Jennifer Rittenberry Photography HOME PAGE
I really enjoy being a newborn photographer and all of the friendships that it has created with the prop vendors I buy from on a regular basis, even though none of them are from the Louisville area like I am. lol. I started this blog series to feature some other women-owned small businesses, mainly from the newborn prop industry. My goal is to humanize these ladies by putting faces with a name and shine a light on them doing what they do best. Possibly even inspire someone along the way whether you’re a photographer, a prop maker or just a mom that loves baby photos!
This week I’d like to highlight Elizabeth Whitton from Oh So Fleeting!
Tell a little about yourself. How many kids do you have? How long you been married? Where do you live?
My daughters are Grace, age 12 and Rue, age 7. Grace plays the cello and loves riding horses. Rue is outgoing, imaginative and loves animals. My husband Joshua and I have been together for 13 years. We are best friends and have a great relationship because we really prioritize keeping it that way. We live in Northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati OH (we’re right across the river). I’ve lived in this area all my life, and so have my parents and most of my extended family. Northern Kentucky is just that kind of place. If you’re born here, it is hard to escape!
What did you do prior to being “Oh So Fleeting”
I never had a career, because Grace was born right after we graduated from college. I wanted to be home with my kids, so I only ever worked flexible part time jobs. It was an eclectic mix that included: secretary for an environmental organization, house cleaning, and being a buyer for a small retail store. Along the way, I got into fiber, and learned how to knit, crochet, spin yarn, needle felt, wet felt, dye and sew (I do some much better than others!). I started trying to sell crafty things on Etsy in late 2009. I made every beginner mistake possible, but through trial and error and studying what other successful sellers did, I finally was starting to figure things out by 2013 (ha!). That September my husband lost his job, and rather than getting another job he wouldn’t enjoy, we both started businesses. Mine was Felted Sky Studio, a new Etsy shop where I would “be serious” about making money. I decided to sell needle felting kits based on my artwork and needle felting supplies including lots of wool. I also planned to wholesale my kits to yarn stores and online shops. I spent a huge amount of time and energy getting Felted Sky off on the right track, and by the spring it already had steady sales, but my husband’s business still wasn’t doing much. I was starting to believe that my online shop might be able to support us fully, but it would need a big jump in sales by September (the one year mark).
How did you get into newborn prop making?
That same spring (only a year and a half ago!) I started noticing that newborn photographers were purchasing wool from me to use as a photo prop. I knew nothing about newborn photography or the prop scene. All of my branding and photos were geared towards needle felters and fiber art people. I had one photographer friend who assured me that newborn photographers were plentiful, spent LOTS of money on props, and were constantly buying new ones. It appeared that I had discovered a new customer base for selling wool. There were only a few vendors that I could find who were selling props made from wool like mine, but those products all appeared to be felted in some way which made them more expensive than the wool I was selling in its un-felted state.
I started trying to figure out the newborn prop scene, and experimented with a number of different ideas and prototypes as well as trying to use Facebook to make connections with photographers. I had one really lucky break that led to the name recognition I needed to get established. I made contact with Jackie Baughman of Cream n Cocoa photography, arguably the best newborn photographer in my area. She was so helpful! She gave me ideas and feedback, and put me in touch with five amazing and well-known photographers: Jade Gao, Caralee Case, Courtney Weittenhiller, Amy McDaniel and Nicole Smith. Their facebook tags and gorgeous images are what really got things going for me. By that August, I had the big jump in wool sales that I needed, and haven’t looked back! I think my story is really a testament of what can happen when you get the right product into the hands of the right people at the right time, especially if you have the business savvy to capitalize on your magic moment when it arrives. Of course, now there are so many photographers that have become enthusiastic fans of my fluff. My ongoing success wouldn’t be possible without so many talented supporters who tag my business page and let me use their images.
There are three images that I’ll never forget that contributed directly to my success. Looking back at them now that I have collected hundreds of images of my products in use, they don’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. But they were at the time. These were the three images that literally changed my life by jump starting my prop business:
- Oatmeal rustic wool fluff by Cream n Cocoa Photography
- Lemon Tart rustic wool fluff by Newborn Photography by Jade
- Baby Blue farm fluff by Nicole Smith Photography
What do you think you did in the history of your business that propelled you to the next level of prop vendors?
There are so many things that I do that I think have contributed to my success.
First and foremost, I try to offer really great customer service. I respond to messages quickly and ship quickly. I think it really makes a difference if customers know they can count on you. They not only feel good about giving you return business, but they also recommend your shop wholeheartedly to others.
