The Tale of the Pop Tart (sorry ‘iced biscuit’) Phone Case!

I want to share with you the tale of the Pop Tart, I mean Iced Biscuit phone case.

This is an item which I started selling in my Etsy shop around September in 2023 and which trended at the end of 2023.

To give a bit of background, I opened my Etsy shop in April 2023, so my shop was, and still is pretty new. It was a spur of the moment decision to open an online store. Although I have always been a maker, creating artworks for my own home and for friends, building props and creating installations, my background has been mostly as a writer and a theatre maker. I have created and produced international collaborations and received awards and high-level funding for my theatre work. But I could never go from project to project like many people I know in the industry. I found myself getting tired if I took on work that I didn’t really resonate with, and going from job to job with no time for reflection in between. Also, I am most engaged when I am making my own work, but each project requires a lot of time and commitment to get up. So I had been thinking for a number of years about how I could possibly support myself through different ways to keep making theatre while also support my family.

When I was in Indonesia working on a theatre project late 2022 and early 2023, I became obsessed with creating botanical designs based on rubbings, watercolours and inks, partly as a way to cope with my overwhelm being around so many people, but also because of the beauty of the botanical forms revealed by each rubbing which never ceased to astound me. The process of colouring the designs with inks and watercolours was also very calming and joyful. I was so proud of these designs I wanted to do more with them. I thought that perhaps by putting my designs on t-shirts and other products, this could be a way for me to make an income online, to support me to make theatre work at the pace and with the rhythm that works for me.

Wildflower art black t-shirt
Botanic shirt design based on rubbings, inks and watercolours

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I listened to lots of you tube videos, including some very bad advice, and just started my shop. Because what ever it is you are doing, you just need to start. And be brave enough to let it unfold and take you in surprising directions. And the Pop Tart, I mean iced biscuit phone case is a good analogy for this.

So, I opened my shop in April, starting with putting these botanic designs on products through various print on demand companies who print the order then dispatch it themselves to the customer. It’s a great business model for artists and designers, but also has it’s challenges and pitfalls. Anyway, I was very very hyper-focussed to begin with. I now realise this is a common ADHD trait. For 6 weeks I focussed on nothing else. I desperately tried to get it all up there while my attention lasted. Because I knew, instinctively, my attention would not last….

It was after that that I crashed, and hit a real low point in my life. I felt completely overwhelmed by my new shop and also suddenly cut off from my performance work and writing, missing many opportunities because of my new found focus. My housing situation was unstable and so were my finances. I was at a loss. I was thinking about dying. I would never want to do that to my kids. But I have to acknowledge how bad it was. And I really didn’t care about making content to promote t-shirts online. I felt completely stymied. That was when I finally acknowledged the pattern in my life of hyperfocus followed by exhaustion, and sought support, and ended up being diagnosed with ADHD and CPTSD from childhood and teenaged trauma. You can also read about that in earlier blog posts.

The diagnosis was a turning point for me. I started to understand myself more, to recognise the traits without judging myself like I had been doing my whole life, and I started to heal myself in a more focussed way than ever before. I also started to share my experience with others, publicly on social media, and many people responded with similar stories. I saw that sharing my story truthfully, rather than ‘hiding’ myself and trying to fit some perceived ideal meant that I could grow, and that it could be helpful also for other people.

So anyway, it was on the upward wind of my diagnosis, and starting to express myself in this more public way, that the Pop Tart, I mean iced biscuit phone case story began.

I had put some lovely botanic designs up, and I had a few sales, especially t-shirts and hoodies. There were a couple of reviews also, all of them 5 stars. I was learning about the role that key words play in the Etsy search, and how the Etsy algorithm works. I was slowly building up my confidence and my focus. Then I saw on my Etsy seller app, that people who had used the search term ‘Kate Bush T-shirt’ had found my Botanic Moon t-shirt (one of my favourite t-shirts still of all time).

I am not sure how someone’s search for ‘Kate Bush T-shirt’ lead to my Botanic Moon T-shirt, but there I was staring at these keywords stats on my phone:

Kate Bush t-shirt?

I can make a Kate Bush t-shirt

After all, as a teenager, I was obsessed with Kate Bush

I knew every line of every song

Every move from every video

I am going to make a Kate Bush T-shirt. Now!

And I rushed inside and opened my computer

I knew exactly which video to get a still from…..

Hammer Horror!

I am going to make a hammer Horror T-shirt!

