Vendor Spotlight: Swedish Dishcloths with Rosie and Karen of Potluck Press

A Drop in the Ocean Zero Waste Shop Vendor Spotlight with Potluck Press

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on April 25, 2022.


Oh hello there! I’m so, so excited to share this month’s Vendor Spotlight with you.

Every month in 2022, I’m sitting down with a different vendor of ours so you can get to know the faces behind the products we sell here at A Drop in the Ocean.

Because our products aren’t made by machines on the other side of the world.

Our zero waste essentials are made by hand, by other small, women-owned, locally-owned businesses - and these women are really freaking cool.

So this month I sat down with Rosie and Karen from Potluck Press. They print all of our Swedish dishcloths, and during the holidays they were also the printer for our flour sack towels. They’re a family-owned and operated business based out of Seattle, so they’re super local to us here in Tacoma and I loveeeeed learning more about how they got started and why they do what they do. I know you’ll love it too!

So grab a seat, pour yourself a glass of wine, and let’s dive in!

AT A GLANCE:

01:21 // Who is Potluck Press?
03:02 // How did Potluck Press get started?
07:30 // What's so great about print-to-order?
10:13 // What sets Potluck Press apart from other printers?
13:02 // What is your favorite design? (links below!)
14:28 // Who creates your designs?
16:35 // Where do you get your supplies from?
17:52 // What is the process of printing a Swedish dishcloth?
20:06 // What's your favorite part of what you do?
24:18 // What's something you're proud of?
28:04 // What's something people might be surprised to learn about you?
29:07 // What would you like to share with our EcoWarrior community?

Got a question for future vendor interviews? Drop ‘em here!

MENTIONED IN THE VIDEO:

Check out the Potluck Press online shop

Want to see us add some new designs to our Swedish dishcloth lineup? Just comment below and let me know!

TRANSCRIPT:

KAREN: And you walk around and you just, you just think how does anyone need all this stuff? You know...

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: There's so much stuff in the world, like, who needs all this stuff?  

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: But then I look at what we do and everything that we do it’s not throw away stuff, you know? It's sustainable, it's things that are useful, that can be used over and over again. So I'm proud that that's the kind of company that we are, we're not putting out products that are disposable.

KRYSTINA: Hello! How are you today?

ROSIE: Good, how are you doing?

KRYSTINA: I'm good, thank you. So this is the fourth in our series of Vendor Spotlights for A Drop in the Ocean where we are highlighting once a month our different vendors that we have that make all of the wonderful products in our shop. So today we are talking to Potluck Press and you make our Swedish dishcloths and at Christmas you had also made our flour sack towels. So if you would like to just start out, just introduce yourself, who you are, what you do, and what your business is.

ROSIE: I'm Rosie, this is Karen and we have a family business here at Potluck Press. We have my mom, who started the company, my brother, she's my sister in-law's sister, so basically sister in-law, my husband is here, we have some super old family friends, my aunt. So the whole idea of Potluck to begin with is, where everyone brings something to the table so we get ideas from everybody who works here, we run ideas by everybody, and it's really collaborative. That is kind of the idea to start with. And my mom started it in 2001, so 21 years old and it's gone through about a million iterations. It started as a greeting card company, and then a jewelry company, and then both side-by-side, and then a different jewelry line, until we landed on printing and that started in 2013. So we've been doing a lot of that, it is the bulk of our business at this point for nine years.

KRYSTINA: That's so fantastic! I never knew how the name Potluck Press came to be, but I really love that. Everybody brings something to the table. That's so cute. 

ROSIE: It is our little piece of crazy over here.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, that's a lot of people in there and having everybody related, you know, you gotta get along with family in that case.

ROSIE: Yep, yep. Most of the time it's A-OK.

KRYSTINA: So, how did it get started? You said that your mom started it back in 2001 and it has gone through a lot. So how did she start it back then and how did you end up at printing?

ROSIE: Yeah, so she wanted to do a greeting card line using black and white photography so that was the initial idea so she went and traveled to Paris to look at vintage photographs there, to use in the line. And she, of course, everything is wonderful in Paris, found a bunch of stuff and also, at the same time, found this line of jewelry, French-made and designed, and started importing that, basically right off the bat, thinking it was going to be a temporary thing and that is still going as well. And so, basically, what we ran into was inventory, and you have to make however many cards initially, and if you have some that don't sell as well, you end up with lots and lots of inventory. 

