Maker Series: Sarah Sampsell of Sweet Dish & Darling

It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.

Q + A with Sarah Sampsell of Sweet Dish & Darling

In our experience, you'll smell the booth of Sweet Dish & Darling before you'll see it. That's because candle creator Sarah Sampsell has an olfactory edge on nearly every other handmade business at The Cleveland Flea. And although her products are designed to evoke memories through scent, they've also awoken our sense of sight with their impeccable packaging. Minimal and contemporary, her products really are "the whole package". Craving insight into her processes, products, and business background? Read on!

Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Sarah Sampsell: It began when my sister needed to bring in a candle line for her boutique.  We couldn't find anything that was unique, looked pretty, smelled great and also burned cleanly.  There are a lot of candles out there, but they didn't have all of the characteristics we were looking for.  I've always admired and loved packaging and brand design, I'd just graduated college and didn't know what to do... I decided to try my hand at creating a line that might work.  Just like any new experience it turned out to be confusing, overwhelming and somewhat frustrating, but it just took a little time. I learned a lot along the way, took a lot of risks and threw myself into it. 

CF: Why do you love what you do?
SS: Pouring candles in many aspects began as a means for me to express myself outside of my comfort zone.  I love the infinite ways to be creative through the expression of scent.  I love the process of sitting down and mixing fragrances, brainstorming scent names and descriptions, hunting for fun packaging options and meeting my customers at events and shows.  

CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
SS: Realistically, I think our importance is better looked at on a larger scale, as a piece of something bigger. The handmade/artist community is an integral part of Cleveland, art and culture is what I would consider to be one of the most important catalysts of growth for any metropolitan or rural city.  It defines us, makes us unique, builds the local economy, brings people in and ultimately makes our community better, cleaner and happier.  

CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
SS: Cleveland is one of the kindest cities in the US. I admit I’m a little biased, but I have yet to visit a city and find as many people acknowledging each other on the street, talking about the weather, or even just smiling and saying thank you.  We are truly an amazing community and our sense of camaraderie, support, and city-wide Cleveland pride makes this an absolutely fantastic place to start and operate a small creative business and also to live. In addition to this, there’s an amazing support system for artists and crafters; We have an amazing network of local advocates creating events and markets to showcase the handmade movement.  That support structure has made it possible for small businesses to thrive and get on their feet in order to grow and branch out.   Cleveland also has some of the best coffee roasters and baristas in the country and that doesn’t hurt productivity either… 

CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
SS: The best part of running my own business is making my own schedule, setting goals for myself and meeting them.  I am probably the most unorganized person on the planet, and if I can make something happen it’s a real adrenaline rush. Overcoming my own obstacles as far as creativity and confidence is a constant battle that I fight with and feel a little better about every day.  When I hit a milestone or make something I’m really proud of it makes the struggle worth it.

CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
SS: Like I said, staying organized and on point is a struggle.  Working from a home studio and getting things done without procrastinating is a huge trouble for me.  Not only do I want to binge watch tv and do laundry, but I have cute cats running everywhere all day long and it’s extremely distracting.  But I’ve come a long way from where I was five years ago, and now that this is my full time job I can better rely on myself to stay on task…I have to.

CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
SS: My goals for this year are to solidify a few more scents for the fall and winter, beef up our social media and online presence, expand our wholesale accounts and travel to a few more out of state shows to spread the Cleveland handmade love.  I’d also really love to find a larger space to operate in and hire some employees, but that may be a goal for next year.

CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
SS: I didn’t necessarily know that I would become a candle maker.  I always wanted to be an artist and I never really wanted to do anything else… I don’t remember ever getting a gift from my parents that wasn’t paint, markers or a DIY kit for something or another.  I went to college for Studio Art, I focused on realist oil painting, fell in love with ceramics, and decided to double major in Business to have a solid ground to stand on if I wanted to make a living selling art.  So I knew that I’d sort of jump around until I found my way, but I am pleasantly surprised where I’ve ended up.  It’s a very therapeutic medium, with each different scent I can become a completely different artist but still have my stamp on it... not to mention the aromatherapy benefits ;)

CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
SS: There are so many important and exciting milestones.  From a design and marketing standpoint, it was being accepted into highly attended and curated shows. But I think the moment I started to see repeat customers seek me out at the Cleveland Flea is when I knew I was headed in the right direction.  When people would come up to the stand and start picking up their ‘usual’; it’s extremely rewarding. 

CF: Who inspires you?
SS: I’m always inspired by my sister, she’s incredibly talented and has a very discerning taste.  Her crazy, type A sense of style is intensely inspiring to be around. She took great risks to start her own business, and she doesn’t settle for anything sub-par. Our Orange Blossom & Cedar fragrance is inspired by her and our childhood. 
As far as my product, I’m inspired by a lot of different memories and the people in them.  I like to start with that moment or person and find different scents to blend together to find the right balance of fragrance for the time that I’m remembering.  I’m coming up with a scent as we speak that helps me express a moment I shared with my husband in the Redwood Forest this summer.  

CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
SS: How to stay on task is a big one…. For years I would procrastinate until the last second before markets, hardly even sleeping the night before.  Now I have inventory made, checklists, binders, labeled inventory bins, color-coded organization… I’m a full-blown grownup now.  I’ve also learned to keep it creative and to not play it safe in any way, people love to see the greatest hits but I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of surprise.  And above all else, I think I’ve found my creative voice and that people are willing to listen.

CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
SS: Don’t ever stop dreaming; Take risks, evolve, stay fresh and creative, and love what you do everyday.  If you don’t love it, change it.  When you love what you do your customers will respond to that.  I started with a product and a package idea and I insert more and more of my dreams into it everyday as I get more experience. I think about my customers every time I create a scent and every time I bring my candles to market.  I do aim to please, but I also strive to stand out, create unique experiences and offer you something you can’t find anywhere else than at my booth. 

You can do literally anything you want if you take it one step at a time, so why not try to do something you love?

CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
SS: My dream customer would say they can’t live without my candles in their home, that they have one in each room, that they buy them three at a time so they never run out, and that they always count on us to have something interesting and unique for a fun gift.  

CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
SS: Well… I think people would be surprised to learn that our business started in a treehouse… or maybe they wouldn’t be surprised by that at all. I did a lot of testing, pouring, product development and order fulfillment out of a 64 square ft. backyard fortress that had insulation, electricity and lots of much needed peace and quiet for the first two years.  In fact our brand was almost named Treehouse Chic, but I quickly outgrew the space and my inventory was melting in the heat :)

CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
SS: I love Clear Blur Design, I envy her effortless creativity and design aesthetic.  I’m also a sucker for beautiful jewelry from Océanne, Souls Repurpose and On the Lookout. As far as food goes… Brewnuts has my vote.