Colette lives in Yellow Springs, OH. She says, “It’s a really wonderful, progressive community with a strong arts emphasis and a dedication to being anti-sprawl and pro-diversity. It’s really a wonderful place to live! We’ve been here for almost 8 years. We love it!!”
Colette and her husband, Justin Metcalf, have a daughter, Sabine, who is the model for most of the photographs she uses in her store. “She’s so patient with me following her around with the camera,” Colette says, “She’s just learned to “pose” and has fun with that, too!” Rounding out the family are two dogs, Hayley and Una, and a cat, Mia. Colette says, “All three are rescues—they’re really awesome! We’re planning to add some chickens to the menagerie this spring.”
Colette describers herself as fierce, loyal, passionate, sensitive, driven and creative. She loves chocolate, chocolate, CHOCOLATE, fabric, color, fiction/literature books, soft pretzels, cats, her family, seasoned seaweed, sushi and kimchee.
Her secret? “I have a PhD in Applied Philosophy and used to be a Professor of environmental studies. It seems like such a long time ago! I worked for Antioch College until it closed about 2 years ago. I also have an MFA in ceramics!”
Don’t miss Colette’s wonderful bonnets at Urban Baby Bonnets.
How long have you been sewing?
My mother taught me how to sew when I was a little girl—I don’t remember learning. I know I sewed some of my clothes in high school (no patterns! Nothing ever worked right!), and I know that in middle school I made an apron… but I’ve only REALLY been sewing since I started with the bonnets in April, 2008.
Why did you start making bonnets?
My grandmother-in-law, Ada, comes down to our house to watch Sabine twice a week. One week, she brought a little baby bonnet with her that she’d sewn for Sabine. I was fanatical about NOT putting my little girl in pink and searched all over for simply black and brown clothing… and Ada knew this… and brought me a bonnet made from a vintage black floral fabric. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the bonnet didn’t fit Sabine… and my obsession was born!
I had been collecting fun, modern fabrics for another installation art project and I went into that stash and pulled some things to make hats out of. The very first hat I ever sewed was the Vines and Goldenrod bonnet that Sabine is wearing in the trademark UB2 picture. I fell in love with the hat right away, but had no plans to sell them. Over the next couple of weeks, every single time I took Sabine out in the bonnet (and I mean every single time—it started to get funny!) people were stopping me and asking where I got such an adorable hat. After that happened about 30 times, I figured I needed to make more.
Where do you get your materials?
I literally scour the catalogs of every single fabric manufacturer I can find, order samples, and then begin to match things up.
What craft/sewing materials do you have on hand most the time?
I have boxes with just about every craft supply I have ever used or ever might use. It’s a problem, really. We have no where to store all of these supplies, but I just cant get rid of them because some day I might need them! But mostly, now, I have fabric, fabric & more fabric! There are at least 40 bolts in my studio. And I have a whole cabinet full of short cuts that are samples or just fabrics I could not live without.
Can you tell us a little of your process?
I start by looking at fabrics online and in my local quilt shop (which is AMAZING! It’s called the Fabric Shack, but it’s anything but! I spend HOURS in there! They know me as “The Bonnet Lady”!), and I make folders of images of the fabrics I like. Then I start ordering samples. I can’t really create until I get everything here, so I TRY (it does not work) to wait until all the samples arrive, but when they do arrive I lay them all out and start putting things together. I very, very rarely combine two fabrics from the same line or designer—and that’s one of the things that makes what I do feel like ART. Once I get some potential combinations, I start sewing. I make one hat from each combination since I can’t really tell if I like the fabrics together until I see them in the bonnet, and even then, not until I see them on Sabine. And then I re-match and re-sew until I get combinations I like.
Then I move to the photography part, which usually involves Sabine and/or her friends, although I have worked with a couple of wonderful photographers including Eileen Molony who shot most of the images for the bonnets and dresses that are in my 2010-2011 wholesale line.
Do you have a dedicated work area/room?
Yes! I am lucky enough to have a whole bedroom to myself. We recently refinished the whole room. It’s painted orange, chartreuse, and deep purple and we put in some amazing bamboo floors. There are two big windows, lots of light. It’s a great place to be and I love working in there!
Is this your full-time job? Hobby? Fun?
All of the above! It’s a full time endeavor, but I would sew even if it was not for money. I love creating, and fabric is my medium of choice at the moment. I really love what I do and I am so happy to be able to work from home and make a living!
Where do you get your ideas for new ones?
From looking at fabrics. Sometimes I will have a stack of fabric that just randomly assembles and I’ll see two next to each other that I never considered putting together before and it just “clicks!” And I have a new bonnet!
How did you manage to get your bonnets to the front page of Amazon?
You know, I didn’t know they were there until people started emailing me! I met an Amazon buyer at a recent trade show and she invited me to sell my products to Amazon. I was amazed and SOOO happy. They place ads on their front page as part of how they support manufacturers of the products they purchase.
What is the UB2 installation art project?
Since I have a background in philosophy, I am always trying to make “sense” of why I am doing what I do. In thinking about why I want to make such colorful hats—and why I want to keep doing it, I realized that it was a way of “painting” the world. A lot of my scholarly work is on the concept of “place” and one of the things I studied is how “place” is disappearing in the face of the homogenization of stores, cities, houses, etc. It seems to me that the splash of color from my bonnets is one way to kind of push us into an awareness of where we are. Awareness is the first step to reclaiming a sense of place.
I keep records of all the places in the world where I’ve sold or sent UB2 bonnets and post as many customer photos as I can get my hands on! I love seeing babies in the world wearing my bonnets! Beyond that, I just LOVE color. I’ve written a formal artist statement, which you can see on my Etsy site. It explains all of this more eloquently.
I have dreams of staging photographs in NYC or another beautiful urban area with lots of babies on the street, all wearing colorful UB2 hats with the grown-ups grayed out and the hats in color. But I don’t really have the skills for that yet!
Do you have a best seller?
There’s not one single one that is best—but several that are most popular: retro birds, little brown birds, Henry’s birds, and vines & goldenrod.
What is your favorite?
My favorite changes, depending on which bonnet I am in love with at the moment. My new favorite is one that I am just about to release. It uses a rare import fabric that had to be shipped here from overseas. I don’t even have a name for it yet. Other than that, I love the vines & goldenrod one, since it was the first one.
Do you do other kinds of crafts?
I do just about everything, although not right now! I can just barely keep up with making bonnets and trying to grow my company.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
I would like to have UB2 be big enough that I can have someone run the financial aspects of things while I do the creative end. I’d love to just work on making the fabric combinations and designing dresses.
Have any advice for people trying to start their own handcrafted business?
My advice for folks trying to start their own handcrafted business is “make it more of what it is.”
When I was in graduate school, I took a ceramics class with a professor who ended up being a really instrumental influence in my life. As I was working and trying to refine my own style as a ceramic sculptor (I did not make pottery), he stopped by my work area and said, “that looks great – try making it more of what it is.” I didn’t really understand at first, but eventually, I saw what he was saying. Individuality and authenticity come from finding your voice as an artist and then learning how to speak fluently in that voice. With the bonnets and with all of the other art I’ve done in the past, I have tried to find what it is that I love about what I do and do more of that. It’s a kind of intensification & even transformation that happens. And once you start on the path you can follow the idea of “making it more of what it is” all the way into the tiniest details.
And details—attention to details—are so important. It’s the little things that you think people won’t notice that they actually DO notice, even if they don’t notice that they notice.