'You can write on them, but I'm not going to provide the pen,' Heather Lins says of her 'Conversation Piece' line of pillows.
Heather Lins heads toward her neighborhood coffee shop, Atwood Avenue's Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery, pushing a double stroller and trailing a wheeled suitcase. The stroller holds her eight-week-old twins; the suitcase, samples of the home goods she produces through her company, Heather Lins Home.
And the east-sider and graphic designer has a day job, too, at Madison's Firepower Design.
"I'm on a little hiatus right now," says Lins, who found out that twins run in her family only after getting pregnant. Yet she seems to have things well in hand, even managing to get her new 2010 product line in the works.
Heather Lins Home currently consists of a witty 2009 product line that plays off our familiarity with certain typographic and iconic representations. There are two eye-chart pillows, one in 3-D (that comes with a pair of 3-D glasses). Napkins, placemats and coasters numbered in a vintage font take off on the "numbered edition" tradition of printmaking. And "Conversation Pieces," more accent pillows, bear the speaking "bubbles" that usually contain comic characters' speech. "I like to make things that are conversation starters."
Lins, 36, is a Richland Center native who graduated from the UW-Madison with a concentration in graphic design. Back in 2008, she was looking for a side creative outlet that would let her use her design skills but not exacerbate a nascent case of carpal tunnel stress.
She'd always loved interior design and pored over copies of the now-defunct Domino and other "shelter" magazines. But no ideas gelled until she read about a competition to get into the New York International Gift Fair, a huge twice-yearly exhibition that showcases home and lifestyle goods. "I'm a deadline-oriented person," Lins confesses, and the competition was "a good way to get the ideas out of the sketchbook."
Since Lins had no actual product line to submit to the contest, she Photoshopped her ideas onto a pillow form, "threw together a website" but thought she had little chance of getting into the show.
When she found out that she'd actually won one of the coveted booth spots in the juried "Young Designers" section (a spot worth $20,000) she still didn't have actual products to take to the show. She found a friend in Chicago who agreed to be her production manager, making samples to bring to New York, while Lins put together a marketing kit. "I don't even know how to sew," says Lins.
The appearance at the August 2008 design fair was a confidence-builder. "I liked my stuff, but didn't know if it would sell. I knew it was different from what was out there, but was that good or was that bad?" Lins recalls. She notes that there's still an idea on the East and West coasts that the center of the country is "two years behind on the trends," and she was satisfied to represent the Midwest as also having a worthwhile design sense.
Since then, her napkins have been highlighted in GQ's "Best of 2009" list (they were dubbed "manly"), and Domino singled them out as well for their eco-consciousness in its January '09 issue. So far, the napkin set is Lins' best-seller.
While Lins' wares are carried at select home stores across the country, only Iconi Interiors sells them here in town. She's also been selling items through Supermarket, an Etsy-style online site specifically for designers, not crafters. "I like that method of selling, as I end up having a lot more interaction with the end user. I can see who's buying them, and buyers can send me feedback directly.
"What's great about right now is that I can have this specific point of view, and the people who like that point of view can find it, from wherever they are. I can tell from the zip codes that they're going to people in New York City and Iowa and rural Colorado."
Lins' work draws inspiration from typography and pop art, yet has a simplicity that can be part of a more refined interior look as well as contemporary or mid-century modern. "There aren't really any other 'conceptual' home goods out there," she says.
Eco-friendly materials are Lins' first choice and used whenever possible. All pieces are hand screen-printed with water-based inks and sewn domestically. The fabric for the 2009 line is an organic cotton-hemp blend.
Lins' upcoming line is called "Science Project," based on line drawings found in science texts. In some ways, it looks like the inverse of the initial collection. While her first works were white and cream with elegant typography, "Science Project" is black, with bright orange and yellow contrasting colors and abstract visual representations. There will be three themes: botany, anatomy and geology.
Pillows are like little canvases, Lins says. "People recognize the images, but they're not what you'd expect to see on a pillow."
The new pillows are made of wool ("a renewable resource") with appliqués of ultrasuede that's made from old soda bottles; they'll be sewn in Chicago.
Fittingly, "Science Project" should launch around Earth Day.