Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography
Introduction by Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d)
Words, at their base, are simple. Just a series of letters placed in a certain order. Yet, in the right order, they can hold immense power. They can lift you up or tear you down; bring you hope or bring you to tears; inspire you to love yourself, and others. Words can motivate you to get up, every day, and keep. showing. up.
Mike Nelson with his wife, Jodi. Photo by Red Piglet
In 2013, when Mike Nelson founded Red Piglet, the mission from the start was to wield words for the good of the world. With messages like “Shift Status Quo,” “Radiate Love,” or “Observe Without Judgment,” the Calmar, Iowa-based business – specializing in apparel, cards, prints, stickers, mugs, and more – encourages people to see their own uniqueness and worth. This kind of mission is vital in times like these – and, frankly, all other times too. And for Mike, it all started with the simplest of tools: pencil and paper
“I’m one of those humans that have a note pad and pencil at my bedside for the sole purpose of documenting those ‘bright’ ideas that pop into my head at 2 am,” he says. “A night in 2010, I woke to the name ‘RED PIGLET.’ My mind started racing to the possibility of creating a Red Piglet brand. After 10 minutes, I popped out of bed, fired up the computer, and went straight to GoDaddy.com. RedPiglet.com was available. I couldn’t believe it. I purchased that URL on the spot.”
While Mike spent more than three years dreaming of the possibilities for Red Piglet, fear of failing kept him stuck. It was this very struggle of being “stuck” that inspired him to finally take the leap and launch Red Piglet in 2013. He wanted to help others get unstuck and pursue their passions and purpose.
Photo by Red Piglet
Mike, his wife, and three kids live in Northeast Iowa, where they, like many other people and businesses across the world, have pivoted to make things work during COVID-19. Originally booked for shows and markets each Saturday through summer and fall, the Red Piglet schedule is now much more open. The plus side for folks local to or traveling through Calmar, is that you can now find the Red Piglet Shop open more frequently (see sidebar for Open Shop Weekends).
Name: Mike Nelson
Business: Red Piglet
Years in Business: 7
Business address: 101 S. Charles St., Calmar, IA (across from the Fire Station)
Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?
I remember sitting in my car after a job interview and thinking, “My worth is not linked to others’ opinions, a career advancement or paycheck.” The chase was coming to an end.
I decided to shift my perspective and pursue a more purposeful life – to help people get unstuck by taking action with their lives. I proceeded to lead by example and got myself unstuck – I launched the Red Piglet brand.
Why “Encourage Uniqueness” as the foundation message for the Red Piglet brand?
I have a theory: People get stuck because they judge themselves. Why do they judge themselves?Because they compare their life in some fashion to other people’s lives. What happens when comparison takes place? Fear sets in and prevents us from pursuing our passions and gifts. You know, those things that make us happy. The truth is, we are all unique. No one can do what you do, in precisely the way that you do it. How miraculous is that? Be you, your authentic self. Everyone else is taken.
Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography
What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
I don’t have to wait for others to validate my decisions. I have 100 percent creative freedom, and I guide Red Piglet based on my life experiences, beliefs, and unique style. Who knows, I might reinvent the Red Piglet brand in a few years. Stay tuned.
How about the worst?
I love the ideation and execution process so much that sometimes I get carried away and find it difficult to cut designs for a launch. In the end, it might not be the best business decision because customers can get overwhelmed from too many options. I’m getting better at reigning myself in and learning from my business mistakes.
What/Who inspires you?
My wife, who is a talented maker and wonderful mother to our children, kind photographers that have a unique eye and aren’t afraid to take creative risks, woodworkers, clay sculptors, A-frame cabins, garden studios, birds, birdhouses, barns, Black Angus cattle, Old School Country music (Waylon, Merle and George), typography, roached-out metal signs
How do you manage your life/work balance?
I’m just really grateful that my wife, Jodi (pictured with Mike on page 19), is patient and she handles the bookkeeping. Red Piglet is definitely a team gig. Most of my designing and order fulfillment starts at night after we tuck the kids in.
Any quotes that keep you going?
Many years ago, I read a book called Choose Yourself by James Altucher. He talked about his 1/3 Rule: “1/3 of the people in your life will like you (or like the products you are selling). 1/3 of the people in your life will dislike you (or dislike the products you are selling). And 1/3 of the people in your life will not care about you (or not care about the products you are selling).” That message was an a-ha moment and really stuck in my skull. Those words were a breath of fresh country air. I inhaled, exhaled like I meant it, and topped it off with a relaxed, ear-to-ear smile. IT’S TRUE, you can’t be all things to all people, no matter how hard to try. It taught me that I am not for everyone, and my Red Piglet products are not for everyone. I’m content with that. Just continue to be you. The people who are meant to cross paths with you will and they will definitely dig what you are cookin’. Be patient.