Of course it only occurred to me later that the reason Kate Bush was trending was because of the song ‘Running up that Hill’ on the TV series Stranger Things. I presumed everyone would be familiar with all of her works.

In my mind’s eye, I could see the exact image.

I fast forwarded through the video to that moment when the creepy phantom like dancer is behind her and has his hand on her shoulder, and she is caught mid terror…

And I screen shot it!

Then I opened up my Canva, for those of you who don’t know, a very readily available design program, and using the screen shot I created a t-shirt design on a template.

A very bad Kate Bush t-shirt design.

The best bad Kate Bush t-shirt design on the market.

Nothing could stop me. I went to my Print on Demand dashboard, a company called Gelato, to mock up the design onto a Bella Canvas unisex t-shirt.

Then sent the product through the Etsy integration app to my Etsy shop. There I wrote a title, description, filled in the attributes, set the postage settings and filled out everything else needed for an Etsy listing. I made a mock up on Canva using a photo mock up and uploaded it to the product photos. I like the model in this mock up. She’s very natural looking..

Then down to the tags. The all important thing which allows your listing to show up in someone’s search. On Etsy you have 13 of them. And every one of them counts for having your listings show up in a search. I thought hard. What keywords might one search for if looking for a Kate Bush T-shirt?

Pop music? British pop music?

I did my best to come up with good ones.

This was before I had started using E-rank, the app which helps you find search terms which are high ranking. I was just guessing. Then, I hit publish!

Yes!

And there she is! 2nd from the bottom right.

Then I had the idea, how about a Kate Bush Hammer Horror Phone case? So I went back into my Gelato dashboard, and I mocked up the same image onto a phone case, and then sent it to my Etsy drafts. I filled out the description, and I filled in all 13 keywords.

And then I published the listing

You may be wondering, what the hell has this got to do with the Pop Tart, uh ah I mean Iced biscuit phone case? Well I am just about to get to that.

So things were quiet. No one jumped at my Kate Bush t-shirt or the phone case. It was certainly a divergence for me, to sell merchandise, rather than original Botanic designs. But I knew I needed to shake things up a bit. To open my mind about what I could sell in my shop. If I could only just find one item which would give me some traction.

The next day I checked my stats on my Etsy Sellers App, and saw that someone had viewed my Kate Bush phone case by searching the term ‘Pop Tart Phone Case’.

At first I was shocked.

Imagine calling Kate Bush a tart!

Sure, I had used the key words ‘Pop Music’, ‘British Pop Music’, ‘Pop Queen’…

But never would I have dreamt of calling Kate Bush a ‘Pop Tart’!

I actually had no idea what a Pop Tart actually was. The cereal cakes are just not that popular here in Australia. I had never tried one. I still haven’t.

But I became curious. What actually could they have meant by Pop Tart Phone Case?

So I searched up ‘Pop Tart Phone Case’ on the Etsy search bar, to see what items might be listed.

And this is what I found:

There in the bottom left corner was my Kate Bush Hammer Horror phone case, on a page of crotched pink sprinkled cake like items.

What on earth is this Pop Tart thing?

I googled Pop Tart, and there in the search I saw an array of images of sickly sweet items, with white icing and sprinkles.

I can make a pop tart phone case! Clearly someone wants it. And there doesn’t seem to be any on sale on Etsy. Only crotched items.

I grabbed an image of a homemade pop tart which had a nice shape and creamy icing, and a downloaded it, designed it on Canva, then went to my print provider dashboard, and uploaded the design onto the phone case mock ups. I sent it to my Etsy store drafts and filled out the details quicker than I ever have, including the 13 tags, then I published it to my store, using the mock up images generated from my print partner. Not one thought about trade marks or copyright! Gosh, I was naive really.

Usually I put a lot of effort into my listings, but this one I did very quickly. I really wasn’t taking it seriously at all. I suddenly felt liberated. What has Pop Tart got to do with Botanic Mystic? I don’t quite know yet, but it’s exciting to think I don’t have to be tethered to any theme or style. So many ways to interpret Botanic Mystic. So many potential ideas for phone cases!

Kate Bush phone case

Even Kate Bush, she’s a mystic.

How about a Brain phone case?

Because this is about my brain. About me. Accepting my brain, how it ping pongs around to different ideas, different focusses.

Moon phone case?

Because it is important to me to learn how to share my story. To encourage others to share their stories too. So we don’t feel that we are alone on the moon.

