Running an online shop is a daunting task for any digital artist, with bigger hurdles than most people realize. There are on-demand printing services like Printful or Society6 that can print art on tote bags and T-shirts. But custom-made items like enamel pins or acrylic charms come with production challenges that require finding the right suppliers that specialize in making those items. (Just check out this How It’s Made video that shows how much manual work goes into making enamel pins.)

Indonesian artist Meyoco’s illustrations — which often take inspiration from Japanese pop culture and feature magical anime girls with wavy ocean hair, translucent bottles of Ramune, and Game Boys bursting with garden flowers — are the kind of special art you always want to carry on you and use to decorate everything you own. She regularly restocks her store with charms, enamel pins, and stickers, in addition to selling sweatshirts and prints. Though she takes on the occasional freelance work, her focus is on her store, as it takes up most of her time and is her main source of income.

The Verge spoke with Meyoco about the challenges of running an online store, her best-sellers, and how social media pressures can dictate art style.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

[ONLINE STORE INFO] My online store will reopen on August 31st at 8PM PST! Floral Boys pins, Moon Soda pins, Kitchen pin, and Squeeze pin will be available again!

— meyo STORE REOPENS SUNDAY 8PM PST (@meyoco_) August 30, 2019

How long have you been running your shop? What are the most difficult and rewarding parts of running your business?

I’ve been running my online store since around 2014! It used to be an on / off thing when I was still in university because I couldn’t handle running a store full time. After I graduated in 2017, I decided to start opening my store regularly.

The most difficult part of running my business has always been handling customer service. I’ve never been someone who’s good at communicating with strangers, and getting emails used to give me a lot of anxiety. I would delay replying to order inquiry emails for several days because opening emails terrified me. Thankfully, I’m no longer that fazed by emails, but I still find it to be a source of anxiety.

The most rewarding part of it is finding that people actually want to buy my products. I’ve never been the best at anything — not at art or academics. I know I have a lot of areas to improve, and I’m still thankful that people want to buy the stuff I make. This might come off a bit strange, but I also love packing orders. It can be quite therapeutic.

What has your experience with finding the right suppliers been like?

Finding the right suppliers, to me, involved a lot of trial and error. I’ve changed suppliers several times over the years. For acrylic charms, I changed suppliers four times before settling with my current one. For pins, I changed suppliers twice. For washi tapes, I used to join group orders because the MOQ [minimum order quantity] for washi tapes is a little high. After I gained a bigger customer base, I started ordering washi tapes straight from my go-to supplier so I don’t have to wait for someone to organize a group order.

The first time I started making my own merch for a convention back in 2013, I made acrylic charms and pins using whichever local supplier I could find on the internet. The quality of my first merch was not great. And to be honest, the sales weren’t that good either. Initially, I limited my suppliers to only local suppliers because I wasn’t sure I could afford printing in foreign suppliers. After I started selling my products internationally, I started looking for foreign suppliers that can print better-quality items. It was terrifying at first; I wasn’t sure how to deal with customs fees, and paying hundreds of dollars to make products scared me a lot. However, after I got the hang of it, it was really worth it to see my work printed as good-quality products. Nowadays, I mainly print my products in China, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Over the years, I usually changed suppliers because I was not satisfied with the quality of their work or because I found a better supplier. I also prefer suppliers with good customer service since I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with extremely rude customer service. It really makes my work a lot easier when the suppliers I work with have decent, polite customer service.

Image: Meyoco

Art theft is a rampant issue that a lot of store owners have to deal with, and it seems like your art is especially susceptible to theft. Would you say there’s always risk involved in making things, particularly on sites like Alibaba? Does watermarking help?

I personally have never experienced having my designs sold off by my Alibaba suppliers, but I know that risk always exists with other suppliers. Of course, there’s always a risk in making things. There are untrustworthy suppliers everywhere, so it’s always important to research your suppliers well before making your products with them. From my experience, certain companies will state explicitly that they will not sell your designs, and they can make a contract with you so as to make sure that your design will be kept safe.

To be honest, when it comes to art theft, watermarking doesn’t always help since thieves often simply Photoshop watermarks away. I’m very lucky that my fans are always aware of when someone is selling my art without my permission.

