Classic Copper takes Root in the Garden
When Aranh Pen finished grad school and received a PhD in chemistry ten years ago, the recession played a part in helping her find her way to copper. With no jobs to be had in her field at the time, she began taking up some hobbies and one was gardening.
“I started looking for garden markers and they were not very cute or whimsical,” Pen says.
So she set out to get some copper at a craft and hobby store to complete her vision of what she wanted to see in a marker. What drew Pen to copper had to do with a love of how it looks at any stage.
“I love when it’s polished and fresh, I love when it’s patinated and the blues and greens and the oxidized brown,” she says.
Always artistic, when Pen made her first copper markers by hand she added a touch of whimsy.
“I cut all the copper by hand, rounded the edges by hand, punched the holes and did the hand sanding,” she says.
Her mother-in-law suggested she start selling the markers on Ebay and within the first three days they all sold out.
“The reason they were so successful is that I sold a set of ten and what is growing in your garden is what you get on your ten,” she says. “People love personalized things.”
Pen found that people don’t like to buy a group of things when they have to throw some away or aren’t able to use them. This is where the personalized touch came in handy to make her garden markers appealing, by tailoring them specifically to what one plans to grow.
Her success in selling them led her to establish her business, Mini Wim, located in Holland, Michigan, four years ago. ‘Mini’ stands for minimal and ‘Wim’ stands for whimsical, the keystone’s of the business.
The garden markers were what started it all and over time they branched out to offer copper pet tags and memorial tree markers. Today they offer items in other materials, including cutting boards, stamps, watches, jewelry and cufflinks.
“We have pet ID tags in copper and brass,” she says, adding they represent one of their biggest selling categories along with wedding gifts.
When Pen started her business she had to figure out a way that would be more sustainable to meet the demand for her garden markers and determined she had to forgo the handcrafted approach and replace it with a pre-cut and finished copper. All of their production and designing is done at their 8,000 foot warehouse.
“We design everything,” she says. “I have three graphic designers working for me and they do the engraving.”
Pen describes the process of engraving each piece.
“They will laser engrave it and polish it up so it's nice and shiny,” she says. “Copper engraving is really dark brown, so it’s really pretty.”
Their garden markers, however, have a laquer on them which preserves copper’s warm tone.
“They will probably be a peachy color forever,” Pen says, unless someone wants to sand the lacquer down.
While running an engraving business might appear to be a huge departure from Pen’s initial pursuit in the sciences, she finds that her analytical mind has contributed to Mini Wim’s success.
“The reason we are successful right now is because I’m able to think very technically and analytically,” she says.
For example, Pen works in conjunction with the designers in an effort to minimize errors.
“I have written a lot of scripts to automate the initial design for efficiency,” she says, adding it hasn’t led to any job loss, but has taken down the errors to zero.
Whether she is trouble shooting the lasers or working with the designers, Pen’s analytic and artistic strengths converge in her role as process engineer.
“It’s trying to do everything efficiently, from the way the designers design, to shipping, to engraving,” she says.
The next step for Mini Wim is centered on the large format printers they recently acquired.
“We are going to be doing tea towels, t-shirts and mugs,” Pen says.
Also in this Issue:
- Bronzed in Triumph and Tragedy
- Copper Art Classes Move Online
- Classic Copper takes Root in the Garden
- The Lasting Bronze Legacy of Dr. Richard Bergen
- Colleges Get Creative to Bring the Studio Experience Home for Copper Printmaking Students