Pop pop pop tart

Because my brain has low dopamine levels. This is one of the challenges of ADHD. This is why people on the spectrum are prone to addictions. This is why we are prone to not eat well, to eat sweet things, for that dopamine hit.

ChaChing!

Suddenly, through my headphones came that lovely sound. The ringing sound of a cash register which the Etsy Seller app pushes out when notifying of a sale.

A shot of dopamine immediately rushed inside my brain at the sound.

I looked at my notifications.

Someone had bought a phone case. A Pop Tart phone case!

Yes yes yes yes I sold a phone case! I sold a Pop Tart Phone case! And I only just put it up!

And how that ChaChing sound feels good!

Sales started to dribble in. From the other side of the globe.

I had had a few of these already, one woman even came back and bought a second botanic moon t-shirt, all the way from Texas!

But this was, for the first time, a little consistent.

ChaChing ChaChing

A dopamine hit every time.

Ahhhhh the dopamine gives me hope. That is what the dopamine chemical is. It’s the chemical which gives you motivation to continue. It’s the chemical of success.

As the phone case is a print on demand item, orders are dispatched straight to the customer’s address from the print provider. With all my t-shirt designs I had ordered samples to tweak the design, as well as take product photos. But I didn’t do that this time. I already have a phone case! I was hoping that it would look good and that customers would be happy. It felt like a gamble. I waited for news, a little anxiously.

Then, the first review came in.

ChaChing! My dopamine levels shot up again. The phone case works! Someone likes it! The next review came a few days later

Cha Ching Cha Ching!!!!!!

Then another one.

3 X 5 star reviews in a row! Although I hadn’t seen the item myself, I was now feeling confident that it must be good.

Then, a few days later, there was a message in my Etsy inbox from a customer:

Thank you Sandra for your prompt shipping. I am disappointed in the quality of the image. It’s a tiny bit blurry and it needs to be about 1/4″ longer as it doesn’t go all the way to the top. You did a nice job around the camera holes, but overall not well executed. The photo on your etsy site looks so much better!

Indeed it did not look very good.

In fact the image was misaligned. Not even covering the whole case! I could see how the design could work better for some models than others also. For the first time I started to understand the risk, selling products to the public who may not receive the item they hoped for. My dopamine levels plummeted. I felt a sense of deep shame. That thing known as ‘rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which ‘interferes with your ability to regulate your emotional responses to feelings of failure and rejection, common amongst neuro-divergent people. Recognising this particular trait has been quite a journey for me, as before I knew what it was I allowed it to interfere with my courage to stand up and follow my dreams in so many ways, and to interfere with many relationships and connections. I was determined to not let it get the better of me any more. Perhaps this experience could be a good way for me to face my RSD, to not take things personally any more, to not be debilitated by criticism, so that I can really stand up in the world and achieve my dreams….. while taking responsibility for myself and for the things I am putting out in the world. Even as a theatre artist, this has been my greatest draw back. It’s time, I told myself. It’s time….

I responded:

I agree it looks terrible! Not at all the quality i expect either. I will check with my print partners about what happened and order a new one for you. Will send a tracking link to you once dispatched again, kind regards, sandra

I did so, and organised for another one to be resent promptly.

Things were quiet for a week, then there was a review from that same customer:

Ah that’s OK. My first 3 star review but not the end of the world. If I run an online store, I need to accept this will happen. And the customer is happy with my service. But I knew I needed to brace myself for this potentially happening again. Clearly, the printing is not always reliable. With printers around the globe working for Gelato, there is bound to be some inconsistency. Which made me feel a little nervous. I managed my RSD pretty well, but how will I go if there were more unhappy customers? One thing that was clear, this customers response showed me how important customer service is. In this world where there is often little interaction when buying and selling online, this perhaps is the most important thing.

The pop tart phone case was a little quiet for a few weeks. Perhaps it had lost its appeal. In some ways I was relieved. Perhaps it would be better to sell nothing than to sell products which make customers unhappy. My old fears were surfacing. The old fears that make me sometimes not want to do anything. Even though there have been 3 positive reviews, is the terror of that 1 negative one worth it? I wondered if I ever would be successful. Should I just stick to chasing grants and handouts? In that endless cycle of chasing and burnout that so many artists know. I tried to keep my mind focussed. I continued working on my shop. I started getting coaching for Etsy. I worked deeper than ever to improve my mindset, raising my sense of self worth, self love, self concept. After so many years of living undiagnosed with ADHD and CPTSD I tell you, this is not an overnight thing. But it is everything. The way we feel about ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves are everything.

