November 21, 2019

Most crowns are designed for the royals, but Ryerson University student Merike Hess designs crowns for everyone. Though they may not be made from silver and gold, they are exquisitely entwined with bright colours and flowers galore. Being able to create something so elegant may be a daunting task for most, but for Hess, the creative process of making flower crowns, and other accessories and homeware just come naturally to her.

Free-spirited, trend-setting and dedicated are words family and friends use to describe the young entrepreneur. The 20-year-old businesswoman grew up in Cambridge, Ont., where her love for crafting, florals and designs blossomed.

Coming from an Estonian background, Hess’s love for crafts came to her naturally. From illustrating children books at the age of five to creating ink drawings and digital illustrations, crafting has always been second nature for Hess.

As much as crafting has come naturally to her, so has the business world. She began in 2016 and has had the chance to interview other young business owners. She has also been paid to design logos and other marketing tools for small business such as Foxglove Studios, a collaborative retail location in Cambridge, Ont., the EstDocs film festival in 2016, and the Seedrioru Suvihari Summer Festival in 2018.

Merike Hess poses in one of her custom designed flower crowns. (Photo courtesy of MerikeHess)

Just for fun, Hess has also extensively planned and branded a cupcake business with her sister.  Her business interests made opening her own floral accessory and homewares company The Little Sea an organic process.

The Little Sea sprouted during Hess’s high school years, first when she designed her own prom dress. She wore a blue lace floor-length dress, with hand-sewn flowers adding a pop of colour to what once was a simple gown. From there, she designed a series of flower crowns for prom attendees and the prom king and queen.

“I’ve always been creative and entrepreneurial in some way. I come from an Estonian background which has had a huge influence on my lifestyle and love of crafts,” said Hess. “I have always been interested in starting my own creative projects. I realized people were willing to pay me for skills that I took for granted so I started to post my work more often so people could see what I could do.”

Starting with Etsy and Society6, Hess began her entrepreneurial journey. She now operates her own website where her clients can custom order her designs. With more than 313,000 followers on Pinterest and 151,800 weekly views on her profile, Merike has used her social media as a tool to help build her brand. Although she has seen success as a creative influencer online, getting her name and her brand out there hasn’t always been easy.

“It is hard to find a balance between getting your name out there for free while still being profitable. I underprice myself or let people not pay me for my creative work which I feel like a lot of creative entrepreneurs struggle with,” said Hess. “Also, finding which markets are my demographic and worth the time and effort has been difficult.”

While each project Hess designs fills her with excitement, creating flower crowns has always been Hess’s favourite area of design.

“I always get caught up in the excitement of trying a new craft or design or method so that’s always the most exciting when I get to try something new or combining crafts together,” Hess said. “But flower crowns are still probably my favourite to make since every single one looks different. I have a huge love for flowers, it’s a project that can be completed beautifully in less than a day and they go with everything.”

Tori Piercey purchased six flower crowns from Hess for her sister’s bridal shower this past August, all of which were one-of-a-kind. The crowns were made from artificial flowers, so the guests at Piercey’s party all had a keepsake to remember the special day.

Five of the six crowns were large bright pink flowers and for the bride, an elegant all-white flower crown that added a bohemian charm to their party.

“Something that made Merike’s business stand out would be she truly listened to the ideas that the party (organizers) wanted to capture. After giving her the colours we wanted and style she went above and beyond to make my sister’s party one to remember,” said Piercey. “She has the sweetest personality, very bright and easy going, and has a great eye for the crafts she is pursuing.”

Hess originally attended Ryerson University for graphic design but realized that she wanted to pursue an education that was more tailored to her entrepreneurial lifestyle. After two years of university  level schooling, Hess decided to enrol in Ryerson University’s creative industries program and virtually started over.

“I am just starting the program this year, but so far it has already helped me in the way that the program really focuses on addressing the issues that creative entrepreneurs face when trying to make their way in the world and in business,” said Hess. “There are lots of courses on how to brand yourself, create products, collaborate, plan events, etc.”

However nerve-racking the experience of starting her education over, it is something that the people in Hess’s life respect and admire. Her friend Sadie Snip even describes it as one of her proudest moments.

“She took a risk and did something that is hard to do, essentially starting over. She seems so much more driven and happy, and I can’t wait to see where this program and her business takes her,” said Snip.

Creative industries have allowed Hess to strengthen her business skills, including creating a strong personal brand, planning events and learning how to market herself. The qualities she is strengthening will help her one day open her own retail location.

Finding a balance in her personal life, school life and work life hasn’t always been a walk in the park, but with the support of her boyfriend, friends and family, it is something she said she is “working on.”

“I find if I’m focusing  on one of the three than the other two get left behind somewhat. Sadly during the school year, The Little Sea production and Instagram and blogging efforts slow down a lot… I’m working on,” said Hess.

Hess’s dream for The Little Sea is to one day own and operate her own business which would be a hybrid of a cafe, store and studio. A place where her accessories and homewares can be sold, but also a place where young entrepreneurs, like herself, are encouraged to explore their creativity.

“I want to have lots of space to encourage people to work on their own creative projects and collaborate in the space while they drink their coffees,” said Hess. “I want all of the products to be handmade and/or made in Canada, and I also want to sell some amount of craft supplies so that people can create in the store.”

“She does whatever she is already going to do, there’s no changing it. For The Little Sea, this means that she doesn’t subscribe to other people’s idea of what her brand should be or how she should run/grow her business. She has a set idea and is building her business how she herself sees it should be,” said Hess’s sister Helmi. “This is also what sets her work apart from others. Her brand and the look of her products is an exact and genuine reflection of her character.”

As for right now, Hess hopes to redefine her brand, find new markets to vend at and find more scheduled time to work on her creative projects during the school year, all while keeping her friends and family close by during her career.

“When she gets an idea, there’s this almost twinkle in her eye, and you know she’s going to create something wonderful,” said Snip. “I’m a super proud friend and am confident she’ll find nothing but success.”

Hess’s free-spirit has acted as the roots for her brand; her creativity and positivity have allowed her to grow, but it is her drive and determination that has made her brand flourish, literally.

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