With A. Heirloom, husband-and-wife team Amy Stringer-Mowat and Bill Mowat achieved the holy grail of American-made kitchenware, uniting smart design with high function. The Brooklyn-based couple designs beautiful state-shaped cutting boards. Every board is made to order; A. Heirloom offers customized engravings (a heart, star, house, logo, initials and/or dates) and carves the icon on the location of the customer’s choice (city, town or other landmark). The pieces make conversation-sparking cheese boards and thoughtful, personalized gifts for weddings and house-warmings.
What inspired you and Bill to develop the state-shaped cutting boards and to launch A. Heirloom?
They were a very last-minute project for our wedding in 2010. To make our out-of-town guests feel at home and for a quick way to display cheese, we came up with state-shaped cutting boards for each of our home states (Michigan and Connecticut) with hearts on our hometowns. It’s rumored that Bill was actually finishing the boards with our best man on the day of the wedding! Our guests loved them. We decided to start an Etsy shop in late 2010. We now make all 50 states and will be launching other countries this year.
What do you love most about your work?
We feel humbled and thrilled by our loyal customers; they make the work worthwhile. Their response to our product has kept us focused on growing our small business. We really love hearing where and why the cutting boards are being sent; this makes us feel fulfilled by our very simple concept.
What are the rewards and challenges of working as business partner with your husband? How do you separate family and personal time from “work time?”
The reward is a flexible schedule, but the challenge is maintaining a balance. We currently have everything we need at home: photo-studio, computer, toddler music party, a part-time shipping operation, printing, etc. Our son is 15 months old and is currently the CEO of our household! When he started to mimic typing away in front a computer screen at night, we knew it was time to turn them off. So this is our new strategy: when the day is over, the laptops and desktops go off. We feel work is good for our son to see and understand, but the evening is time to unwind and start over. I think small business owners forget this all the time.
How is “American Made” important to you?
Having an American-made product sets a high standard from a production standpoint. We have control over the quality of the product and the personalization of each board. We are also trained to use sophisticated manufacturing techniques, so we have a sense of pride that we can accomplish the volume of orders and make them where we live. Our production loop is efficient and local, which means we can concentrate on quality.
The beauty of an American-made product is that it’s special and that there are multiple lives that are being affected when you purchase the item. While we continue designing and supporting our family, our staff, material reps and box manufactures are all doing more business due to the success of our product; it’s reciprocal.
What advice would you give to new small business owners and those wanting to turn their passion into a livelihood?
Be prepared to work and realize that some things don’t happen overnight. Have a realistic sense of your production methods, the product and the day-to-day running of your small business. Understanding a range of computer programs from Excel to Illustrator is essential. Educate yourself on new technologies, manufacturing techniques and software available for small business owners to simplify your job.
Stay true to your idea, and be original with the concept. While there have always been state-shaped items, we simply modernized the concept and added a level of personalization. We created something unique out of a simple idea.
What do you see on the horizon for A. Heirloom?
New, New, New! We have three wonderful collaborations set up for this winter and spring. We plan on sticking with some new state-shaped items but will expand to include some more functional cutting boards, cheese knives and kitchen tools. We offered an entire snack box this Christmas and have finally mastered shipping cheese with our boards, so look out!
Kelsey Mirando is an Editorial Assistant in Books and Special Projects at Martha Stewart. She’s endlessly inspired by art, travel, and life in the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kmirando.