So we wanted to add gifts to the line and so we were looking at getting them manufactured and you had to have so many pieces per design and then we were looking at the estimate and it was like, man, I bet we could buy a machine that could do this, for basically the same amount. And that is what we ended up doing. And then we added mugs and totes and pouches and wine bags and all kinds of other stuff that we can do in house. So that's kind of where we landed and we kind of hit our niche spot with the Swedish dishcloths, obviously do really, really well. Towels have been since 2013 and now it's still like crazy and then we added a bunch of custom. So since we can set everything up and do it all here, we can print for other people and we do a bunch of that, as well. It's just kind of going with the flow and seeing where the interest is and then you know, we have new designs all the time and we have some that are wonderful and some that aren't so great but oh-well we just print them as they are ordered. 

So basically, everything is printed as it's ordered, we don't stock anything except for the blanks. So we'll have blank towels, blank Swedish dishcloths, blank mugs, and that is what we have in stock so if we're out of stock of something it means we're totally out of the thing. So with supply chains it got a little tricky last year but we're nice and stocked now.

KRYSTINA: Good, good. Yeah, I remember last year at one point you were like: "We have like a hundred thousand Swedish dishcloths that are just stuck on a ship, can't do anything."

ROSIE: Yep. Yep. And every business really dealt with that, and is still dealing with it so we just buy early. Buy early.

KRYSTINA: Yes, yes, little bit of an adjustment there.

ROSIE: Yes.

KRYSTINA: Yeah. That's so smart though, that instead of just paying someone else to make all of it, you were like: "Well, why don't we just buy a machine and do it ourselves." That's so smart.

ROSIE: And that was, as Karen knows too, we had a certain machine at first, and it was just full of problems. The quality wasn't great, but the consistency - so we were burning a lot of product because it just printed... not great.

And so then, we were with those machines for five or six years and now it's, we're totally off of those and on to the new and keep adding more cause we keep needing faster printing, faster printing and of course everybody needs things right away.

KRYSTINA: Right, of course!

ROSIE: And I would be the same way as a customer, I know I would. I'd be my own worst nightmare.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, I would too. Yeah.

ROSIE: Yeah, well you know, that's what we expect, so we gotta just make it happen.

KRYSTINA: Do you print your retail sales as they come in, as well? Or just your wholesale?

ROSIE: Retail as well. Everything.

KRYSTINA: That's nice, that's really nice that you don't have to keep a bunch of inventory on hand except for the blanks.

ROSIE: Yeah, so we'll have overprints and then we'll like, "Oh yeah, we have those, let's try and use them up." But most of the time we pass through things pretty quickly, so yeah, it's nice to have that flexibility, you know?

KRYSTINA: Yes.

ROSIE: Sometimes I wish we had preprinted cause then we could be faster, but it just is what it is.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, but then you don't have to worry about, for example, I still have some of the winter designs, that I kept on the website for a couple months after and then I was like, well, I can just save these until next year, so I put them back. But at the same time I'm like, “Well now I have to store these for the next twelve months.” But you don't have that problem so that's really nice. 

ROSIE: Yeah, not as much. No, we don't have that. We try and move through it as fast as we can. 

KAREN: Well also, I think when you are doing it print-to-order, your consistency, the quality and consistency is better. You know, you may open a box of Swedish dishcloths and they may be just a little bit different, you know, so if you're storing them and then pulling, maybe they're off just like a little half a millimeter, or something, the size isn't quite exact. But if you're doing it print-to-order, you can get that consistency in there as well.

KRYSTINA: That's true, I didn't think about that. This is like a whole new world to me. I'm loving this.

ROSIE: It is fun. It is pretty fun.

KRYSTINA: Well every time I stop in there, it always seems like you guys are having a blast.

ROSIE: Yeah, well good, we usually are! I was busting out Boyz II Men today, it was so much fun. Blast from the past, you know, keep it going.

