Rena Krouse has never had a boss. She has been self-employed as long as she can remember. Growing up in rural Kansas, she never imagined she would one day be employing friends and family in her thriving handmade tea towel business, Green Bee KC Tee Towels. The best part about being her own boss? No commute and her office comes complete with her dogs, Mia and Walter Matthau, plus her mom and friend, Emmi, who work full-time with her. When she’s finished working, all she has to do is walk up a set of stairs and she can sink into her cozy couch and relax. Her basement studio has a constant whir of a drying machine mixed with the occasional bark of Rena’s best friends, her pups.
Rena began her self-employment selling books on Amazon and Ebay. She then grew a large following and saw much success selling vintage home goods and accessories. She would scour thrift stores and estate sales, finding treasures in what some would consider trash. Sorting through stacks of pyrex dishes, knick knacks, ephemera, vintage chairs, she created a business on Instagram, posting photos of each treasure with a price. The first follower to comment “Sold” and send her money via PayPal was the lucky, new owner of something old but loved. It was through selling vintage that Rena realized people wanted more and she was ready to give it to them. She started selling her trademark tea towels in 2015, out of a need to create something with her own two hands that also encompassed that vintage feel she was so deeply rooted to. She had attended a local craft fair and met some makers and thought, “These people are awesome. I want to be part of their community.” She needed a more creative outlet than selling vintage.
She taught herself how to screen print in her basement in Raytown. Screen printing is a process whereby the printer takes a design and prints it onto a transparent acetate film, which is then laid on an emulsion-coated screen and exposed to a very bright light that hardens the emulsion. The unhardened emulsion is rinsed away, leaving a clear imprint of the design on the screen for ink to pass through. Fabric or paper is placed under the screen, ink is added to the top, and a squeegee is used to pull the ink along the screen, pressing it through the open area of the stencil and leaving an imprint of the design on the item underneath.
Rena decided to print something everyone could use: tea towels. Her first go at it began with a vintage pyrex “Pink Gooseberry” design which led to the “Spring Blossom” design which led to a “Nothing Haunts Us Like The Vintage We Didn’t Buy” with a 1950s retro image of a lady. Rena says most of the vintage designs she prints on her towels come from The Library of Congress but she also creates many digitally, like her Kansas City Crown Town towel. She has collaborated with fellow maker Gale Nation, who specializes in hand-lettering, to hand-script quotes which are transformed into screens. She currently has more than 100 screens in her basement.
Since 2015, Rena has expanded her business to employ two full-time and two part-time workers, and one virtual assistant who helps manage her social media. She met fellow maker and store owner Matt Brammy, owner of storefront Midcoast Modern at The Strawberry Swing Craft Fair and he soon began carrying her towels in his Westport store. Today, over 200 retail stores carry Green Bee tea towels all over the USA, including all 50 states. Rena states the hardest part of running her own handmade business is juggling all aspects of a business with her personal life. She wishes she could spend her days only making the towels, but she has to spend time answering emails, packing and shipping orders, ordering product, and bookkeeping. When asked what advice she would give to new makers, Rena says, “Never look at it as a hobby. Treat it as a business. Also, work an hour more each day and take risks!”
You can find Green Bee Towels in Hallmark, Midcoast Modern, and online at Green Bee Tea Towels.