Updated: Apr 19
Katie Henry is our crush this month because she is an extraordinarily motivated woman, with amazing sewing skills and seriously coveted curls. You may already be familiar with her work because she sold her Madebyhank bags at our first Holiday Market and displayed her sewn illustrations on our walls. During the quarantine, she has put her talents to work by making upwards of 500 masks- and she is still going! Katie is always the most hospitable and fun, a skill that has served her well working at some Philly's busiest bars and well respected restaurants. How can we not love a woman that in addition to all of this, always comes bearing a pretzel tray to any H-B event? We were so glad to connect with Katie and share a little of what she has been up to, her reflections on life and business experiences. If you are interested in a mask made by Katie, you can email her firstname.lastname@example.org. We miss you all and hope you are well.
When was Madebyhank born?
Oh gosh, technically maybe 2004 or 2005? The timeline of my life is a little fuzzy, but I know that the little girl I was nanny-ing for was just turning 2 and she has her driver’s license now . I definitely recall MySpace was my original platform and my ‘lucky break’ was my pal Felicia D’Ambrosio writing a feature about me on Daily Candy
When did you first realize you wanted to create Madebyhank?
Honestly, it just kind of happened. I started teaching myself to sew back in 2002ish when a roommate inherited her grandmother’s sewing machine. Working in the restaurant industry had me surrounded by incredibly talented artists and it was pretty inspiring. I would make these tiny intricate fabric collages of little scenes or fabric birthday cards etc for friends. I was also riding my bike quite a lot as means of transport, so I started playing around with making bags that worked well for me while riding.
What was your first product?
Well it wasn’t named that yet, but the bags I was making with the built up fabric texture I later referred to as ‘tough ruffles’. I made one for myself in a beloved vintage mustard yellow fabric I’d found and then a smaller version for a friend upon request. But technically the first thing with the name on it was a little backpack I made for our pal Melanie, a custom request from her boyfriend at the time, who had recently nicknamed me ‘Hank’ (my last name is Henry). I was really into stitching cursive at the time (would stitch entire letters as this was still the days of snail mail), so I stitched ‘made by hank for Melanie’ on the strap. Your favorite? This is a tough one, and not exactly a ‘product’ but I think it has to be the most recent set of sewn drawings I made for a show at Herringbone back in April of last year. It’s very rare for me to be fond of something I made, but I really loved each of those ladies in this particular set, and felt a rare sense of pride for how I’d evolved this particular skill.
We see you have been making A LOT of masks. Where are you getting your fabric from?
I started with my own personal stash, but sewed through that pretty quickly. So I posted a call for fabric donations and folks were so generous (and speedy!) and I’ve been able to supplement with some cotton purchased from Fleishman’s, my favorite local fabric shop on 4th Street here in Philadelphia, as well as some yardage of muslin purchased online. And most recently I purchased some from a few ebay sellers, as purchasing options are very limited. It’s WILD.
How are you distributing them?
In an effort to give the postal system a wee break where possible, I’ve had folks come pick up when possible. I live on a tiny street on the second floor, so I’ve had folks pull up and I pop out the window and toss the packaged masks down to them. Wherever possible, I’ve also done some delivery matchmaking. If someone has a car and is heading back to south Philly for example, I’ll ask them to drop to a few folks close by. Or if I know someone is feeling kind of sad, I’ll coordinate to have them drop at friends’ houses so they can maybe see them through the window for a quick moment. There was also one day when I rode my bicycle around Fishtown to drop some to some close homies and local grocery stores, post office, etc. Anytime I see a delivery person I’ll grab one for them. It's been really cute so far.
How many have you made?
I don’t have an exact count, as I’ve been sewing them up and sending them out the window (literally!), but well over 500 and climbing. My former Boss used to refer to me as The Steel Driving Woman.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Anywhere with a beach close by, it’s my favorite. Would settle for a porch with a swing.
What are you up to if you aren't working?
Well the past few weeks, if I’m not sewing I’m probably ironing. And if I’m not ironing or sewing I’m probably cutting. I’m feeling very grateful to have this skill to share and try and help pass the time and maybe help some others feel just a tiny bit safer. It’s also created so many wonderful moments and interactions with folks I haven't seen for ages, and would otherwise be completely isolated. Also hugging my pug, watching too much TV and taking baths and cooking and scrubbing everything, same as all of us!
What personal or professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I think I’m going to get sappy and say I’m most proud of my friendships. I didn’t have much of a family growing up, but I am just about the luckiest gal on the dang planet when it comes to friends, both old and new. Thank you squad, it certainly takes a [very patient] village to deal with this Hank.
Have you had any failures in business that you have learned from?
I sometimes regret letting Madebyhank fizzle in the way that I did. Maybe 6 or 7 years ago, I was kind of crushing it on the internet. I had sold over 5,000 items on Etsy, and had gained a decent following. But I was working 12-18 hours a day, rarely saw or even spoke to my friends. Its also important to note that I was mainly working with found fabrics- vintage finds, repurposed leather belts as straps, etc, and thrift stores and fabric shops were dying off. At the same time, social media was really being born- we went from from Facebook and blogs to Twitter and Instagram and beyond, and branding became almost more important than craftsmanship. This was all when I was at that pivotal point where Madebyhank needed to grow or end, I decided to just let it go and go back to bartending. I sometimes wish I’d had the confidence to take the plunge and go all in.
Do you have any takeaways that you would like to share from this lockdown experience?
This is a tough one. The thing is, we’re all just trying to be okay. So let’s just do what we can to take care of ourselves and each other, whatever that may look like for you ️.