Plan your inventory a year ahead. I had planned all of my summer collection during the spring, and by the time it was summer I was very busy fulfilling all of the orders because I was selling so many hats as well as planning the winter/fall collection. I now know to plan for every collection a year in advance.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalia Ruiz Heinsohn
Natalia Ruiz Heinsohn is a visual artist from Costa Rica based in Los Angeles, California. She works as a freelance art director and graphic designer from her home in Silverlake. The pandemic reduced her workload significantly, allowing her to begin a new venture: a hand painted hat business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am the middle child in a family of 7 siblings. We grew up in San José, Costa Rica with divorced parents. My mom was a painter and my dad was a civil engineer. Saturdays in my mom’s house were a lot of fun because she taught painting classes for kids. She would cover all the walls with paper or canvas, making all the surfaces in the house available for painting. I knew that I was going to pick a creative career since I was little, and that’s mainly thanks to my mom. My stepmom went to art school as well, so whenever we spent weekends at my dad’s house, she would organize drawing contests between me and my sisters to spend the time. I won most of the times, it was the only thing I was good at.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.” by my favorite novelist, Tom Robbins. We often put up excuses to validate our lack of effort, or why we aren’t where we wish we were. The world will never give us what we want just by wishing, we have to work for it, and if we do so, really really hard, we can get to where we want. Excuses are just a form of self sabotage, us being our dragons, and we need to train ourselves to get out of that place. It’s really hard to acknowledge when we are holding ourselves back because we tend to blame the rest of the world. Once we learn how to save ourselves, the climb up is way easier. At the same time, I love this quote by him as well “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” We have to be strong and work hard, but we also need to play to grow into something better.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut made a very big impact on me because he gives every single character in the book the same importance. There is no character who is just an extra or whose background isn’t explained to the reader in detail. The reason behind this, is explained in the book like this:
“Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done. If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead. It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.”
This book really changed my perspective on people in general. I try to go places and not overlook a single person. If I’m at a party and I notice someone is alone and not talking to anybody, I try to get to know that person. Actively trying to understand people’s stories has really changed my life. Next time I see them, I actually know what they are going through and they appreciate the interest. It also makes interactions way more fun, because you keep learning new things about people that you didn’t expect. I have learned that people are way more interesting than you would think, especially the ones that shy away from the public.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I studied a BFA in photography at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After school, I worked as a graphic designer at the agency Catch New York. Most of my work revolved around motion graphics, creating animated ads for social posts or making animated gifs. I also did a lot of layout for print and branding. We worked with brands like Nike, Hewlett Packard, Loews Hotels, and Curaçao. After Catch, I started working as an art director at the agency D3 in Soho. I had a team of 4 graphic designers working under me, and we also did a lot of motion graphics work as well as newsletters and banners. The work at D3 was more digital focused and more fast paced than at Catch. I enjoyed mostly working with Luminary, a podcast streaming service. We designed the branding campaigns for shows like The Trevor Noah Podcast with Trevor Noah, Under The Skin with Russel Brand, The C-Word with Lena Dunham, and many others. At the beginning of COVID-19, however, the company closed for business and I moved to Los Angeles. I have been working as a freelance art director for various clients but I still had a lot of extra time on my hands.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The first month in LA was hard because I was feeling very ill, with symptoms unrelated to COVID-19. I was later diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that causes hypersensitivity to the sun. The doctor recommended that I wear hats all the time. I started hand painting hats to embrace my new look with personality and style. The hats were funky and different, so I opened an online store though Instagram. I didn’t expect the store to be so successful, but every time that I put a new design out, the style gets sold out within 48 hours. It’s been a lot of fun but also a lot of work to keep up with the demand, carve out time to make new designs, and keep up my freelancing as a designer.
