My name is Catherine Walker, I’m twenty three years old and three years ago I left university in London, which was headed for a career I no longer cared for, to move to France with my family. My parents had finally accomplished a lifelong dream of buying an old place in the southwest of the country that needed to be restored and they, along with my younger three of five siblings were moving out there. It was too exciting an adventure to miss out on and so I said goodbye to the city (not that we’d ever got along), and dusted off my French.
France is a country I’ve always known well. Each summer throughout my childhood we always went camping there, exploring its each and every corner, and since moving here my affinity for it has only grown. Whether it’s swimming in the nearby river, wandering the streets of an old town or climbing the tower of a magnificent chateau, France is like nowhere else.
As my parents swept away the cobwebs of the old house and my two younger brothers were immersed in school life, I created Cadeaux de Catherine, my online store where you can find unique and chic cat beds.
Etsy Shop: Cadeaux de Catherine
1. How did you get interested in cats? How old were you when you had your first kitty?
I can still remember the intense delight I felt when for the first time I discovered a litter of small kittens in my cellar. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve always loved animals but as a child I’d never been able to have a cat. The closest I’d ever come to having a cuddly pet was a gold fish in the garden pond and yet suddenly five little white kittens had found me. That was two years ago when I was twenty one years old and still relatively new to France.
It was difficult moving to another country, particularly at a time when I wasn’t sure which career I wanted to pursue. I’d always been creative and all I knew was that I wanted to have a job that I loved. One afternoon I decided to have a root around in our cellar which was still full of stuff from when we bought the place. My cat Archie decided to tag along and I soon caught sight of, through all the discarded farming equipment, a crate as old as the 1920s. Intrigued I pulled it out and had a look, wiping away the dust to reveal the old writing down the side. Already my imagination was conjuring up ideas of what I could do with such an item once it had had a good clean, but Archie had other ideas. He had jumped inside and curled up.
And that was the beginning.
As all owners will know, cats each have individual characters but I think that the majority of commercial pet baskets do not reflect this. Surely our four legged best friends deserve something a little more special to call home? A cat tucked up in his/her bed is a happy cat after all.
Pet baskets are also, ultimately, another piece of furniture in our homes. They should enhance a room, look wonderful. Why not?
So I got to work.
2. Please describe your creative process.
Sourcing is very important when making my items. If I don’t have a great starting block then I cannot make the best cat bed possible. This part of the job takes me from the smallest, rural villages of France to beautiful old towns whose streets have barely changed in appearance over the last hundred years. Everywhere I go I’m hunting for unique crates or baskets, most of which are many years old and have a wonderful patina of age. They so perfectly capture the time when they were made and reflect the places from which they come. I am inspired by the individuality of these objects. It’s not hard to see why people love them.
At home I am surrounded by a creative and supportive family and within a house which is as old as the 15th century it’s hard not to be inspired. I just love my work and the thought that these cat beds are in themselves a little piece of history that anyone can take home.
3. How did you discover Etsy? Did you consider other ways to sell your products?
I first read about Etsy in a UK newspaper and instantly I had a look. It’s a good website for people such as myself to display their work for the world to see, and a great place to shop to find those unique items that you can’t find anywhere else. I think the internet is the perfect way to find an audience. Without it I’d be stuck.
4. Do you sell your products in a local store in your area?
No I don’t. The thing about my products is that the French are the least likely to see their appeal. Many people all over the world see France as chic and these cat beds are popular for this very reason, but the locals think I’m mad when they see me lugging around armfuls of old crates.
I would love to sell my items in a store but I think it would have to be elsewhere. Many of my buyers come from America but as yet I have not looked into this possibility.
5. Have you been successful at selling your products on Etsy? Have you always been successful, or did you end up getting a lot more traffic after being featured on a specific blog?
I think that there are so many wonderful creations on Etsy that it is often difficult to be found. There may be many pet owners out there but the competition for selling pet products is huge and to make your name amongst so many others can be a challenge, especially when you’re so small a company. Yet I think my products have got that extra special something that’s rare to find.
I started up only fairly recently and yet I am happy with the reactions I am already receiving online. I may not be the biggest seller on Etsy but I love it every time I find that someone has added one of my items to their favourite list, and even more so if they buy it. It’s great to think that a cat somewhere as far as the other side of the world is calling one of my cat beds home.
Several people have put my items on their blogs and it’s wonderful that they do, I am certainly very grateful. I have found that my products are gradually becoming more known and I have no doubt that those who include me on their pages have helped with that a lot.
6. Do your customers ever give you new ideas for products?
I love it when I receive emails from people who have seen my products and wish to share their thoughts. They tell me about their own pets and therefore I get a greater insight into what people are searching for. When making my products I do bare in mind the people out there whose demands I am trying to meet. I understand that people want the best for their pets and so I try to deliver. I am mostly inspired by the objects I find and my cats are always happy to let me know whether a cat bed is comfy or not.
But of course I’m always open to suggestions.
7. Have you thought of featuring a Ragdoll cat is some way? (Had to ask.)
8. Are you a one woman show?
Yes, entirely. I’m happy to get my hands dirty when it comes to the woodwork and restoration of the crates but I also like to source the fabrics and get out the sewing machine. It’s refreshing to go from one medium to another. I’ve always been a creative person, I think it must run in the family; I have siblings who are artists, musicians, writers and designers. We are all trying to make our mark. It’s what we do and what we love.
But then again when it comes to the photography and publicity of my products, I wouldn’t be able to do it without my cats!
9. Do you have a blog?
I love writing, it is certainly one of my passions, however rather than a blog I write fiction for young adults. As a child I was always to be found with a book and now an adult I have sought to create such adventurous or heartfelt worlds of my own with characters whose footsteps readers hopefully follow with a need to stick with them to the end. Whether it is a comedy or a story with a more serious subplot, I love creating with words.
I have a lot of pride in my writing and I hope that, perhaps one day, it will be my novels as well as my cat beds that I will be known for.
10. Do you do custom ordering? Can someone return it if they don’t care for it?
My cat beds develop from the products I find and therefore it is difficult for me to do custom ordering, however should a customer want something particular, I do my best to create what they’re searching for.
The beds are finished to the highest possible standard and as soon as payment is received they are sent by priority mail which is covered by insurance should anything get lost or damaged during its journey, but sorry but I don’t do returns.
11. Can you share a story with us behind any of your products that you especially enjoyed working on? Maybe because of the story behind the kitty?
Many of my cats were either once strays or kittens of strays that I have taken under my wing. The latest addition was a litter of tiny kittens earlier this year. They were adorable little things who would play in my workshop as I worked on various crates and trugs, their mischievous little ways bringing a smile to my face in the way only kittens can. You may even find several pictures of them modelling the products.
But of course there comes a point when you can’t afford to look after any more cats. I knew that these kittens had to be found a new home. It wasn’t long before a woman called to say she was looking for two males and I gave her my address, but when the day came I was feeling far from ready to say goodbye. To keep the emotion from my façade as I watched their to be owners pick them up and rename them, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and when the car finally disappeared down the drive, it hit me that they were gone.
Whenever I look at those cat beds I remember the days when those little kittens were still with me.