Kirkland resident Tracy Borders was inspired to turn trash into art while sailing around the islands of Croatia four years ago.
Borders and her husband lived on a sailboat with two other people in a group of seven sailboats for one week.
And every afternoon the sailboats would pull into a port so they could gather their food.
“As Americans, we eat way too much junk food. But there was no junk food, no snacks,” Borders said. “It was an ongoing joke for us that every time we came into port we had to keep the potato chip bags.”
With an education in fine arts, Borders saved the potato chip bags and eventually made them into a quilt.
Now, her crafting business called Squigglechick Designs has sold about 600 dog collars, luggage tags, wallets, and more – all made from beer labels, pop cans and recycled materials.
Borders is gearing up to present her items at the fifth annual etsyRAIN Handmade Holiday Show in Seattle on Black Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29-30. This will be her third year participating.
But the longtime Juanita neighborhood resident of 16 years hasn’t always had enough time to dedicate herself to her art.
A former accountant at Coldwell Banker Bain, a real estate firm, Borders recently quit her job to immerse herself in Squigglechick Designs.
“I have a [bachelor’s] in fine arts but of course, being an artist, it doesn’t pay the bills, you learn right away,” she said. “In 2008, I started my business just to get back into the art world and make myself happy.”
Borders began as a fiber artist and dyed environmentally-friendly fabrics to use in her work. She still continues that line; however, it’s clear she’s fully immersed herself into working with up-cycled materials.
A typical work day could include making eight dog collars in eight hours or spending half a day working on a new design for a business or custom order.
In the last year, she’s sold more than 350 dog collars and confidently states they are her most popular product, which can run between $14 to $25.
“I cannot believe how many customers name their dogs off of beer,” she laughs, adding that soda brand names are popular too.
On Borders’s blog, tracyborders.blogspot.com, she recalls how she made 11 Twisted Tea dog collars for her first customer who had 11 dogs. The customer loved Twisted Tea so much she entered herself with her dogs into a contest that would put the winner’s photo on a carton of Twisted Tea.
Many of the Squigglechick Designs customers are regulars and Borders often creates custom products with up to half of her orders individualized.
Her second bestseller, luggage tags, and third bestseller, wallets, sell best around Christmas time and range between $8 to $30, depending on the product.
But getting enough material to make her products can sometimes be a challenge.
Although she gets the material for her art through friends and her husband’s coworkers and her own stash, she will often find it on the street.
“It sounds awful but you find stuff picking it off the street,” she said. “I don’t see it as trash, I automatically pick it up and think it’s a product I can use.”
Borders found the most milk labels, pop cans, beer bottles and cardboard packaging when she took the bus to and from work, adding that she also feels it does some good for the environment.
Beer companies will also send her labels to make custom products. Her work is sold in many brick and mortar businesses throughout the country, including Marshall Brewing Company, Reconstructed Clothing Co., Dog Dish, High Gravity Homebrewing & Wine Making, to name a few.
Many of her customers have heard about her business through word of mouth, but having her work featured in Draft Magazine, a publication for beer enthusiasts, has certainly helped, she said.
While Borders doesn’t see herself opening her own brick and mortar store, she does hope to be featured in local stores, possibly in downtown Kirkland.
“I’m doing pretty well, it’s just me,” she said. “I just need my sewing machine and a place to make my stuff.”
But she does have goals of making it big, literally.
Borders has been working hard at developing a “really cool” messenger bag.
“I’d like to create another line of things – handbags and bigger items,” she said, adding her customer-base is global with sales in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan in just this year.
Customers can also purchase her Squigglechick Designs items at the upcoming etsyRAIN Handmade Holiday Show between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Nov. 29-30 at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Elliot Hall, 2323 Elliot Ave., Seattle. For information, visit www.etsy.com/shop/squigglechick.
Kirkland resident Tracy Borders