Five questions with: Basket maker Ibechaobi Leishangthem

Ibechaobi Leishangthem of DewDropsDecor –Courtesy of DewDropsDecor

Ibechaobi Leishangthem (Ibe to her friends) moved into her house in Grimes with her family in October of 2020. In the middle of the pandemic, the Manipur, India native was looking for something to do that would also make their new house feel a little more like home. So she turned to basket-making. Not long after, Ibe started her Etsy shop, DewDropsDecor, to sell her baskets across the country.

Little Village sat down with Ibe ahead of her appearance at ArtFest Midwest this weekend to talk about her story.

How did you start making baskets? I was just looking to redecorate the house. I saw so many storage baskets and storage containers at Target, Walmart, Amazon, and I was not really liking it. I need something neutral, I’m more of a neutral person. I was looking for neutral colors to keep the house neat. So, then I was browsing Instagram. And then I saw this basket made out of cotton rope in a different part of the country, I think somewhere in the coastal area of Maine, the New England side, and then all of a sudden I started loving it so much.

I started browsing more and more and I’m like, “What is this thing? And is it available anywhere?” And I started digging into it more and discovered later that it was made out of cotton rope and made with a sewing machine. So I [thought], “Ok, let me give it a try.” I bought 100 feet of cotton rope from the local hardware store and I used to have a regular sewing machine for my home use. So I started making it.

Why did you start selling your baskets? I started more and more into it and I found different kinds of ropes, different materials. I started making more and more for my house: fruit baskets, the children/kids baskets, my ring dish, the small sizes. They are everywhere in our house.

And then one of my friends, she was like, “Okay, why don’t you start selling on Etsy?” But at the time my friend said it, I had never heard of Etsy. I had never bought anything from Etsy before. So I start digging more on Etsy and then I found it’s a handmade world. So I give it a thought that I would, you know, do Etsy. I can produce more baskets and I can sell on Etsy and that will pick up my income because at that time I was not working. I was a stay-at-home mom with two kids.

How did you pick the name of your shop? To establish a shop, Etsy needs a shop name. I just have a product, I don’t have a shop name. Whatever the names I picked, it says it’s already taken. And then it was one winter morning and I was like, “What should I name my shop?” and I saw drops. I found all these dew drops coming down, falling on the window and I’m like, “Okay, I have to establish my shop today and all these dew drops are coming. So for now, I will get the name Dew Drops.” That was in January of 2021. I didn’t know how far I was going to, you know, move from that. But that’s how DewDropsDecor has been named.

How long does it take to make a basket? That is a very tough question, I would say. Because the more complex the shape, the longer it takes. Regular baskets take less than one hour. But the hanging things and the ones with the handles, these take longer. Like say maybe one and a half hours or [more]. Because to measure the handles to balance equally, I keep spending time on them because I cannot have one short and one long. It has to be equivalent on both sides. But regular kinds take just 30 minutes.

But that is now. I mean to say that at the initial stage, it took me forever to make one basket. It took me one whole day to make one basket. But now I am used to it and I upgraded my machine to an industrial sewing machine which is more powerful and faster and makes my life a little easier. If my children are not disturbing me (laughs.)

Are you working on anything new? So many things are in my mind now. This year I am trying to focus more on object translation. Meaning to say, I see anything and I think, “Can I transform this into a basket?” Last month when I was going for a walk and my daughter picked up an acorn and I thought, “Can I make a basket out of that?” So I tried that. So this comes out really well. Similarly, I make mushroom-shaped baskets. Those are very cute, but they are difficult to sell because it’s costly.

I make different shapes and sizes. The idea behind that is everyone should be able to afford it. So I create baskets of different ranges and different sizes which starts from $10 to $100. But I will always be doing the baskets. That is what I love doing. When I’m stressed out, I come make the baskets. When I fight with my husband, I come make the baskets. When I’m not sleepy, when I’m awake at night, I come make the baskets. I am my own boss. I’m not saying that I am bossy (laughs.) I am my own boss. I can take leave whenever I want. I can work on Sunday, I can work at midnight. That makes me so relieved and this is a therapy. It makes me so satisfied.

Find DewDropsDecor at ArtFest Midwest this weekend and on Etsy.

DewDropsDecor basket made by Ibechaobi Leishangthem.

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