5 Minutes with Danielle Vanderkeyl from Mae+Quin Handmade
Leah Longueville·July 08, 2019
When we talk about ‘being the good in the world’ it’s people like Danielle Vanderkeyl who come to mind. As a middle school art teacher, Danielle spends her days shaping the minds of our future leaders, and at night she’s running her shop Mae+Quin Handmade where she uses recycled materials to create high-quality leather goods for little ones. Danielle is a mom of two, wife to an incredibly supportive husband, and she’s just a generally kind and inspiring human.
Get to know more about Danielle, her shop, and her simple approach to balancing the maker lifestyle with being a full-time teacher, wife and mama.
We want to know more about you! Let’s start off by hearing more about you and your family!
PP: Hi Danielle! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
DV: Hi all! I’m Danielle Vanderkeyl, the mama maker behind Mae+Quin Handmade. I live in Central Massachusetts with my hubby and two littles that are the namesake of my business: Maeve and Quincy.
PP: Tell us a little bit more about the ‘story of Mae+Quin’. We would love to hear how/why you launched your shop and what your goals were starting out.
DV: When I first had my daughter three years ago, I wanted to find really high quality and well-made items for my new baby. When she began to walk, we naively followed the advice of others and bought her the stereotypical first pair of rubber sneaker-like baby shoes. She stumbled around and constantly tripped over the clunky shoes we stuffed on her chubby feet. In came Etsy and Moccasins. These soft-soled shoes were so easy to get on an off and easily allowed her to feel the earth beneath her feet.
When my son was born in 2017, I wandered into a small leather studio in my town. I was enthralled with the smell and feel of the remnants for sale and went to work making a pair for my son using these scraps. From then on, I was obsessed.
PP: Ah, the creative bug. It hits you hard, doesn’t it? Tell us a little bit about your first design.
DV: When starting Mae + Quin, I had wanted to design a pair of Moccs that were unique, classic, and gender neutral. After much trial and error, I designed the Explorer Moccs that have an elastic casing for easily getting on-off, but also a suede lace tie that adds a bit of charm to the all leather shoe. These are my most ordered shoe and can be made in every color in the shop.
PP: That’s so great. One thing I find really wonderful about your shop is that you’re very intentional about the products you use. Can you tell us more about the social responsibility component and why you chose to go down that route?
DV: I am very passionate about being environmentally friendly and I am most proud of using reclaimed materials and doing my part to make something lovely and usable from something that would have otherwise been trash.
PP: It’s really inspiring to see other shops doing their part to create change and I love how you choose to do so through repurposing materials. Can you tell us about what generally keeps you inspired in your business?
DV: I adore when people send me messages, reviews, or photos of their kids walking in our Moccs. It makes my maker heart to happy to know that I put my heart and soul into something that someone loves. I am always inspired to try something new and I get new ideas and have to try them “right now”.
PP: Tell us a little bit about your life before this chapter of motherhood. What did your career look like? How has motherhood impacted your professional choices?
DV: I was, and still am a full-time Middle School Art Teacher, so that has not changed drastically. But my hours spent at work, as well as my priorities, have shifted to be more focused on my family unit and less on work. For example, I nursed both my babes and still pump daily at work for my youngest. This is a challenge to find time for, but I know it’s important to me, so I make it a priority!
PP:For this blog, we’ve talked to a number of mamas like you who are out there doing amazing things. Some consider themselves business owners or entrepreneurs, while others look at themselves more as makers or side hustlers. How would you describe yourself?
DV: I would consider myself a maker who happens to have a small shop as a side hustle!
PP: I think that resonates with so many of us mama makers who are out there hustling. Can you give us three tips on how you’ve been able to manage this work-work-life balance?
DV: 1) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Try to put things into perspective and stop stressing about things that don’t deserve it. 2) Marry the right person. I am so grateful for my hubby. We really are a team and he is just as capable of taking care of the kids, making dinner, cleaning, etc., so we split most of our “chores” and he is super supportive. 3) Block off time. The babes go to bed around 7pm, then we clean up from the day, I work for about an hour, and then hubby and I hang for an hour before bed. We go to bed every night around 9:30!
PP: It sounds like you have a really solid system in place. Do you ever feel like it’s tough to separate yourself form your side hustle at all? And if so, can you give us tips on how you’re able to do that?
DV: I try so hard to separate Mae+Quin from family time, but gosh, it’s hard to shut a creative mind off! I try to only look at my phone or work on orders when the kids aren’t awake, but that can be really tricky! I just know I don’t want to look back and think- “I should have played with them more…”
PP: I feel you, sista. Mom guilt is such a real thing and because we all know this time is precious, we don’t ever want to miss a beat. Is your family involved in the business at all?
DV: My babes love being in my studio space and “helping” me sew- which roughly translates to throw all the leather around.
PP: Let’s talk a little bit about self-care. As moms, we’re so busy focusing on everyone else around us that we often put our own care on the back burner. Give us three ways you incorporate self-care into your life.
DV: 1) Yoga in my mind- I try to create a quiet space in my head!, 2) Coffee on the couch/porch each morning, 3) Going on vintage and antique store runs … alone!
PP: You talked a little bit about your solid partnership with your husband and how you two take on parenthood and household responsibilities as a team. But when it comes to your business, can you tell us a little more about how you keep yourself organized?
DV: Gosh. At first I tried to keep it all in my head and quickly found myself super anxious. Here are the three most helpful things I’ve found:
When an order comes in, I write it down in my notebook: size, color, customizations, last possible shipping date, and the name of customer. As I get things shipped, I cross them off my list
Baskets! Each order now has its own basket. This way I keep all the materials for that order together and there is no messing up what goes where.
Time management. I don’t try to do everything at once. I complete small pieces at a time. Like, I trace and cut all my patterns at night, and then I sew and package the following day.
PP: When I think about what goes into the actual construction of your products is blows my mind a little bit. I can’t sew well myself (or at all, truthfully), but sewing each and every pair of mocs seems like quite an operation. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your studio/workspace looks like?
DV: I affectionately call a spare bedroom in our home, my ‘studio.’ I am lucky enough to have a space to spread out, store all my bags of leather remnants, and work at an up-cycled vanity that once belonged to my great grandparents.
PP: Going back to your shop, what do you see for the future of Mae+Quin Handmade? Do you envision it growing into your full-time gig or are you hoping to keep it as a side hustle?
DV: I am hoping to keep this as a side hustle that I am proud of. I always want to put out work that makes me proud and is something I would want to buy and spend my own money on.
PP: What can we look forward to this season with your shop?
DV: I am so excited about our new Shearling lined slipper Moccs for this winter/fall. I cannot wait for everyone to see and feel them. They are 100% genuine materials and amazingly soft and warm. I want to make some for myself!
PP: Um, sign me up! Now, last but not least, what is the #1 piece of advice you would give mamas who are considering running their own business?
DV: DO IT! I wish it didn’t take me so long! And stop waiting until you know how to do everything. You’re smart, you’re capable, and creative, the rest you can learn!
PP: Amen to that! Now, for those of us who want to go learn more about you and maybe buy a new pair (or two) of moccs, where can we find you?