Do most people comply if you ask them to take something down?

I’ve never asked anyone to take anything down considering they never asked for my permission in the first place. Honestly, I don’t even mind reposting without credit anymore because it just happens way too often, which is why I always use watermarks. However, when someone tries to profit from it, I try to blast them on my social media. After that, they will usually take my stolen stuff down.

What would you say is your trademark style?

I think my trademark style these days is clean line art with flat colors and plain, pastel-colored backgrounds. I also tend to use the same themes over and over again, such as florals and waves, so they become a part of my style. I also tend to use the same colors, especially pink, so I think it’s become part of my trademark style as well.

Image: Meyoco

Where do you take inspiration from?

I mostly take inspiration from things that I like or bring me joy. I’ve always loved flowers because they’re fascinating and fun to draw. They can be drawn with pretty much anything. I love drawing game consoles because they’re a part of my childhood. I also find them to be really fun to draw and combine with other objects, such as flowers or maybe even Ramune sodas! Rather than being inspired, I think I draw mostly because I want to have fun drawing things that I like.

What’s the art community in Indonesia like? Do you participate in a lot of cons?

I feel like the art community in Indonesia, particularly its pop art community, is flourishing. There are so many good artists with incredible artworks here. The downside is that there are a ton of petty fights and people trying to bring each other down. There are people who will hate on each other for the most ridiculous, petty reasons. People will pretend to be your friend, then gossip about you behind your back. It’s very difficult finding people you can trust. It’s very uncomfortable, and, to be honest, I don’t like interacting with my local peers unless it’s with people I absolutely trust.

I haven’t participated in local cons for quite a while. The last time I participated in a local con, I had a lot of bad experiences, particularly from convention organizers who didn’t seem to think of their tenants and visitors as anything but a source of money. There were issues of sexual harassment, rampant theft, and overcrowding as well. I didn’t want to waste my money going to cons that I can’t enjoy, so I decided to just focus more on my online store.

[ONLINE STORE INFO] My online store will reopen on August 31st at 8PM PST! Sky Ramune charms, Witch Hat charms, Fluff and Roll charms, and MS Plant charms will be available again!

— meyo STORE REOPENS SUNDAY 8PM PST (@meyoco_) August 30, 2019

What are some items that sell really well? Are there any specific kinds of things people are looking for, and do you take that into consideration when you make things?

People really, really like enamel pins! It’s always surprising to me since enamel pins aren’t cheap to make and sell. I just started selling sticker sets, and those are really selling well, too. Of course, I take this into consideration whenever I make new items. People also love game console- and drink-themed merch, which is a good thing because I love designing products with those themes as well.

You’ve warned other artists before about the dangers of equating social media metrics to self-worth. Can you explain a little bit more about that? Is it coming from your own experience?

Back in 2013, I started using social media to share my art because I had very low self-esteem. I felt like none of my past acquaintances liked my work, and I thought I should start afresh by deleting all my past accounts and making an art account that none of my acquaintances know of. I thought getting the approval of strangers who didn’t know me surely matters more than getting the approval of my past acquaintances. It was really petty, but it was my main motivation back then.

I ended up getting more and more traction over the years, which helped heighten my self-esteem. Sometime in 2017, I felt like I was starting to hit a wall. I wasn’t getting as many likes as I wanted, which made me feel like I wasn’t working hard enough to earn more likes and followers. Social media metrics started dictating my happiness. I would obsess over the number of likes in each of my posts. I thought people would see me as a failure if they noticed that the number of likes on my posts isn’t as high as I want. Over time, my mental health grew worse as a result.

Around this time, I fell into a slump. It felt extremely difficult to just draw anything that I like because I will always get stressed over whether my audience will like it. I eventually decided to completely change my style to fit what my audience liked. I stopped doing watercolors because I felt like my audience doesn’t like my watercolor artworks. I completely switched over to digital coloring, and I started drawing more objects instead of just people.

I don’t regret changing my style, nor am I embarrassed that my audience’s approval matters that much to me. But it’s not something I would wish on other artists. My self-worth relies too much on social media metrics, and it’s not healthy, which I’m still working to deal with.