Photograph by Porter Loves.
Inside garbella’s cozy studio, Amy Garbark designs and screen-prints a variety of handmade apparel, accessories, home goods, and gifts. In recent years, garbella has attracted national press for all of its fun products. Garbella also features some regional items that give a nod to Pittsburgh, PA (Amy’s hometown), including a Pittsburgh mandala tea towel and an array of ‘Dear Pittsburgh, I love you’ accessories, which have been adapted for other cities across the U.S. Folks can shop all garbella products on garbella.net or on Etsy.
As an artist, Amy loves to begin her designs with pen and paper. When she first went full-time in her business in 2010, all of her hand-drawn designs would be copied, cut, and pasted onto films used to expose her screens used for printing. Over the years, Amy has incorporated digital illustration into her creation process. Amy now draws by hand and on her iPad, prints her films, coats the screens with a light-sensitive emulsion process, and uses water-based ink to create the finished product.
Craft shows have played a major role in garbella’s growth. When Amy’s Etsy shop gained traction, she began traveling to shows around the country, which got garbella on the radar of national publications. The Food Network Magazine featured garbella’s baby onesies as ‘fun gifts for food lovers’ and highlighted more garbella products in other issues. Around the same time, Amy stopped regarding garbella as just a hobby. Garbella needed more room to grow and flourish, and Amy turned her home into her first studio. It didn’t take long for Amy to rent a separate studio and eventually buy her current building in Lawrenceville.
In addition to online sales and craft shows, Amy partners with retailers around the country. One of garbella’s retail partners includes the Polish Art Center in Hamtramck, Michigan, which orders many of garbella’s pierogi themed items.
Like most small businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic halted garbella’s normal operations in March 2020. Many of garbella’s retail partners were not equipped to move completely online, causing a drastic decrease in wholesale orders for several months. Fortunately, a social media movement urging the support of small businesses buoyed garbella with online sales. Throughout 2020, Amy also experienced supply delays from vendors, creating new challenges for getting materials and shipping products to customers.
“It’s a balancing act of placing enough orders that I’m not scrambling, but not overbuying because I’m not exactly sure what sales will look like as compared to previous years,” says Amy.
On the brighter side, Amy has used this year to focus on her website and improve her SEO.
This holiday season, Amy’s craft show schedule looks very different from previous years. But, garbella is still able to participate in some open-air markets and virtual events. From November 27 to December 23, 2020, Amy will be joining three other artists (two of which are peer group members, KLoRebel and Broken Plates) at a group chalet in Market Square, Pittsburgh. In Bloomfield, Amy will also be popped up at their Farmer’s Market (holiday edition) on Saturday, December 5th. And, Handmade Arcade (directed by another eforever member), will be hosting a nine-day virtual event from November 28, 2020, to December 6, 2020.
Amy joined her eforever peer group a month before the Covid-19 pandemic, and has continued to virtually connect with her group every month. This year, one of Amy’s business goals was to organize her backend finances and clearly understand her profit and loss statements.
“A couple of months ago, we did a business financial report card, and there were a couple of pieces that I didn’t pass on. And as of yesterday, I’ve got all of it handled. So my group has provided a good push and support for working through some of those things,” says Amy.
Folks can shop all garbella products on garbella.net or on Etsy. For Pittsburgh customers, garbella is offering free local pick-up at her studio; just choose local pick-up on garbella.net when you check out. And, follow garbella on Instagram to find out what’s new.