June 25, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Kim Knoll’s vintage-inspired jewelry line RFRM and Kyle Eertmoed’s handwriting service Handiemail

What are you working on—on the side?

Kim’s side project is called RFRM (pronounced Reform), where she makes jewelry with materials, mixed from the present and past.

Kim: I started making jewelry back in 2003, after moving to Arizona for a 3-year stint and looking for something fun to do outside of work. I took a wire-wrapping class at the local park district and was immediately hooked. I learned the basic techniques and branched off into my own style, making enough jewelry to sell at a monthly Art Walk in Tempe. And so began my passion for making things I loved and seeing happy people walk away with them.

Kyle’s latest side project, Handiemail, is a handwriting service that allows you to send real handwritten notes without ever lifting a pen. You type it. They’ll handwrite it. Then mail it on your behalf. Seriously.

Kyle: In 2012, I created a website where people could send an email and it would show up in the recipient’s mailbox as a real handwritten letter. It kinda started as a joke, because I couldn’t imagine anyone actually buying handwritten letters. But over time, people did, and I needed help. So I asked my sister if she wanted to make some money writing letters. She was my first official Scribe and now we have six Scribes located all over the country who write all the letters. In addition to sending single letters, we can now do hundreds of letters pretty quickly.

How do you manage to work 
on your side project(s)?

Kim: I used to be able to work on RFRM a lot more before taking over the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings. To be honest, organizing CreativeMornings takes a lot of my free time, so any leftover time I have, I try to spend relaxing. But when things are running smoothly, I get inspired again and start sketching ideas in a notebook. It’s usually late at night that I get out my supplies and start experimenting with some of the sketched ideas to see if they’ll work. I tend to get obsessed with trying a bunch of new ideas until I figure out a design I like. Then I make a few to sell, and wait to either get some free time or feel inspired again.

Kyle: My vision for Handiemail ended up being bigger than one person could handle. So in January 2014, I partnered with a friend and fellow entrepreneur, Tracy Kennedy, to build Handiemail into a real business. Now, Tracy handles all the operations and sales, the Scribes handle all the handwriting, so I can focus on building the vision. In the beginning, it was a lot of early mornings, late nights and weekends, but now I treat Handiemail like a Knoed client and set aside time to work on it during the work day. If you’re serious about starting a side project, I suggest doing it with someone else who will keep you motivated—you get a lot more done when someone else is counting on you.

Why have side projects?

Kim: It’s a nice retreat from the 9–5, and gives me something to think about and look forward to. We work all day, every day, to bring our clients’ visions to life. Side projects are an opportunity to do whatever we want, and to make something for us. They’re a reason to leave the computer at work and do something meticulous with our hands, to answer to no one but ourselves, and to feel free to explore with room for failure. Getting at our core—and pushing through things we might not try otherwise—teaches us to take more risks and ultimately makes us better at our craft.

Kyle: Side projects are so important to me. If we start a side project, it’s not because someone is telling us to do it. We’re not being told what to do or how to do it. It’s our ideas. We’re doing it because we want to—because we’re passionate about it. If the idea flops, it teaches us about failure and what to do different next time. If it takes off, it opens doors that we never knew existed. It takes us off autopilot. It shows our bosses or other potential employers that we have drive and ideas and follow-through. That we’re willing to take risks, think different and go beyond bar-minimum. As an employer, I care more about your side projects than your résumé. I believe the world needs more people doing little passion projects. Everyone would be happier. And if everyone’s happier, the world is a better place.

• • •

But wait, there’s more: Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed, of Knoed Creative, also work on Chicago L-Shirts on the side. If you know Chicago, its transit train system is called the “The L” (short for elevated train). Kyle started designing, printing, and selling his Chicago L-Shirts back in 2008. This t-shirt collection is based on the current CTA “L” signage, color-coded to match the corresponding “L” stops. Pride in Chicago is induced by the kinship felt with the city’s diverse neighborhoods and the transit lines that connect them. This sense of pride, coupled with his affection for typography and design, inspired Kyle to create this series of transit tees.

• • •

Triptych courtesy of Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed—their portrait photographed by Tru Studio.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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