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Design and Paint Your Own Pillows

When it comes to home decor, the best accents are the one-of-a-kind accessories or pieces that you just can't find anywhere else. And what better way to customize a room than with a piece that's all your own, literally. You'd be surprised how easy it is to personalize your bedroom, living room or family room with the addition of some homemade pillows. Of course not all of us can sew – or dare to try – which is why a place like pillow a.go.go exists. The Chicago company was started by two women entrepreneurs, Stacey Okerlund and Claudia Oliva. And, they say, this new, do-it-yourself pillow painting concept was inspired (as are most great ideas) by a need.

The Concept
A year ago, Okerlund found herself with a new duvet cover that she loved. All she needed was a few great pillows to complete her new bedroom "look." But after scouring the city for the right accent pillows, she couldn't find anything she liked. So Okerlund, a graduate from The School at the Art Institute of Chicago, decided to design and sew them herself.

"I was relaying my design dilemma to Claudia, and she loved the idea of custom pillows," says Okerlund. "She said flat out, 'You should make these and sell them,' and from there over numerous cups of coffee we came around to the do-it-yourself concept."

According to Oliva, who along with Okerlund shares both the operational and creative duties, the hardest part about getting started wasn't the creative inspiration, but finding the right information to make a viable business plan. "We spent hours on the Internet and in the library, but it was still difficult to find advice and statistics about what it was we wanted to do," says Oliva. Undaunted, they put together a solid business plan and decided to go for it.

Armed with their own savings and some investment money from generous family members, it took Okerlund and Oliva about 10 months to see their dream become a reality. From arranging for the insurance and licenses for the leased space to painting the studio and assembling the furniture (all from IKEA), both women agree it was exhausting but still very rewarding.

"What has been really nice is the warm reception we have received from the other merchants in the neighborhood," says Oliva. "Many have stopped in with positive comments about the 'fun and unique' nature of our idea, which helps give us confidence that we can make it work."

The Studio
At pillow a.go.go, a bright storefront nestled among a variety of other small boutiques in a hip part of Chicago, customers choose from 20 colors of cotton and cotton-blend broadcloth and 38 paint colors. They can sketch and paint their designs by hand or use pillow a.go.go's extensive stencil collection to create geometric shapes and designs. After the fabric has been painted, customers simply leave the fabric to dry, and Okerlund and Oliva do the rest. A week later the finished pillow is ready for pick-up. Pillow sizes range from 7 inches by 7 inches to 22 inches by 22 inches.

"This is a great opportunity for people to customize the look of their living space with their own distinctive pillow designs," says Okerlund. Adds Oliva, "It's a fun activity for all ages and skill levels. And pillows make great personalized gifts."

Dozens of ready-made pillows are on display throughout the store to serve as inspiration for customers who may be looking for ideas for what to paint. From flowers to faces to dragonflies, these distinctive pillows are also for sale and give the studio an artistic, festive feel. Descriptions of creative techniques are available on these pillows to help guide customers. In addition, pillow a.go.go has a signature line of 16 designs that Okerlund and Oliva have created for people who want a custom pillow made for them.

"We are more than willing to do all of the work, and the customer still comes away with a one-of-a-kind home accent since he or she picks the paints and the fabric," Okerlund says. Right now, the pre-made pillows are only available at the studio but in the future may be available for purchase on the company's Web site, www.pillowagogo.com. In the meantime, Chicagoans and visitors now have an opportunity to give their living spaces personalized accents they can truly call their own.

The Goal
So far Okerlund and Oliva are the only employees. "Of course if demand has it that we need to add someone to keep up with production, we'll do that," says Oliva. One thing that the women are counting on is for the concept to appeal to larger groups for parties. Just as bridal showers and wedding showers are becoming more interactive, more women (and men!) are looking for fun places to go and "make something" as part of the entertainment, Oliva says.

"In our opening weekend we had numerous people walk in or call inquiring about having a specific event at the studio," says Oliva. "We have a mom's group interested, as well as someone who wants to have her wedding shower at the studio."

Both Okerlund and Oliva agree that starting your own business is not without challenges, but it's great to be able to make executive decisions and bring to life a concept that hasn't been done before. "For me, the most exciting thing is deciding out how we want things to work and then making that happen," says Okerlund. It's also about knowing that we are creating our own destinies."

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