Interview with Erika Olson Gross, Founder of Mini Pomme
When did you start Mini Pomme, and why?
I went to school for painting and drawing, and focused exclusively on fine art pursuits until my first son was born almost ten years ago. While I continued drawing and painting and showing my work, I became interested in the idea of integrating my lifelong love of sewing and toys. The toy-making became more and more appealing because I got so much satisfaction out of making little playthings for my boy, and I found it quite hard to balance my fine art work with being a mum of a young child. I don’t draw or paint much now, and devote any time I have in my studio to designing and sewing my toys.
In what ways have your children influenced your business?
In very fundamental ways. They have always been the ones who inspire me to do what I do. The very first (somewhat awkward) mohair teddy bear I made was for one of my kids’ birthdays. After that I was totally hooked on those particular materials and processes. I loved the idea of making my kids toys they might love and keep for their whole lives, as opposed to the mass-produced, disposable nature of so many things I was seeing around me. I started out making toys for family and friends, but as I increasingly shared my work it became clear that there were people out in the world who valued these toys as much as I did.
Do they like what you make?
My son Jude has always been my biggest fan, and lately my oldest, Oscar has had a renewed appreciation for some of his toys, which has been a sweet surprise. He now sleeps with a treasured animal every night. My youngest boy, François, who is twenty months old, is an absolute sweetheart who loves to cuddle his stuffed buddies.
What’s the last thing you made and loved?
My newest toys are almost always my favourite—which, I suppose, is why I’m constantly driven to make up new patterns. I’m quite pleased with both my new elephant design and my new caterpillar design. They capture a real vintage—toy feeling that I’ve always been inspired by, while staying true to my own aesthetic. The nature of the designs allows for lots of experimenting with colour combinations—which, as a one-time painter, I love.
Sometimes it can be a struggle to be fully present with your children when you are feeling creative. Do you find this happens to you?
I struggled with this much more when I was focused on drawing and painting. I didn’t mind the pressure of trying to make my best work under the strict deadlines of galleries or a museum before I had kids; in fact, I thrived on that stress. But once I had kids it just wasn’t sustainable for me. Also, my studio was in my house, and it was always a challenge to keep little fingers off my crisp white paper. Now I have a little studio attached to my garage. My kids visit me, and even work with me sometimes, but they know it’s ultimately my space. I have also come to realise that my kids don’t need my constant attention. Also, I’m not a very happy person when I don’t have time to be creative, so for everyone’s sake it’s good for me to take time to do my work.
What do you wish you knew about being a parent before you had a child?
In a way, I suppose it was good I knew so little or I might have had more reservations about starting a family! I guess I wish I had known that it would be impossible to be perfect as a parent, and that that was okay—that even if I did everything ‘right’ there would still be tremendous ups and downs and difficulties all the time, and that those things were not a reflection of me as a parent or as a person.
What’s the best part of being a parent? And the worst?
The best is watching my kids become their own wonderful, capable little human beings who are all so different from one another. I also just can’t get enough of watching the love grow between these three brothers. The worst? Oh god—the fighting, for sure.
What do you find yourself doing that is exactly like your parents?
I never imagined I’d get so cranky when the house is a mess or if someone has left his wet swimming suit on the floor again … but I do.
What do you hope your children learn from you?
I hope they learn to be independent thinkers and that they have the confidence to find their own unique paths. I hope they learn from me that things made with care by hand have great value. I hope they learn that their families are to be valued and protected above everything else.
What have your children taught you about yourself that has surprised you?
Innumerable things. It’s so very humbling to be a parent, to see yourself through those beautiful little eyes and know that you are so far from perfect. I feel like, since I became a parent, my flaws, shortcomings and weaknesses are laid out in front of me pretty much every day. It can be pretty rough. But I suppose the other side is that my kids are helping me to accept myself flaws and all—because, remarkably, they still love me. So I guess what they are teaching me is how to love unconditionally. No big deal. //