founded and run by Emma Clohesy
Amy Doak from Of the World Books interviewed Emma Clohesy earlier this year. Emma is the brains and talent behind Happy Hands Happy Heart and her beautiful yet simple creations have earned her a quality following on social media. In fact, many well-known people and businesses endorse Happy Hands Happy Heart these days and rightly so.
Happy Hands Happy Heart is a 100% all-natural playdough. Emma is passionate about encouraging creative and sensory play, so she’s created something that inspires play learning and is the perfect texture for encouraging fine motor skill development.
Happy Hands Happy Heart uses plant-based dyes to mimic colours found in nature and scents that encourage general well being and calm. It’s also 100% safe for curious little ones who innately like to explore with their mouths. Of course, with delicious scents like Blood Orange, Vanilla, Cinnamon, Mandarin, Blue Bergamot, Lemon and Spearmint, you can’t blame them. Emma is a committed to being as environmentally friendly as possible and where possible her packaging and products are recyclable and reusable.
Hi Emma! Welcome to the Bendigo Made Meet The Maker.
Emma: Thank you.
Emma’s Background/Inspiration for the business
A: Can you tell us a little bit about your creative background, and how Happy Hands Happy Heart came about?
E: Sure! I started with a Diploma in Visual Merchandising and from there I fell in love with photography so I went to complete a Diploma in Applied Photography so I’d been doing that for a long time. I’ve always suffered from anxiety, but a few years ago it was getting a bit on top of me so I needed to do something about it. I went and got some help, and I realised that my creative outlet wasn’t there anymore. I had three little kids and I wasn’t finding time for me to be creative which was something I’d done my whole life before then.
So, I needed to find something to do that involved my little ones, because I didn’t really have the spare time. I started playing with playdough a lot and that worked really well. I then started to develop the idea of using natural ingredients, to really reap the benefits with all the senses. I started using essential oils so that you get a greater impact. Calm creative play really helped me and I thought that perhaps other people might benefit from it too.
A: That’s great. So it’s not just for kids.
E: Definitely not just for kids! I play with it more than anyone else.
A: Did you notice a change with your kids too? Did you see a change in their behaviour?
E: Absolutely! Especially certain times of the day, like after school pick up. Everyone is a bit tired and a bit cranky, but you’re not quite ready to start the nighttime routine. Bring out playdough and everyone just chills. So different times, different parts of the day, we pull it out and it just cuts through all that craziness. It works really well.
What about the market experience?
A: That’s so awesome. Then you started selling it at markets…what made you decide to start doing that?
E: Yeah, I guess when I started it, I thought I had something good but I didn’t dare to believe it. I had another business on the side so I sort of just dipped my toe in to begin with. It went really well so I kept going, and then I thought ‘you know what, I am going to take it to Melbourne and give that a go.’ I was so nervous! The response was overwhelming. I was almost in tears that first Melbourne market. It was amazing. I just kept pushing myself and I’ve gone bigger. Now I am doing big markets like Finders Keepers and I’ve been to Sydney and Adelaide and the response has always been really warm and welcoming.
A: That’s so great.
E: Yeah, it’s been really wonderful.
A: So do you find markets a great way to test your products and see first hand how they are being received?
E: Absolutely! I love markets. It’s really hard work being away from the family on weekends so I try to not do too many of them, but it’s invaluable to my business because I get instant feedback. Some of the feedback I get is really amazing, stuff I wouldn’t have known had I not been there watching it. I had a lady come to me and say, ‘my son has been sitting down at your playdoh table for half an hour playing. He has got really severe sensory issues and he doesn’t touch anything – not even food. He’s never played with anything like this before and he’s been there for half an hour. You’ve got something really special there.’ That’s the feedback you don’t get unless you’re there watching them try your product.
A: How lovely. So, for someone like you who suffers from anxiety, and a lot of makers and creatives are very introverted and like to just go away and do their own thing, how do you deal with all the people at markets? Markets are busy and bustling…is that hard?
E: They are busy, but I really do believe in what I’ve made and that gives me confidence. It’s not about me, it’s about my products. They’re something I really, really believe in. I think I’ve got something special. I know why I do it. I know all my ‘why’s’. It’s the place I need to be. Also, I’ve never had a bad experience at a market. Everyone is so warm and welcoming, even the other makers, it’s such a supportive network, it’s quite incredible. It’s been more beneficial than otherwise. I do get nervous and worry that someone may not like it, but that’s never happened.
How to you go about product Development?
A: When it comes to developing such a specific product, there’s lots of elements involved, what kind of challenges have you had along the way?
E: I guess, I did it quite slowly and when I started I didn’t think I was going to do it as a business. I guess making sure it’s sustainable has been a big issue for me. When I decided to do it as a business, I didn’t want a business that would create waste or be something that people would end up throwing out. That was my biggest hurdle perhaps – particularly with packaging. Finding something that stored the product but also was environmentally friendly. Once I got over that, it’s been fine. Beyond that, it’s just been continually developing the product to make new flavours, new colours, all within my ethos. For example, people have been asking for a long time about blue playdough.