Then there came a message in my Etsy inbox:

Hi Sandra, I hope you’re doing great today! I’m an editor at Hearst magazines.

I’d like to put your pop tart phone case in the Food Network gift guide. Could you please give me your email? Thank you!

Food Network? I had never heard of them. I looked up Food Network and saw they are part of Hearst Magazines, a big magazine conglomerate based in New York, with a massive following. A little bit of excitement welled up inside me. This was certainly something I had never experienced, and I was curious about what might happen. But also, there was that terror. What could happen if lot’s of people didn’t like it?

I managed to calm my fears and I responded, giving her my email.

She emailed me asking for mock up images and information about the phone case. So I sent it, and that was it. I didn’t hear back from her, so I thought perhaps she’s changed her mind. A higher level editor might decide it’s not appropriate. Why would she choose my product? It has got a 3 star review after all… Perhaps it would be a relief if it didn’t go in the gift guide. The idea of a mass public humiliation over my Pop Tart phone case was unbearable. Nah, she has clearly forgotten about it. Phew. What a relief! And then I forgot about it.

I kept the shop ticking over while focusing on other things. Exciting things! Two performance projects in Indonesia within a month. I travelled to Jogjakarta for Artjog festival where I performed with my collaborators of many years in a work we started working on during Covid lockdowns via Zoom.

Me, onstage with collaborators in JTDS performance at ArtJog Festival, Jogjakarta Indonesia, image Musa Saiq.

And then the next week I went to Lombok to be part of a community arts festival with some of the same collaborators, performing with a Hadrah (sufi) Community music ensemble.

Hadrah community in Lombok who I worked with on a community arts festival.

Each of these projects was amazing and also challenging in their own way. On return from Lombok, I had a production coming up in Melbourne, with international collaborators, whom I was hosting at my house also, and there was a lot to prepare for that, as I was the producer, and also the dramaturg and script translator!

Actress Ellen Marning in our hero shot for Surat-Suratnya, Melbourne December 2023- image Darren Gill

I also needed to complete a script redraft for a performance project called The Swallows which is taking place this year. Suddenly I was focussed again on my theatre work. I had almost forgotten this part of me! This very important part of me.

And I was starting my new blog, which you are reading now, where I was starting to write about all of these experiences, neurodivergence, creativity, self love and everything. I totally forgot about the Pop Tart phone case.

My guests arrived in November. Rehearsals started. I was still refining the script and translation while organising everything with the venue, the publicity and marketing.

I was very busy.

Then I noticed one evening I had a number of sales suddenly on my app.

Cha Ching, Cha Ching Cha Ching!

How strange. The Pop Tart Phone Case is suddenly selling!

‘Is that because of the magazine?’ My daughter asked.

Yes of course, Food Network magazine! I had almost forgotten.

Steadily the sales started flowing in.

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing

I woke up and there were a whole lot of notifications

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing

And this continued each day for that week at a steady pace

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing

This was a completely new thing for me. For established successful shops I am sure it is the norm, but it was very exciting for me to get a taste of this. So this is what it means to make money while you sleep! I took great care to message everyone who bought one and thank them.

And at the same time the theatre work Surat-Suratnya which I was producing was also going off! The season completely sold out half way through, we had a 4 star review in the AGE by a respected theatre critic, and every night was full of fascinating conversations from our full house audiences.

image by Darren Gill

It was an incredible week. And the whole time the sales came in consistently.

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing

It’s times like these, I feel like I can fly on the edge of uncertainty and live by my inspirations and hunches. I have no sense of risk. The RSD disappears. I never weigh up the pros and cons. I am an example of everything most people say you shouldn’t do, and here I am flying, feeling my life is so full of possibility.

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing

So many great, kind and generous reviews of the phone case came in

ChaChing ChaChing ChaChing!

So many amazing reviews!

But also, there were not so appreciative reviews:

DaDowww

Dopamine drop.

RSD aside, It actually breaks my heart to think a customer isn’t happy. With each customer who isn’t happy I only want to refund their money. Even though I am then out of pocket. Of course I don’t want to be taken for granted because that’s not good for anyone either, and it’s important to have boundaries. And to not ‘people please’ is a huge challenge for me. People pleasing is an aspect of RDS, and a symptom of CPTSD, but many people will recognise this in themselves. It’s a trauma response, and it’s a very difficult habit to break. But although my online business is borne of me working towards me living an independent life financially and following my dreams, I would never want to rip anyone off. Abundance is about everyone being happy, not gaining money at someone else’s expense. If someone isn’t happy, I take it seriously.

