Four Questions with Johanna Parker, Owner of Kaya's Kloset
What does a biochemist with a knack for knitting do when her baby daughter's slippers fall off? For Johanna Friedle Parker, the answer was to get out her sewing machine. Five years later, Johanna is a full-time small business owner whose shop, Kaya's Kloset, sells about 80 slippers a week. The booties, which range in size from newborn to adult, are made in patterns ranging from ballerinas to baseballs, and can be found online, in boutiques throughout the Northeast, and regional craftshows.
First off, who is Kaya?
Kaya is my now five-and-a-half year old daughter. When she was born, in December of 2006, we had an impossible time keeping anything on her little feet. Hand-knit socks and booties, as well as store bought ones, just wiggled right off of her feet. I started making shoes for her and her friends when they were infants, and then soon after started selling them online and at craft fairs. Because she was the inspiration for the first pair of shoes, it seemed fitting that her name be part of our business name!
You’ve gone from being a biochemist to a mommy and small-business owner. Did you have any idea that your life would take this path?
Never! I always imagined myself working in a lab for a pharmaceutical company, discovering and formulating the next life changing drug. That said, I grew up in a very creative house, where hand making things was the norm, not the exception. I've always loved being creative and spending time with small children. This major career path change has allowed me to do that. I had a great time working in the lab, but I'm extremely happy with where life has brought me!
It seems that there are a lot of folks making (or supplementing) their living crafting. Do you think this generation has a particular DIY ethos, and why might that be?
Very true, and more so every year! There are so many great opportunities for casual crafters to earn a little money on the side, or for a more serious crafter or artist to actually make a career at their craft! Online marketplaces such as Etsy.com have made it so easy to set up your own "shop" in a matter of minutes without the technical know-how or large expense of setting up your own e-commerce website. Aside from that though, I think that there is a real appreciation for small businesses, and especially hand crafters. There is a general attitude of being fed up with big box stores, and chains and wanting to support something more relateable. I'd rather buy a screen printed shirt from someone at the SoWa Open Market, and talk with the artist, and get something unique, than spend the same money buying one that was mass produced for WalMart. Many local stores are supporting the handmade movement by carrying hand crafted items in their stores. That provides another opportunity for the home crafter. Our shoes and slippers are in over two dozen stores across the US, and that's something that I don't think would have been possible 10 years ago.
Now that Kaya is older, how does she feel about sharing her closet with everyone? Is she demanding creative input, or stock options?
She LOVES it! She has such an ownership and pride about the business! When we are at a fair or in a store and someone picks up a pair of our shoes she gets so excited. It's amazing for her to see the hours of work that go into owning your own hand-crafted business translate into making customers happy. She's been building her business sense from the beginning of her little life! Now that she's older she loves to help out, from choosing fabrics that she likes and thinks other kids will like, to helping me inventory, she'll tell you that it's HER business, and I think she might be right!
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Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!