Before they spent their days dyeing, printing, cutting and sewing their own fabric, Cristin Llewelyn and Alice Youngblood were friends and students at The Kansas City Art Institute. Now, the duo has put Owl + Mouse, their custom textile company, on the creative map in the Midwest.
KCS: The two of you met as students at KCAI. What made you want to start a business together?
CL: We met sophomore year; we were friends first. We knew we worked well together, so after graduation we decided we wanted to do something with our degrees. We knew we got along, and we’re pretty lucky that it worked out as well as it did.
KCS: Neither of you are originally from K.C. Why did you decide to stay in the area and grow your business?
AY: We made friends here and made a network here, so it was easier, especially when we were just starting out. A few of our friends offered gallery space for us to show, and it was really nice in the beginning to have that support.
CL: It’s a tight-knit community, and it’s accessible, unlike a big city. There are a lot of people helping each other in the art community.
KCS: You both have a literal hand in everything that you make and sell. Has that become harder as your business has grown?
AY: The part of making is the easiest for us, but it’s hard to keep up with the business end. I think we always want it to be handmade, because it’s so much a part of what we do. It’s really unique that we can custom-make colors and everything is done in small batches by hand. I don’t know that we would ever have it made for us. It’s nice that our hand touches it all.
CL: A couple of our prints we print together, and it’s fun to work side-by-side. Life is really busy, and it allows us to slow down.
KCS: What other challenges have you faced as business owners?
AY: For textiles in particular, it’s hard for people to understand that we hand-dye everything. I think people understand painting and ceramics, but they don’t understand we’re hand-dyeing and hand-screening fabric. I do think there’s a barrier there.
KCS: What do you look for when introducing new prints or designs?
CL: We look through color trends and generally end up on the same page design-wise. We just talk it through and usually sample out some stuff. We realized when we were trying to do new stuff every season, it was too much, so we just refined and scaled things back based on what was selling and what people really loved.
For the Love
Along with creating their own line of goods, from scarves to headbands and tunics, Llewelyn and Youngblood also do custom orders for weddings.
“People can tell us their colors and we can work on something for them,” Llewelyn says.
Whether clients are in need of shawls or bowties, the items can be worn multiple times and make for a memorable token.
“It’s a much better gift for a groomsmen than a generic tie,” Llewelyn says.