Where Passion Meets Business: An Interview with Ruthie Rhodes
Much of my experience in the bookstagram community has been a complete revelation, like discovering that there’s actually a whole other world in the back of your wardrobe, or that the Hogwarts letter you’ve been waiting for has arrived after all.
Finding a community of like-minded book aficionados has allowed me to feel retroactively much cooler about my lifelong book-nerdiness, and more than that, I’ve been impressed and inspired by people who have decided to pursue careers and businesses built around all things bookish.
When I saw the amazing creations that Ruthie Rhodes, aka paperbackparamour, made for her new shop Dust and Pages I was absolutely blown away by the work and talent that went into her transformations. (And a little weak in the knees that her primary subject is our favorite High Lord, Rhysand.)
I visited her Etsy shop and scrolled down and read her story explaining how she came to take on this awesome new business and was struck by two things: First, that I found a kindred spirit in someone who had decided to treat the unexpected, and potentially traumatic, experience of being let go from your job as the catalyst to take on something new, as I did something similar a few years ago. Second, that here was another woman who had decided to not only become an entrepreneur, but was doing so based on the inspiration of books.
From the Dust and Pages Etsy Shop Page:
It all began with a trip to the Wizarding World. My love for Harry Potter was, and still is, all consuming. Like a good tourist and cog in the great machine that is our economy I purchased souvenirs for myself and my family...
It began with a Funko. A little Harry Potter funko all bespectacled and wide eyed. Waving his wand just like the first time in Ollivander's. I was hooked. I was obsessed. I needed more. But where were my favorite literary characters? Where were the many centuries loved authors? Why was the vast, rich world of books being passed over?
It began with a phone call. One I was expecting. One that so many other had received before me. I lost my job. And I was happy. What? You say. How can losing your only source of income be a pleasant thing? How can you go against all that society says you should do and not grieve the loss of a wonderful job that pays the bills and then some? How can you not want a job you spent four long years of studies working towards? Well.. I say. I found art. I found a community devoted to the reading, the loving, the obsessing over all things literary. Anything and everything novel being discussed by a diverse group of readers from around the world. I was hooked. I was obsessed.
It began with a box of clay. An ordinary block, nothing special to look at. But once my love for the written word and the desire to see my beloved literary characters standing in front me collided it became something special, something I loved. Something of an obsession.
And that, my dear friends, is why I am here today. Shunning societal norms, the good advice of well intentioned loved ones, and that four year degree to bring you your literary wishes. Welcome to my shop, and please mind the fairy dust <3
After reading I wanted to learn more about how Ruthie came to this exciting new point her in life and shine on a light on her work. Thankfully she agreed to an interview.
I started by addressing the kind of work she had been doing before in order to get a sense of just how big of a leap Ruthie was really making, so I asked her what her original field of study/work was and she shared, “I received my B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Mississippi State University in 2013. I worked in a variety of fields including the chemical industry, paper industry, and in the petroleum industry.”
Clearly, there was a big leap! But one couldn’t create the kind products she does without some previous creative experience so I asked for a little more background and she talked about a kind of casual, dyed-in-the-wool creativity she’d always had, “I have always loved art and I have been an avid "DIY-er" all of my life. My house is full of knick-knacks I've either restored, repurposed, or made from scratch. Macrame is one of my true loves! I dabbled in painting in college and even took an art history class (which I absolutely adored), but never considered myself an artist or even thought of it as a potential career choice until recently.”
I think more people, women in particular, could benefit from Ruthie’s embracing a passion as a potential career.
As we continued the interview it became clear that there’s a learning curve that comes with taking on any new adventure.
Casey: How much time goes into creating each individual figure?
Ruthie: A lot. I've even had a few people tell me I don't charge enough. It's not only the sculpting and painting that takes time, but also behind the scenes things like brainstorming into what attributes to apply to a character, how to replicate them, and the many mistakes that you just have to chalk up to 'I'll do it better next time'. I know many people will turn their nose up at customs because of their price, but there's a reason art is expensive. Like Picasso said "the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls".
Ugh is that so pretentious of me to quote Picasso? Feel free to cut that.
(I can’t cut it, it’s just too perfect.)
C: What are your hopes for the business moving forward?
R: I want to add more figures from some of my favorite novels starting out, and so do my customers. I also have a ton of ideas for future projects, one of which is bookmarks, the other I can't reveal just yet, but I think it will be brilliant if I do say so myself. I'd love to be able to acquire the equipment to allow me to restock once a week and eliminate pre-orders, because let's be honest nobody likes waiting. These are most of my short-term goals and get me really excited for the year ahead!
