For as long as she can remember, Yafit Riklin has been creating handmade art.
"When I was eight, I started working with 'lemo,' a material similar to plasticine, to make synthetic ceramics, and by the time I was 14, I was selling my things at festivals all around the country," she explains as her long-haired Persian cat "Koshka" makes herself comfortable on my notebook.
An artist with a propensity to make things people can use and not just put on a shelf somewhere to collect dust, Yafit began by creating big rings, necklaces, ashtrays and mobiles.
"The first things I made seemed pass and na ve after I finished studying at Vital in Tel Aviv, and I honestly didn't think I would return to selling my products," she says.
But after working for one year in a Judaica studio where she designed hanukkiot and mezuzot, Yafit realized she missed doing her own thing.
"It was a nice experience, but it wasn't what I wanted," she recalls. "The problem was, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do or how to do it."
Her inspiration came one day as she meandered through the Carmel market in South Tel Aviv and saw a plain, black leather belt. She took it home and started painting squares on it, each one with a unique color and pattern.
"It came out looking like a comic strip and it took eight hours to make. I remember thinking how strange it felt to be doing something so 'underground,'" she laughs, her bright blue eyes smiling as she shows me the first belt she ever made, now a reminder of where she started just four years ago.
A few stores around Tel Aviv agreed to sell her belts, but they took far too long to make for the price at which they were sold, and Yafit knew she would have to perfect her methodology if she wanted to survive with her artwork.
The technical process she uses today took a long time to develop, and instead of just sitting on top of the leather, now the color actually seeps into the porous skin and is much more durable. Yafit also expanded her product line to include handbags of all shapes and sizes, pet collars, wallets, bracelets and watches imprinted with her graphic designs.
Today, more than 30 stores in Israel carry her designs, and she has two people helping her in the studio with the hand pressing of each item.
Last year, after her artwork began to really take off, her father left his computer business to help her run Tifaarts, taken from "Yafit" spelled backwards.
"I thought when my Dad came in to help that I would have no more paperwork to do," says Yafit. "But it turns out that he's an excellent product designer and he loves to design, so I still have paperwork to do."
In January of 2006, after her work was accepted at the prestigious fashion accessories show held annually in New York, Yafit set up her own booth and flew to the United States to take orders from American buyers.
"This was the project of a lifetime," she says. "It took two months of working day and night to prepare for the show, but it went very well. We have orders from the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and upcoming projects for the National Wildlife Federation. Over 50 stores placed orders, and between me, my cousin and my father, we could barely handle the traffic at our booth."
Yet despite the recent successes, Yafit is a realist at heart and says she knows it will take repeat customers and having representatives abroad to continue her expansion.
"All of the orders are nice, but it's not enough to last forever. They have to continue to place orders in the future. That is the real measure of success," she states.
And one of the things Yafit hopes will keep buyers placing repeat orders is her constant renovation of the products and designs. Not a fan of mass production, she wants to keep the unique, hand-made quality of her work at the forefront by creating only a small number of each item.
She has no idea what direction the future holds, but says she would like to start imprinting shoes and clothing. Trying to keep her head on straight despite the constant growth, she adds that having her Dad around to curb her impulses has been helpful.
"I don't know what the future holds, but I know I love what I do and I want to keep creating new things," she says with the same determination that has brought her so much success in so little time.
For more information, visit www.tifaarts.com or call +972-522-660-250.