By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks
Liz Barnes, owner and founder of Ear in the Envelope in downtown Peoria, sells a unique product – food safe aluminum art materials.
Liz graduated from Illinois State University with a Metals and Glassblowing major. “I love the sculptural aspects of art,” she said. After college she began to teach art classes at private schools around Illinois. She discovered a business opportunity while teaching a handicapped student. “He could use one arm just fine, but it was a little bit more difficult to use the other one.”
Liz started looking around for something that her student could do without much strain or worry about using both arms. “And that’s how I found metal stamping.” But, Liz wanted to stay away from sterling silver because it was so expensive, so she looked for another metal that was more affordable. “I went on the internet and began searching for different metals. I found copper, but then I also found aluminum.” The quality of the aluminum that Liz found wasn’t suitable so she began asking around different aluminum companies to order some higher quality metal.
The companies thought she was going to make jewelry so many of them didn’t think that she would need as much as she wanted and as a result wouldn’t respond to her requests. So, Liz called again but this time she said she was “Joe’s Sculptural Fountains,” which she believed that a sculptor needing a lot more than a 5”x5” square of aluminum would be more convincing. “I didn’t believe I would be ordering truckloads of it then like I am now.” When they would call back, she would answer: “Yes this is Joe’s wife, I know what he’s looking for,” Liz said with a laugh.
As her business began to grow, Liz found it more and more difficult to produce all the different products that people wanted. At first we tried to keep everybody happy,” Liz said, “but we found that we were almost always overloaded so we had to change.” To keep most of the customers happy, Liz and her business began selling only the most popular products on Etsy.
Currently, Liz and her business are also working with other companies who are good at punching out different shapes such as hearts in the metal. “We send our food safe aluminum out to them and they punch it for us.” She also credits a lot of the work in her business to her employees. “We have such a great team, they really have a good eye for improving.”
Liz doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand her business, but she’s confident in her team’s abilities. “I think if I did decide to get bigger I would have such a great team to help me,” she said. “All my employees are very dedicated and work very hard to do well. I don’t want to be the McDonald’s of the metals field.”
Despite being a smaller business, Ear in the Envelope is growing and adding new customers. “We sell internationally as well as around the United States,” Liz said. The business sells to countries such as Australia, Ireland, UK, Sweden, and Switzerland. Surprisingly, however, Liz does not get a lot of business locally. “Most of our products are sent out of state, California and Oregon being our largest consumers in the United States, and there are other pockets around the country as well.”
Liz is also offering metal stamping classes in the fall at Ear in the Envelope. She also teaches a class with (special metal clay) [link], a clay made out of powdered silver or bronze.
For more information about events at the Ear in the Envelope, visit their Facebook page. You can view and purchase Ear in the Envelope’s products on their Etsy page at www.etsy.com/shop/gottagettadeal.