August 19, 2008

featured product: sock monkeys!

Well, they're back. And apparently more popular than ever! Jan Willett, along with her handmade sock monkeys, were featured in this week's issue of the Weekly Dig. Check it out here. Or, to make it really easy for you, simply read below:

You'd have to be blind (or stone-hearted) to miss Jan Willett's MonkeyShineStudio wares at a craft fair. Dozens of goofy, huggable sock monkeys—striped, colorblocked, all sporting a mischievous grin—drape about this toy entrepreneur, a sculptor by training who's been manufacturing these handmade, long-limbed creatures since sewing her first in Fall 2004. With the help of a skilled sewer (hired on Craigslist with something not too far from "sock monkey manufacturer seeks professional seamstress"), Willett soon found herself in, well, monkey business.

Willett first began buying socks at department stores, but then "got more and more picky about the fabric." Cheaper socks, commonly made overseas from acrylic, weren't holding up well, and she "was also concerned with being local and buying American products." After much research, Willett found one of the few remaining US sock manufacturers, and exclusively sources her cotton-Lycra blend socks from Pennsylvania. "I'm looking into doing an organic troupe, probably for next season (organic cotton with recycled stuffing)," she relays encouragingly.

How does one christen a monkey, be it Eugene, Lexi or Fabien? "I finish them and I put their faces on," explains Willett. "I look at them and say, 'What's your name?' Then they tell me." Probably the best strategy, all said. "I also keep a list of interesting names," she continues. "When I see a movie—especially a foreign film—I look at the list of credits for names." Even after four years, her determination to never duplicate a handle still runs strong.

"On my sewing table right now is the Socktopus prototype," Willett divulges. "I also have a penguin that I'm working on, made out of Ankle Biters." Enthusiasts? Anticipate a menagerie of sock surf to accompany the turf.

"It's definitely rewarding in that I know these things are going out into the world and making people happy," says Willett. "It's gratifying to see people's faces light up when they hold them. I feel like I'm doing something good for the world." She laughs, summing up her plushy creations within a simple compelling one-word mission: "Positivity."

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