Hi Betsy! Tell us a little bit about you and Sylvan Park.
Hi I’m Betsy Baird. I grew up in a small town in Northern California (Chico) and now call Brooklyn home. For most of my adult life, I worked in the music industry as a manager and graphic designer in both Austin and Nashville. I loved my work, but felt constrained by how much I was dependent upon the computer. I have always enjoyed working with my hands to produce a tangible product and took any opportunity I had to work in other mediums that allowed me to do so. Leather has always been a preferred material of mine. One day I had an idea for a handbag that I knew I wanted, and I felt pretty confident other women would too. Fast forward through many prototypes, changes, production samples, and the result of that original idea became my first bag, the Prospect Tote. I launched Sylvan Park over 2 years ago with the tote and I’ve been running and growing the business ever since.
Where do you live and work now, and how does this environment influence your creative process? How’s the maker’s community in Brooklyn?
I live and work in Brooklyn. Having only lived here for 4 years, I’ve been fortunate to find a great community of makers and designers who are also great friends. It’s great to have peers around that understand the victories and hardships that come with trying to make something new. I find everyone really wants to help each other, and it never feels like a quid-pro-quo relationship. I’ve always believed that there’s plenty of room for success amongst everyone, and I’m drawn to those that believe the same.
Can you elaborate on your particular design process? What is your workspace like? What materials do you prefer to use?
I like to keep a running list of products I want to produce. Sometimes it’s an idea for a bag, a product that will expand upon the collection, and other times it’s just something fun that I want to try. I start by sketching and then move to a tangible medium to see if the idea works in a three dimensional space (paper, vinyl or leather). Its at that point that I work on the scale and shape. After that, the piece is broken down to create a pattern and then I remake the sample with my finished leather. My whole collection is made with vegetable tanned leather that I source from a small family owned tannery in Tuscany. I love the look, feel and eco-sensitive nature of the this specialty leather, but it can be tricky to work with. It may take awhile to adapt the design, but once I’m happy with the result, I carry the sample for a while to test it and to get feedback from others.
For my workspace: I recently moved into a new space with textile artist Whitney Crutchfield of We Gather. We have a lovely light-drenched studio in Gowanus/Sunset Park and it’s been great to share and collaborate with Whitney. The new space has also allowed me to have all my leather and stock in one place as well as expand upon my collection of tools and machines. I now have a much more complete collection of tools and equipment, which has allowed me to produce many more pieces in house. The pieces that I don’t produce in house are handmade at a small factory in Brooklyn whose production is always top-notch. They are also great people to work with.
What inspires you?
I love to walk and soak up everything around me. I get inspiration from everywhere; sometimes it in the craziness of midtown manhattan and other times it’s in the quietness of a walk through Prospect Park.
Explain the story behind the name: how and why you chose it.
Sylvan Park is the eclectic little neighborhood in Nashville, TN where I used to live. I love the neighborhood and still have a little house that I rent out. I wanted a name for the company that had some personal meaning; one that wasn’t my own name. The imagery that comes from Sylvan Park was perfect. I love parks and am happy that many people assume Sylvan Park is the name of an actual park. I have named all the bags after my most favorite parks: Prospect (Brooklyn), Bryant (Manhattan), Bidwell (Chico), Griffith (Los Angeles).
What has been your greatest struggle/obstacle so far?
When you are running a small business, you end up dealing with everything. This, unfortunately, means that all the problems, and potential problems, come your way. I have let myself get overwhelmed at times, and the more I’ve learned, the more I can focus on solutions rather than thinking through all the ways that things could go wrong.
What’s your least favorite part of running a small business?
PAPERWORK! Especially when the printer or scanner decides to act up!
Some bonus questions! We love meeting over coffee at Young & Able. What's your favorite local cafe?
Cafe Dada and Colson’s in Brooklyn.
Any podcast recommendations?
I listen to podcasts all the time. My favorite lately is Two Dope Queens but I’m also a Radiolab nut.
Your favorite emerging designer (aside from yourself!) right now:
I’m biased but I’m going to say Whitney Crutchfield of We Gather.