Creative Boss Interview: How Ania (@aniagrzeszek) uses Instagram to share her artistic journey and sell her handmade products

Welcome to 2017! Let's kickstart the year with the second interview in my new Creative Boss Interview series that is all about Instagram. I love learning from other creative business owners how they use Instagram to connect with their customers, present their products and stay inspired.

The second interviewee is Ania Grzeszek, a super inspirational Berlin-based architect and weaver. I loved following Ania's journey through 2016 - from starting to weave to dyeing her own weaving materials and starting her own online shop. Her interview reflects part of that journey and it was so amazing to get to hear her perspective on it! You can find her online at @aniagrzeszek on Instagram and on her website where you can also buy her beautiful wall hangings, hand-woven clothes and zipper pouches.

Over to Ania!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am an architect who needed a field to express herself creatively. Most people think of architects as of creatives, the truth is different, though. Architecture is just another office work. It’s not a creative business in the end, but rather a rational procedure to do sensible and hopefully beautiful things. In 2015, being slightly disappointed with architecture, I rediscovered crafting thanks to the inspirational IG community. I started doing things that are from start to finish mine. I built my first cardboard loom, I signed up for nude drawing class a few weeks later, I took a pottery, bookbinding and goldsmith courses later in the year. Weaving was an instant crush though so I pursued this new passion.

When and why did you start your Instagram feed?

I was just a quiet observer at the beginning. I was just randomly scrolling through Instagram every few days and one day I saw a weaving made by the talented Natalie Miller. I was so in love with her work, I have never seen anything like that! I knew absolutely nothing about tapestries, so I started researching and discovered a whole community of weavers. It was amazing but so intimidating. They work looked so perfect to me. I took me about 4 months to collect the courage to try it myself. I put a photo of my first weaving on Instagram in September 2015 and due to the positive response I just kept going. I didn't plan to make a business of it, just decided to see what happens, without any expectations.

When I look back at your Instagram account over the last year, I love that you can detect your artistic journey in it.

Starting off with weaving going into pouch sewing and then natural dyeing and stamping - it was such a joy to watch!

How did your audience develop over that time - both in terms of who was following you as well as what people were interested in?

Thank you! It's been an amazing year! The beauty of Instagram is that you get to know a whole bunch of talented and inspiring people who are happy to share their tips with you. I wanted this year to be a journey and tried out all new ideas that I had myself or got from my IG friends.

As you say I started off with weaving and till this point, most of my followers are weavers or people interested in weaving. The feedback I got from them after I started sewing, botanically dyeing, making clothes and different accessories was so lovely, though! It obviously broadened the spectrum of my followers, but the most important thing I guess is that my feed doesn't get boring. 

What my followers often say they like about my feed is that I'm not sticking to one theme for months. They can always expect something new and inspiring. I'm still mostly a weaver, though, and weaving is what people still love seeing. 

It seems like Instagram is quite a strong channel for you to promote your handmade products. What are your main learnings when it comes to how to sell your makes through Instagram? 

Instagram is basically my only traffic source. I have an Etsy shop too, but I don't promote it through Instagram and had only a few sales there by now. I decided to go with my own website because I see myself more as an artist, not a crafter. This screams for an own independent shop. I don't do too much promoting anyway, as I don't intend weaving to be my income source, I am still working as an architect as my day job.

The revelation to me, though, was that I shouldn't be ashamed to tell people to buy my products. I always felt like it's an aggressive strategy and didn't want to do that. Wrong thinking! People are following others because they like their products. That's so easy. My job is to communicate openly, that my products are for sale, what are the shipping options and what is in stock at the moment. People like being informed about it and there's nothing bad in saying "head to my shop and get this pouch, it is the last one available". I had to go a long way before I came to realize that.

I always write my website URL in every promotional post too, to make it as easy as possible (despite having a shop link in my bio). I very rarely offer special deals or do giveaways. This is a part of my mission - I always, always, always try to set a fair price on my products at the very beginning and want people to know that. I am extremely grateful for the support, but I think a thank you message is a better and more personal option here. The Instagram tribe is a pretty special and thoughtful crowd and this is why I rather talk to my followers than bombard them with discounts (they usually don't work anyway).

And related to that - how much time do you spend per day on Instagram and how do you structure it so that you don’t go completely bonkers?

Because of my day job I cannot spend too much time on Instagram. The first thing I do after my alarm goes off in the morning is to scroll through the feed, answer all the comments and post a new photo. I have a really hard time getting up in the morning and this is my way to stay under a blanket some more. I might then do a quick scroll during my lunch break but usually, I first look at it in the evening. I would estimate I spend around 30mins a day Instagramming and now that I wrote that it seems like a lot! But if I wouldn't do that, I would probably snooze for 20mins anyway :) 

Are there any tools you’re using to manage your account?

I only use one tool and it's a scheduling app called Later. Because of working full time I don't see much of the sunlight during the day and can only take proper photos on the weekend (or in the morning if I wake up early enough ;). I then edit them in one batch and schedule to post over the whole upcoming week, adding the description as the days go.

And last, but not least - what are your top three tips when it comes to engaging with your Instagram tribe?

First of all, don't hold anything back! If you love something, write it, if someone is your favorite crafter, tell them that, if you saw something that inspired you, express your gratitude. I am slightly addicted to commenting because I really want others to know I admire them. It's so important. And you will see once you say things openly, people will start doing the same and probably you'll make new wonderful friends.

The second tip would be to speak openly about things that are not so good. If you failed at doing something, admit that, if you're having a bad day and don't feel like working, say it. Venting will make you feel better and your followers will appreciate you being an honest, real person. It's often a great conversation starter too, and will help you get to know your followers better (nothing better than complaining about your day job!).

Third and a very important one - answer all the comments. If people show you love or ask for advice, please answer. You shouldn't feel threatened about sharing your secrets. Treat your tribe with respect and show them love back, in the end, for most of us, these are the people who keep us going :)

Bonus question: What are your current three favourite IG accounts?

I have so many, it will be so hard... My IG love at the first sight was @aureliantownsend, I gasped when I saw her feed a year ago and she's a huge inspiration to me ever since. Amy is a very talented crafter, super sweet lady, and her photos are to die for!

I love @mloomco and her goal to teach herself weaving this year. She comes up with beautiful colours and patterns and it's just a feast for my eyes. Last but not least is a lady who is an artist weaving her heart off, showing her love for her heritage in her beautiful and touching works - @nikitasheth_

Thank you so much for the lovely interview Ania! Make sure you follow her on Instagram (@aniagrzeszek) and check out her online shop!