I ran away when I was 7. I had an argument with my parents, grabbed my hello kitty backpack, a flashlight, a blanket, my book and my favorite stuffed animal and headed out my front door. I walked across the lawn, and climbed the ladder into our tree house, and yelled to anyone and everyone ( or no-one) that was listening “If you ever want to see me again, I’ll be living right here. FOREVER!”
About an hour later, I had to go to the bathroom, so my experience of living in the tree was very short-lived. But needless to say, the objects that I took with me to my new home – the one that I was going to live in for absolutely ever (or just a mere hour while my temper cooled off and my hunger got stronger) – were all ones that I felt like I couldn’t live without. A flashlight, a blanket, a book and my cuddly stuffed dog. Cause there was NO WAY I could handle life without those things.
We all have our comfort items. I’ve replaced the stuffed animal to curl up with at night with my husband (he’s almost as furry). My kids all have their particular favorites. My boys were both drawn to ones with some sort of silky area that they rub their fingers against as they fell asleep. My oldest girl loves this particular teddy bear with a rattle in it, and my youngest daughter picked up “fat cat” at a garage sale one time, and has not slept without it since. Who knows why they pick what they do. But cuddly soft plush stuffed animals are almost always a part of every kids life.
If you’re in the market for some fun cuddly stuffed animals, check out this week’s featured maker. Jane makes amazingly cute things. And some really fun things too! Meet Jane of Janie XY Handmade Toys!
Please introduce yourself.
Hello! I’m Jane Ragasa, self-taught toy maker and founder of Janie XY Handmade Toys. I “like totally” grew up in the Valley (North Hollywood to be specific) with my awesome and creative family. And I still live there today with my equally awesome and creative boyfriend, Sergio. The valley gets a lot of hate from everyone south of Ventura Blvd, but I love it here. I’m always rooting for the underdog. And in this case, the underdog has plenty of parking, great food, and almost no traffic.
What do you make or do?
I grew up watching both my parents sew (primarily my dad — who works in the garment industry as a pattern maker and designer) but since they were both always working, my older sister and I never got proper sewing lessons, so we watched and watched and then tried it ourselves in our free time. I was always so scared of the sewing machine because the only one we had in the house was an industrial Pfaff sewing machine that went about a billion stitches a second (that might be an accurate number… I’ll have to contact Pfaff for a confirmation) so when I was younger I mostly stuck to hand sewing. When I got to the ripe age of 22, I decided to finally get over my fears and take on a simple sewing project — a plush whale that I drafted a pattern for (also, knowing nothing about pattern making) and that turned into Wilbur the Whale. I spent that whole summer sewing up a storm in the garage and decided that maybe someone might want to purchase some of my amateur creations. The rest is squishy and cuddly history.
Where can we find your creations?
You can find my toys at janiexy.com and I always post my news and creations on Instagram at @janiexy.
How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
I’ve been creating toys for five years now and I honestly didn’t think I would get anywhere with it in the beginning. My goal at the time was just to sell 10 toys online, but when I participated in Unique LA about 3 months after creating my first toy in 2009, and sold out of almost all of our toys (I brought about 75 pieces), I started thinking it could actually be a real business.
I’m still working a full-time job as a Visual Production Finisher at Forever 21 where I get to paint store props and fixtures every day and hang out with a creative bunch of people. It’s a lot of fun and a relaxed enough environment where I get to work on my business during break times. Many of my close friends/co-workers at Forever 21 own their own businesses so we always seek advice from each other. In a weird way, this corporate job has actually helped me and my business thrive. Plus we get benefits. So until Oprah gifts my toys to all the children of the world, or I can afford to pay for my own healthcare and still go on vacation, I’ll probably stay at my day job for a little while longer.
When you’re not making things, what do you do?
Last year, I was really blessed by nonstop custom and wholesale orders, so I couldn’t think of a time when I wasn’t “making”. This year, I’m taking a step back from freelance work and am trying to put more of a priority to “not making”. So, in my dream 2015, I’ll be traveling more, watching tons of movies and plays, and having lazy mornings with Sergio where we have deep conversations about what our escape plan for the zombie apocalypse would be.