Another thing that makes me a little unique is that I decided to only carry rts (ready to ship) items in my shop, and I try to keep up a good selection so that there are rarely any times when the shop is closed or bare. I might have had similar success doing made-to-order, but rts works so much better for me because it allows me to ship quickly and is much more efficient. When I do give in to preorders, I find that invoicing and keeping track of pending orders takes up so much extra time and mental space!
Also, I’m always on the hunt for great images of my products and am constantly collecting them (after asking of course!). These days I also carefully solicit pictures of new products from photographers who have given me great product images in the past. I don’t even offer a new item for sale until I have a good in-use image of it. The images sell the product, so I place a high priority on getting the best possible images of each and every item that I sell.
Lastly, I realized early on that the prop industry is very much trend-driven and evolves at a fast pace. There are other sellers coming up with fresh beautiful stuff all the time. There are also sellers copying or piggybacking on the newest “hot” trends. Just look at how many other vendors are selling un-felted wool these days! So I know I have to be coming up with my own new and unique products on a regular basis if I want my shop to stay relevant and interesting. That is a constant challenge, but it’s just the reality of this business. I definitely strive to be a trend-setter though sometimes putting my own spin on something like a bear hat and lovey combo is good enough.
3 words that describe your style best:
I’m a very naturally minded “eco-friendly” kind of person. It took me awhile to realize that in the prop world, “organic” is used as an adjective to describe the way something looks, not how it is made. But however you use it, organic definitely describes my vibe!
I only work with natural fibers like wool and silk so obviously they look natural. I’m also a sucker for outdoor setups and real barnwood!
It seems odd to say in an industry that is incredibly trendy, but I really love classic, elegant, simple designs. Luckily that seems to work right now. I don’t do much that is bright, big or cutesy. Those all have their place, but they’re not my cup of tea. The right color and texture are really all you need.
You never cease to stun us with your beautiful wool props. Where do you find your inspiration to consistently be a trendsetter?
I think I’m naturally creative and innovative. My problem has never been coming up with new ideas for props, but rather how to narrow down the the infinite possibilities and focus on the ones that make the most sense, and then get them into production. Some ideas “fly” and others end up sitting too long on the shelves, but there’s no way to know quite what you’ve got until you test it out. Also, it probably helps that I’m the main breadwinner right now. I know I have to be coming up with new things to keep my sales numbers up where I need them to be. That gives me a lot of motivation.
Do you have a vendor that you team up with from time to time?:
I haven’t actually experienced much jealousy or cattiness at all. I haven’t gone looking for it, and luckily it hasn’t found me! I don’t like drama, so I focus on making my shop the best it can be, and try not to worry about what everyone else is doing. I actually just started a Facebook group for vendors with Shawna of Wild Blossom Props. Its called Prop Vendor Community and we hope to meet more vendors and have a positive space to talk about the prop business and have other ladies to bounce ideas off of who are facing the same challenges. I’m hoping it will also turn into a place where seasoned sellers will give encouragement and and answer questions for new prop makers who are just starting out. For any vendors interested in joining, the group can be found here: Prop Vendor Community.
If you could meet one person from the newborn industry, who would it be and why:
I really can’t single out any one person. There are so many! I’m not even going to name names. I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful photographers now, even if its only because I sell them fluff and they let me use their images. It would be nice to meet more people in person though. I have a handful of local customers who come to shop in my basement. The whole family ends up coming down to meet them because its such a rare occurrence to interact with fluff-lovers face to face!
Your favorite prop to make and why – it can be a throwback!:
I love mixing different techniques together. For example, I like putting needle felted elements on knitted hats. All of my bonnets that I’ve done that with so far (bears, foxes, reindeer) have been a big hit!
Any plans for upcoming changes to your store or your line in the near future:
Well, its always evolving. I’m trying to figure out how to keep more of my popular fluff colors in stock on a regular basis while still having the time and space to add new things. I’m also wanting to expand my selection of props that match my fluff. I’m hoping to debut new bonnets, blankets, wraps and maybe even some outfits in 2016. I’d also love to do a line of headbands that match my fluff if I can ever find the time to work on that. Fluff will always be my main focus, but playing around with matching ensembles is really fun.
That conclude the interview and by now you can see why this woman is taking charge of the wool fluff in the newborn prop industry. One of my personal favorites from Elizabeth’s shop is her Fairytale Fluff! Below are a few images of some of my favorite colors in use!
Oh So Fleeting can be found online at the links below!
Big Cartel www.ohsofleeting.com
Thank you for sharing you time with me and please check out some of Oh So Fleeting’s shops. You won’t be disappointed! Leave a comment below if you are enjoying this series or are interested in becoming a featured vendor!
Jennifer Rittenberry Photography specializes in newborn, baby, family, child and maternity photography in Louisville, Kentucky and surrounding areas including but not limited to Mount Washington.