Nora Abousteit is the founder of Kollabora, the new fashion-forward DIY community that connects makers with inspiring projects, helpful tutorials, and the best supplies.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you get to where you are today?
There are so many elements that have played into where I am today. First of all, I’ve always loved to make things, and you could say making was the default at our home. My mother is the best knitter and crocheter out there; my father is an amazing wood, metal, anything maker. We’ve screen-printed my birthday invites, made enamel jewelry, candles, built scarecrows, clocks, and costumes. In school, I took every art course, elective, and extracurricular I could get my hands on, learning how to make metal jewelry, halogen lamps, etching, you name it. I even started sewing on my grandmother’s sewing machine and made my first money as a teenager making scrunchies that I sold in school.
However, I never thought that I would get into a digital craft career. The crossing of professional life and passion started in Germany at the German publishing house Hubert Burda Media. Hubert Burda’s mother had laid the foundation for the publishing house in the 1940s with a fashion magazine that inserted sewing patterns. Hubert Burda wanted to rejuvenate this old brand and bring it online to a new customer and market. When I heard that, I always say, ‘thunder and lightning’ hit me. I did some research, pitched, got a budget, and a few years later BurdaStyle.com was the biggest sewing community in the world with over 800k members. I ran that for over 5 years until I decided to quit and start my own business.
Why did you start Kollabora?
While running BurdaStyle.com, I still pursued other hobbies but had to visit so many different places for inspiration, learning, and to find the materials – both on and offline. Everything was so fragmented, and I wished it would be in one place.
At the same time, I felt the old way of shopping – to go to a big box store or to search not-so-good eCommerce sites that offer products out of context – wasn’t satisfying, or rather, it was frustrating. I wanted to make making easier and to help people start making (again). The idea for Kollabora was born.
Tell us about the story the name of your business.
Kollabora comes from the Latin collaboro, which means “working together with others.” I believe crafting is ultimately a social experience. Skills are passed on from person to person, and sitting together and sharing skills and materials is the original way of production. A friend who is a Spanish speaker came up with the word, and I switched the ‘C’ to ‘K’ to make it sound cooler (and maybe more German…I’m half German!)
Why do you think that Kollabora has taken off?
From the very beginning, we had a focus on fashion-forward projects. There is a stereotype that crafters have a dusty old style, but DIYers are hip and they love to indulge in cool projects. It’s hard to find it in the world of big box stores and badly designed websites. Like any good fashion magazine, we put some effort in curation and produced good-looking projects. And there are more and more starting to get into the space. It’s becoming what it’s supposed to be: Creativity deserves inspiring and creative spaces.
What are some of your favorite projects and products available on the site?
I love our Knockout Fingerless Gloves that teach you how to knit and get you a cool looking product for little money. It’s so important to offer beginners a non-threatening and easy way to explore a new hobby or learn new skills.
I also like the kit we produced in collaboration with Lost Wax Studio: Marlon Leather and Chain Wrap Bracelet.
What is your vision for Kollabora? What are some of your long-term goals?
We want to make crafting and making easier and to inspire with an amazing content selection from talented makers and high-quality brands. We consider ourselves a platform for others to shine and to connect. Our long-term goals are to open more communities or categories and to go international. I can hardly breathe when I see highly talented people all over the world. I just met someone online from Barcelona –she’s one of the coolest crafters reviving old traditional techniques and adding coolness to it. I love local flavors in creativity.
Kollabora is hosting its first crafting expedition this summer in Ollantaytambo in Cusco, Peru. What made you want to organize this trip? What made you choose to travel to Cusco? What will be some of the highlights of the trip? Do you have any future crafting trips in the works?
First of all, we’re all in love with yarns from Peru and are OBSESSED with Alpacas. No kidding. Our graphic designer knitted this one.
And we have even an Alpaca Pinterest board!
But most importantly, Kollabora is about skills, learning, and the support of the community. So we will go to learn ancient techniques and support local artisan women.
In any case, we like to go straight to the source, the root of where things come from. Under the Kollabora brand we carry high quality yarns from Peru and felt we owe it to our members to give insight into how things are made and where they come from. We still have a few seats available, but they’re running out fast. So if you’re interested in joining, drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
What is your favorite part of what you do?
Kollabora Labs. The whole team (including our engineers) sits together every Tuesday afternoon to test our products. That’s when I get to live my vision!
Who or what inspires you?
The members of our site inspire me very much. I browse through their projects and get that urge, a tingling in my fingers, that makes me want to do a similar project.
What advice do you have for fellow makers or DIYers?
Be brave and try new skills! They make you so happy. Be precise and patient. And never be afraid to start from the beginning. You spend so much time and effort that you might as well do it right. Something handmade stays with you forever.
Kollabora will be offering FREE SHIPPING on all craft supplies to Martha Stewart Living readers! Use the code MARTHA at checkout. Offer expires April 30, 2013.