Cuddly teddy bears by Chase & Charlie are creative outlet for Story City's Laura Severson
When new customers first pick up a teddy bear, lamb or rag doll made by Chase and Charlie, they tend to exclaim about how amazingly soft and cuddly they are.
Laura Severson is the creative force and owner behind the Story City-based company she runs out of a workshop in her home.
She started her business in 2018 with her sister, Stephanie Unruh of Nevada.
“We’re both creative, so we decided to have a business on the side,” said Severson, who also works full-time as the foundation coordinator at Bethany Life in Story City.
The business is named after Severson’s son, Charlie, and Unruh’s daughter, Chase.
At the beginning of 2020, Severson’s sister needed to take a step back from the business as her family was building a new home, and Laura decided to forge ahead by herself.
“It’s been an amazing creative outlet for me, and I really enjoy doing it,” she said. “Working at the nursing home was pretty stressful in 2020, so I took that time to ask myself what I really wanted to do.”
The business started with ultrasoft baby blankets, but Severson was interested in making stuffed animals, too.
“I started working on patterns for that, and it just became this great way to come home and de-stress,” she said.
The first new product was a ragdoll-style teddy bear, with lanky arms and legs that make it perfect for a young child to grab ahold of.
Severson branched out from there and, inspired by her Christian faith, added a lamb to the product lineup.
“I tried to make things that would be a nice baptismal gift or special occasion gift,” she said.
She uses similar body styles to create the animals as well as baby dolls.
A product she calls a lovey is a soft blanket body and the head of a bear, lamb or doll.
“It’s something that’s perfect for smaller hands. It combines the blankety soft thing with just a little bit of the doll,” Severson explained.
Chase and Charlie products are for sale at Creative Endeavors in Story City
Severson started with an Etsy store and the bears quickly became a popular item.
But buying online doesn’t do justice to the products, she said, because feeling them is believing.
“I use the most luxurious, softest, minky fabrics from the Shannon brand,” she said. “The cost of the fabric does make them kind of expensive items, but they’re completely handmade and they’re made from one of the best fabrics out there.
“I could use cheaper material, but I want it to be something that’s going to hold up and something special that somebody’s going to hang on to forever.”
Chase and Charlie products are available at Creative Endeavors, a retail store in downtown Story City, as well as from the Chase and Charlie website, chaseandcharlie.com.
“Customers who shop locally get about 30% off the cost of buying online, since I don’t have to charge for shipping,” Severson said. “Also, I gift box and gift wrap all of the online orders, so I save that cost as well when people buy locally.”
She is looking for other retail businesses to sell her products, as well.
Getting her products into Creative Endeavors in downtown Story City was a game-changer for Severson.
“I saw that they were opening and that they wanted to connect with local artisans, so I took the chance to reach out to them,” she said of Christina Morton and Cassie Dewey, the mother-daughter duo who own Creative Endeavors. “They were like, ‘Oh, absolutely!’ That’s been nice for people in the community so you can actually get your hands on my products.”
Severson also can do custom embroidery on her own products or on items customers bring to her.
Upbringing taught Severson confidence and creativity
Severson credits her upbringing with giving her the confidence and creativity to run her own business.
“I grew up on a farm, and my parents did everything. It didn’t matter what the project was, they figured out how to do it and then they did it,” she said. “That has instilled in me that I can figure out how to do it.”
Severson grew up between Colo and Nevada. Her parents are Bob and Liz Meimann. Liz has a long-arm quilting business in her home called A Quilted Memory.
Severson wasn’t necessarily all that interested in sewing when she was a kid. But when her own children started needing Halloween costumes and those kinds of things, she decided to go back to the basics her mom had taught her.
Severson is learning photography to market her products online as well as the many technical capabilities of the machinery she uses to cut her patterns and stitch her embroidery designs. Her equipment has 10 needles, which allows for multi-color embroidery work.
“This brings me the pleasure of making something unique, and people reach out to me with custom requests,” Severson said.
For example, the author of a children’s book about a platypus placed a custom order with Chase and Charlie to design and create a plush form of her main character.
Severson also creates memory bears, using a family’s material – maybe from a sweater or a dress – to create a stuffed animal in honor of their loved one.
“Recently I created three bears for a gal who wanted to give something special to her grandkids,” she said. “It was special to be able to create those memories for them to have forever.”
Laura and her husband, Grant, have three boys, Jerry, 10, Henry, 7, and Charlie, 4. All of the boys are interested in the workings of the machines and software their mom uses. And they are her personal focus group for her new products.
“When I made the lamb, I gave it to them and asked, ‘OK, what do you guys think of this?’” she said.
They’re honest with their critiques, but they’re always interested in keeping the ones they reject, she said.