NORRIDGEWOCK — Julie Persons and her daughter Ruby have drawn national attention for her photography project featuring baby chicks and gerbils dressed in hats and costumes.
Chicks in Hats, a photo series of baby chicks dressed in miniature hats, has been featured on BuzzFeed and the “Today” show online. The project, which Persons says started as a hobby, has generated more than 1,400 sales in her shop on Etsy, an online marketplace for art.
Persons, who lives in a farmhouse at the end of a dirt driveway, said that without social media she doesn’t think she would have the success she has with Chicks in Hats and Gerbils in Hats, a sister project.
“We got such a great response. We’re having fun doing it and the results are awesome, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we share the images with more people and see if we can turn it into something that can actually have a return we can make some income on?’” said Persons, 45.
The project started in 2011 when Ruby, now 10, started dressing up the family’s pet gerbils in hats. That year the family also got chicks and decided to try the hats on the chicks.
“It was super cute, so we decided to take photographs of it for fun. We had so much fun with it we decided to do it again,” said Persons.
A professional photographer, she started taking pictures of the animals and posting them online, where they were well received and the duo decided to make it a larger project. They opened an Etsy shop in February 2012 and came up with a line of cards, jewelery and calendars. The items range from about $3 to $20.
The Persons family also gardens, keeps bees and harvests maple syrup on their farm. Ruby and her older brother, Jesse, are home schooled.
The Chicks in Hats project started as something fun, but is a money-maker now, said Persons, although she would not disclose how much income the project generates.
She said the online marketplace is a good option for someone in a rural area.
“Without social media I couldn’t do it. I can live in rural Maine, on a dirt road at the end of a really long dirt driveway and be pretty isolated in a lot of ways but have tens of thousands of people see my images. I can’t imagine doing this 20 years ago without social media and have them be seen in the same way,” she said.
Chicks in Hats is on Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. The Facebook page has more than 3,500 fans. The items are also sold in a handful of local stores including Happy Knits in Skowhegan and Yo Mamas Home in Belfast.
“They’ve been pretty popular. People are always picking them up and ogling them,” said Julie Cooke, owner of Happy Knits, who introduced Chicks in Hats calendars in her store last month.
She said she thinks the popularity is based on a furry animal trend as well as the story behind the project.
“I think the fluffy little chicks are a big draw, wearing the cute hats and all the little things. Everybody likes tiny stuff,” she said. “Plus the story is great. It’s something that she started at home with her daughter but has grown into something much, much larger.”
The one week a year that the family has baby chicks, Ruby helps her mom with the project, putting the hats on the chicks and then letting them go while her mom quickly snaps a picture.
“We work as a team, each of us on one side of the kitchen table. She puts the hats on and jumps out of the shot quickly,” said Persons.
Ruby also gets a return on the profits.
They make about half the hats themselves and the others come from vintage shops or the Mini Milliner, a website that sells miniature hats and accessories.
“Vintage Barbie hats from the 1950s and ’60s are perfect for little chicks,” said Persons, who said she enjoys sharing the project with her daughter.
“The progression has been really fun to watch. It’s like anything is possible,” she said.
Rachel Ohm can be contacted 612-2368 or at: