To many the occupation of toymaker, while pretty darn cool, seems far-fetched and impalpable. When we came across Charleston, South Carolina based Finkelstein’s Center, we knew we had to somehow collaborate. The artist-turned-toymaker behind Finkelstein’s, Michelle Jewel, makes all of her quirky little creatures (which she affectionately refers to as “Finks”) entirely by hand using vintage and up-cycled fabrics. We chatted with Michelle, who gave us a glimpse into the elusive life of a toymaker, while helping us remember the importance of finding the whimsical in every day life, and that sometimes things are better left to the flip of a coin.
What were you doing prior to launching Finkelstein’s Center?
Prior to Finkelstein’s Center I was a visual merchandiser for Urban Outfitters, and after four years I was ready for a change. In January of 2010, I started my new endeavor with zero plan. I knew I wanted to try to start a creative business, but at the time I didn’t know what that might look like. In June of 2010 I participated in my first local market selling my creatures. The feedback was encouraging, and since then our toys have continued to grow and evolve, resulting in our current line of characters.
How did you decide upon the name “Finkelstein’s Center?” It is certainly a memorable and unique one—quite fitting for such a quirky company.
Most people assume that Finkelstein is a family name, but it’s actually my dog’s name. His full name (because we couldn’t settle on just one) is Bernard Pickles Finkelstein Jewell-Amick, but luckily he answers to Bernie.
Each Finkelstein’s Center creature seems to have its own personality. Can you give us an idea of your process when designing?
My process varies when designing a new character. When I first started creating the line, I would just cut fabric without a specific plan in mind. As I cut the fabric, I would start to see a creature emerge in the shape, size, or color of the material. I would continue tweaking until I was happy with the animal. I also listen to customer feedback at markets and online and keep a list of the most requested creatures; this is how the sloth came to be. Now my design process has evolved, and I almost always sketch the design first to work out the size, then figure out the rest while working with the fabric. I might not have the luxury of time like I did before, but this method has forced me to sketch more, which I really enjoy.
Where do you source the materials you use?
We source our materials from several different places. We frequent local fabric stores and thrift stores for the shirt material for our creatures, using a combination of vintage, up-cycled, and short runs of fabric. We think this combination and our handmade process helps keep them feeling exclusive to the recipient of the Fink. Our materials are simple—cotton, fleece, stuffing, and thread. We are excited to say that all of the materials that go into making our toys are now USA manufactured!
Of all places, how did you end up in Charleston, SC? We love it there!
My husband and I had friends who lived in Charleston, so we visited from time-to-time. On one of the trips we saw a guy moving out of his apartment and asked to see the space. We fell in love with it and drove to the landlords office immediately after. We sat on the sidewalk at the office and flipped a coin. If it landed on heads we would sign a lease and move to Charleston. It was heads, and we’ve been here for almost 8 years now. It was a good flip.
Where do you find inspiration?
My usual places for inspiration are folklore, classic children’s tales, mythology, and fantasy books. I love bizarre vintage dolls and marionettes and learning how early dolls were made. I think a combination of my own design style and my love for those things is what creates a Fink.