KRYSTINA: That is fantastic. And yeah I didn't even mention at the beginning that you guys are based in Seattle so you're super close to us, which is really fantastic so I can just drive up to you. Usually I stop by when I'm picking up jars and bottles or I'm heading up to La Conner, so no special trips are being made, just getting it on the way. So it's super, super sustainable that way, as well.

ROSIE: Yes, for sure. I think I've come to Tacoma a couple times, too. 

KRYSTINA: You did, yes. Very much appreciated that!

ROSIE: Yes, my husband's family is from Tacoma, so we're down there all the time. So I'm like, "Well I'll be in town..."

KRYSTINA: "I'll just come drop them off." 

ROSIE: Yeah!

KRYSTINA: I appreciate when that happens.

So what would you say sets Potluck Press apart from other printers?

ROSIE: Good question. I would say, well the ability to do custom and to do it fairly inexpensively since we're, you know, we don't have silk screens to make, we do twenty-four pieces minimum order, so you can get a custom thing done really affordably. So that's a big thing. And then we also have so many designs! We have tons of designs because we just keep adding them on and we're like, "Oh maybe we won't put that one in that catalog, but it's out there on the website." So I think those are the two big things. And that we're pretty picky about quality and so you know, we'll be like "Eh, I don't think that one is good, let's redo it."

KAREN: I think also, I'm someone that goes to trade shows to represent the product, and I think something that people resonate with us is that we are a small company, it is family-owned, it's a woman-owned business, and that resonates with them. They can go to our catalog, they can go to our website, and they can see who they are working with and who is making their product, and I think people like that, as well.

ROSIE: Yeah, yeah.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, absolutely. I know I do, for sure. Both as your customer, as a retailer of your products, but also as a customer in general, knowing who is making the products, which is, again, why we're doing this series.

And you said that you're pretty picky about quality. I remember when we first got our custom Swedish dishcloths from you, the whale shark and the mermaid and whatnot, I remember you sent me a picture that was like super close up, and you were like, "It has this…" I don't even remember what it was. And you were like, "Are you okay with that? I can reprint them, it's not perfect." And I was like, “I literally don't see anything wrong with this.” I tried and I couldn't figure out what it was that you weren't happy with. So I can attest, you have very high standards.

ROSIE: It is true. Yes, we can be over-picky. Me, specifically. 

KAREN: We discussed this today.

ROSIE: Just today, and I was like "Eh I think it needs to go over two notches, one notch this way, one up, one...." You know, most people wouldn't notice, but it's like, if you're printing them, let's make it right. We have the opportunity to change it so let's try and do that.

KRYSTINA: Right, exactly. Do you have a favorite design?

ROSIE: Oooo.

KRYSTINA: I just threw that question out of left field.

ROSIE: That's a really good one. I have a lot of favorites. I was just telling one of the gals who works here too. We have this one card and I don't know why this card isn't on every single order. It's just the cutest little thing and it's really simple, you can give it to everyone. I don't have a picture of it or one to show you right now, but I just think it's so...I like the simple ones, I guess. I like the tall trees. You have a different name for it maybe.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, ours is Into the Woods, I think.

ROSIE: Yes, yes. I love that one, it's so simple, and it works for everybody. I love that one.

KRYSTINA: That one's definitely one of our best sellers too.

KAREN: I like cutsie ones. I don't know if you've seen it. One that we did last release, it was just a bear but she has a little polka dotted scarf in her hair, surrounded by flowers that says Mountain Mama on it.

KRYSTINA: That's adorable.

KAREN: Yeah, super cute, I like the colorful ones. We do a lot of puns, so the puns make me giggle a lot. 

ROSIE: Yeah, we have fun. We have fun over here.

KRYSTINA: So who designs all of these then? Is that all still family or...?

ROSIE: We work with a couple different designers. We have a couple in California and we have an in house designer too, and she's been with us about a year and she's great. We all kind of come up with ideas and then just kind of task her with some direction and then she usually, she did that bear one, she'll come up with something great. Her name's Lisa. And then we'll, "Oh let's tweak this or let's change the pot on that flower to this color." So it is really collaborative. Patty, the head honcho, she's the one that has the final say, but it is like you know, we'll have one that was a custom request from somebody and then they didn't pick it and I'm like, “Well I love that one, let's release it!” We've done rainbows and stuff like that that were not selected but we did the artwork anyways. So yeah it's pretty much, it's really collaborative.

KAREN: It is. Like we did a Christmas one where it was a grid pattern of different gingerbread men and I was like, "Wouldn't it be funny if one had a bite out of it?" So everyone contributes, has this idea, or, “Wouldn't it be great to have this saying on it?” We just lay them out onto the table, everyone makes suggestions. Whether your idea gets chosen or not, it's a lot of ideas flowing so it makes it fun.

ROSIE: Yeah, yeah.

KRYSTINA: That's so fun, that's so fun. I would love to just like be a fly on the wall while that's all happening.

ROSIE: You come over, you come over. We love your ideas too. I'm sure you have great ideas!

KRYSTINA: Excellent. Sounds great, I'll be there tomorrow.

ROSIE: Yeah, okay. You don't have a million things to do too.

KRYSTINA: Right, exactly.

ROSIE: In all that spare time.

KRYSTINA: Right, yeah.

ROSIE: When you have a free day, let's do this.

KRYSTINA: What is spare time?

ROSIE: Yeah, exactly.

KRYSTINA: So then, where do you get all of your supplies from? Like where do you get all the blanks from and what not?

ROSIE: Different places for different stuff. We work with a distributor in the US for all the towels. We work with a guy in India that does our tote bags, wine bags, pouches...and then mugs come from other places too and I think we've tried a couple different vendors. So they're all kind of all over and they're different products you know, like towels come from a different place than mugs would. But then everything gets in here and then we test and print and make templates and everything else is done here so it's just a matter of getting it all in one spot and fitting it all.

We just got a bunch of Swedish dishcloths and they're lining the back.

KRYSTINA: Yeah.

ROSIE: But I'm like, such a relief! We were down to three boxes, it's like, eek!

KRYSTINA: Oh no!

ROSIE: I mean they're big boxes but still.

KRYSTINA: Still, yeah, yeah, especially with the back order and whatnot.

ROSIE: Exactly, exactly.

KRYSTINA: Yeah. Can you kind of walk through the process of printing a Swedish dishcloth? Like what does that look like?

ROSIE: Oh well, I wish I had a...

KAREN: Well we can...

ROSIE: We can demonstrate... 

KAREN: Yeah, but basically, so I do a lot of the printing. So Rosie, we get an order in through however it comes, she writes up a nice little order sheet so I can see what we're doing. And basically it's all computer based, so it's digital printing direct-to-garment. So I find the file that we need to print. I basically drag and drop it into the program, hit a button, it transfers over to our printer. We do our Swedish dishcloths where we do four at a time and it's just, that's how the image is already, hit print, goes through the machine, comes out, we heat press it, and then we give it a little steam iron to keep them flat, and that's it! You just keep doing it. If you're doing twenty-four, I press that button six times for that particular one. Then you just keep doing the image over and over again.

ROSIE: If we're good at math that day. Sometimes, "Oh wait, I'm a couple short!"

KRYSTINA: I understand, math is hard.

KAREN: That's another advantage to ours too, I think, especially with the Swedish dishcloth, actually any product that we do, because we do the direct-to-garment printing, that ink is soaking right into the fabric, it's not laying on top, so it's soaking in, so it makes it rich, it keeps it nice. That heat press sets it, and I think that's an advantage for us as well. 

ROSIE: Yeah, yeah.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, I mean I know that I have some of your Swedish dishcloths that I've been using, I don't know, since we started stocking them, however long ago that was, and they still look great.

ROSIE: Yeah, yeah. I mean what a wonderful product.

KRYSTINA: Right?!

ROSIE: I love them.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, they're so handy for everything.

ROSIE: Yes! Nice and big for counters, you get a lot of surface area. They're just good, they are, they really are.

KRYSTINA: So what is your favorite part of what you do?

KAREN: Well for me, everyday is different. So because based on the orders, even though I'm printing probably the majority, Swedish dishcloths all day, then you have Swedish dishcloths and then, “Oh, there's pouches on the order, and I've gotta do totes and…” But each order the images are different too, so it's really that. And it's just, the coming in, I was a stay at home for, X amount of years, until I guess my oldest started in middle school I think, so being able to come in to a place where it's flexible because everyone's family and everyone has kids and it's nice, that environment, they understand what you're going through. If you need to leave a little early it's no big deal, the work is gonna get done when it gets done and those times when we're super busy, Christmas, everyone's ok coming in on a weekend and it's just flexible. It is, it's just fun here. Every day is different and it's fun. So yeah, that's my favorite part.

ROSIE: Yeah, no I agree. We have a good group of folks, so it's just fun being with the people here. And then I do primarily a lot of the shipping because again, I need to check everything. And so it's just like I'm the final step to get out the door and it's like, "Oh yeah, this one's done, cross that off the list, and this one's done." So you just feel like we have a sense of accomplishment, we got X amount of orders out today, and then, “Oh we got this many in, and I’ve got to make sure all the files are there, and this one needs custom stuff.” I mean I guess that's true. I print labels a lot. There's lots ofjust.... 

KAREN: Well you wear a lot of different hats so you know, Rosie’s the Office Manager, she's the one that's taking care of the orders, she's distributing the orders, she's shipping the orders. So her hands are everywhere. So for you it's a lot of different pieces.

ROSIE: It's a lot of different things too.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, I get that! 

ROSIE: I'm like, “Oh!” Everything distracts me, it seems like I've gotten way worse. It's like, “Oh and then this one came in and that one needs that,” and then, “Oh wait what was I doing?” “What was I doing?" is like the thing I say constantly, every day. Because I'm like, ”Nope, I don't know what I was doing, whatever. I'll find it eventually.”

It's always crazy, but it's good. I mean it's a fun job, we put art out into the world, and work with tons of different people, and it's just, every day is different, and it's always, mostly fun. I mean really, mostly fun. You know, we're just printing stuff! And it's fun, yeah!

KRYSTINA: I love how much in this conversation, the fun work environment has come up. Like that's clearly very central to what you guys do so I....

ROSIE: I mean nothing is… When I get really stressed out or we're really late on something, it's like, “Okay, this is not a tea towel emergency. Everything's gonna be fine.”

KRYSTINA: Yep.

ROSIE: I mean it's really, in the grand scheme of things, a low stress job. 

Here comes my oldest son. It's after school, so we get a visitor. 

KRYSTINA: Just bring the whole family in!

ROSIE: Yeah, exactly! There he goes.

KRYSTINA: Hi!

ROSIE: Yeah, that's standard also.

KRYSTINA: I mean that just goes to show how much of a family business it is.

ROSIE: Yes.

KRYSTINA: So then building on that, what is something that you are really proud of? Whether with the business, or in your personal life, or really anything.

KAREN: Well for me, every time I go to a trade show… We tend to go to the Las Vegas Market twice a year and so they're big gift shows and you walk around and you just think, “How does anyone need all this stuff?”

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: There's so much stuff in the world, who needs all this stuff? 

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: But then I look at what we do, and everything that we do, it's not throw away stuff, you know, it's sustainable, it's things that are useful, that can be used over and over again. So I'm proud that that's the kind of company that we are, we're not putting out products that are disposable.

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: You know, they're useful, they're colorful, they brighten your kitchen, they brighten your day, they're great gifts, they're great price points. So I think for me, working here, that's what I'm proud of, is who we are as a company.

ROSIE: Yeah that's a great answer. I think, in just coming from the span of this company and how long it's been around, I feel like we finally found our spot. I feel like we were always kind of trying to do this or, “Oh that looked good and let's do that,” and I just feel like, "Eh!" We know what we're doing now. And we've made every mistake in the book, shipped this order to this store and swapped and after twenty-one years, it's like, “Oh yeah, well we've done that!” So I just feel like how much it's grown, that's kind of what I'm most proud of. 

