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craftwork: more people pursuing passion to make things by hand













Talk about following one's bliss.
 
Ask Faith McFluff what she does for a living and you'll likely hear, "I get paid to be awesome!"
 
That's a far cry from the way she felt about her last job in the hospitality biz, an industry that swallowed up a large chunk of her young-adult life.
 
"It drove me nuts," says McFluff.  "It was a very stressful work environment. And wearing a uniform everyday practically killed me."
 
McFluff, who lives in Cleveland's Asiatown neighborhood, is yet another member of today's burgeoning BoHo Entrepreneur class -- creative-minded people who are leaving being the 9-to-5 grind to pursue their passion: making things.
 
Blame it on the recession or chalk it up to a generation of people who prefer vinyl records to MP3s, but the trend toward creative entrepreneurship is real and rising. People value authenticity, and that often comes in the form of a handmade object with pedigree and a good story to boot.
 
"I think when things get really high-tech and glossy, there's always a swing back, with people going back to doing things by hand," explains Nicole McGee, of the Cleveland-based Plenty Underfoot. "At a time when we can buy anything by simply pointing a phone in the right direction, it's nice to do the opposite, to use scissors and glue and make things completely by hand."
 
Like a recovering alcoholic recalling his or her last drink, Faith McFluff recites the events of her last day of work with alarming clarity. It was five years ago.
 
"I told my boss that everyday was starting to feel like Groundhog Day, and that I can't stand coming in," she recalls. She gave her notice on the spot.
 
A budding seamstress since early childhood, McFluff has always felt comfortable on this side of a sewing machine. But it wasn't until she attended her first music festival that she discovered there was a market for handmade clothing. Before long, she had hopped aboard the festival circuit full-time, selling her own creations. Her specialty, Bohemian costumes made from recycled clothing, fit the artistic-minded audiences like a glove.
 
Follow Your Bliss
 
Something magical happens when person and passion collide. Scientists talk about the release of endorphins, when feelings of euphoria kick in and all else fades away. When we are truly immersed in the task at hand, little else seems to matter.
 
"My favorite thing in the entire world is working in my shop all by myself," says Raven Toney, a fine furniture maker. "I don't even have the radio on. I'm completely engrossed in the work."
 
Like many within this BoHo Entrepreneur class, Toney's journey to occupational bliss is one that seems logical only in hindsight. Easy on the eyes, Toney began snagging modeling gigs in his early 20s. His jet-set life acting on stage and filming commercials frequently landed him on both coasts. He ultimately settled in New York City, where he launched a high-end event-planning firm that indulged the hedonistic whims of A-Listers like Donna Karan, Versace and Calvin Klein.
 
Wait for it.
 
"Along with those kinds of clients come a lot of demands," says Toney, stating the obvious. "It got to be way too much. I was making a lot of money but I wasn't as happy anymore."
 
Toney ditched it all -- including the embarrassingly large paychecks -- to apprentice with a cabinet maker in Los Angeles. Hankering for more practical work, he began designing and building decks, arbors and pergolas. His main line of work these days, which he does out of his Lakewood shop, is crafting furniture from salvaged materials. Both homes and businesses around town feature his handsome tables, chairs, coat racks and accessories.
 
The fact that Toney's past and present careers are the antithesis of one another is precisely the source of his personal and professional satisfaction. As an event planner, he juggled a frenetic web of loose ends that resulted in a nonessential event that lasted mere hours. As a furniture maker, Toney dedicates his time to well-made objects with an indefinite shelf life.
 
"I guarantee you that if I made it, it will be here for 100 years," he says of his pieces.
 
But I'm Not Creative
 
Too often, we tend to classify people as either creative or not. We look at the Mona Lisa -- or an elaborate piece of fine jewelry -- and we say to ourselves, I could never do that. Maybe so, maybe not, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try, says Nicole McGee, a self-described "creative entrepreneur" who makes and sells a broad line of crafty wares.
 
"There is no wrong way to be creative," she says. "The more permission we give ourselves to play and explore, the more open we'll be to tapping into our own creativity. Lots of people are creative in ways they might not know. There's a lot more to being creative than painting and drawing."
 
McGee's Cleveland-based business, Plenty Underfoot, is built around creative reuse of products, including cereal boxes (stationary), vinyl flooring (permanent flowers), and pop bottles (centerpieces). Unlike many others who abandoned their "day jobs," McGee loved her previous career in the nonprofit world. It just didn't fulfill her.
 
"It was awesome, but I recognized I had a passion to be more creative," she explains.
 
As she reduced her hours per week from 40 to 30 and down, it became clear to McGee where her destiny lay, and it wasn't in the nonprofit world. She was fortunate enough to have the flexibility that allowed her to shift gradually from vocation to avocation, a strategy she highly recommends.
 
"Don't just leave your day job to go find yourself," she says. "I tell people you shouldn't take the leap until you have a few things already lined up."
 
And Then There are the Hands
 
Invariably, we must give something up in order to pursue our passion. Money might seem the obvious casualty -- and almost without fail, creative entrepreneurs make less money -- but to most, that hardly is a shortcoming.
 
"I was making tons of money -- more money than a 20-year-old should," says McFluff. "I bought a shiny new convertible, I travelled to Europe. But I realized that I was buying stuff to try to find happiness. I learned that you can work less, earn less, and still maintain a level of happiness."
 
While McGee does occasionally find herself romanticizing the days of a steady paycheck, the lack of one has prompted positive changes she'd never abandon.
 
"When I was making more than I needed, I would buy more stuff than I needed," says McGee. "This life forces you to be more financially engaged in your life. To pay attention to revenue in and revenue out. It helps you to live simply."
 
And then there are the hands.
 
"My hands now look like my dad's, who was a coalminer," says Toney. "I doubt I'd I get work as a model anymore with these hands."


Photos Bob Perkoski *except where noted
- Images 1 - 4: Raven Toney
- Images 5 - 8: Rachel McFulff *courtesy of Rock Star Rehab Gear
- Images 9 - 12: Nicole McGee
 

Read more articles by Douglas Trattner.

Douglas Trattner is a fulltime freelance writer, editor and author. In addition to acting as Managing Editor of Fresh Water, he is the Dining Editor of Cleveland Scene, author of “Moon Handbooks: Cleveland,” and co-author with Michael Symon on two New York Times best-selling cookbooks. His work has appeared in Food Network magazine, Miami Herald, Globe and Mail, Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Magazine and others. He lives in Cleveland Hts. with his wife, two dogs, five chickens and 20,000 honeybees.
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