What first hatched 11 years ago as a class project at Kansas State University has taken on a colorful and quirky life of its own, Sally Linville said.
“We ask people to think a lot about their names,” Linville, founder and creative director of The City Girl Farm, said of the surprisingly important (and often sentimental) process of naming the company’s signature chicken footstools — which quickly become members of a customer’s family.
“There are a lot of collectors that will adopt chickens for their family members. They’ll get them for all of their grandchildren.”
When Linville made her first pair of stools in a K-State furniture studio as graduation neared, she had no idea she was scratching the surface of a full-fledged (and feathered) career — let alone a 25-person operation near West Plaza in Kansas City.
“People kept asking about them and I just kept making chickens,” she recalled. “[Significant] studio growth has happened in the last five or six years. … It’s definitely been organic. We just take one thing at a time and when something comes up we try and figure out how to deal with it — and we’ve learned a lot along the way.”
One of such lessons includes the importance of collaboration with other area makers; most recently in the form of a partnership with Whitney Manney, locally-stitched fashion designer, maker, and owner/curator of the WHITNEY MANNEY (WM) fashion and accessories line.
“I’m very unaware of people knowing who I am,” Manney laughed, detailing the surprise call she received from Linville and Carly Pumphrey, co-creative director, last summer — five-years after meeting Linville at a Creative Mornings Kansas City meeting.
“They were always on my radar [and] I would see their stuff a lot. … To be able to [collaborate and] take the WM aesthetic into something that’s functional, but not wearable was exciting to me.”
Meet the WM Flock
- Little Joyce is put together and sophisticated — always paying attention to the details
- Little Deanna is knitted from merino wool and the color name is Barbie … how perfect for a WM moment? I gave her to that auntie because she has always been the girly girl
- Little Bonnie has a fabulous tail and marbled denim. she’s a little spicy … like my auntie
- Little Dee Dee has a fierce updo and is incredibly vibrant
- Little Ann seems reserved but has her upbeat and bold side
- Little Michelle is like the uber-cool chicken that’s always super poppin’
- Little Frankie is a treasure rooster named after my dad. I think it’s kind of cool that he is made from the pieces of all [of] the collection. He is a big support system for all of us and carries us with him daily
The trio’s work ultimately resulted in “The Flock that Raised Me” — a nine-piece collection of footstools, which range in size and drew inspiration from Manney’s upbringing.
“I’m really thankful that they didn’t just outright tell me no to anything. They were very open,” Manney said of the design process which produced neon-colored pieces using various bold prints and an array of fabrics.
“All the chickens are named after my family members — the big and the little, Kaye and Geneva Jean; Kaye is my mom; and Geneva Jean is both of my grandmas. I used everybody’s middle names or nicknames,” she explained.
“The little flock is [named after] my aunties and then there’s a treasure chicken — that’s my dad. … It was pretty easy to give them names — and I made sure I did it right. I didn’t want to start no fights with nobody at future family gatherings.”
Click here to read more about Manney and her success in Kansas City’s maker space.
The flock quickly flew the coop, Pumphrey noted. Only two — ranging in price from $2,300 to $3,200 — remained in stock at the time of publication.
“We’ve never had a chicken not find a home. And that’s kind of an amazing aspect to [this business.] Somewhere in the world this crazy thing is going to find its perfect home — and that was proven when we launched this collection, because business picked up right away,” she said.
A partnership with the Crossroads Hotel put the flock on full display earlier this month, further generating interest in the pieces, which might have otherwise been lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions on craft shows and other social gatherings like First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District, Pumphrey added.
“They reached out to us for the first time in January of 2019. They just opened and said, ‘Our hotel embraces Kansas City makers and entrepreneurs, would you ever want to show chickens in the atrium,’” she recalled.
“Since then we’ve done it a handful of times — and, actually, it was almost exactly a year ago when we were going to do our second or third of showing but had to take them all home because of COVID. [The WM Collection] was a fun kind of homecoming.”
As the results of the collaboration continue to prove themselves and the COVID-19 pandemic begins to show signs of weakness, The City Girl Farm hopes the sun continues to rise on its newfound spirit of collaboration through partnerships with other makers — though no official plans have been laid just yet, Linville said.
“I’m all hopped up on this idea of collaboration and we’ve learned so much about what it takes to really do it well. … We’re both Kansas City-based. I have so much respect for Whitney [especially as] an artist — and working to make a place for her aesthetic and her life here in Kansas City,” she said in reflection of the company’s inaugural partnership collection and its growth over the past decade.
“There was so much learning and it’s such a blessing that they were so well received once we actually put them out the door. … It’s just so awesome to have that powerful response from our collectors and new collectors. … I think everybody just enjoys coming together.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.