The cover on this magazine features a Red Piglet design: Keep Showing Up. What does this message mean to you?
You plug in your phone. Your eyes see the lightning bolt appear. All is right with the world when that connection is made with the electrical outlet. If you choose not to plug in your phone daily, the phone loses its purpose.
Well, think of yourself as a real-life, breathing smart phone. You store a ton of data. You multi-task every day. You are an intelligent, multi-purpose being. Think about how valuable you are to every person that you’re connected to.
Give yourself the same care and attention you give your phone, by recharging your battery every single day and showing up for yourself and the rest of us. We value you.
Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography
Any inspiration happening during the COVID-19 crisis?
All three of my NEW 2020 First Edition shirts were inspired by this pandemic crisis:
Pause and Appreciate: We get up early. We work out. We commute. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We work all day. We rush to pick up the kids. Noise is knocking at your eardrums from all angles. Guilt creeps in and exhaustion sets in… And then, the pandemic and quarantine happens. The world pauses. We are forced to become present and appreciate what surrounds us. We open our eyes, look left, right, up and down. We watch the sun set. We gather for meals. We hear the giggles and see the smiles. The guilt fades away. Our bodies heal. We become our better selves in the midst of uncertain times.
HA, Laughter is the Best Medicine: We need it now more than ever. It decreases stress. It increases infection-fighting antibodies. It improves your resistance to disease. It releases endorphins. It promotes wellbeing and relieves pain. Surround yourself with the joke-tellers, the full-o-pep peeps, the funny-facer makers and the stand-up wannabes. Their wit will nurture your health and you will nurture theirs.
IOWA: Where Impossible is just an opinion: As a wild whipper snapper, my answer to grandpa was often “That’s Impossible!” when he assigned me a task beyond my pay-grade. His reply to my answer was always “Impossible is YOUR opinion, young man!” Grandpa never liked it when someone told him that something couldn’t be done. He didn’t care if you were young, old, or somewhere in-between. You see, that ol’ farmer blazed through the Great Depression, a few wars and several natural disasters, without a plan B in the back pocket of those weathered OshKosh B’goshes. He was a self-made doer that just made it happen without the gums flappin’. Grandpa was Pure Moxie! I know, I know “Moxie” is an old school word. Sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m an old soul with wit and it shows up on many of my designs.
“MOXIE” means: The ability to face difficulty with spirit, courage, and skill. If you have moxie, you won’t let a minor setback stop you from trying again, because you’re a determined person who doesn’t give up easily.
Since Red Piglet was born in 2013, I’ve traveled this fine state of Iowa and have had so many conversations with hard-working people that forge forward with a whole lot of moxie. To all the Iowans that do what others don’t think is possible, this shirt is for you.
Advice to help folks get “unstuck” now?
Life is a challenge right now. Our health, self-esteem, and bank accounts are taking a hit. Don’t judge yourself. This is a great time to reflect and possibly reevaluate your direction. Last year, I designed the T-shirt “Clarity is in the climb”. I think the Red Piglet meaning to this message fits nicely under this question.
Clarity is in the climb: Ahhh, good ol’ clarity. For me, clarity never shows up when I’m taking a stroll down easy street or when I’m coasting downhill. Hell no. Clarity happens when I’m pushing uphill. When I’m pulling myself out of hole. The harder I work towards something or the more I struggle… that’s when things become clear. The climb reminds me what’s important. The climb tells me what things to shed and what things are worth the hard-ass work.
What’s one positive outcome you see coming from this pandemic (for you or for the world)?
I believe all humans will be more grateful for their loved ones and more present in their daily connections. We have the freedom to inspire others with action. Let’s get moving and make the world a better place. Peace and love from Red Piglet.
Photo by Red Piglet
Check out the positive messages in person at Red Piglet open shop weekends in Calmar, Iowa. The remaining 2020 dates are below, and hours are Saturdays (9 am – 3 pm) and Sunday (10 am – Noon). Please follow Red Piglet on social media to double-check that open shop dates are still happening due to COVID-19. And remember, you can always shop online at redpiglet.com