When asked to envision an intriguing kitchen item, your first thought might not be of a sponge. You could say that Jennifer Zamudio is out to change that, but then again, she doesn’t really make sponges. Her Reusable Dish Scrubbers are much more than that: super-cute squares of hand-crocheted nylon tulle inspired the handiwork of her grandmother, Dot. They’re also extra easy to clean, which is something we’d never say about a sponge. Yick.
We heard tell that Jennifer’s scrubbies had a good story, so we thought it only fitting to reach out to her about nabbing a spot in our This Just In-spiration series, where we chat with artists new to the Uncommon family. Read on for more on Jennifer’s love of handmade napkins, scrubbers, and more, with a little Depeche Mode thrown in for good measure.
You first started sewing when you were a kid. How did it become your career?
I had just had my second child and was an elementary school teacher. As a family we had decided to stop using paper towels and only use cloth napkins. I would buy vintage ones at the thrift store as well as make our own. Friends and family showed an interest in them, so I figured I could make a little extra money for my family and sell them at local farmer markets. I started an Etsy page, as well. Sales started to increase, and I began sending them to bloggers and other online companies that support small businesses. When we made the move to Georgia (we are originally from California), my family supported me with my decision to take this company to the next level and stop teaching. With more time to devote to it, I turned it into my career, and now it supports our family. Many hours, tears, successes and fails, lessons learned, connections made, sacrifices, and blessings gained, I am grateful to be able to do what I love.
We hear tell you’re obsessed with cloth napkins. What makes them—and your handmade scrubbers—so special?
There are many cloth napkins and kitchen scrubbies out there. What makes our brand unique is that we make everything in the US. We have a few makers who help us with the scrubbies, and all of the napkins are cut and sewn by myself, my mom, and my husband, and sometimes my father. We are truly a family business. We get excited about new sets of napkins and love encouraging others to use more goods that are reusable.
Your Reusable Dish Scrubbers were inspired by your grandmother’s own. Tell us about her!
Dot. Her real name is Dorothy, but she has always gone by Dot. She is smart and so talented! She can play any song on the piano by ear. I remember as a teenager I played a Depeche Mode song for her, and she played it, first time around! She taught my mom how to sew and my mom taught me how to sew. She used to crochet her own scrubbies. I think one of her sisters taught her. I went to visit her once and thought it was the best thing. Colorful and reusable, plus they work great! She no longer can make them as her hands are too arthritic, so we now send her big batches of them. She still likes to use them, and she likes to give them to her friends and neighbors.
Describe a typical day at work, assuming such a thing exists.
Exactly!! I get up around 5, make coffee, and start working on emails. About three times a week, I get my husband up at 5:30, and he heads to the shop to work on napkins for a few hours. I then get my kids up at 6:30 and do our morning routine. I drop them off and get to the shop around 8, where I print off orders and start cutting fabric. I like to make piles based on the thread color. My mom gets in around 9 and I hand her a list. She primarily stays on the sewing machine, so she is making items like food nets, sandwich wraps, snack bags, etc. I get behind the serger and start edging the napkins. We typically make about 300 napkins a day. I try not to email too much during the day, unless it is urgent. Around 3, I start ironing and creating the bundles that need to go out that day, and at 4 I start packing up orders to ship. I leave at 5. When I get home, I check in with everyone, pour myself a glass of wine, and start making dinner.
Is there a special trinket or talisman you keep nearby while you work? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I have all kinds of little items that remind me of moments and people. One is a math illustration my youngest made when learning about fractions. He drew a napkin folded into fourths, thirds, and in half. Super cute! Another item I always hang on the wall is actually a letter that was in a box of napkins that a bride’s mother returned. The husband apparently was given the task of shipping them back. And although they were beautiful napkins, she had something different in mind. He pretty much wrote in the letter that he doesn’t understand anything that is going on, that he is sorry, and that in the end, napkins will not be the defining factor of whether or not his daughter stays married. I just think it is so funny, and not to take it all too seriously.
What was the most exciting thing about launching your business? What about the toughest thing?
The most exciting thing is when you start making enough money to not only buy more supplies, but support your family. The toughest thing is the many hours spent working on building your business, which keeps you away from your family. Balance is something I am always struggling with.
Finally, what quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
I have two:
- Work hard and be nice to people.
- Dream big, work hard, stay focused, and surround yourself with good people.
Incredible story. From the outside, it’s rarely obvious just how challenging it can be to start and run a business. Such a seemingly simple but remarkable product that has clearly found an audience. Thanks for sharing!
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