There’s a sweet irony in the fact that Shawna Liao creates wreaths, considering her career path has truly come full circle.
Although she fell in love with crafts decades ago, Liao earned a Master’s degree in Earth Sciences from Western University and held a specialized government job in her field before realizing that something was missing.
“I had gone back to work full-time and it was pretty overwhelming,” recalls the 42-year-old Kanata mom of three boys, ages 11, 8 and 5.
“I found it wasn’t something I was enjoying that much anymore; it wasn’t very creative and I felt that, at this point in my life, I wanted to spend more time doing creative things because I have always enjoyed knitting and quilting and crafting.”
About a year ago, while on vacation with her family, she decided she wanted to start her own business. As soon as she got home, she started making wreaths.
“I usually make a wreath every season, so it was a natural thing to do,” says Liao. Feeling inspired, she opened her online shop on Etsy.com just two weeks later, and Willow Bloom Wreaths was born.
“To me, every season is exciting – so I thought wreaths would be a good way of creating something for the home and something that I could follow through each season.”
Liao credits the easy-to-use Etsy platform as a big factor in the quick launch of her business.
“It provides a really great way for people to get started in a business, rather than having to jump into something where you have to invest a lot of money and a lot of time into creating an actual store or your own website.”
“With the Etsy platform, you can start out with just a few items and I did – I started with maybe four or five items.”
Those items caught the attention of online shoppers, and it wasn’t long before she had her first customer.
“That feeling of having my first sale was the most exciting, thrilling thing ever,” Liao recalls.
Since then, Liao has added banners, table runners, cutlery holders, bows, Christmas stockings and ornaments to her growing list of handcrafted products. She says she enjoys working with natural materials and neutral colours – though she’s not adverse to mixing in bright colours, too.
“Burlap is probably the product that I use the most; it’s a natural product, I love working with it,” says Liao. “You can shape it in different ways and it comes in different colours as well.”
Other natural materials such as cotton and linen are also incorporated into her projects, along with natural vanilla rope and cotton rope, which is made in Canada.
With a rustic-yet-chic style to her products, it’s no wonder Liao’s customer base is quickly growing.
“For my Etsy site, about 80-per-cent of my customers are in the U.S.,” says Liao. “I also do a lot of sales via Facebook to Ontario-based customers.”
Prices for wreaths range from $45 for a smaller wreath to $95 for a large wreath (58cm/23”). Her banners range from $12 to $28. Liao is more than happy to take custom orders too, for no additional charge.
“You can celebrate holidays with little signs or monograms on wreaths, like ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Welcome Fall,’ she says. “There are all kinds of different things to personalize it; you can put your last initial on a wreath.”
As Christmas approaches, Liao is busy filling her Christmas orders and scouring Pinterest for inspiration on the latest trends.
“Right now, I’m trying to incorporate that feeling of winter and snow and everything that’s kind of white,” she says about the season’s colour palette. “I’d say that neutrals are still really popular: creams and beiges and greys.
“People are interested in wreaths that are more monochromatic or made of one material – like magnolia leaves without anything else on it, or a burlap wreath with a simple bow – they kind of fit into any décor.”
Liao notes that “buffalo check” – a checkered pattern in black-and-white, or grey-and-white – is trending this season. She says traditional plaids, as well as the classic red-and-white motif, are always on point.
And before leaving her government job for good, Liao spent a year ramping up Willow Bloom Wreaths and adding to her list of piano students to supplement her income.
While she juggles 20 students, she says it’s a big improvement over her old schedule. Having her own business gives Liao more time to help her boys with their homework and music studies.
“I think they can sense that I’m a lot less stressed,” says Liao. “I love being there in the morning for the kids; when I was working, I had to get up at 5:30 to make their lunches and be at work at 6:45 in the morning, then I was rushing through traffic to get home for 2:30 p.m.
“Now, my hours probably add up to a just about a full-time job, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m working full time because it’s so much fun.”