Entrepreneurs in the Heartland: Tara Tonsor

Jewelry maker and Art Educator Tara Tonsor designs jewelry for the "Natural vigilante."

“It’s a person who is strongly connected to nature and defiantly tough
in the mix of urban living.”

In my eyes, that's how I view Tara, owner of Lost & Found Design. I met Tara a few years ago through a women's social bicycling club, the Velo Vixens KC. I, as well as other women in the group, quickly fell in love with her earthy, lasercut jewelry designs and it wasn't long before every one of us owned a "Tara Tonsor-original." 

I'm a huge fan of your work, as you probably already know. How did you get into jewelry making? 

Thank you so much! I was always curious about taking apart jewelry and editing the random cheap jewelry I would buy. I would take apart pieces from one necklace and then put them on to another. This was the start of "curating" what I wore, and it started probably around middle school or high school. I always preferred putting a twist on what I saw, and I tried mixing and matching things that were broken or on sale. Often, this included random charms or found objects. Initially, that is the origin of my company name, Lost & Found Design. It just seemed natural to me to edit or re-design, re-purpose. Once I bought a pair of my own jewelry pliers I knew I could start assembling anything I wanted.

The lasercutting aspect of my process came after college. My degree is in Graphic Design and Illustration. I pursued my career path for about 5 years in paper and textiles, working in pattern repeats, colorways, and even linework embroidery. I came across a new technology randomly online that used a laser to cut through material, but the design format was using the exact same software a designer would know how to use. It was a perfect harmony of my designs and illustrations translated into wood which is my preference material. I've always been more interested in fine craft, and process-driven products, but this was a way to merge the two.

When did you officially launch Lost & Found Design?
Oh man, that is a tough question. I want to say it has been easily more than five years ago, but only in the last couple of years did I really feel like I had my brand figured out.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

It changes a lot, but I find myself attracted to the natural geometry and the mix between symmetry and asymmetry in nature's patterns. In my newest collection, I've tried to create the ideal "wearer" who I named "natural vigilante" - a person who is strongly connected to nature and defiantly tough in the mix of urban living. It has been really fun to think about my ideas as different seasonal collections, and I hope to re-invent my jewelry process time and time again. I self-diagnose myself as having "art ADHD" because I always want to try new ideas.

How has your work evolved over the years? 

My work has really evolved in many ways, but ironically the most important evolution is the removal of the computer during the initial design and development of ideas. I used to depend on the computer too much, and admittedly forgot my sketchbook. I was so focused on the end product, I was not really diving into multi-dimensional concepts. The sketchbook has brought me back to a safe-zone where all my ideas (good and bad) can freely hang out, and if I turn the page, I can always go back to them.

Artists in all mediums often have to deal with their work being stolen and sold by others online. Have you encountered this and how do you deal with it?

This is hard. I admit, the idea of using Missouri themes, and using Kansas City-proud branding has driven home how many makers can and will jump on the idea. Obviously Missouri is a loved shaped, and it is unavoidable to not want to support your city. I have dealt with it recently, and I have had to be careful with my words. If you do look at various maker communities in other cities, it is happening too.

I have a saying that has always pushed me forward: Your ideas may not be original, but you are.

I do not believe in staying stagnant with my business, and my ideas will grow the same way I do. I hope to manage this without typecasting myself as merely a KC maker. Also, maker's have rights to copywrite their products, and I am looking into those steps in the future. I have a friend who experienced this firsthand, and talking to her about aspects of her experience has really given me an insight. Her advice is to keep on trucking, but learn to protect your designs. I have nothing but support for makers, local and small businesses.

I have a saying that has always pushed me forward:
Your ideas may not be original, but you are.”

You also work at the Nelson Atkins. How does that influence your work, if at all?

Definitely I am influenced by my job as a part-time art educator at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I am lucky to experience diverse patrons, work with varying age groups showcasing the art collection, and inspired walking through the galleries myself. One main influence is recognizing various definitions of beauty culturally, and how artists use so many different materials to express beauty. The Nelson is always so supportive of cultural experiences and expression, and I am beginning to explore various shapes, symbols, colors, and materials used around the world.

