She Put A Bird On It – Andie Cohen-Healy of The Feathered Head
Over the years doing these Behind the Business features, we’ve heard some pretty unique origin stories. But I never thought we’d count ‘being gifted chickens’ as inspiration for launching a new company.
But that’s exactly what happened to Andie Cohen-Healy who turned her one-of-a-kind housewarming gift into The Feathered Head, her business creating one-of-a-kind fashion accessories. We interviewed Andie and spoke about the fascinating start to her business, the incredible fascinators she designs, and what the future might hold for her and the company.
So tell us about The Feathered Head. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
I create, collect, curate and custom-design gorgeous, one-of-a-kind headpieces for special events, weddings, black tie affairs, day at the races, cocktail parties and just every day. I like to say I’m in the business of celebrating a woman’s individuality by offering unique hair ornaments that truly express her personality with a sense of whimsy and elegance.
The Feathered Head offers an online “Bridal Collection” and a “Cocktail Collection”, both of which include fascinators, restored vintage hats, headbands, clips, veils and combs. With interesting textural embellishments such as billowy feathers, vintage jewelry, Swarovski crystals, mixed media and heirloom millinery incorporated into the pieces, they’ve been described as “wearable works of art”. In addition to maintaining my online presence, I also work closely, one-on-one, with bridal clients who desire something completely different and personal for their wedding headpiece. These custom-designs are my favorite because I always say that what you wear on your head is an expression of what’s in your heart. I know first-hand exactly how important it is to have the perfect headpiece that represents “YOU” on your wedding day!
How did you get into creating feathered hats?
This question is more amusing than you think. I hardly chose this path…rather, it “flew” into my life and chose me! And I’m quite sure that my academic training consisting of a Radio-TV-Film degree from Northwestern University did not prepare me for it. The “short” version is that I moved to Los Angeles from New York City, where I had been the Director of Satellite Operations at MTV Networks, to be with my then-fiancé (who is now my husband). When we bought our house, we were inexplicably gifted 2 baby chickens by the sellers. As a New Yorker, I had no earthly idea what to do with chickens! But I fell madly in love with them and they became an important part of my life. When it was time to get married I knew, since I was not a 22 year old bride, that I had no interest in a poufy-foofy generic bridal veil. I wanted something that represented my personality and confidence, something with a bit of whimsy but also very elegant. I burst out laughing when I saw a bridal magazine picture of a woman walking down the aisle with a chicken in her arms…that was my “AHA” moment! I decided to incorporate our chickens lovely, naturally molted feathers into my bridal headpiece when we got married in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. I crafted a unique and beautiful fascinator combining the chicken feathers with spray pearls, ostrich plumes and organza and people went crazy over it.
Requests for others like it started coming in. I decided to launch ‘The Feathered Head’ as a small business, offering unique wedding & party headpieces. It was mostly as an artistic distraction from my day job in which I was not happy (though still in the satellite business, I was no longer at MTV at this point). But I was also serious about seeing what I could do with this odd concept, and inherently knew there were other women who would want something as personal to them as my chicken feather fascinator was to me.
So, recognizing the current backyard chicken craze, feather-mania and headpiece resurgence due to Kate Middleton, timing was perfect (I even ended up having one of my hat creations worn on The Today Show’s Kathy Lee & Hoda segment during Royal Wedding week). I am deeply grateful for all the oddball things fate has thrown my way and thankful that I had the confidence to take smart and bold risks.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate; why do you love what you do?
“They” were right – you do have to be passionate about living your life. In those moments when you wonder why you stepped off the cliff into the great entrepreneurial abyss, you have to be clear about why you are doing it. N.D. Walsch said that “Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone” — I have a deep belief in the truth of this but I also have a need for security and routine. I was enveloped in the so-called “security” of the corporate world for so long, starting in Advertising at Leo Burnett and ending at MTV/Viacom. I never really understood what people meant by “follow your bliss”, which seemed impossible because I didn’t have the foggiest idea what my “bliss” was. Then the chicken feather headpiece idea came along and very organically and slowly showed me what that concept truly meant.
When I was working on my pieces, I got lost in my own creativity and vision. I felt happy in a way I never had when I was just “doing my job”. Since I had had an unusually large number of friends die at a young age, I really connected to the concept of “life is short so do something you love while you can”. I’m action-oriented so for me, I could only go on complaining about job or how my life could be better for only so long. When I found something I was passionate about, I was driven by it. Now, every day I have the honor of making women feel beautiful and celebrating their individuality, just as I did mine. It makes me feel alive and allows me to achieve a higher level of authenticity. I’m tickled that my work has appeared in multiple national & regional magazines and blogs and just recently I ended up on the cover of a magazine as the lead in to a story on reinvention! I deeply care about what I’m doing and the people I’m doing it for…that is true happiness and success to me. Plus I get to hang out with my chickens in my studio!
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
I wouldn’t call it “adversity” but there have certainly been challenges. Probably the hardest thing is that I have to be self-motivating every day. I don’t have a staff or anyone I can collaborate with. I miss the give and take of opposing viewpoints, which generally can result in a stronger concept. Creativity thrives on a certain amount of tension so when I’m working in a vacuum I only have my own aesthetics to works with. The other challenge, of course, is not unique to me.
