Smartfish creates handmade footwear in Cincinnati, Ohio! We interviewed owner, Regina, to learn more about her unique small business. Meet Smartfish at our 2017 Ohio Explored Holiday Maker Mart on December 3rd!
Tell us about your business.
I do sustainable footwear that's made where you walk. Each pair of shoes is crafted from upcycled and sustainable materials. Since these are primarily made to order, we have the unique opportunity to create a style that suits each customer and adjust the fit of those shoes to their feet. No two feet are the same—not even your own! Straight sizing is a profitable invention of the industrial revolution.
The story behind the name is one I happen to explain pretty often. At first glance, it seems to have nothing to do with shoes! But the name expresses the mentality behind the shoes— the whole point of what I do. It's based on that myth that a goldfish remembers only eight seconds of its past. As beings with a wider consciousness, we bear the responsibility of a conscience. We can understand the impact of our actions and shape our lives accordingly.
What drew you to your craft?
I love to make beautiful, useful things. But the reason why I keep at this work which is sometimes repetitive—cut after cut, stitch after stitch—is because I truly believe in the mission. I had been making shoes for years before I learned that fashion is the planet's second most polluting industry. Whoa. Part of fashion's impact is how garments are made, and part is how we are culturally conditioned to buy many cheaply made things instead of fewer, lasting quality pieces. In America, the average item of women's clothing is worn only seven times before it's thrown out.
I do love refining my craft. I do find joy in making things well. But I keep at it because I believe it's important to change the culture around how we purchase and use garments.
What is your favorite thing you have ever made?
When I was in school for industrial design, I dreamed up and manufactured a line of lighting that also grew air cleansing plants. It was meant to create sacred space in the home for meditation, unwinding, prayer, and safe conversation. It was pretty badass. But honestly the most recent pair of shoes I made is usually my favorite creation.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be either an artist or an inventor. As a designer, I've found space for both!
What is your creative process?
Try, try again! I sketch out a doodle and then go straight to 3D where I start building, analyzing, and building again. None of my designs are ever really finished. Instead of pretending I have no room to grow, pitching this years designs at the end of the season, and chasing new trends for next year, I'll probably be releasing an updated and improved design next year.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Your creativity isn't a side thing you have to find extra side space for in your life. It can be your center.
Why is it important to support local artists & makers?
I think so often we blame ourselves exclusively for the negative impact that fashion has on the planet. But it's not just us! It's this machine of industrial commerce that tells us we'll never be enough on our own, tells us we need more and more and more, and makes us believe that the solution to all our problems is another purchase. Then that industry is shady about the impacts of those purchases and the involvement of vulnerable people and ecosystems along the way. I do not mean to discount the "big fashion" exceptions that are out there. I'm speaking broadly about the general bend of the market.
I think it's important to support local makers because they will be transparent and kind in a way that the industry often won't. I hope to create a relationship between me, the maker, and you, the buyer. You have real options for sustainable and local products and I am honest with you about what it took in labor and materials to create them.
Why do you love doing what you do?
Meeting people at fleas and markets, watching their faces light up when they connect with the product, and creating something that's made especially to suit their style and needs—that's what keeps me going.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own businesses?
You're not going to be the perfect partner, the perfect business owner, and the perfect parent every day. Those are my major categories but they'll be different for you. You fill in the blanks. I think as women especially we feel the pressure to be full time parents, full time homemakers, full time business owners, and have a good outfit on to boot. It's just crazy.
Some days I'm entirely focused on being with my daughter and watching her grow and learn. Other days, she watches some shows on my laptop while I sit at my desk and stay present to my work. Some days I focus on loving and supporting my partner. Other days he's focused on loving and supporting me. Some days I make lovely organic food and some days we eat takeout. When I expect 110% percent of myself in every area of life every day, I'm only setting myself up for shattered expectations and feelings of crushing failure. I can't say I've learned this entirely yet, but I am learning to extend grace to myself and look at the big picture rather than exclusively today.
What is your favorite thing about exploring Ohio?
We live in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. I'm not an Ohio native, and one of my favorite things about exploring Ohio has been getting to know all the alleyways and murals and overlooked corners of my city! Cities in Ohio have quality arts and culture, but they're accessibly priced enough that young entrepreneurs can still live here and make it theirs. There's a way I've been able to get to know the quiet little corners of my city because I live here, walk here, shop here, take the bus here...it's my home.
Meet Smartfish at our Ohio Explored Holiday Maker Mart!