Behind the Biz // Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat

Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat


Fellow Kansas City gal, Karrie Kaneda founded Happy Habitat after she was laid off from her job in advertising. Owning one of her blankets myself, I can tell you that they very high quality, and are warmer and cozier than I ever imagined. 

How did you come up with the concept behind Happy Habitat?

Happy Habitat started with the thought that your surroundings affect your mood. Not knowing exactly where Happy Habitat was going to take me, I thought that name would encompass whatever was in store. I’m a homebody, and I like to look around and feel good about where I am.

Once you knew you wanted to launch Happy Habitat what steps did you take to make that a reality? 

It’s funny because I actually didn’t really even know I wanted to ‘launch’ Happy Habitat. It just sort of happened. After getting laid off from my corporate job, I was trying to figure out what to do with myself. I went to what I love — decorating houses, and the thought of being happy in your home. So I started a blog. I didn’t really know why or what to expect from it, but I felt like it was a step in the right direction. At least I was moving towards something that I enjoyed and felt right to me. If nothing else, it was a place to document design ideas.

Looking back over those first blog posts, I see that my interests were often about pattern and color. While learning how to design a blog, I started playing with patterns. I am not a trained designer, so I downloaded GIMP (it’s like Photoshop but is free). A designer friend spent an hour with me explaining the general idea. I didn’t even know what a ‘layer’ was! I was stubborn and really just wanted to figure it out on my own, so I did a lot of ‘how to’ Googling to figure out how to use it.

At this time, I was literally collecting unemployment, so everything I did was free. GIMP was free, and I used it on my old PC, and my blog was on Blogspot, which was free. I spent a lot of time back then just Googling how to do things — HTML, pattern making, SEO, photography. It amazes me what one can accomplish just finding information on the internet!

After a while, I came up with some solid patterns, and was trying to find what to do with them. I tried my hand at stationery — I’d say my products were just OK, nothing special. Then I found phone cases — I could order them custom, one at a time, so there was really no investment. So I tried my hand at that, and had success with that. I added a shop to my blog at that point. It was $9.99 a month, so I was just hoping that I would actually get sales. And I did, somehow! Meanwhile, I had been looking for a person to make blankets. I really wanted a Moroccan-patterned throw, and there were none out there — so I thought that was a good sign.

After many attempts I finally found the right product. Over time, I changed from a PC to a MAC, from Blogspot to my own URL, got myself a decent camera, but I still use GIMP. Since my designs aren’t complicated, I’ve stuck with it!

Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat

Why recycled cotton?

This is the best part. I knew that whatever I did, it was necessary for it to be good for the world. I didn’t want to just throw another junky product out in the world. Finding the recycled cotton was the key. Using recycled cotton is making use of something that would otherwise be thrown away.

What lessons have you learned along the way?

When a magazine or any other press says they want to feature your product, don’t believe it until you actually see it in print.

What has surprised you about starting & running this business?

How easy it is! Well, I say that and there’s no doubt that I’ve put a lot of time and energy into it, but it actually worked! It doesn’t feel daunting to me because I’ve loved every step of the way. I guess from an objective point of view, it has been a lot of ‘work’. I do work late hours. I think that I’m lucky because I feel like I have lots of the puzzle pieces in me.

The design part is natural (I grew up taking art classes and have always had an eye for design), the entrepreneurial spirit comes from both my parents, and the rest I think rubbed off on me while working at Barkley (an advertising agency). Although at Barkley, I worked in HR and later the technology department (not sure how I landed there!), I was exposed to PR, design, internet marketing, and more.

Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat

Do you have a daily routine or certain rituals you do?

I have a superstition about not waiting around for things to happen. I should never be checking email for something. If I focus on doing something, anything, then the rest of the stuff will happen naturally. It’s like if I keep moving, then my business will keep moving too. Just keep going, don’t sit idle, always be reaching out to people, designing new designs, trying new things, but never just wait. Go get it, don’t wait for things to come to you.

What hardships/obstacles have you had along the way?

Not sure that I’d call them hardships or obstacles, but something that I couldn’t have predicted is having to choose where I sell my products. It’s tricky because selling to big online stores can be successful, bring in sales, and also get your name out there. BUT, the small boutiques that I sell to don’t like seeing the products out there. The small boutiques like to have the products they sell be special and unique — not something that can be bought at a mainstream online store. So I’ve been trying to figure that out. I really want to support small business, as that’s where my heart is. I love working with the small business owners, where the ‘buyer’ is really the shop owner and that’s who I communicate with. Plus working with small business owners is easy. No paperwork, or manuals — just a simple email. They pay the invoice and I send them product. Done.

Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat

What do you wish you would have known going into this?

I wish I would have known how fulfilling it is. I would have gotten started earlier. But I suppose I needed the safety net taken from underneath me for that push. Fate.

What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?

For me I’m the most productive in the morning. I try to GSD in the morning — music going loud, drinking lots of strong coffee. Then I exhaust myself and take a break for a few hours. I pick my kids up from school — do the mom thing. Then I’m usually ready to come back to it in early evening or after my kids have gone to sleep. The straight 8 hour work day isn’t for me. My brain shuts down around 3 pm. 3 to 5 pm is always dead time for me. I don’t function well then. Sometimes a 10 minute ‘nap’ does the trick, sometimes just a change of scenery will liven me up.

How do you plan out new designs and product launches?

I debut new designs when I’m ready. No deadlines here. Sometimes I try to pick a random date just to give myself a kick in the rear to stay on track. This year, I chose the beginning of the year, timed with going to NY Market to debut new designs. I felt like I had to have something new to show  in NY.

I work in waves — business stuff for a while, then there will be weeks of designing new products. Then lots of photography, editing, etc. — then I’ll put them out to the world. I’m still new at this, so I’m figuring it out as I go! I do know that I really like not adhering to anyone else’s guidelines. I don’t put out seasonal lines, I put things out when I’m inspired to do so — winter in summer, spring in fall — it all works.

Karrie Kaneda of Happy Habitat

Highlight of your career so far?

I love seeing my favorite designers use my products: Kirsten Grove, Emily Henderson, Jillian Harris, Bri Emery. This write-up from Bradford Shellhammer made me pretty happy as he’s some that I really admire in both a design and business sense. Also had an LA store tell me that Lana del Rey bought a throw — that was pretty cool!

Looking back, what would you do differently?

Not a darn thing. Everything has lead me to where I am now, and I like where I am. I wouldn’t change a thing otherwise how would I learn and grow?

Best advice you’ve been given? Any advice that you’d give other entrepreneurs?

“Do one thing and do it well,” Bill Fromm, founder of Barkley. It’s OK that I just make blankets. I’m going to work on this and do the best job I can with it before I move on to adding more products.

My advice for other entrepreneurs — people need you as much as you need them, don’t be afraid to ask. For example, magazines need stories, stores need products to sell, etc. You don’t need a fancy PR company, try contacting them yourself! You’ll have to do LOTS of googling to find the right person and email— but it IS possible! You don’t need a ‘sales team’ — go sell yourself! All those things cost a lot of money, and I’ve found that I can do them myself. Now maybe I’m not as successful as an experienced PR or sales team, but for now it’s working.

Photos are by Heather Morrow