Sidelines: Alexandra Charitan and Blue Carrot

Sidelines: Blue CarrotDesigner Alexandra Charitan parlayed her love of vintage printed ephemera and accessories from the 1940s through the ’60s into an online store, the Blue Carrot Shop. Read the below Q&A and learn more about this designer’s side business, featured in the September 2011 Issue of HOW’s Sidelines column.

First, tell me a bit about yourself?
Alexandra Charitan: I’m 

25 years old (will be 26 on Aug. 31) and I’ve been working professionally in design since 2008 (when I graduated from Kent State). I work at 427 Design in Akron, OH, and I’m a designer/writer.

Tell me a bit about 427 Design?
427 Design has 7 full-time employees and we’re located in the old Acme Bread Factory in Akron. We work for a lot of different clients/industries: Matco Tools, Derek Hess, NetJets and Padua Franciscan High School to name a few.

What kind of projects do you typically work on for 427 Design?
We work on a little bit of everything, from business-to-business to local artists and everything in between. I’m mainly the print designer — brochures, invitations, posters, catalogs, logos, stationery systems. I also design websites and do a little bit of everything and anything else that needs designed.

When did you establish Blue Carrot Shop? What prompted you to set up shop?
I launched Blue Carrot in February of 2010. I was in desperate need of a hobby — something to fill my time. After graduating, and starting my full-time design job I found that I had a lot of free time and was in need of a project to keep me busy.

How did you develop your website? Why did you decide to build your own shop instead of going through Etsy or eBay?
I designed my entire site from scratch, and then had a friend do the custom programming. While Etsy and eBay are wonderful (and I’ve sold things on both), I wanted more control over my own site. I’m pretty picky, and knew if I designed a custom site I could have much more control. I also can change my site whenever I want (like, for holidays) and I like that freedom.

How many products do you typically have available? How often do you add items to the store?
I probably have around 500 products available at any time. I update as often as I can; sometimes a few times a week, sometimes once a month. It just depends of the quantity and quality of items that I find.

How do you generally source your products?
I am always on the lookout for new shop treasures, and luckily I always seem to be going to an auction, thrift store, flea market or garage sale. I find things everywhere. A lot of what’s for sale has been collected through the years (I’ve been into vintage items as long as I can remember) and I’m a bit of a pack rat. That’s the great thing about Blue Carrot — I get to shop for other people, so my house doesn’t get (too) overwhelmed.

Tell me about your handmade goods: the I-Beam Bookends and the little screenprinted pouches. Do you do the printing and production on those items?
A friend of mine made the screenprinted pouches, and she also sewed them herself. The I-Beam bookends are a new item made by my man. He made a set for the 427 Office and they were a big hit. He’s constantly working out in his shop, coming up with different ways to repurpose scrap; he’s going to be building robots soon for the shop out of scavenged parts.

How do you handle logistics like photographing items, shipping, etc.?
I do all the photographing and shipping myself. I have a tiny office in our basement where all the magic happens. I have a simple set up — a vintage, wooden ironing board filled with products that I use for my “set”. I try to use recycled boxes whenever possible. I’ve almost never had to buy a new box.

Luckily my co-workers always seem to be receiving packages so I collect their boxes and packing materials. I’m always appalled when I find bubble wrap in the trash (and quickly snatch it up).

Your shop seems to be very well curated. How would you describe your aesthetic sensibility when it comes to selecting products to sell?
I’m always a little stumped as to how to answer this question. I guess the selection on Blue Carrot mirrors my own tastes. I can look at an item and I usually know instantly whether it’s a fit for the shop or not. I love things with beautiful typography, like canisters/carriers that say what they contain. I love quirky, and some might say tacky, items and sometime even I’m not sure where the line is between the two. I’m not so much into very primitive or very old antiques, my products tend to be more from the ’40s to ’60s. If I wouldn’t put it on my shelf or hang it on my wall, chances are you won’t find it on Blue Carrot.

Looking at your work for 427 Design, it has a vintage feel. How do you think the products you’re attracted to for Blue Carrot fuel your design work, and vice versa?
I am constantly drawing inspiration for my designs from everywhere. I especially love vintage typography and printing techniques (like the letterpress wood type). I am drawn to the simpler, often hand done approach to vintage design and I love the look and feel of vintage textiles and materials.

What are your plans for Blue Carrot?
I hope that more people find Blue Carrot in the future, and use it as a resource not only for shopping, but for inspiration. I try to stock items that may not be mainstream or necessarily cool, but I hope that I present them in a way that gets people to think about them differently. I love the history and the craftsmanship of the vintage items I carry, and I also love the idea that they can be re-purposed and re-imagined to fit the present. I also try to keep my prices reasonable — I want to stay away from anything too high-end or out of reach.

If you had any advice for another designer seeking to set up an online store, regardless of the product line, what would it be?
It’s a lot of fun, and can be very rewarding, but it’s also a lot of work. I would caution people to be responsive, and friendly to their customers and not to take yourself or your shop too seriously. Also, people (or at least I know I do) love and appreciate attention to detail. A hand-written note or an extra little surprise in the package can really make someone’s day.

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