One of my favorite things about living in Brooklyn is the makers community. There are so many small businesses doing amazing things that are innovative and inspiring, to say the least. I’m hoping to turn this into a small series here on the blog so I can share with you some of the amazing people I have met in the neighborhood that happen to be the faces behind our favorite brands.
First up, I’d love to introduce you to Jane Van Cleef, creator of the ever adorable Hazel Village. The girls and I stopped in her Gowanus storefront last week for a studio tour and to pick out a new creature to bring home with us. She was kind enough to tell me a little more about how she got started and who her favorite creature is!
HOW DID HAZEL VILLAGE COME TO BE? WERE YOU ALWAYS INTERESTED IN CREATING SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN?
Not necessarily. I always liked sewing things and running businesses, but before I started making toys I made clothing for adult humans. As I discussed with Edith though, I like babies and I think they are funny, so now that I make things for children I think this is a good job for me. When I have my own kids I’m super curious whether they will think of Hazel Village as, like, a treasure trove of fun stuff for kids, or their mom’s boring grownup job. I think either is definitely possible.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE TO INTRODUCE A NEW CHARACTER?
It’s really all about whether we think we can handle the added complexity of more styles in our inventory. Thinking of a character and making the sample is easy, everything else is hard. Also we have a lot of characters already and I hate the idea of “retiring” some of them so I’m more interested in developing more stories, outfits, etc for existing characters.
I JUST ADORE, THEIR CLOTHES! WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THEY NEEDED TO DRESS UP?
They always dressed up from the beginning. Dress-up was always the thing I liked about dolls and animals.
DO YOU CREATE CLOTHES WITH A PARTICULAR CHARACTER IN MIND
Usually not, because their clothes are interchangeable.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE BEFORE THE STORE, HOW DID YOU KNOW OPENING A STOREFRONT WAS THE NEXT MOVE?
Well before we moved, when FedEx wanted to deliver a package, they couldn’t ring our doorbell because the landlords of our art studio office had not installed working doorbells. So they might call my cell phone, but they might not. They might return the package and then we would be without tailcoat fabric or whatever for another week and we would have to pay double shipping. We knew we wanted a storefront, or at least a legit office, so this would stop. It’s just easier to have your own front door.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW WHEN YOU STARTED?
Because the business is so seasonal, we have this scary cycle where we spend money all year, and then make it all back in December. I have slowly sort of gotten more used to that, but it’s still harrowing.
WHY GOWANUS? WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD?
I love Gowanus! It’s walkable from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, it has good train access near 9th st, we can afford to rent a darling storefront, I love all the funny bridges and industrial equipment. I love that we are near Lowe’s and Whole Foods. And of course the pie store, Fletcher’s, and Lucey’s Lounge. I’m not always a gregarious person but I have met so many people on our block, I feel a little like a Sesame Street character.
THE GARDEN OUTSIDE IS LOVELY! DO YOU HAVE A GREEN THUMB?
My dad does. He helped me make the garden and he still comes out every few weeks to check on it. I am a better gardener than I used to be I think, but still pretty neglectful. Fortunately our busy time has coincided with a cool, rainy fall, so the plants are happy even though, or perhaps because, I haven’t touched them in months. Soon it’s going to freeze and I can try again next year. We have a lot of perennials. We just put in raspberries which might not do anything until the year after next, but I’m pretty excited.
WHATS NEXT FOR YOUR ANIMALS?
Hopefully a crazy Christmas rush is next for them! After that, I have to think about it and talk it through with the people who would be making it happen. Perennial things I have been meaning to do: storybooks, more matching kids clothes, and craft kits for older kids.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE?
IF YOU WEREN’T MAKING MAGICAL WOODLAND CREATURES, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
Probably some other business. Also, I wish I had more hours in the day so I could develop a math curriculum based on the math you use to make stuff. For instance, if you have to cut out 400 special glittery doll rompers and you can get 12 rompers out of a yard, how much fabric will you need to buy? What if the fabric is a little wider so you can get one more piece in each row? People are always going on about how much they hate math and how bad they are at math, they even say it in front of little girls which makes me cringe. But if you’re trying to accomplish something practical, you use math all the time and I think it’s so much easier to learn and remember something that you want/need to know.
Thank you so much Jane, and everyone at the studio, for letting us come in and see the magic behind our favorite toys!
Starting today through Monday, November 30th, Hazel Village and several other our favorite stores are participating in a “Week of Giving”. Jane will donate 10% of proceeds to local food banks. Last year she raised over $1,000! So head over to her site and pick out a new animal for the perfect holiday gift while giving back to local communities. To read more about her “Week of Giving” and to see all participating stores click here.
Photos by Julia Elizabeth Photography for Lucky Penny