I treated my brand like I would any client. We needed a brand story, a logo, a target audience, a website, a social media plan, and incredible designs. The hat designs mirror my graphic design in that they are very bold, quirky, and play with putting order within chaos and vice versa.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
The first time that I saw friends after quarantining for months, we went to the park. I arrived with my hand painted Dalmatian hat. Everybody in the group complimented my hat, and then one of the guys said: “I just don’t understand how this was made, the pattern seems to be seamless. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
I then disclosed the fact that I had painted the hat by hand after it had been sown, hence the seamless pattern. Everyone was impressed by the final result and they encouraged me to make more.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Things are going great. I recovered my initial investment already and the clients keep coming back. The account on social media is growing, and the amount of orders keeps growing per week. Other creatives have been reaching out to do collaborations with them. It’s really exciting to see strangers wanting to connect with me solely because of my creative work. I just launched the most recent collaboration I did with Adam Collelo, a vegan fur bucket hat, perfect for the winter.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am particularly grateful to Adrian Mangel, my boyfriend, who encouraged me to do this regardless of sacrificing our dining room and sometimes living room as well in order to produce all of my inventory. We have spent weekends brainstorming together about hat designs. He has helped me do a million experiments with chemicals, paint, and sowing. He is also the most honest person when it comes to feedback, a very rare quality in most people, so I feel comfortable sharing my designs with him and considering any alterations he may suggest. We sometimes disagree, but even that helps elevate the designs even more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I got an order from somebody in Brooklyn, NY that was a complete stranger to me. I made his Cloud Hat and mailed it to him. A week later, he posted a very long post with photos of him with the hat saying “Shoutout to an incredible artist and creator @bucketnats for this sky hat. It is probably my favorite item of clothing I have ever owned.” This really touched my heart. I keep getting orders from people I don’t know and it’s always a great feeling when they reach out saying that they love their hat.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Plan your inventory a year ahead. I had planned all of my summer collection during the spring, and by the time it was summer I was very busy fulfilling all of the orders because I was selling so many hats as well as planning the winter/fall collection. I now know to plan for every collection a year in advance.
- Order all your labels or anything branding related months in advance. The only time that I had production delayed was because the company that makes my labels got very delayed (over 3 weeks) due to COVID-19. I had to email every single one of my customers, apologizing for the delay. I now have a surplus of labels and this will never happen again.
- Don’t sell yourself short.
- Plan for a big success, your business can grow even more than you can imagine
- Keep in constant communication with your customers, through social media and email. Many people don’t really know how to order and they will ask through DM or email how to do this, even though my website is a very simple squarespace store. In my experience, customers make a purchase about 50% of the time when I explain to them how to make a purchase. I also get a lot of messages asking when something will be back in stock. Every time this happens, I make sure I post a story announcing that the item is in stock. Very often, a customer will reply to the story saying that they just purchased said item.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Yes, the current global health situation as well as my own has made me very stressed this year. It is hard to focus on a creative practice under stress, so what I have done to keep the creativity flowing is meditate with a blindfold or in a dark room for 10 minutes every time that I become overwhelmed. Being blindfolded or in the darkness helps me because when I come back to the real world and open my eyes, light and color seem like a new thing and the world is more appealing again. It’s also easier to think about nothing if you can’t see, so I achieve a state of calmness faster if I meditate in a dark place.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I believe that the hat business operates under the same philosophy as my inspirational movement: expand your mind and connect to others. The brand mascot is a mushroom because mushrooms don’t have gender or race, being all inclusive. When something dies, fungi turn the corpse into fertile soil for new life to grow, bringing light from darkness. Mushrooms are born from an interconnected network under the ground called mycelium, the plant and mushroom internet. To me, mushrooms are the epitome of an organism connected to others with open communication. Mushrooms can also have medicinal purposes and mind altering qualities. Lion’s mane, for example, is a nootropic that can boost your brainpower. Bucket hats also look like mushroom heads, so it made perfect sense to make the brand mascot Mushy, a mushroom. If we all opened our minds and realized that we’re more similar than we think, and if we actually connected to get to know each other, the world would be a more loving and fun place to live in.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Paul Stamets because he understands mushrooms more than any human and uses his knowledge about them to innovate in sustainability.
How can our readers follow you online?
My hat store: www.bucketnats.com
My graphic design and art director page: www.nataliaruizh.com
Personal Instagram: @natruiz
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!