Meet Brent Rodgers and Derek Cadena, the creative couple behind Two Little Fruits. The home and gift brand explores different artistic techniques, mediums, and themes to create products that bring a pop of color and fun into people’s everyday lives. The designs are inspired by their mountain and urban surroundings in Denver, Brent’s obsession with technology, as well as other wondrous things like old toys, tools, bicycle parts, outer space, and science documentaries. For Brent and Derek, art is the most important thing, second only to love — but that doesn’t mean it needs to be taken as seriously. Art can have a sense of humor. It can be dynamic, useful, and affordable.
Brent and Derek shared their story with Bryan McDonald, a Partnerships Manager who joined Faire in 2019 after a stint working on the payments team at Square. Originally from New York, Bryan is now a proud resident of San Francisco by way of Austin. Bryan can often be found drinking too much cold brew, hanging with his dog Radley, or biking up inappropriately steep hills. Outside of Faire, Bryan is the co-founder of wayOUT, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that invests in life saving projects for LGBTQ+ youth.
Bryan McDonald: I’d love to hear a little more about your brand.
Brent Rodgers: Derek and I started dating in 2001. He comes from a fine arts background, an oil painter actually — and I’ve always been creative, but have never done anything except for some high school art classes and little projects around the house. So when we met, it was very natural for us to get creative. In the beginning, we would independently work on projects. Derek would be oil painting, and I would be trying out some new technique with the plethora of art supplies we had since Derek worked at an art supply store at the time. In 2012, we started collaborating on art and started showing our work as Two Little Fruits.
What was the progression like from original art to creating other products?
Brent: Derek was doing original art full time for a couple of years. Then at the end of 2015, I quit my job as an accountant, and we decided that instead of remodeling our kitchen, we should invest that money into Two Little Fruits. We were naive. About six months later, that next June, we decided to try out our first trade show in Dallas. At that time, we were still focused mostly on art prints and magnets, and when we arrived in Dallas, we realized we were in way over our heads. I’m always glad we went, but it was a hard lesson to learn. We wrote one $300 order and came home more defeated than I have ever felt. But we regrouped and decided we needed to have more variety in our line for stores to carry.
Derek Cadena: So after much R&D, we brought in greeting cards, tea towels, buttons, pins, and more recently stickers. Stickers are one of our most popular items. We are continually adding more products.
What does the process look like for creating new art designs for your products?
Derek: It starts with a little research on the subject at hand. I have a near-endless list of animals, plants, objects, ideas, and stories that I want to illustrate. The great thing about this system is that when it’s time to get to work, I already have a list of ideas that piques my interest. Then I read up on the subject and gather images for inspiration. Sometimes it’s photos from our camera roll, but I also pore through the internet.
Once I have the vision and that creative spark, I start drawing on my iPad — this is about when Brent starts adding his input. To most people, this sounds like it would be irritating, but he often sees things that I don’t and always pushes me to be better. Our designs are collages made up of several digital layers — each artwork can have up to 30-40 [layers] as the piece is created. These layers allow me to rearrange each design’s unique elements depending on the product (like a mug, magnet, or sticker). Tea towels are another story — those images are reworked to be suitable for a single color screen print. We never slap the same image on each of our products. While it may be the same “design,” each product is a unique version of the original artwork but still maintains the same spirit as the original design.
Where do you draw the most inspiration from?
Derek: I know it probably sounds a bit trite, but inspiration comes from our daily life and experiences. Something as simple as a stroll through the garden can get creative juices flowing. All of our adventures together inevitably end with us thinking up new ideas and snapping tons of pictures that we can potentially incorporate into future projects. And, of course, we are always inspired by other artists and design companies! Inspiration is endless.
What has been your proudest accomplishment since launching the brand?
Brent: At the beginning of June in 2018, we had an opportunity to join a collaborative artist showroom opening for that summer’s Gift Show at the Las Vegas Market Center. It had been a couple of years since we had failed at our first trade show in Dallas, and we were still super apprehensive about jumping back into the wholesale game. We had worked hard since Dallas to get Two Little Fruits truly wholesale ready. We decided that this was our “sign” that it was time to jump back in.
Derek was busy creating new work for the market and still had to keep up with our production schedule. So that left the catalog and our trade show booth design on my shoulders. I had never really done either of those things, but we didn’t have the budget to hire someone to help. I took on the challenge and learned how to use Adobe InDesign to create our first official catalog, promotional cards, and a mock-up of our booth design. The amount of work we both got done in just a couple of weeks was crazy. We even figured out how to safely fly with our entire line of products — including our ceramic mugs — in checked luggage.
I think many entrepreneurs feel like imposters, especially at the beginning of their careers. I had that feeling in the weeks leading up to the market. Once we landed in Vegas, it was two non-stop days of painting, multiple trips to the hardware store, and IKEA, plus maybe even a few spats in between. But it all came together, and the Two Little Fruits booth looked fantastic and professional! It was one of those instances that made me feel legitimate and proud of the years of work that we had to put in to get Two Little Fruits to that moment.
How did you come up with your name, Two Little Fruits?
Brent: We were trying to come up with a name for our studio when I was still working as an accountant for a property management company. I had a close friend that worked with me there, and after seeing a picture that Derek had painted an orange and apple, he jokingly suggested Two Little Fruits. I thought it was kind of funny and cute. So I ran the name by Derek, just as jokingly as my friend did when I got home that day. At first, we both passed it off as funny, but a no-go. But every time it came back up, it made us smile and laugh about how ridiculous it would be to name our company Two Little Fruits, and it just stuck. All of these years later, it still makes me chuckle inside when I answer the phone, “Two Little Fruits!”
What advice can you each give to other married couples that are in business together?
Brent: For us, it’s about knowing we each have strengths, and those strengths define our roles within the company. Having a shared vision allows us to work independently by focusing on the assets we each bring to the business. We always have to be very mindful of this since we are one of those couples that are attached at the hip, so making sure we each have the space to get our work done can be a challenge.
Derek: We are home-based, so making sure we leave time for non-work talk is essential. Since our studio is located in our backyard, we try to follow the rule that business is only discussed when we are in the studio. Once we are back in the house, work talk stops. It’s Brent, who has the hardest time with this one! Also, reminding each other in hard times that this is supposed to be fun is helpful.
What has inspired you about how the brand community is handling the pandemic?
Brent: The cool thing about our maker community is that we all immediately started reaching out to find out how each other was handling all the new issues the pandemic brought. At first, it was only worrying about our supply chains being affected. Suddenly we had to figure out what government assistance programs made the most sense, what to do with our trade show schedule, and the list of new challenges goes on and on. Our small business peers have been priceless and the best business mentors we could ask for. I don’t think we would have navigated these new waters if it wasn’t for those beautiful people.
Derek: Just having a sense of community is reassuring; we are in this pandemic together. Having a peer group to share information and links to helpful articles is comforting.
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