There were some dark years that were really a bummer and like right at the beginning of COVID, I'm sure you know it was like every single order we had was on hold or canceled and it's like, “What is gonna happen?” You know, that was a stressful time for lots of businesses and just pluggin away. I guess, keep on keeping on is just what we've been doing this whole time and just to see where we are now to where we started in my old bedroom with forty boxes of cards and tissue paper and everything had to be packed wearing gloves, to where we are now. It's like wow! We've really come a long way and gone through lots of iterations and I think we're kind of at a good spot. We have a good crew, fun stuff, good customers! Yeah.

KRYSTINA: Oh that's so wonderful. And I think too, like you were saying, COVID was a really hard time, there's been other hard times as well, but I think it's also a testament to the quality of the products that you sell and the fact that they are not disposable items. They actually all serve a purpose, and like you said, they're bright, they're colorful, they're sustainable, so they're still things that people need and want all the time. Right? People still need to clean their countertops and dry their hands, drink their coffee. Everybody still needs these things so I think it's a really strong testament to the quality of the products that you sell and just which products you sell, as well.

ROSIE: Yeah, thank you.

KRYSTINA: Yeah. Two more questions then.

ROSIE: Okay.

KRYSTINA: What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?

ROSIE: Maybe that we're a family business. There's kids here a lot of the time. My brother had a baby in September, so now there's a baby here! Which, my kids were babies here. I don't know. What do you think?

KAREN: I think it's just the amount of work that we can push through with a small crew.

ROSIE: That's a good point.

KAREN: There's a time, Christmas time, we're always a hundred orders in the queue and there's three of us that print. 

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: So, just the amount of work we can get done with a small amount of people.

ROSIE: Yeah. That's true.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, that's very true. Good for you guys.

ROSIE: We work hard.

KAREN: Yeah.

KRYSTINA: But you have fun while you do it!

ROSIE: We do. Yes. We're always buzzing around here, doing something.

KAREN: We do.

KRYSTINA: Yes.

So then, last question. Is there anything that you would like to add? Like do you, anything you want to let our customer base know or anything you want to say that we haven't covered?

KAREN: Well I would say, definitely let us know if there are images that you'd like to see us do definitely give us that feedback. 

ROSIE: Yeah.

KAREN: We're always looking for new releases and I know for whatever reason, bees are huge now. You know?

KRYSTINA: Yes!

KAREN: Bees are huge! And mushrooms are huge!

ROSIE: Yes!

KRYSTINA: Yep.

KAREN: As my daughter is all about Cottagecore. So definitely let your customers know if there's something they want to see, we're happy to add that in, and look into it.

ROSIE: Yeah and just that it's just a privilege to do this, and hopefully be a bright spot for somebody. I used to think when we did more cards I'd look at a box of our cards, and then I'd think, “Oh, someone buys that card and then someone gets that card.” I’d  just look at that little box as a little box of emotion and love and it's just kind of sweet, you know? It's like aw. I just think it's cool that we can be a gift, that something that we do can be a gift to someone else. I just think that’s kind of cool.

KRYSTINA: What a great way to wrap up this interview. My goodness! That was beautiful! That is very special.

ROSIE: Yeah, I just think it's you know, it's cool. It's kind of a cool thing.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, absolutely.

So, thank you so much to both of you! If people want to find you, where can they find you? What's your website? What are your socials? Best way to keep in touch with you?

ROSIE: Website is potluckpress.com. We have socials, but that is not something we...

KAREN: Do very often.

ROSIE: ...do very often. I would love to have someone take that on cause I do a terrible job at that. But yeah, just potluckpress.com or just email us and I do everything on email. Yeah, but just our website is good enough. Or A Drop in the Ocean

KRYSTINA: Yes if you need some Swedish dishcloths!

ROSIE: Find us there! Absolutely.

KRYSTINA: Yes, and I will add a link to your website in this email and blog, as well...

ROSIE: Perfect.

KRYSTINA: ...so people will get that. 

KRYSTINA: Well thank you so much to both of you. This has been so wonderful chatting with you. I'm so appreciative that you took the time to do this.

ROSIE: Oh thank you for considering us! That's fun!

KAREN: Thank you.

KRYSTINA: Yeah, absolutely. And I will let you know when this goes live too so you can take a look at it.

ROSIE: Perfect, will do.

KRYSTINA: Perfect. Well thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day!

KAREN: Thank you!

ROSIE: Thanks a bunch! 


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