Innovation

Is that a laptop in your monster or does it just want to eat me?

When you finally get ready to ditch your boring, corporate-black laptop sleeve, Barry and Katie of Barry's Farm will help you dress up your laptop as a furry monster or goofy robot. We chat with the company founders.

When you finally get ready to ditch your boring, corporate-black laptop sleeve, Barry and Katie of Barry's Farm will help you dress up your laptop as a furry monster or goofy robot.

Barry's Farm

Okay, I know many IT pros don't feel comfortable sporting a Cookie-Monster look-alike laptop at work, but the hilariously tongue-in-cheek "Nine-to-Five" laptop sleeve completely won me over with its stuffed-shirt, buttoned-down vibe. I'd even carry the furry blue monster sleeve up and down TechRepublic's hallowed hallways, and not just to see the looks on the faces of my fellow editors either. Honestly? I think these products are cute, and I'm lucky enough to work in an office environment where wacky and cute aren't fireable offenses. Plus, I get paid to write about silliness on the periphery of IT, so last week I shot Barry's Farm a gushy fangirl e-mail, complete with a list of nosy questions about their online enterprise. Today I received the following generous reply. Enjoy.

Barry's Farm

Who are the "we" of Barry's Farm? Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your company? When and how did you get started?

Barry's Farm is cultivated by Barry and Katie, who love monsters, peanut butter, and Eugene Levy (and his eyebrows). Barry's got a knack for T-shirt design and Katie sews up the cutest bags.

At the time we started, Katie was working her first real job in the corporate world while Barry was finishing art school. Katie had just gotten a new sewing machine (she has been a seamstress since she was really young) so she was sewing up some cool stuff for her friends & family.

Barry had a combined interest in Web design and development, so it seemed natural to build a site that featured Katie's sewn goods. Katie made the very first monster sleeve for two reasons: 1) Barry was going out of town and didn't have anything to protect his laptop; and 2) he didn't want a generic neoprene sleeve. The first sleeve was actually made with a flannel lining that featured a print of women golfers. It was kind of weird. We put it on the site thinking that people would think they were funny, but not many people would actually buy them. We were wrong.

Within two weeks the golfer sleeve was featured on a couple of huge techy blogs and we were getting contacted by TV stations. It was crazy. Eventually Katie quit her job and was sewing full time.

We live in Champaign, Illinois. Some people think we actually live on a farm. We don't. We're completely surrounded by them, though. Maybe we're in denial.

Barry's Farm

I love your designs! The 9-5 sleeve, the robot, the keytar, and the monster sleeves in particular. Can you say a little about the inspiration behind these products and the responses you've received from users so far?

We're really two big kids at heart. When we're not fulfilling orders or responding to customer e-mails we're playing Guitar Hero or putting together Lego sets (we've both got a strong Lego addiction). We were both born in the early 80's, so some of our inspiration comes from nostalgia (like the keytar), and some of it is related to what we liked as kids. A lot of it just comes from talking about stuff we think is cool.

It's kind of like this:

Katie: You know what's cool? Monsters! Barry: We should make something that has to do with monsters! Katie: Okay! Barry: You know what's cool? Robots!

Whoa. Four exclamation points in a row. You'd think we're shouting all the time. On second thought, that seems about right.

The inspiration is a combination of doing stuff we think is fun & what people are asking for. We kind of use our own judgment when creating new products. If we would buy it for ourselves, then we'll carry it.

The key aspect to our products is that they are all completely unique. The concepts are new, and each item is handmade. We don't want to produce anything you could get anywhere else and we don't ever want to mass-manufacture anything.

Successful commercial artists, like writers, tend to have a very strong sense of their audience/market. How would you describe your demographic?

We see a pretty wide range of people ordering our stuff - techy people, doctors, schoolteachers - but all with the same cute aesthetic & sense of humor. Our customers are like us... a little bit off. We've never done any advertising, but we've gone to a handful of indie craft shows. We do real well at those. If there's one core set of people who like our stuff, it's the crowds at indie craft fairs.

We also seem to do really well in Europe. It might have something to do with Barry's ability to do a British accent.

I got a huge kick out of the post on your blog that described the 9-5 sleeve as "PC dress for your Mac." Many of our members on TechRepublic are PC users, however. Would you consider designing a sleeve that was "Mac dress for your PC" and if so, what would it be like?

That's great! The 9-5 sleeve kind of started out of a joke. At the time we just had our monster sleeve available, and we had a lot of people contacting us saying that they absolutely loved it but couldn't justify getting one because it wouldn't fit their corporate office atmosphere. So we came up with the 9-5 sleeve, because we wanted something that kind of made fun of that attitude, but could be considered more work appropriate.

People kind of attached the "Mac vs PC" commercials to it, probably because a good percentage of our customers are Mac users. So we kind of ran with it.

If we came out with one for a PC user who wanted their laptop to look like a Mac, we're not exactly sure what we'd do. (We're both Mac users.) Black turtleneck and jeans a la Steve Jobs? Could we work his almost-beard in there?

Have you received any requests for custom sleeves? What's the strangest laptop sleeve you've ever created (that we don't see on the site)?

We do the occasional custom sleeve, mostly for friends, and almost always as a surprise. Sometimes those become products that we end up selling. Our unicorn sleeve is a result of that. We made one for a friend of ours because she has a love / hate relationship with unicorns, almost to the point that they freak her out. So we made her something that can remind her of that fear every day.

At one time we did a little accessories pack for the monster sleeve. It was like Mr. Potato Head for your laptop sleeve. It came with a mustache, a bow, some eyebrows, & some other cool stuff — all that the customer could attach to their monster. It's not something that ever made it to the store, but it was pretty creative.

Probably the strangest thing that Katie has sewn is a dishtowel featuring an unforgettable image of Tim Curry!

Do you both work on Barry's Farm products exclusively now, or does Barry still work in Web design/development today? I do think many IT pros have a strong creative bent, and it's always fascinating to learn how one's peers have managed to combine their technical and creative impulses in a unique way.

Barry is the lead technical at a creative agency in Champaign called SURFACE 51. None of the people there really have a job title, but sometimes he gets referred to as a Web designer (design and development). In many ways, I think design and development are the same. Be it building a database schema or designing a logo, they're both about coming up with creative solutions.

View an image gallery of my favorite Barry's Farm laptop sleeves.

All photos courtesy of Barry's Farm.

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