A: Yes! I was going to ask you about your Blue Bergamot.
E: Blue is the most difficult colour to make naturally. People always say blueberries, but when you break that down, it’s not a very rich blue. So that’s been my holy grail! I launched that in January. It’s been a lot of testing, a lot of asking questions, a lot of googling, a lot of talking to people who know about bontanicals. I’ve learnt that if you don’t know, you just need to find someone to ask who does, and not be afraid to ask.
A: That’s so great. Now, you’ve got a fantastic instagram account. Visually, it’s so beautiful, and obviously with your background in photography and visual merchandising, you’ve got some skills there. Have you got any tips for people who are starting out in social media for how to create something beautiful that people will respond to?
E: I guess, I didn’t start out like that. When I first started on instagram, I didn’t know what I was doing, or why I was doing it. If you don’t know your why, it’s never going to work. You need to really sit down and consider what you’re doing and why. Once I did that, it was really easy to share my message and then it was a matter of working out what my aesthetic was. What’s my brand about and what do I want it to represent. That helped me work out my content. I wanted it to be light and bright so that when people see it, they feel a little happy. That’s what the whole point it. So, that helps me create all of my content. I have an idea, then it has to tick all of those boxes and then I make it.
I also sought some professional advice and that’s been really wonderful. To work out the bits behind social media – why you’re doing it and how it works. Also, networking. That’s the best thing you can do with social media. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people and say ‘hi, this is what I do’. That’s worked really well for me.
Advice for people starting out
A: So what advice would you give to other people who are want to take a passion or a hobby and make it their business?
E: Probably back yourself. Looking back, I don’t think I jumped in as daringly as I would have like to. My first 12 months were quite slow because I wasn’t game to give it all I’ve got. Once I did though, things literally changed overnight. Also, just not being afraid to talk about yourself. You are your brand, especially when you’re a maker. You need to be able to tell people why you are doing it and share the story behind it. That’s what’s important about being a maker. It’s the personality behind it. That’s what makes it special. Otherwise, people would just go off and buy the manufactured product. There’s always other options and cheaper options, but your story is part of the beauty of what you’re making. That’s what people love. Don’t be afraid to show yourself. It’s daunting and it’s very difficult but once you get the hang of it, it’s fine.
A: Yeah, it’s something that takes practice, isn’t it?
E: Yes, for sure. And being brave. Be brave!
A: Something we are often bad at!
E: Definitely! But I’ve spent so many times thinking and worrying: ‘I am going to send this email to this person and introduce myself and product’ and every time I press send, I do a big gulp! But so often I get these beautiful responses and I think what was I worried about? What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no?
A: Or they don’t answer.
E: Exactly. But that doesn’t matter. You’ve got to be brave otherwise you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Defining success for yourself
A: So what do you want to see happen with Happy Hands Happy Heart over the next 12 months?
E: That’s a really interesting question because I am at that point when I need to decide what’s going to happen next. There’s a lot of new things happening – some new products, new collaborations, potential for exporting.
There’s a lot of stuff going on but personally, my goal for the next 12 months is to slow down a little bit. I’ve got three kids and I wear so many hats. I want time to read a book. I want time to play in the garden.
So, trying to manage that, I guess. I don’t want the business to run my family, I want it to work with my family. That’s why I am in small business. It’s hard work. You do a lot of crazy hours and crazy nights, but the payback is I am always there for school pick up and drop off and I can do reading and excursions and if someone is sick, I can take the day off because I am my own boss.
As long as it’s all working, I can keep growing, but I guess the family dictates what’s possible. A little bit of travel, heading to Canberra and Adelaide for markets…so lots happening.
A: That’s so great, Emma. I think you’re right though, that’s the hard thing. It’s really easy to get swept up in that ‘I should be hustling, I should be doing more’.
E: It’s so easy to do that! But then, you have busy periods when you’re working all the time and you realise, ‘this isn’t why I am doing this’.
A: So it comes back to the why.
E: It always comes back to the why. My business is all about my family. The kids are involved in aspects of it, so sometimes I have to pull back a bit. If I’m stressed and freaking out in the morning, then it’s not working so it’s time to pull it back a bit.
How to create with playdough
A: OK, so final thing. The creations that you make – and if people check out Emma’s instagram, you’ll see what I mean – are amazing and I reckon people would often try to emulate some of those designs and have massive playdoh fails.
E: I have had some sent to me…
A: So other than using an awesome product, your product is pretty special with how malleable it is, have you got any tips for playdoh lovers out there for how to make great stuff?
E: I guess just experimenting. Nothing fancy. My tools are a little rolling pin, a knife, sometimes bits of Lego to get textures and things. Just having fun and playing with it to see what you can do. When you’ve got the kids together and you’re all using your creativity and imagination and working together, just see what you can come up with. If you’re not having fun, there’s no point. Keep playing and keep experimenting. That’s what it’s all about I suppose!
A: Thank you so much!
E: That’s alright. Thanks for having me.