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Interview with SD Voyager Magazine


Read on SD Voyager

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eva Tseng from Extraordinary Kits.

Eva, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
After getting laid off from my biotech job of 8 years in 2018, many people gave me career advice: how to land the next job, how to market myself, what connections to make, and more. But my sister told me something totally different: “Don’t let this opportunity slip away. Go do what you’ve always wanted to do and not what other people are telling you to do. Getting another job is easy, but understanding who you are and how you want to live your life is something else. Some people never get a chance to figure it out.”

I listened to her and took unemployment as an opportunity to throw myself completely into a new pursuit. A few years prior, I had started taking night classes in dressmaking at San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) as a creative outlet to my stressful job. Now, without a full-time job, I could give my full attention to trying something new. Within a couple of weeks, I decided to register for an upholstery program, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My teacher had 30 years of experience and was a master upholsterer of antique Ford Model Ts. He taught me to use the tools of his trade: tack hammers, pneumatic staple guns, and button makers. He demonstrated how to work with patterns and contour shapes; he showed me the tips and tricks for using an industrial sewing machine. With these skills, I began by making my own tool bag, a backpack, countless patio cushions. By the end of the year, I had recovered a set of six dining chairs, a 1960s blue velvet swivel and rocker chair, a 1970s sofa, and finally, to top it off, a fully customized interior for a classic 1960s Mustang.

As my fingers, once so adept at replying to emails, grew calloused and dry, my eyes began to see details I never noticed before. Everywhere I went, I was drawn to details in furniture: observing where welts are locating, touching a fabric for familiarity, and imagining how the pieces are put together. And whenever I see a classic car (really, any car made before 1970), I can’t help but peek in and examine the car interior: Is the seat design original or updated? What would it be like to sew those tuck and rolls? Even during cocktail hour at a wedding, I found myself sneaking away to examine the antique fuschia velvet-covered Victorian loveseat at the venue just so I could see up close how the diamond tufting folded in just the right way.

While the subject gave me interest, the people along the way guided me. Even though I was easily more than half of the average age of my classmates, they embraced me like family. Many of them were veterans, retirees, or people looking for a career change. Our reasons for being there differed, but our shared appreciation of working with our hands brought us joy. Week by week, our time together began to bring me from feelings of disappointment and the fear of failure to the courage to believe in myself again.

Other communities were part of giving my newfound hobby purpose and direction as I found that many wanted to work with their hands but just didn’t know where to start. I ended up teaching sewing through an after-school enrichment program to elementary school students, showing them how to tie tiny knots in a thread for their very first time and eventually stitching fantastic felt creatures. I watched them struggle with keeping their stitches even but bravely tackling projects without hesitation. Their curiosity was infectious and made me question when was the last time I was carefree and allowed myself to have as much fun as they did. I also volunteered at recreational therapy programs, where I guided war veterans to make anything from belts and wallets to birdhouses and more — all with their very own hands, week after week. Many of the war veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but when they are busy working with their hands, they’re distracted and calm.

Across the age spectrum, I saw that no matter what was previously going through a person’s mind, working with their hands brought them to the present (what yogi’s call “flow”), to a place where their mind was still. This is when a person is peaceful and relaxed, even if it’s only for a bit. It was my work with all the people I encountered, seemingly randomly, that has become my inspiration for starting my business: Extraordinary Kits.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No way! It’s far easier being employed by someone else than to start your own company. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are major issues that come and go every day. Honestly, I don’t think these feelings will ever fully go away.

My inspiration for how to deal with these emotions comes from Pixar’s “Inside Out” movie where I’ve learned to live alongside them, accept things as-is, and push them back when necessary. This allows me to step back and look at the situation objectively rather than too absorbed in the gory details.

Extraordinary Kits – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We want our customers to fall in love with creating something physical with their hands again. Extraordinary Kits’ mission is to share the power of using craft as therapy. We give people manageable projects to create something they love and while doing so, be mindful and deepen their appreciation of handmade goods. Our kits come in multiple levels, and the finished products are inspired by Japanese leather goods where the design is clean, minimal, and classic. We want to focus on developing beautiful and functional leather craft projects that motivate more people to try leather craft and pursue more challenging projects. We are developing online tutorial videos and hosting local workshops to guide customers through their making journey.

We intentionally chose to work with suppliers that use sustainable methods and natural materials. Our main leather products are made with vegetable tanned leather. This type of leather uses natural ingredients such as tree barks to extract moisture from the rawhides. This is environmentally friendlier compared to chrome tanning, which uses chromium based chemical compounds to extract moisture from rawhides. While chrome tanned leather is easier to make and comes in a variety of colors, vegetable tanned leather is perceived to be better for the environment, highly durable, and ages well with use. Our kits give customers the chance to experience and embrace this naturally made leather.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is when I have a choice in the decisions I make in life. Success is when I can choose to drop everything I do to go take care of a loved one for an indefinite time without financial pressures. Success is doing projects that excite and challenge me. Success is having friends and family who laugh together, support me in times of need, forgive me when I’m stupid, and love me for who I am.