Small Business Notes #2: On Building Partnerships with Codi Ann Thomsen of West Heritage

SP: Tell us what you do and how you got started.

CA: After years of trying to narrow in on what I do, I am starting to lean back (always a back and forth) towards the fact that I am – in all of its complexities and variations – simply a creative person; and I will always do several things within that. I have always expressed myself visually and artistically since childhood and I suppose in that way, it's not a surprise at all that my path has led me to where I am today.

To my core, I have always considered myself a storyteller. I have been writing letters for nearly a decade now, and I am feel most reward taking photographs of the people I love and meet, and the places I've traveled to and have seen.

Additionally, I am the founder of West Heritage, an online retail shop that focuses on handmade products by artists and craftsmen all over the world, my collaborations with those people and brands, and my goal within that has always been to help support others in sharing their work the best that I can.


SP: What made you decide to open West Heritage and what was your motivation behind it? 

 I was actually originally 2d artist and studied film photography for a few years. It was my intention when I was younger to become an art teacher to college students, but I was realizing that I wanted to work outside the boundaries of a school system, so I decided to pursue an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

It was in my first of two years of college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that I finally decided I no longer wished to be a 2d artist/painter because it wasn't "tangible enough." I wanted to make things that people could hold, touch and even use. So I moved onto things like hand-making books, focused more on photography and started sewing (which eventually turned into leather-working, and then woodworking). My first year of college, I had an Etsy store where I sold these things – including things like calligraphy pieces, custom orders and so forth.

My sophomore year of college is when I started to figure out how to make it all work, for lack of better words. I created a year long book-making project called What's Mine isYours where I created content, wrote and handmade one edition of books every month for a year and sold them online. I also started the most of my freelancing this year for local bands, friends of friends and so on. I started to piece together how to make a business work and how to create a brand. To be honest, I was and remain fascinated by it, and after an artist residency at a like-minded shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I decided I wanted to turn my work into a brand separate from myself and collaborate with friends and colleagues who were equally trying to make a living off of their work.

I left SAIC at the end of my second year and decided to pursue West Heritage and my work full-time. Here we are several years later!


SP: Which is more important: a very strong social media presence (following) or a really good product? 

CA: A really good product. For many reasons but mostly because I can't imagine having a strong social media presence without the quality to support it. It wouldn't sit right with me and wouldn't be honest to those who are supporting my brand and business.

SP: We’ve heard the term “find your tribe” as a common advice often given to budding entrepreneurs, how important is community & collaboration to small creative entrepreneurs? Can you share some tips for those who wish to start their own business?  

CA: Community is everything, and it's also to be treated genuinely and with care. Value your people and treat them and their work with the uttermost support and respect. In my eyes, we're all in this together. In years of doing business, in learning and in observing other people, I've learned that you can climb the ladder as hard as you possibly can but if you don't do it with your community and with care, you'll get to the top and find yourself utterly alone.



SP: We live in such a well connected world that a lot of homegrown brands would definitely look into partnering with international stockists to further their businesses. What are the top 5 tips you can share for those local brands looking into contacting international stores for consignment or outright agreements? 

CA: Truthfully, I think reaching out is simply the best place to start! I was never one to really treat every partnership the exact same. I stand by this in my mission for and with West Heritage, but every business is different and I find joy in getting to know the founder, their way of working and where their business is at. The best kinds of partnerships are the ones that are mutually beneficial and help one another grow.

To be more technical though, I'd suggest:

1. Get to know their business the best that you can on your own.

2. Suggest ideas to make it more collaborative (if that's of interest to you!)

3. Know the logistics. Determine prior what you're capable of and what financially makes sense for you when collaborating.

4. Provide exactly the information that they may need and ask for the same (it makes things a lot easier and more pleasant if you both know where you're at, what you're capable of and what you can or cannot do for/with one another.)

5. Personally, I say be personable, friendly and eager for connection. For example, I'm huge on thank you notes and staying in touch.


SP: What are your future plans - both for your self (career wise) and for West Heritage? 

CA: It's always changing and I'm sure it will over and over for some time to come. I'm currently trying to find a balance between the several things that I'm pursuing (photography, my personal brand, my shop, etc.) but I can definitely sense that West Heritage is due for some rebranding to catch up with where I'm at personally. I'm interested in what this means and excited to share more as I know it!


Quick Fire Questions: 


1. First thing you do in the morning? 
 Lately, I'm fairly quick out the door as I spend most of my work days at a coffee-shop called The Mill here in Sacramento. It's a gem of a place, the staff members are the sweetest (and some dear friends), the coffee is genuinely great, and it's the best way to ease into the day if you get there early enough to not have to rush into work.


2. Words you live by? 
 Ah – that I am still figuring out.


3. Books you are currently reading now. 
I have quite the list right now, but I'm actually rereading the Bible for the first time since I was a child, and then the Hobbit on the side, as it is a favorite of my boyfriend and his family.


4. Biggest fear? 
 N/A. Not fearless, just very unsure.


5. Advice to your 16 year old self? 
 "Be cautious with yourself and your heart; stay humble, open and take care of yourself too."


Codi Ann Thomsen is strategist, photographer and founder of West Heritage

Selected Sunday Paper items can be purchased in her store.  


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