New Kits Encourage Creativity and Connections
Two Brunswick moms are taking crafts beyond their usual purposes for kids and families. Laura Franz and Gina Franco are the co-founders of BeYONd Crafts, a company producing DIY craft kits that are fun and creative—and also community-minded and nature-oriented.
They chose the name BeYONd Crafts to express the three connections they hope every family makes beyond the craft itself. The Y stands for Yourself, the O is for Others and the N is for Nature. “We wanted a name that honors what we are trying to do, that’s just a little bit different,” says Gina.
Laura and Gina have been friends since their kids were in preschool together. They often shared their experiences about motherhood and their ideas for creative play. They also shared academic and professional backgrounds in the fields of education and psychology—and a love of crafting.
Both women had put their careers on hold in the early years of motherhood, but then, last fall, when their kids were back at school, they were having tea, and an idea sprouted. “We saw a need in families that are busy and might want to do meaningful projects with their kids, but don’t have the right materials or know where to start,” Laura said. The women’s mutual and complementary skills and passions kicked in, and BeYONd Crafts soon took shape as a reality.
From the start, they wanted their crafting kits to be not only fun for kids to do with their families but also to be helpful in building connections. “We wanted to come up with meaningful and simple ways to extend beyond the enclosed project to connect to yourself, to others, and to nature.” The kits would be simple enough for pre-school aged children to use but also include enough “connection” possibilities that they would appeal to grade school students. That was the seed of their idea, and they thought they’d let it germinate for a bit.
But then, when the pandemic struck, life as we all knew it changed. “We saw that these kits could play a vital purpose,” says Gina. “—that people and kids could use a way to connect, now more than ever. That motivated us to get something out right away.”
That “something” was their first prototype kit. They called it the “Connection Kit,” and it included materials like clothespins, mini bundles of yarn, and pipe cleaners to make a clothespin “doll,” along with small triangles of cloth, mini-clips, and a length of ribbon to make a mini banner. It also included a letter writing set with small sheets of colorful paper, stickers, envelopes, and a pocket-sized set of markers so that you could write to or even send your creations to connect to a friend who you might not be able to see in person. By the end of spring, the founders were ready to share these kits with families in the community and to ask for their feedback. “What we heard was how much joy having a fresh idea with all the supplies they needed brought to people,” says Laura.
They also got some valuable feedback from their children, who were live-in product testers now that they were home from school. Charlie (10) and Henry (7) are Laura’s sons, and Ashton (9) and Rhys (7) are Gina’s sons. You might not think that four boys would be so excited about crafting. But their boys have been eager assistants from the start. “Oh my goodness, they help us with everything,” says Laura. “We are very aware that crafts are often marketed for girls,” says Laura. “We wanted to make sure that no one feels excluded in our kits and that they are appealing to all genders,” adds Gina.
After the positive responses they received on their “Connection Kits,” they began to think of what kits they would create next. Summer was busy with lots of outdoor play, but they continued to meet and came up with a set of fall-themed kits that they planned to market through social media, as well as through a pop-up shop in Laura’s front yard in a busy residential neighborhood. They worked in a few more educational components as well in response to peoples’ desire for more at-home learning opportunities. “We added little elements like how to address an envelope or how to make a leaf rubbing. But, they aren’t overwhelming. We always want it to be fun,” says Gina.
The results were four kits: “The Gaggle of Ghosts” where you make mini hanging ghosts to dangle from a branch, the “Halloween Pen Pal” kit with a series of themed stickers, the “Fall Banner” kit with tiny leaf and acorn print flags, and the “Warm Spice Play dough” kit to make scented shapes with cookie cutters. Each came in a little decorative brown bag with an instruction sheet that included photos and a list of materials along with ideas for further connections. At their fall pop-up, these kits sold like hotcakes. “The boys were amazing marketers for us,” says Laura. “Charlie was out there shouting out our wares and waving people over. And Henry was working the cash register and keeping track of what we’d sold.” After just a few hours, they had sold out of much of their stock. They’d also collected ideas from their customers of what they’d like to see next—ideas and involvement they value greatly. “We really take input seriously and design our kits accordingly,” says Laura.
That feedback helped them design winter kits like the “Winter Gnome Kit” which includes materials like felt for making pointy hats as well as a map template to create your own “Gnomeland” and a set of “Get to Gnome Me” personality cards to fill out, and the “Sugarplum” fairy kit that includes supplies like a fluffy white feather and fabric flowers along with an ornament hanger. As for spring, the ideas are already flowing.
Ideas for the future are flowing as well. “Our glow-up moment will be when we get to the point when we can include people in the community who have strengths in areas we don’t in our kits. There are so many really talented women in Maine who have gifts to put into the world, and we would love to find ways for them to do that,” adds Gina.
For now, these two moms and their boys are taking their talents beyond their own backyards to help others form meaningful connections.
BeYONd craft kits are available by emailing Laura and Gina at firstname.lastname@example.org.