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Brittney Andrews found herself in a predicament familiar to many of us: Christmas was fast approaching and her gift list was racking up. Andrews, inspired by a small arts and crafts club she had recently started with friends, decided to take a DIY approach to holiday gifting. She doodled the faces of family members and their pets, then turned them into magnets. The customized gifts were an instant hit.
One month later, in January 2017, her Etsy shop KitAtlas was born.
Thanks to a mention in a BuzzFeed article, among other things, the order requests soon started pouring in. Today, Andrews’ Etsy store has filled more than 2,800 orders. It’s easy to see why — KitAtlas’ customizable magnets are a perfect mix of thoughtful, fun, affordable and versatile. You can order magnets of your entire family, your best friends, coworkers, or a bridal party. In addition to the custom magnets, Andrews also whips up pre-illustrated pet magnets and custom cards.
Last year, KitAtlas was a finalist in Etsy’s first Design Awards, being honored in the Creative Collaboration category that seeks “personalized, handcrafted goods that put the ‘special’ in ‘special order.’”
When she first opened the store, Andrews imagined KitAtlas would be a fun hobby to fill her time. But its unanticipated success has impacted her life in major ways.
Andrews, a high school physics and environmental science teacher in Indiana, started working part-time to keep up with the influx of orders.
She also hired her mom. Regina Galliher, who retired from teaching kindergarten in August 2017, teamed up with her daughter to collaborate on the KitAtlas shop.
The extra pair of hands has been helpful for Andrews, especially since Galliher’s hands are as crafty as hers. Galliher has an avid passion for crafting, and often made Halloween costumes and holiday outfits for Andrews and her siblings.
“I would consider her my best friend,” Andrews told HuffPost. “It’s been nice working with her. We still have our spats, but we usually make up just a few minutes after.”
The partnership has also allowed them to spend more time together.
“Being a part of KitAtlas has been my favorite job that I have ever had,” Galliher said. “Coloring the illustrations is so relaxing and therapeutic. I also love being able to work and spend time with my daughter, even though she can be really picky (ha), but that attention to detail is what has helped make the shop successful.”
Andrews illustrates and takes care of customer service, while her mom does the coloring and construction of the magnets. Andrews estimates that they make an average of eight to 10 magnets per day, with each taking about an hour and a half to illustrate with paper and pencil, trace on an iPad, color, hand-cut, gloss and package.
For Andrews, KitAtlas has become an opportunity to revisit a love for art and illustration that got a little lost during high school and college, when she became engrossed in the challenges of physics and other sciences. Andrews said she’s still exploring and developing her artistic style, but that she finds her faces a bit more polished than her “more doodly” illustrations.
“For the most part, it’s realistic enough to capture someone or make someone recognizable,” she said. “But [my illustrations] mainly have a fun, consistently cartoonish look to them.”
Andrews recently has started incorporating small objects and scenes into her illustrations. She enjoys illustrating anything that’s a little whimsical, such as dogs, the outdoors, stars and coffee, but her bread and butter remains her carefully drawn personalized creations of people and their pets.
Etsy has declared 2020 the “Year of Purpose” ― a year all about making mindful and meaningful choices ― and KitAtlas is so successful because of its ability substitute a cookie-cutter gift with something thoughtful and personal, said Etsy Trend Expert Dayna Isom Johnson.
“Shoppers know to come to Etsy for custom items and one-of-a-kind gifts, and KitAtlas takes personalization to a whole new level,” Johnson told HuffPost. “KitAtlas’ face magnets are fun, useful and totally original ― perfect for an unconventional bridal party favor or not-so-typical pet-owner gift.”
Johnson said that KitAtlas’ magnets checked all the boxes for its 2019 Etsy Design Awards in the Creative Collaborations category, which is why it ended up a finalist out of thousands of entries from sellers around the world. KitAtlas has ultra-personalized items, shows craftsmanship, is unique and has “all-around wow-factor,” Johnson said.
“I could imagine them being used as a fun way for parents and kids to track chores on their fridge or a cute way for roommates to leave each other notes,” Johnson added.
With KitAtlas now on solid footing, Andrews said she’s debating branching out a bit more on her own artistic projects. (The name KitAtlas comes from the main character in an illustrated sci-fi story she’s been dreaming up.) She would also love to make Kit Atlas a full-time gig, in part because it would give her more freedom to travel and illustrate along the way.
In the meantime, Andrews said she hopes to offer even more semi-custom options, such as potentially expanding into other animals like turtles, horses or goats. She’s also debating expanding into craft markets throughout the Midwest.
No matter what, she’ll be sticking to the description found on KitAtlas’ home page: “Custom illustrated gifts for everyone you love.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.