Published in the Lake Oswego Review August 25, 2016
Stephanie Sperring uses her twins as inspiration to craft a popular line of cards, books and clothing
After giving birth to twins, most parents are usually content with finding time for the occasional shower and surviving night feedings. But for Lake Oswego resident Stephanie Sperring, it seemed like the right time to start a business.
“My partner and I decided that I would stay home with my kids when they were born,” Sperring says. “But six months after my twins arrived, I felt a need to do something that represented me and gave me an outlet.”
She’d always loved art and experimenting with different mediums, especially working with wood and painting. So in 2013, Sperring started to play around with making animal designs because, well, “being around my twins, this was all around me!”
“I burn, carve and paint on basswood,” she says, “so I called the company Carved Life. It feels like a carving of my life and how my kids influence me. I started by creating greeting cards and prints. I have now expanded to coloring books, onesies and toddler T- shirts.”
Sperring creates the designs for all of those products — from ducks and roosters to monkeys, giraffes, elephants and more — in a workshop in her garage, using acrylic paints and the wood-burning method she loves. The designs are then transferred digitally onto 100-percent organic cotton clothing or cards and books made from recycled paper, using environmentally friendly, water-based ink.
It’s a Portland-centric operation: Sperring works with a local commercial printer, and she handles all of the orders and shipping from her kitchen table. Needless to say, twins Mason and Quinn — who are now toddlers — play important roles in the process.
“I show every design to my kids, and if they smile, laugh and want to touch the art, I know I have a winner,” Sperring says. “Any time I have created a piece and they aren’t that interested, it isn’t that popular! They are my personal opinion panel!”
The twins obviously inherited their mother’s artistic sensibilities. Items from Carved Life are selling quickly at a variety of local businesses, including the Whole Foods Market at Bridgeport Village and Artistic Flowers and Lucky Me Boutique in Lake Oswego. In fact, Carved Life products are in 27 stores in Oregon and for sale at shops across the United States.
Fans of Sperring’s designs can also order online from CarvedLife.com, where short- and long-sleeved onesies ($28- $32) come in sizes 3-6 months, 6-12 months and 12-18 months. Greeting cards sell for $4, coloring books for $7.99 and prints for $15.
Last year, Carved Life sold around 7,500 items, and Sperring says sales are on track to double this year. This week, she participated in the Urban Craft Uprising show in Seattle; in October, Carved Life will be one of just 35 environmentally friendly lines on display in the Naturally Kids section of the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas.
None of that surprises Sperring’s husband Dan, who encouraged his wife to start her creative company.
“When Stephanie and I bought our house, we decided to find a place well within our means so that when we had children, she would have the flexibility to explore various career options,” Dan says. “One time, while at Twist, Stephanie stumbled across a company that made beautiful furniture and jewelry boxes. Feeling inspired, she created her own designs and made her own pieces.
“It was clear that she had a passion and talent for creating these designs,” he says. “I simply held up a mirror to help her see what others saw in her work and encouraged her to try selling some of her art.”
Lacy Coble, the store manager for Posh Baby in Portland’s Pearl District, says customers have reacted to Carved Life with the same kind of enthusiasm.
“One thing that people like about the onesies in particular is that they are organic,” she says. “They are also a nice gift for people looking for something gender neutral. They are a go-to recommendation for people looking for something made by local artists. In general, customers love the simple, adorable prints.”
Alicia Fox-Smith, manager of Oblation Papers & Press in the Pearl, agrees.
“We’ve been carrying Carved Life for the past three years and have found customers love the cards. Stephanie’s Birthday and New Baby cards set the perfect tone, with images that are sweet and simple,” Fox-Smith says.
“We are also thrilled to carry Carved Life’s adorable onesies that are made with organic cotton,” Fox-Smith says. “Stephanie’s commitment to creating an artistic product while sourcing eco-friendly and local suppliers goes hand-in-hand with what Oblation Papers & Press does — and what Oregon customers appreciate!”
Oregonians also appreciate companies that give back to their communities, and Carved Life makes a point of doing that. Before giving birth to her twins, Sperring — who has a bachelor’s in community health and health education from Portland State University — worked at Oregon Health and Science University. Now, 10 percent of the proceeds from Carved Life sales go to OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and its Congenital Brain Anomalies Clinic in honor of a family member who received treatment there.
In the future, Sperring says, she hopes her business will grow as her children grow and that she will design clothing and other items for each stage of development.
“I would love to be considered a household name for all kinds of baby items,” she says. “As my kids grow, I believe I will expand more into the toddler arena. In one year, I would like to be in 10 times the number of stores I am in today. In five years, I want to have a full staff of employees helping to expand my product line to all over the world.”
Dan Sperring has no doubt that his wife will achieve those goals.
“I’m proud of Stephanie, because she’s a great role model for our children,” he says. “She’s living proof that if you are passionate about something, it’s possible to turn your dreams into a reality.”