ANY fan of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler’s character on the hit TV series Parks and Recreation) knows how much she loves waffles. So much so that for Valentine’s Day in 2012, her then-boyfriend Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) bought her a waffle necklace.
But you probably didn’t know that waffle necklace actually smelt like a waffle and was made by Malaysian jewellery-maker Pak Han Mei, the US-based founder of online “food jewellery” store Tiny Hands.
Even before Pak, 25, realised that the episode with her waffle necklace had aired, traffic on her website skyrocketed. Fanatic followers of the show had searched the web for the necklace and a Tumblr blogger managed to make the connection to Tiny Hands and shared this newfound information on her page. This was the tipping point that persuaded Pak to fully focus on her company.
“That was when the business really blew up and I was like, ‘Okay this has a lot of promise’,” she said. “Two years later, the waffle necklace is still my top selling product.”
The jewellery made by Tiny Hands is usually shaped after food like chocolate chip cookies and cotton candy and scented accordingly. They are handmade with polymer clay and are crafted by Pak and her two assistants. Each trinket takes at least three days to make because it takes time for the scents to set in.
Among the three of them, they produce about 100 pieces in a month. They often joke that they have “Zen hands” because they have to be extremely steady when making the intricate charms.
Still, business has been great so far. In fact, in the first half of 2014, Tiny Hands achieved six figure sales.
Although Pak has been selling handmade items since she was in secondary school, she only decided to pursue Tiny Hands full-time when she couldn’t land a job after graduating with a degree in actuarial science. Even then, the lack of capital meant Tiny Hands had a rocky start.
“I think a major problem starting out was just not having any money to do anything like my logo, all of my packaging, and my website,” explained Pak.
“I did all of the stuff myself because I couldn’t afford to pay a professional graphic designer or web designer. Everything was all DIY. I felt kinda limited in that sense and because of that, I think that I didn’t grow as fast as I wanted to.”
“It has always been a dream of mine to branch out and play the teacher role instead of just being a designer.”
However, this experience turned out to be for the better because it pushed Pak to learn how to run her business more independently. Pak is now so well versed in the marketing and financing of her small business that she teaches other crafters how to manage and promote their companies. She even runs an online course called In The Limelight, which she finds very fulfilling.
“It has always been a dream of mine to branch out and play the teacher role instead of just being a designer. I have a lot of friends who are also making jewellery or handbags and other creative things and I see a lot of them struggling and I want to help,” she said.
On top of that, Pak has also created Craftivity, an app she developed with her computer programmer husband Peter Chang. It helps other independent creatives become more productive.
It’s safe to say a large part of Pak’s success is because of her insatiable thirst for information. From learning about craft through online tutorials to teaching herself how to code in HTML and CSS, Pak is keen to know it all.
“I’m very obsessed with learning, so it was very natural for me to seek out information. A lot of it was trial and error. I did many online courses and I read a lot of books and basically just learnt from other people who have been there and done that.”
If you’re interested in Pak’s work, check it out here.