What are some projects you have in the works that you're really excited about? Any long term business goals?  

Well I am excited to look at lasercutting from a new perspective and expand into home goods. I am making night lights, coasters, bottle openers, containers, mirrors, custom wedding place settings, and so much more. I want to work on some new plant or votive holders using a hexagon format. I've always been inspired by the honeycomb design - it was my first lasercut project.

Long-term business goals are to get more exposure online. I need to be able to sell through varying platforms like Etsy or Amazon Handmade or a personal website.

Whats the hardest part of running your business?

Time. I never have enough.

Commitment. I've had to say no to hanging out on many of my weekends.

And lastly, as much fun as it can be to "pop-up" events, when you have to pack, re-pack, pack, and re-pack, it is never fun. And I admit, I have fun setting up my displays way more than taking them down.

Are you from KC? Why have you decided to make Kansas City your home and do your work here? 

I am originally from a small town in Illinois called Granite City. It is a very small steel mill town, right over the Mississippi River and above East St. Louis. My mom and I moved to a better neighborhood when I was little to improve my education and our way of living. I decided to move to Lawrence, KS after high school for my degrees, and after 5 years in Lawrence I moved to Kansas City. I have been calling KC my home now for over 10 years. Kansas City felt exciting, at times, when I would drive with my friends down for a first Fridays event. A good friend was moving here and helped me get my first job at Andre's Confisserie Suisse.

For awhile I was commuting to and from Lawrence, but the driving was not fun. So I decided to pack up, and I've been happy ever since!

See more of Tara's work and find out what she's up to and where you can find her on the Lost & Found Design Facebook page

Entrepreneurs in the Heartland: Janay A Mallela


I started a women’s clothing line when I was 18, and I was selling custom clothing and wholesale to some stores... People kept asking me to make wedding dresses, and I resisted so hard! Brides always sounded so crazy. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into that.”

Once she gave in, Janay resolved to use eco-friendly fabrics for wedding dresses. What she found was the type of people attracted to having a quality, handmade dress from responsibly grown fibers were not the "bridezilla" stereotype that's well-documented in pop culture. In fact, they were the complete opposite: easy-going, creative, and quirky. 

For the past 10 years, Janay has operated her bridal business, Janay A Eco Bridal, now in downtown Mission, KS. She has been running the business her whole adult life, and grew up sewing and making patterns in her teens. Today, clients come to her for custom made dresses made from organic cotton, hemp/silk or for reinventions of their mothers' or grandmothers' "heirloom dresses". She also offers alterations for dresses from other shops between custom orders when possible, and loves adding just the right handmade adornments to finish off a look perfectly (but still remaining on the minimal side as far as typical bridal style is concerned).

What is your ideal client?

I have a bunch of different clients. I'll have clients who are conservative and want a custom dress because they're more modest, and then I have the opposite end of the spectrum-people who are riskier and want to show a slit up to here and show off a lot of skin. All of our dresses are custom-made, and it attracts people who have a lot of different ideas. I get a lot of quirky and creative brides: someone who knows what they want and has a strong independent sense of style. They're clear on who they are and clear on wanting something special. 

How do you balance your own style with a bride's custom requests?

It's all about compromise and being clear about what the bride wants from her dress and what is realistic for her to expect.  I may point out that a different fit that may look better on her body type, for example, so they are happy with the end product. Seeing a picture of a gown on a model onPinterest vs. actually wearing it all day can be two very different things. It's important to be able to sit down, raise your arms, etc.  So, we work through these questions together. 

I walk this fine line where I want people to get what they want, but also be true to our style. But in the end, I really want to give her what she wants on her day and work really hard to bring that to fruition.

What is something you've learned that you wish you knew when you started? 