Is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?
I think creativity is a necessity. And I don’t mean about how I absolutely need to dress funky or paint my emotions onto a canvas. I’m a pretty simple person, I don’t dress to stand out and I honestly don’t have that many deep, deep passions about arts and crafts like many of the people I admire. Sergio and I discovered recently, that we’re pretty lukewarm about a lot of things, but as my friend, Jessica of Mansfield Lingerie pointed out, I like so many things that there’s really no time to get too deep in any of them. I think the best lesson I learned from both of my parents is that the way I approach life has to be creative. They taught me that there’s always more than one way to achieve the goals I set, and it’s “out of the box” thinking that makes people innovative.
Did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
I was really fortunate to grow up in my family. My mom is the most creative chef I’ve ever seen. She can whip up any meal with whatever you have in your cupboard. It’s crazy. And my dad is a self-taught designer and pattern maker for couture gowns. Couture! Oh, and my mom’s oldest brother was named the National Artist of Thailand back when I was in elementary school. So, I’m not short on examples here.
The thing that I was really grateful for was that all these great role models were proof that if you really do what you love — as unconventional as it is — you can actually be really successful.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?
My parents were always very real with me and when I announced I decided at the age of 6 to become a world-famous artist like my uncle, my dad said, “That’s great, but you have to remember that you’re going to have to draw and paint every day, even if you don’t feel like it.” That put me in a little 6-year-old panic attack, so I decided that maybe I wasn’t as creative as I thought I was, so my dream after that was to become a journalist.
I pursued that up until college when Sergio (we’ve been together since senior year of high school) informed me that although I couldn’t draw classically like my uncle, dad, or sister, that what I drew was my style and that was special. Ever since he told me that, I grew confidence in myself and my own form of art. Even to this day, I see the beautiful paintings my sister does (in her time between her long days at the hospital where she’s completing her residency) and I start to get self-conscious again about my simple, kid-centric drawing style — and she has to assure me that what I’m good at isn’t painting, but working with fabric and mixed media. There’s so much insecurity in being creative, I often find that the biggest obstacle is myself. Luckily, I have an incredibly tight support system to keep me from going crazy with self-doubt.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’ve always identified with cute illustrations/cartoons and kid’s imaginations. There have been several moments in my life where I just wish I could live in those colorful worlds with tigers that won’t eat me, or tea sets I can have conversations with. It’s such a happy world full of wonder and wholesomeness. It’s what inspires me to create huggable versions of chicken drumsticks for you and your baby to play with.
What’s on the horizon for you and what you do?
I’m currently developing a sewing pattern line called Tum Tum Creative. The word “tum” is Thai for “make” so it pushes me to keep making creative things. It’s an outlet for me to create fun projects that might take a little longer to sew, so I can’t sell it at a reasonable price under Janie XY and they’re still fun and simple enough for even beginners. Sewing toys is such a great way to get started in learning to sew because things don’t have to fit you and there are no real rules to follow.
If money wasn’t an issue how would your life change with regards to your art?
This might sound terrible but I almost find that my best work comes out of having limited resources. One of my favorite DIY queens, Brini Maxwell, once said at a book reading I attended with my dad (see how supportive he is in my creativity?) that being poor might have been the cause of her creativity. I enjoy challenging myself to figure out how to make things faster, cheaper, or learn new techniques. If money wasn’t an issue, I’d probably be jet setting with Sergio and my family and hiring people to make lots of food and Mai Tais for us. As nice as that sounds, I don’t know how creative I would really feel.
What inspiring advice would you give to other creatives be they established or just starting out?
I see it happen time and time again. People think that the day-dream they go back to every day on their drive into work is just that — a dream. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is really look at a hobby or interest of yours that you can honestly and happily do every day and this can actually be a successful career. A good rule of thumb for me is if you enjoy doing it for free, then chances are, you’ll probably enjoy getting paid to do it on a daily basis. There might not be a college major for it, or a “How to Achieve Your Unconventional Careers for Dummies” book about it, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just be creative about your approach and don’t give up!