Yelp is all about connecting people with great local businesses, and we recognize that these businesses — led by artisans, doers and creators of all kinds — are the lifeblood of our communities. Behind every business is a great story. The Tucson Makers + Shakers blog series showcases local makers, artisans and innovators. Find out what makes them tick and discover why they love being in business in Tucson.
Allow us to introduce Little Toro Designs– metalsmith jewelry and handcrafted art inspired by the Sonoran Desert. We chatted with, Tawney Weir, the creative mind and hands behind Little Toro Designs to learn more about her journey.
How did you get your start?
Long story short: I opened an Etsy store in 2013 making jewelry in my kitchen. And then I launched my professional website last year in 2016. Over the years of doing markets and meeting people publicly has been really great because now I have my jewelry in lots of places.
What was the moment you knew your brand had to happen?
First I started selling on Etsy and I don’t think I really had a cohesive idea of what my style was. If you had asked me to define my style I don’t think I could have been able to do that. I knew I needed to have a recognizable brand, and I realized how critical it was to have good branding when I got on Instagram. It really helped me develop a recognizable style. Finding your target audience, finding your target customer and just going from there. Seeing what other creative brands were accomplishing on that platform inspired me too. It’s been really awesome to connect with other creatives and makers. Instagram has been really instrumental to my brand and I feel really supported there. It’s a warm, supportive place.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I am a perfectionist, and I think when I want everything to be perfect… it can be crippling sometimes. For me, I have no shortage of ideas– I have no creative block. I get too many ideas and it can be overwhelming! As a jeweler, sometimes I’m limited by skills too. This is a craft where there are so many different skills and aspects to learn. And that can be a challenge too.
What do you do to make sure you are regularly inspired?
In this awful, negative climate we live in right now, it’s my number one thing to get outside and let my mind go. Exercise is really important to me, being outside. I love being out in Ventana canyon, and if I can’t get out there I’ll walk the Rillito River path, or Tumamoc Hill. I’m also really inspired by the people I follow on Instagram. Sometimes I’ll see a design element that I can use in my jewelry, like a vintage pattern or textile. I love being inspired by looking at vintage jewelry, vintage clothes, and vintage design elements.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
I know what I like and I gravitate toward large statement pieces, and it was sort of hard for me to make my designs more approachable by making different sizes. A customer suggested making smaller pieces, even though I’m not really into smaller jewelry or tiny jewelry. If I make larger statement pairs of earrings I’ll try to make a smaller size as well. Learning to please not just my tastes but other people’s tastes. I’m not trying to give away my aesthetic, but I get it, not all people want something as big.
What’s your advice for other makers, business owners or someone who wants to start a small business or side hustle?
In retrospect, educating yourself on the mechanics of running a business is crucial. People open an Etsy store and have no idea that they should be paying taxes. It’s boring but they need to do it. There’s a lot of online resources for starting and sustaining a handmade business in particular. I’m part of several Facebook groups with helpful information. If you are making something, photography skills are imperative. Embrace social media like it’s your best friend. You have to promote yourself. I meet people who just don’t get the social media thing, but I love it and I think you just really need to educate yourself on social media, and how you can promote yourself for free.
What makes you most excited about having your business in Tucson?
I am originally from Tucson, but we moved away for awhile and I spent quite a bit of my childhood in the Midwest. I love the desert. It’s my muse. I find spiritual solace in the desert and I don’t want to live anyplace else. It’s such a creative inspiration to me. I feel the desert is absurdly beautiful and the sculptural shapes of the cactus and beautiful horizons, the light and shadows all inspire this modern Southwestern desert-style I am trying to promote. When you’re in the desert every moment is an Instagram moment. I feel like I’m in the perfect place for what I’m making and doing. I feel like there is a creative renaissance going on in this town that I’m grateful to be a part of. There seems to be incredible community support going on for handmade craft in general. Cultivate Tucson has been really instrumental in promoting that, as well as the Mercado San Agustin and Popcycle.
If customers come away knowing just one thing about your business, what do you want that message to be?
I love what I do, sometimes I have this feeling of ‘Look what I created!’ I’m so excited about it. It makes me feel so humble when someone else appreciates and loves it also. I still can’t believe when people want to adorn themselves with my creations. Humbled, I feel humbled that people want to purchase something I’ve made. It’s a cool feeling.
You can also find Little Toro Designs at local shops including Popcycle, the Sunshine Shop, the Tucson Museum of Art, Salon Salon, the MOCA Shop and Loews Ventana Canyon Spa store, Cultivate Tucson and the Mercado San Agustin seasonal Bazaars.
By Amanda Schreiber, Yelp Tucson Marketing Assistant.