In the beginning, I spent a lot of time trying to come up with designs for new collections every year since that's what the fashion industry pushes-- having the newest, best things. But that's not what works for me.

Bridal style doesn't change that quickly.  I don't have to adhere to this idea of making a new collection and showing that off each season. My customers aren't the type of person who wants something off the rack as is exists anyway. They'll always be tweaking and customizing, so I roll with that and have some basic styles that are easily customizable platforms for expression. 

What was it like when you first launched? 

I definitely had high hopes of having dresses in all these different stores, and I did do a lot of that for a while. My team and I were making tons of dresses, but with selling to stores it's a really hard business to thrive in and so impersonal. Plus, they want things exactly the same for each order-- definitely not fun! We're always improving processes, so it kept us stuck in the old way of doing things.  I realized over the last year I'd rather do less quantity and give my clients my personal attention they deserve at every fitting.

What do your days look like now?

I spend most of my time working with brides, for their "dream dress" consultations and for every fitting, or working with them long distance over Skype.  Supply and material acquisition is a big part of my day.  Most of the actual sewing is delegated to my assistants. I select the fun parts I enjoy working on, like making accessories and hand-sewing. Being the boss is fun like that- I don't have to do zippers if I don't want to.  I can, but I don't. Also other people are just plain better at patterns and more mathematically precise things than I am! 

We've also been designing a lot of color and ombre effects on gowns, and I do the fabric dyeing. I end up getting more making done when I go home. In here, it's all about the customer. 

What are your long term goals for your business? 

I tend to get hyped on these epic ideas. I'm such a dreamer. It's easy to lose perspective in what my actual reality is right now.  Like, what if I had a mobile RV and took this show on the road? What if I had a TV show that featured brides creating their dream dresses? Such great, big ideas!  When I started, I had this idea that business would just scale quickly, multiple locations, etc.  I did that for a while. It was kinda a nightmare. Slow-Fashion is definitely more my speed.

The business is alive, breathing, full of expansions and contractions. When it's smaller it almost seems to function better and I can personally work with each client now that I've scaled back on doing wholesale.   I've realized that the business just need to grow organically. 

You're from southern Missouri, and have lived in KC for awhile. Why stick around? 

I can't imagine living anywhere else. I've showed at some bridal shows in New York City, and now I'm working to get into the Colorado, Oregon, and California markets with specialty eco wedding shows.  

 I like the hometown feel of Kansas City. I like running into people I know, and being immersed in this supportive network here.  In KC, you can make your art and run your business and still be able to afford a home, have a garden, get lost in the woods, those things are really vital to me and my process.

Janay's work can be seen on her website or to see the dresses in real life, make an appointment.   

Branding Case Study: Kansas City Walking Tours

Earlier this spring, I was approached by Emily Allen, Founder and Tour Architect of the brand-new Kansas City Walking Tours. Kansas City Walking Tours will provide residents and tourists alike the opportunity to hear stories about the many Kansas Citians who made the city what it is today. They are also offering a bunch of food tours of the River Market (um, hello beignets!) 

I was tasked with the job of creating the branding for the company. After initial interviews and research, I created dozens of iterations before sharing four final concepts with Emily. Some of the concepts referred back to details of KC's architectural history, but the one we both agreed on was the signpost logo seen below.  

At the end of the project, Emily walked away with a  logo, business cards, letterhead, social media and web graphics, and a rack card for Kansas City Walking Tours. 

What's the story behind the signpost? I was biking down Beardsley Road toward the River Market and noticed this overlook park that gives people a great view of the river and downtown Kansas City, Kansas. In the middle of the park was a signpost with a bunch of different arrows on them. The signpost image seemed to be a perfect way to express the direction the tours will provide to unearth the most interesting history and the best food.

The tours are launching in April, and I'm very excited to go on one and learn more about the city I have grown to love so much.

Are you a business owner in need of a branding project? Don't hesitate to reach me at rachel [at] banjocreativeco.com. All potential clients receive a free 30 minute consultation.