I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Heather and Brian for a few years now, and they continue to bowl me over with their creativity, generosity, and true passion for what they do. Both talented artists themselves, they work from a deep understanding of what it takes to thrive in business while nurturing the creative process. It’s this insight that defines the spirit of Bespoke. There’s a palpable energy in their shop that I believe comes from the web of relationships they’ve fostered with artists, makers, and the community at large.
But the most compelling characteristic about these guys is their attitude. There’s a myth in small art-based business called “being on top of things”—a misconception that it’s possible and desirable to clear your desk. It simply isn’t. And believing the myth has led far too many talented makers to overwork and burnout.
Brian and Heather continually impress me with their positivity and perspective. The work is challenging and never done, but they don’t complain. They continue to serve their customers and artists, remaining curious about and committed to the handmade revival that’s changing our country. And they do it all with great love.
Here’s a recent Q & A with Bespoke owner/founder Heather River.
What do you love about your shop's neighborhood?
It's the life of the town and it's where all the action is. I absolutely love the train passing right through town, just outside our window. We can see Donner Summit and Mount Rose from our shop. And we have the most beautiful cherry tree outside. Downtown has a lot of history and character, just like the vintage prop items I have in my shop.
When and how did you commit to running a business together?
I started the business with a lot of help from Brian. It wasn't until this last summer that we really started working in partnership. Brian is a full-time musician in the summer, so juggling Bespoke and his music business is a challenge. We realized that we needed to be on the same page when running Bespoke, so that juggling our endless to-do lists would be more feasible and less stressful.
How do you divide up the work? Who does what?
We both do everything, from ordering and customer service to paying bills. Brian is a great conversationalist, so I often have him chat up the artists about their process and what makes their items unique. We both do all the in house silk-screening and leather-making. Brian and [our son] Orland love to flirt with the bank ladies, so they do the deposits.
What's fun about working together?
Funny enough, that's how we met! We worked together at a coffee shop. We have always had a fun work relationship and we both understand each other really well. We know how to work efficiently and effectively, while also enjoying each other’s company.
Who do you look up to? What family-run business do you love?
There are truly too many to name! We adore MB Art Studios. Mary and her husband Corey are amazing people and awesome artists. Kat and Roger are another example of a well-oiled machine. They have an amazing partnership: Roger throws all the pieces (mostly cups, bowls, and coffee drippers) and Kat skillfully glazes them.
The key to a good partnership is to complement each other with your separate strengths. Both of these couples do that seamlessly.
Do you have any (silly or serious) rituals in the shop?
A walk around the block is something I like to do to clear my head. It’s a fun little jaunt and I always run into people I know on the way. It breaks up the day—if the day needs breaking. We are also very serious about goal-setting, both personal and in business. This ritual works its way into our weekly schedules and helps keep us accountable and productive.
How do you get out of business-mind for a while?
Am I supposed to do that? Just kidding, usually just doing anything with our son gets us out of business-mind.