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Kawaii Shark Ita Bag and New Enamel Pins May 27, 2019 10:30

From Jess: 

My husband Chris and I have been itching to get into the enamel pin game for years. Before he met me, Chris had an enamel pin produced of Ogo, the main character from his webcomic "Kiskaloo" (around 2009 or 2010?); then, in 2012, we had four different pins made based on some of Chris's cute pin-up drawings. We didn't really know the first thing about pins, though, and we weren't super stoked with the results, so we've never sold any of those.

In 2017, we decided to finally try again with our Chibi Rescue Sirens pins: five adorable, extra-cartoony pins of each Rescue Siren, along with the series emblem.

By late 2018, I wanted to get more involved and level up our pin game. I teamed up with Kellee Riley, one of our wonderful "Rescue Sirens" artists and a great friend, and I learned all about the ins and outs of enamel pin design and production. (If you want amazing mermaid pins, they really don't get better than Kellee's, available in her Etsy shop.) Once I was semi-capable of adapting artwork into pins myself, I was off to the races! I've been cranking out new pin designs ever since, which we'll be debuting this July at San Diego Comic-Con.

First up, though, is this gorgeous 2" Nim pin, which Kellee adapted flawlessly from her own artwork and I had produced: 


Rescue Siren Nim mermaid enamel pin by Kellee Riley


Isn't it stunning? I can't stop staring at it!

The really awesome part: Kellee currently has a limited number of Nim pins for sale in her Etsy shop, so you can buy one RIGHT NOW! Please go throw money at her if you can; I'm so grateful to Kellee for being my "pin pal," and she deserves all the success in the world. (Not only because she's a wonderful person, but also because that means she can keep making pins! Mwahaha! I need my KelleeArt fix.)

In addition to our Nim pin, I'm crossing my fingers that I'll have a Kelby pin finished and in-hand by SDCC, too. I've adapted Kellee's artwork for Kelby and the rest of the Sirens, and I'm currently deciding on the best pin manufacturing home for them that's capable of faithfully producing each design (glitter, screenprinting, and all).

In the meantime, though, I have a sneak peek (read: factory photos) of two sets of pins that any ocean enthusiast or mermaid fan will want, whether that's to fill empty spaces in their pin boards or simply to add a little flair to a jacket lapel or hat (or whatever else you feel comfortable poking holes in, really).


Tiny seashell filler pins
Tiny seashell filler pins


These itty-bitty 0.5" filler pins are inspired by the cute seashells and coral you can find on the beach in one of my favorite video games, "Animal Crossing." I love shell-shaped filler pins and use them all the time in my pin layouts, so I wanted to make my own set (including more than just your traditional scallops). This is the result!

But that's not my biggest pin-related news this month.

Have you heard of ita bags? An ita bag (which can take the form of a purse, a backpack, or a convertible combination of the two) has a main compartment for holding your items (phone, wallet, etc.) as well as a secondary compartment, which features a clear vinyl window. Within this compartment, you can display enamel pins, embroidered patches, pinback buttons, photographs -- whatever your heart desires!

Ita bags have their origins in Japan, and they're quickly gaining popularity across the world. There are a lot of really appealing ita bag designs out there (and I own several!), but the type of bag that I wanted most didn't exist, so... I made it.

Meet the Kawaii Shark ita bag, by Rescue Sirens.


Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"


I'm so proud of it! I designed it from scratch, and it's everything I'd hoped for in an ita bag. What you see here is the first sample bag that I received from my manufacturer, with a revised sample waiting to be photographed (I added an interior label and altered the tooth position a tiny -- and I mean tiny -- bit). The front of the bag (the display compartment) is about 12" tall by 10.5" wide at its base, and the shorter main storage compartment behind that is about 4" deep, giving you plenty of room for both your pins and your daily essentials.

How do you display your pins, you ask? While Kawaii Shark comes with a removable pink satin "pillow" to stick your pins to...


Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"
Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"
Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"


...I highly suggest using the pillow as a cutting guide and creating your own ita bag inserts using stiff felt. That's what I've been doing, and it works like a charm! I'll probably write a blog post next month demonstrating that and recommending my favorite felt, and showing off some of my favorite pin layouts displayed inside the bag.

Once I nail down overall costs and decide on a retail price, my plan is to open up pre-sales in the "Rescue Sirens" Etsy shop. Pre-sales will be offered at a discount in thanks for being awesome and ordering early, and that will pay for the cost of mass production. Once the bags are produced and shipped here, I'll send them out to people who pre-ordered them, and then I'll sell the rest of them at the standard price. I expect the entire process to take about two months from the time mass production begins, assuming everything goes swimmingly.

Sharks are such a passion of mine, and shark conservation is a big part of "Rescue Sirens," so I thought this would be the perfect bag to display Rescue Siren pins, Kellee Riley's mermaid pins, ocean-related pins, or anything else you can dream up. (I just made a "Jurassic Park" pin layout a couple of nights ago!) I can't wait to share this with all of you, and see what you come up with to display in your ita bag!

