When Sarah Omura needed a good way to contain her toddler’s beloved toy cars while out and about, she took matters into her own hands. Sarah conceptualized and sewed a travel toy car roll. Other parents took note of her genius, propelling the designer to launch SO Handmade. Today the car rolls remain one of the brand’s most popular products, and Sarah has expanded her product line of eco-friendly handmade toys.
“Being a mother to two children, I develop toys that I see the need for in our lives. These fill the gap between organization and fun and give children the chance to explore their own imaginations and engage in self-directed play—especially on-the-go,” Sarah said.
Keep reading to learn more about Sarah and SO Handmade.
Artisan Joy: How did you get started as a maker?
Sarah Omura: I have always been creative through art and sewing. My Mom was an avid sewer and taught me how to sew from an early age. I pursued a career as a textile designer and worked in that industry before my kids came along. I started SO Handmade whilst I was a stay-at-home mom with my oldest as a way to keep my creativity going and to make practical and useful things that I saw we needed but didn’t exist anywhere.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your creations into a business?
SO: I made my first product, my car roll, for my son when he was a toddler and wanted to bring his toy cars with him wherever we went. He was always losing them, or I would find them at the bottom of pockets or bags. I decided that there had to be a better way to store them to bring out with us, so I started designing this car roll. I wanted something he could also play his cars on when we were out to eat or at Grandma’s house. I realized this could be the start of a new business when so many of my friends with busy toddlers asked me to make one for them too. This is still one of my bestsellers today and the product that initiated the trajectory of my business.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
SO: I get lots of ideas from customers especially at craft events. I love chatting with moms who tell me what their kids enjoy and what challenges they have in finding open-ended and imaginative toys for their kids.
AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?
SO: I usually think about these ideas for a while before starting to design and often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I start with the construction of a new product. For example, with my car playmat, I knew I wanted to have bigger pockets to fit larger toy cars. so I started with the size that the pockets would have to be. Then I wanted a playmat design that would fold over the pocket to stop the cars from falling out. Once I had the basic shape, I sewed some prototypes and tested them out with toy cars. I also decided to add a bridge for extra enjoyment. Once I had the basic shapes of the fabric pieces, I put pen to paper to design what would be printed on them. I screen print the final design onto the fabric and sew a prototype to test it out. If it is successful, then I will make a larger production run.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
SO: That I lived in Namibia in Southern Africa for 6 years! I originally went as a volunteer to work with local craft groups to help them design and produce craftS to sell to the burgeoning tourism industry. In this very dry area of the world, I saw firsthand the devastating effects that deforestation and climate change was having to the people and the environment. When I launched SO Handmade, this was one of the most important building blocks for how I wanted the business to grow.
AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?
SO: I am a pretty positive person, but sometimes bad days happen! These are usually involving a tech issue! I try and take a step back, go for a walk and have a cup of tea. Most of the time, it’s not so bad after this.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
SO: Just do it! When I started SO Handmade, my products were so different and unique from anything else out there—I thought that maybe there was a reason for that. But people love that about my things—there is a market for everything.
AJ: How do you deal with product criticism?
SO: I think the worst thing anyone ever said is that my things are too expensive. If that happens, I calmly explain how I hand screen print and sew everything myself. I don’t take it to heart but rather tell myself that they aren’t my ideal customer anyway!
AJ: Creatives are often very in tune with what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If this happens to you, how do you cope?
SO: I have found living in the U.S. really hard in the last few years. As a Brit, it amazes me the amount of hate and division in the country at the moment. I try and focus on my small community and take solace in the wonderful things my community can do to support marginalized people and causes close to my heart.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?
SO: I love spending time with my family outside, whether its hiking, mountain biking or skiing.