I did encourage customers to reach out first if unhappy and to reconsider their reviews. There is a very real impact of a negative review on an Etsy shop. Its star rating system affects how items show up in the algorithm. A bad rating affects all items in a shop not just that one item. And also, in this day and age where we are making transactions online with little human interaction, it’s important to remember the humans behind the sales. Small business owners, who are also just learning, and in my case, really do want their customers to be happy.

On the other side, I am so happy for anyone who is actually happy with their purchase. I hate consumerism, I am not a big consumer myself, but our phones need to be protected. I myself use phone cases. And if a customer is happy and enjoys the product it just gives me joy. Perhaps there is some inconsistency of quality between the various printers. I guess that’s to be expected. I have to say, it got quite confusing! Perhaps after all it is just a matter of perception.

Isn’t it interesting though, no matter how many nice things people can say to us…

It’s that one negative feedback that has an impact.

Anyone else relate?

Needless to say, by Christmas I was quite exhausted. Alongside my print on demand success with the Pop Tart Phone case over the weeks leading up to Christmas, I also had a number of orders for handmade Christmas Lanterns, based on Australian bush plants:

My guests returned home to Indonesia after celebrating our successful theatre season which ended just a week before Christmas. I diligently continued to message each and every person who ordered from our shop to thank them. Each and every exchange really meant a lot to me. Because the most important thing is our humanity. Even across the other side of the globe. All because of a phone case which trended. And although that was a wonderful exciting ride and an opportunity to experience how entrepreneurship can work, the human exchange is the thing which means the most to me.

In the new year, I had a sudden instinct to change the name of the phone case. I had become quite aware by that stage, that Pop Tarts are indeed trade marked, even though to start with I thought they were predominantly a home made thing! A video showed up in my youtube feed about an Etsy shop which was sued because of trade mark infringement. And I knew it was time. Immediately I changed the name of the item from pop Tart Phone case to ‘Iced Biscuit phone case’. The sales continued but they slowed down. My phone case was still showing up in searches for Pop Tart phone case, but evidently the trend was toning down.

When I looked up Pop Tart Phone case a few weeks back in Erank’s keyword search, I saw that there were absolutely no results for the key words Pop Tart on Etsy. Which I knew wasn’t true as people were still searching for ‘Pop Tart Phone case’ and finding my Iced Biscuit Phone Case. So it seemed that there had been a pop tart keyword purge from Erank, a response perhaps to a ‘trademark sweep’, which I have heard mentioned in youtube videos. So perhaps I was lucky once again to follow my gut feeling and change the title just when I did. Trust your intuition my friends. Every time.

I moved on to a series of word t-shirts, exploring the power of language, and the beauty of phonetic language. I also started a series of shirts which celebrate various creatures and their relationship with the moon, created by collaging photos and AI generated images. And I also made some shirts which celebrate Neurodiversity.

And I have a lantern project coming up, which you can see from my previous blog post. It is one of my dreams to create installations of lanterns and light.

a paper lantern using maps, various papers and botanic rubbings with watercolour and ink

Still learning about this online shop business, how to keep it flowing.

But more than anything, I love having this blog, as a forum to share these experiences. Of successes and failures, to show there are no real failures. We are all free to live from our hearts if we want, no matter what the circumstances. It is scary. It has not felt stable to start with. But slowly, slowly, surprising things have happened. Flows of luck and abundance, next to chaos. I really do believe we just need to trust it, to trust ourselves, to believe we are absolutely worthy of everything good in our lives, and to accept that which we are not so proud of and love ourselves regardless, so we can shine light in the world, each in our own way. With all our imperfections.

Please follow this blog and/or our email list if you would like to read more and follow our new products and my art projects. I know it will keep evolving in exciting and inspiring ways and that I can share helpful and inspiring insights along the way.

Click on the photo’s of the items in this post if you want to go to the listing!

Thank you all for reading and for those of you who have supported Botanic Mystic as we have opened to the world.

Sandra

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Share to social media

    Subscribe

    Subscriptions - press the checkbox to toggle each
    * indicates required
    Subscriptions - choose either or both
    Send this to a friend