Sick of plastic, battery-powered toys that did nothing to spark creativity in her son, Jessica Hipp of Creedmoor started looking for alternatives. When she found few options, she decided to make her own toys out of felt. Her hobby has become a business – Jessica Hipp Designs – and her 16-month-old son is tester-in-chief. We asked her about the benefits of handmade toys and what she’s learned from motherhood.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
A. My husband and I are both originally from central Pennsylvania. We followed different paths, but ended up together here in North Carolina 5 years ago. We have a 16-month-old son named Ruxin whose personality is a healthy balance of my husband and me. Just prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, I worked as a behavior analyst for adults with brain injuries, but I spent most of my professional career working with children with autism and other developmental delays. My husband does IT work and is really into comic books, video games, and music. I think he already has plans for when our son is old enough for Legos.
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Q. When did you start Jessica Hipp Designs, and why?
A. I officially launched Jessica Hipp Designs in August, but started working on pieces in the spring. I was looking for toys that our son could play with that would promote creativity. I found that most of the toys for young children are made from plastic, and have lights, noise, and batteries that cause kids to simply stare at the toy and what it does instead of interacting. I made a few things for my son and posted them on my personal Facebook page. A friend of mine saw them and offered to make a few knit hats for Ruxin if I would make felt food for her daughter. After I made a few pieces I was hooked! It’s a great way to use my own creative energy during nap times and after bedtime.
Q. Do you think handmade toys offer something different than toys you buy in the store? What's different?
A. I definitely think there is a difference between the two. Handmade toys offer customers the knowledge of where their items came from, a chance to have unique items, and a different care and quality that you don’t get with something bought in the store. I think you get a better quality and consistency of a product when one person is taking time to do each step from start to finish, instead of a machine cranking things out, and someone simply looking over the finished item.
Q. Does your son get to test-drive your new creations? Have you learned from his feedback?
A. Our son is most certainly my tester! He loves to tear through the box of felt goodies, frequently trying to feed me (or our dog) a special treat. My friends also have plenty of children that I often recruit to be testers. It’s nice to have a few older kids in the mix to help me out. The older ones are able to let me know if an item actually looks “correct” and are able to tell me what other items they would like to have.
Q. What is your most popular item? Why is it so popular?
A. Our felt food seems to be the biggest hit. Toddlers seem to LOVE playing kitchen/chef, and having realistic looking food makes it that much more entertaining! Ruxin in particular is fond of the carrots.
Q. What's your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?
A. We absolutely LOVE the Durham Life and Science Museum and visit at least once every week or two. There is plenty there to keep our little one busy and it’s entertaining for adults as well. When we first started going, Ruxin wasn’t old enough to enjoy parts of the museum, and yet we still somehow ended up staying for hours.
Q. What's your favorite thing around here to do when you get a few hours to yourself?
A. I typically use my alone time to work on orders and new items!
Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?
A. My son loves music (he takes after his Daddy). Playing music often helps us to avoid or get us out of a meltdown. Ruxin’s current favorite is “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men. Anytime this song comes on, he starts singing “hey!” within the first three seconds.
Q. What's the best advice someone has given you about being a mom?
A. I have two that kind of go together. 1) Being a mom is hard, find your “village,” and 2) don’t let other people make you feel bad about the parenting choices you make. There are a ton of different personalities and philosophies out there. If you let others judge your decisions and the way you do things, you’ll spend all your time second guessing yourself and your abilities. It’s important to find your village, a group that is there for you, unconditionally and without judgment, even if opinions differ. My two closest “mom friends” live in other states (Pennsylvania and Florida), so when I had Ruxin I felt totally alone in North Carolina. At around 6 weeks postpartum, it was suggested by an acquaintance (who has since turned into a wonderful friend), that I attend a Le Leche League meeting, it was here that I was able to find a majority of the members of my village. As a first-time mother, I had (and still have) no idea what I’m doing most of the time. It’s great to have a group of people in the same situation. I don’t think I would have made it to this far if it weren’t for them!
Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of mommyhood?
A. Watching my son learn is definitely a favorite. Every day Ruxin is gaining a new skill, sometimes they are the weirdest skills (like walking backwards through the living room, into the kitchen and back to the dining room), but it’s amazing nonetheless! My least favorite part is definitely teething! It’s just too bad that little ones can’t just wake up one day, with a (pain-free) mouth full of teeth.
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