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Meet Rachel Penn of Thunder Plushies in Culver City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Penn.

Rachel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Thunder Plushies has definitely been a shop that’s taken a lot of work and love. It all started with experimenting at my Mother’s sewing machine in elementary school, and everything else followed. In high school, my business started as strictly stuffed animals. A few friends said I should open an Etsy shop to start selling some of my creations and I was able to figure out everything to start to get my products online.

From there, a few very nice commissioners helped me by commissioning me for more stuffed animals. I operated like this through college and the first three years of my business. I love commissions and still do a few occasional orders, but I wanted to expand my business and connect with the LGBTQ+ community I had grown to become a part in. At that point, I was very well known for my stuffed animals. That is still the mainstay of my business today. However, once I created my Pride Cat stuffed animal, my business really shot off. I first thought it was a failure, but then I was lucky enough to be featured on a popular blog. Orders rolled in the entire week!

Starting last year, I started expanding more. I attended craft fairs and had to start thinking more about sales in real life as well as online. So, I started a lifelong dream–creating an enamel pin! I did this by crossing another item off my to do list, which was creating a Kickstarter. After a successful campaign, I made a few more pins and started to get serious about getting into the merchandise world, while also keeping up on stuffed animal orders. From there, I expanded to stickers, keychains, and patches. It hasn’t been an easy road and there’s been a lot of ups and downs. However, I genuinely enjoy creating every single item in my shop and love the connection that I have with my customers.

Has it been a smooth road?
While it has not been an incredibly bumpy road, the path to what my store is today was not smooth! Many of the challenges that have come up have been related to the financing and filing of my shop with the government. As a high schooler, registering with the OH government was not on the top of my mind, but I soon realized that if my shop were to get much bigger, I would have to figure out the semantics behind how to run my shop ‘legally.’ Thankfully there were many guides online and with some luck, I was able to register my business and pay taxes without too much trouble. As well, I now have a great CPA that helps me with all the confusing parts of business taxes.

The biggest challenge in running my shop was how it started–with commissions. Commissions were fun, but I learned very fast how to handle and run a shop professionally. There are deadlines and expectations that need to be met and creating new patterns each week was exhausting mentally, especially with school. I had to learn how to balance a shop with my lifestyle as well as keep my customers happy. Commissions were definitely an extremely hard way to start my business but I was able to learn a lot very quick and am very happy with the connections I was able to make with many of my customers.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Thunder Plushies – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I’ve spent a lot of time setting up and defining my business, which hasn’t been easy. When I started Thunder Plushies I had created a few small stuffed animals to line my budding Etsy shop with. My shop today is still lined with stuffed animals, which is what most people know me for and is a specialty I take pride in. While most of my business the first few years was strictly commissioned plushies, I have transitioned to products that are made entirely for me and my brand!

The biggest seller and point of pride for me is my Pride Cat Plushies. This is what initially took my business from a small specialty shop to much more success! I started this when I wanted to expand my brand while also creating something to connect to the LGBTQ+ community that I am part of. I wanted to create something to lift up the community and a friend to hug when things get tough. I’m happy to say these are incredibly popular and I have more than 20 flags to choose from, with the list ever expanding to meet the needs of our wonderful and diverse community. With your plushie you can also purchase any of my stickers, enamel pins, patches, paintings, or keychains!

The aspect of my business I’m most proud of is the connections that my business has been able to form. During fairs and online, I see the passion others have like I do for connection and art. I love being able to uplift and talk with people in my community who so desperately need and strive for acceptance and connection. The notes people send with their orders to others are always a treat to read and inspire me as well!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love living in Los Angeles! But of course with anywhere it’s a game of pros and cons. I originally moved out to LA from Columbus, OH to pursue my music career which to this day still makes up my full-time job. I have always wanted to be in film and film music so LA was a first stop for someone like me! My business started in high school back in Ohio but has moved with me to CA and has seen incredible growth in my new home. The art scene in LA is wonderful–particularly the craft fairs! I have never seen such a diverse and loving community as I have in this city. The connections I have been able to make here with artists and community are amazing. As well, the city has been able to be more accepting of me being in the LGBTQ+ community, my transgender transition, and ability to connect to community. I have been able to share my story, art, and struggle in LA, which I am forever grateful for because I was not able to do that in my old home.

Of course, the city has its struggles. We can’t forget the traffic and high cost of living which have also impacted me. While I am grateful to live here, I know there are many who can not or have been pushed out due to rising costs. I cannot discount how much of my art is also a second job that is incredibly helpful for extra income, without which I could not afford many comforts or take the risks I have to expand my business.

Pricing:

  • Pride Cats – $25 for Small, $40 for Medium, $60 for Large
  • Stickers – $3 each
  • Enamel Pins – $6-13 each
  • Keychains – $5 each
  • Patches – $5 each

Contact Info:

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