy vendor that was selling the same necklace for $7 (not including postage) and a nasty note about how my prices were too high. There is a store on the East Coast that specializes in deadstock vintage jewelry components that I am assuming the Etsy vendor who was selling the same necklace bought her parts from same as I did. If so, at the price she was selling the necklace, not only was she not making a profit — she was coming in at a loss. That is not running a business, that is just having fun. Fun is fine. I like fun as much as the next guy. But how do I compete with that? Not all Etsy vendors price their things this way, but there are a few that do, as I now know from personal experience. And obviously, since I got hate mail about it, people notice.

Sometimes I think of the 80s song by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”. However, it is the radio star or website owner’s problem if they don’t jump on the train and adapt their business. Etsy is just one example of how the buying and selling on the internet is evolving. The bar has been raised and the playing field has been changed a bit, so this just forces online businesses that sell handmade goodies to stay on their toes. Which is a good thing.

Etsy has had such a positive effect on indie craft culture. People that might not have otherwise ever gotten it together to open a website can very easily start an Etsy store. It is much less daunting. There is an amazing sense of community on Etsy, I love all the free advice, especially in the legal department. Etsy is so supportive of all the amazing craft fairs across the country, they came to Austin for Stitch and we were pleased as punch to have them. Plus Etsy is like a giant crafty mall, it is like a one-stop shop with everything your little heart could ever desire. Etsy has brought so much mainstream attention to the indie craft world, it is like how the Austin Craft Mafia functions as a support system. Any bit if press about the craft community is good for all of us.


Q: You also have a MySpace and Facebook presence, you use Twitter, all of that stuff. Are the techiest of the ACM members? What’s the payoff on those things, which ones have been most useful to you?

Well, we have a couple of computer programmers in our midst so I can not wear the techiest ACM member crown. However, I would guess that I am the most savvy in the social networking world. I do all the press for the Austin Craft Mafia, Naughty Secretary Club and Stitch. I love learning about marketing, and online social networking is a really easy cheap way to get the word out there. Not only the sites you mentioned — I also have accounts through Good Reads, Amazon, Indie Public, My Craftivity, Flickr, LinkedIn, Stylehive, Iqons and more (see here). Not to mention my blog.

I find them all useful in different ways. I am currently most in love with Twitter. (Oh wait let me twitter that I am doing this interview, ok done.) I love Flickr too. Some people might say Flickr is not a social networking tool, I would say they are wrong. I used to adore My Space as it was the number one referrer to my website. Now due to the word “naughty” they have decided my website is spam/porn and have completely blocked it. I still repost my blog there daily, but often times my links are blocked. I also repost through Face Book and will send out a tweet about it. If it is a crafty blog I will repost it on My Craftivity and Indie Public profiles as well.

I have a book coming out this summer called The Naughty Secretary Club: The Working Girls Guide to Handmade Jewelry, so I have been stepping up my Good Reads and Amazon direct game.

Q: Finally, and I guess inevitably, what do you hope the future holds, for you and for the ACM?

I would LOVE for the future to hold a book for the Austin Craft Mafia. We get courted all the time about it and can’t ever seem to make a life decision. We are all so busy and four of us have our own books to deal with, so it makes it tricky. For Naughty Secretary Club, I keep my fingers crossed that I will always be able to make a living off of doing what I love, which is crafting. I sometimes lay in bed at night worrying that this whole handmade revolution is a bit of a fluke or a trend and one day I might have to wear pantyhose again and set the alarm, but I don’t really see that happening. Just when I think things have peaked for the craft community places like Etsy come along and breathe new life into things and bring the genre more attention.

Murketing thanks Jennifer Perkins, for today’s Q&A and for the interview(s) for Buying In. Check out NaughtySecretaryClub.com, and naughtysecretaryclub.blogspot.com. Look out for her book in a couple of months. And come back tomorrow for the next Q&A, with Tina Sparkles.


Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Congratulations on your book release, Rob! I can’t wait to pick it up at lunch today. Thanks for this series interviewing the Austin Craft Mafia ladies.

This interview hints at an interesting and undiscussed aspect of the DIY movement to date – the ability to make money selling “one of a kind” items that are not so unique.

Jennifer’s necklace story – about how she was undercut on price – points out that there is a certain degree of commoditization in the crafty business world, even on “handmade” venues like Etsy.

If you are making a necklace that is identical to what other artisans are making, are you truly an artisan? If not, will your profit margin be squashed to zero, as is the case for other commodities? Has Etsy revealed that many folks are earning money by serving as the middleman for someone else’s creative work, not by adding value through creating their own designs?

I don’t mean at all to disparage this type of reselling; it’s fantastic for buyers to have access to the widest possible array of goods, and there’s nothing wrong with selling something that’s not 100% your own creation.

It just rumbles the foundation of the handmade mystique.

Blatant self-promotion moment: I dug into this topic further on my blog, The Crafty Capitalist, in a post called “Economics of Craft, or Why You Can’t Make Money as a Middleman on Etsy”.

Written By Sandy on June 9th, 2008 @ 3:35 pm