C: Do you feel supported by the bookstagram community?
R: Absolutely. I honestly don't think I would've ever had the courage to start this path if it hadn't been for all of the support from friends in the bookstagram community. There's nothing better than having a group of wonderful ladies I can turn to with questions, problems, ideas, or even just get a few encouraging words after a bad day. If any of you are reading this you know who you are and I love you! Also I can't go without thanking all of my customers, many of whom are members of the bookstagram community. Reading your comments and fangirling over book characters is one of the best parts of my day.
C: Are there other places/groups that you feel provide you with support/encouragement?
R: I am very fortunate to be surrounded by support in my family and friends. My boyfriend is a huge supporter of mine. He was skeptical at first when I told him I wanted to start an Etsy business, but quickly changed his mind when he realized how happy it made me. Now he's jealous that I get to work from home everyday! My sisters are book lovers like me and always ask me about my future projects and, like any loving sister, try to get free stuff. My mother is very proud of me and I can call her anytime day or night, and even though she lives two states away, she'd be here at the drop of a hat if I needed her.
Also, thanks to Korrine over at OwlCrate, I've joined a group called Geek Boss Collective. It's a Facebook group she created geared toward female business owners in the bookish industry. It's a fantastic group of women from all over the world, and we can go to each other for anything from support, to social media help, to questions about where to buy the best boxes. I'm so thankful I get to be a part of it!
C: Why are books what inspire your business?
R: Okay this should be an easy question, but there are so many reasons why! I have been a book lover since I could read, and probably even before. I still remember my excitement when my mother would pull out our hooked on phonics book so I could practice, or our nightly bedtime story my mom or dad would read, always begging for another of course. My first books included the likes of Goodnight Moon, anything Dr. Seuss, and a huge illustrated copy of Beatrix Potter stories given to me by my grandparents on my 2nd birthday. It sits lovingly on my 'favorites' bookshelf. I guess books and the characters in them have always been friends. I know when I open a book people like Mr. Tumnus, Frodo and Sam, Elizabeth Bennet, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Mia Corvere, Manon, Rhys, the Dregs, and so many others will be there to welcome me into their world. I freaking love books, and to me it seems like the most natural thing in the world to base an entire business around them.
After asking Ruthie why books are what inspire her business, I realized that this was what was really at the heart of my admiration for the women who had created their own shops that I had come to admire so much. Taking a leap of faith on something that had once be considered so “nerdy” in a pejorative way, and transforming it into something so beautiful it created cultural envy on social media made me want to ask a few more women the same question, and these were their answers:
“I have loved reading ever since I was a child...As a writer, I love any and all things regarding books and writing and when I found Bookstagram I started to really see how many others feel the same way. We don’t just want to read a book, we want to talk about it, share our experiences while reading, and showcase things that remind us of those books. I was able to combine my own love for bookish goodies with me passion to create and my shops were born...To me, books are the inspiration because to be a reader is to be an adventurer.”- Emilie Hendryx, Create+Explore+Read
“I wanted to create a box that inspired non-readers to want to read. A book is a mini vacation and too many people don’t visit enough of them!” -Michelle Wolett, Once Upon A Book Club Box, Once Upon A BookCase, & ChickLitDesigns
“I was originally looking for a way to practice hand lettering that wasn’t super boring. It just kinda hit me- why was I not merging my two passions (books and art) into one? So I started using my favorite book quotes as inspiration and motivation…” -Brittney Singleton, HerBookishThings
“Books inspire my business because they’re my passion! My love for making candles is so strong because my inspiration comes from stories that transport me to my favorite worlds and allow me to experience so many different things. When I started making candles, I hadn’t even intended to start a bookish business, but my love for reading is so strong that it’s only natural to serve as an inspiration in many parts of my life!” -Brittany Smith, Novelly Yours
The biggest theme seems to be, and it should come as no surprise, a genuine passion for reading. This is the fuel for Bookstagram, bookish shops, book clubs, and our towering TBR piles. And it’s created a community where we can be proud of our bookworm status.
If you’re a bookish entrepreneur I’d love to read your answer to “Why are books what inspire your business?” in the comments.
And if you’re someone who has been on the fence about creating your own bookish business I hope this has inspired you to make that joyous leap, there is a community of people ready to support you.