Any entrepreneur knows the challenges of being a staff of 1 but trying to get 57 things done. I create my pieces but I also administrate my website, wade through SEO, do all the marketing, manage the social media, edit all the photos, work the trade/market shows, source the materials, reconcile the accounting, interface with clients…the list goes on forever. It can be grueling to have to teach yourself everything you don’t know just before you’re required to do it! Photoshop is a great example of this.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
It may not be “wild” but probably one of the more unexpected things that happened occurred when I was exhibiting at an outdoor art show. My booth was quiet for a moment and an older gentleman came in and started examining my restored vintage hats. We struck up a conversation and I loved that he was so interested in the detailing of the hats, what time frame they were from and how one would wear them. I never judge any of my customers so if they were for him, that was his business! But it turned out that he was a history teacher who was interested in integrating elements of 20th Century fashion into his lessons.
I was delighted that I had this unusual pocket of empty time to have an in-depth conversation with him. He ended up buying a particularly fun pillbox hat with a feather pom-pom on it and off he went. Three hours later, when the booth was busy again and I was with a customer, he breezed back in and handed me an envelope. He simply said “this is for taking the time to educate me” and then vanished. When I had a moment I opened up the envelope and inside was a $50 gift certificate to a lovely restaurant in town. It was such a wonderful random act of kindness I’ll never forget it!
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
What time off? It’s sort of a laughable concept because I am either working, or thinking about working, 24-7. I even think feathers and design headpieces in my dreams! But on the off-chance that I have a bit of time, I love hanging out with my husband in our backyard lounge chairs, drinking a glass of wine. We are endlessly entertained by our chickens and it’s a ritual for my favorite chicken, Nugget, to sit on my lap, put her beak in my armpit and wait for a back scratch (she’s an odd chicken). That’s heaven for me. Other than that, gardening is high on my list, as I endlessly endeavor to grow the perfect zucchini. And though I’m on hiatus now, until recently I was a serious Taiko drummer and toured Japan performing in concerts with my troupe, Makoto Taiko.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
As someone who grew up before social media became the monster it is today, I still have somewhat of an outdated sense of privacy. It’s not something I particularly enjoy personally but obviously I recognize that without it, The Feathered Head would not be considered a serious business. I have to admit it’s a chore and a time-suck to constantly be posting on the seemingly endless outlets but it’s critical to have a presence. Sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to post on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, my website and beyond. But it’s a powerful way to build followers, showcase my clients and my products and reach a worldwide audience.
Why did you realize that you were going to embrace ecommerce?
It was simple…I wanted to sell my headpieces and in order to do that, people had to see them! Since I don’t have a brick and mortar shop, e-commerce is a dream come true and literally anyone can do it on some level.
How did you find Shopify and why did you decide to try them out? What do they enable you to do as a small business owner?
I felt I was creating beautiful products but, when I started out, I had virtually no method of selling them. I knew I needed an online presence ASAP. I hired a web guy who designed a website for me on the Magento platform. It was difficult because I knew nothing about how e-commerce websites worked so he clearly had the upper hand. Over time I felt almost held hostage by the process, as every request for every little change had to go through him. He was not always responsive and when we did speak, there were times I felt a little bullied by what he thought was the right way to do things. I wanted more control over my site so I took the leap and started investigating do-it-yourself sites. It was a very daunting prospect, as I am a computer dinglehead.
After reading many favorable reviews about Shopify, I signed up for their free trial. I have not looked back. With their template-based platform they make it easy for a non-computer person to, with the help of some good photography, create a completely professional, well-designed, functional website. It’s fast. It’s integrated. People cannot believe that I not only “designed” my website in a way that did not require coding, but that I also administrate it completely by myself. Shopify’s Help Center is always responsive and friendly. Payments are completely secure, critical in this day and age. Fees are low. I literally have nothing negative to say, as their turnkey service is perfect for me. The fact that I, a non-computer person with a small business, can offer my worldwide customers a website that looks as good as I think www.TheFeatheredHead.com does is astonishing. And as my company grows, so can the sophistication of my site. With add ons, apps, marketing options and tons of template choices, if I need a more powerful presence, it’s available to me. What more could you ask for?
How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
Supporting local is absolutely a priority for me. I’ve seen too many stores I love go out of business because items are perhaps cheaper on the internet. I’ve even heard horror stories from local merchants of people going into their stores, finding an item they like and while they’re still standing there, search for it on Amazon and buy it online!!! I find that so offensive. So, I will go out of my way, even if I have to pay a little bit more, to source my elements locally when possible. I love the personal touch and understand that, since we’re all in this together, we need to support our local economies.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Very exciting! My exposure is growing through magazine and blog coverage, my private commissions are increasing and I’m dipping my toe in the water regarding wholesale possibilities to stores in the US and Canada.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Yes…there are snippets of advice that I still follow myself every day. The first suggestion is to identify what you get excited about. Allow surprises into your life and see where they take you…you just never know where chance is lurking! I’m a big believer in “doing something is better than doing nothing”. In other words, don’t wait for something (like a website) to be perfect! Put something out there and then refine it. Ride the roller coaster of ups and down, basically just hang in there no matter how dejected you feel at a given moment. Be driven but also be patient. Most important, though, is to have the capacity to LEARN from your mistakes. Knowing that half of all small businesses go under within 5 years, it is critical that you recognize there will be failures. When something feels terribly disappointing to me, instead of quitting, I allow myself to feel really, really bad temporarily and then use the information I’ve gained as “data” to re-direct my efforts. Successes are easy…it’s what you do when things aren’t going well that separates the dreamers from the entrepreneurs.
(banner image uses a photograph by Tatum Kathleen Photography. Featured image at the top of the post is by Ecadnak Photography)