If you're not doing so already, please follow us on Instagram for updates, and/or sign up for our mailing list to learn when our ita bag pre-sales go live (and for more information on when our pins are available).

Mer-Made in the USA May 21, 2019 16:00

From Jess: 

This is not going to be a fun post, but I think it’s a necessary one. We'll return to your regularly-scheduled happy Mer-May news soon.

In the past week, I have observed two American small businesses that I admire and support — a well-known mermaid tailmaker, as well as deluxe art book publisher Flesk Publications — struggling with the new 25% tariff being implemented on goods produced in and imported from China. These are smart people who are doing everything rightcreating things of beauty to share with all of us at prices we can afford, and now they're being forced to question their companies' futures.

”Well,” the knee jerk response seems to be, “just stop doing business in China!”

Okay. Let me tell you a story  a story about a book.

Chris and I printed our novel “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in the United States. Right here in Glendale, California, in fact! Both the hardcover first edition and the paperback second edition were printed and bound in the USA.

There were a lot of advantages to this! We have a good relationship with our local printer and were happy to work with him again, we were able to drop in and see the books in progress, the entire process was really fast (we needed the first editions in time for San Diego Comic-Con 2015), and the books turned out beautifully both times. Chris and I like to support small businesses and to buy American when we can, and it was gratifying to know that the money we’d spent on printing the books was going back into our very own community.

But there’s one big disadvantage: with all the books we’ve sold since 2015, we have not profited ONE CENT.

”Well,” asks the same person who suggested not doing business with China, “why don’t you just charge more for your books?”

That’s an easy one: because people won’t pay what’s necessary for us to make money when printing in the United States.

Here are some numbers for you. I don’t normally discuss finances this openly, but it’s vital in this situation to drive home my point.


HARDCOVER FIRST EDITION:
Illustrator fee: $8,000
Colorist fee: $1150
Printing/binding fee: $19,924
Total cost: $29,074

PAPERBACK SECOND EDITION:
Printing fee: $16,442


Those were the costs for 1,000 books each time, which makes figuring out the unit price really simple: $29.07 per hardcover, and $16.44 per paperback.

We sell our books for $20 each.

See where this is going?

Every single copy of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” has been sold for a profit of about $3.56 (paperback), or for a loss of $9.07 (hardcover). Once we sell every copy of our novels, we will still be in the redAnd that’s not even taking into account the inevitable damaged books, gift and personal copies, or books we’ve sold through Amazon subject to their FBA fees (compounding the loss). We're just trying to fill the hole as much as we can.

The thing is, Chris and I knew going in that we were going to lose money, but printing and selling these books was important to us and that was a sacrifice we were willing to make at that time. We figured we’d compensate for it in other ways. He and I are fortunate enough that we were able to take a loss in order to get the first “Rescue Sirens” book out there — but most people are not. If this was our livelihood, we would obviously be screwed.

Let’s take a look at what we would have to charge in order to make this financially feasible. Keep in mind, we’ve already received plenty of complaints for selling our books for twenty bucks apiece! If we had, instead, offered them at 250% of our cost — which 1) pays for production, 2) provides us the same funds to print the books again, should we need to, and 3) earns us some actual profit on top of that — then we’d be charging $41 for the paperback and $73 for the hardcover. Do you think people are going to pay that for an 8.5"x5.5", 192-page novel? Because I can tell you that they won’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t.

”Well, why don’t you just sell the books digitally?”

Yeah. We do that. You can purchase “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” on Amazon for your Kindle or tablet/smartphone for $2.99. It’s almost pure profit for us. And, over and over, the feedback from customers has been, “I just prefer a book that I can hold in my hands.” Digital sales have been negligible (around five hundred “copies,” last I checked).

So, tell me, what are Chris and I supposed to do when it comes time to print the next "Rescue Sirens" book and we don't want to (or can't) take another multi-thousand dollar hit? As I think this post has proven, keeping book production in the United States is unsustainable, and our current government is busy making it too expensive to work with overseas manufacturers, as well.

Is the US-China relationship and how it relates to the state of American manufacturing today a problem that has an easy solution? Of course not. I would never claim that. It's complicated, and has been for decades. But punishing small businesses by charging them money for having their goods produced overseas at a cost that allows them to actually make a living isn’t helping.

If these new duty taxes aren’t affecting you or someone you know now, they will be soon, even if it’s indirectly through the items you purchase. And if this keeps up, we’ll see a world in which products either cost a LOT more, or they simply cease to exist. I don’t want to lose beautiful fabric mermaid tails, or Flesk Publications’ gorgeous art books; I want to see these businesses (and the families behind them) thrive. That means something has to change... and these new tariffs need to go.


Further reading:

John Fleskes’ Facebook post about how the new tariffs are affecting Flesk Publications