Scandinavian Hearts for your home
A business full of heart expands with new designs
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Sometimes it is the fate of business consultants that they suddenly say, “What about me? Why can’t I take my advice I’ve been imparting to others and apply it to myself and sell products?” The first rule of a business idea is to find something you’re passionate about. Wendy Jensen of Ballard, Wash., literally and figuratively, poured her heart into her venture. Scandinavian Hearts was born, creating decorative hearts of different materials.
“It’s so humbling to see these people running their small businesses and they’re so passionate, so committed, yet not always seeing the results financially or numbers wise,” said Jensen, who purposely wore a sweater with hearts to the Zoom interview.
“It was more about an impact and having a purpose. I’m telling everybody how to do this stuff. Why am I not doing it for myself? I’ll build a website and I’ll implement what I know as a role model for my clients, showing them that I have skin in the game, too.
“I’ve always loved hearts. I can make heart stuff. I knew hearts were broad and big. What if I make hearts with Scandinavian designs or symbols in them? I love Scandinavian design. That would be fun for me.”
Things have grown significantly with multiple purposes, resulting in tangential ventures and activities and international sales. Wendy has authored two children’s books, Anna and the Scandinavian Hearts (2022) and Anna and the Woven Hearts (2023), both reaching No. 1 on Amazon, and another book is on the way. The common purpose with the different talons of the business is for people to reconnect with their Scandinavian heritage or to learn about it.
She makes heart stickers and creative wood ones, mostly at home,
“I make my ornaments and wooden hanging ornaments at home,” Jensen said. “I have a laser cutter in the basement and my stickers are handmade. I design them and get them printed, from this company here in the United States. My wooden hearts, I just started to have manufactured. I was selling so many ornaments that I couldn’t possibly make enough. Me making ornaments was not scalable.”
Ballard, a large Nordic enclave, was the perfect “location, location, location” to start.
“I live in Ballard, so of course people loved the hearts,” said Jensen. “They got traction. My goal in life isn’t to sell more sweatshirts or sell more coffee mugs. It’s really about making an impact. People would look at these hearts and you could see the emotional connection, the feeling and the stories. I started to think that’s what I want my business to represent and what I want my impact to be. Ballard is where my grandparents immigrated to (grandfather from Norway in the 1930s), where my dad (Loren Jangaard, her inspiration) was raised, and my kids go to the same elementary school as my dad did.”
Why does the heart have a symbolic, “heartwarming” feeling in Scandinavian heritage? It helped Jensen overcome homesickness when she was living in Denmark.
“Looking up in history, it’s hard to find a literal example, but growing up with Scandinavian grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family, it was more of a subconscious thing, something that I didn’t really pinpoint,” she related. “I was teaching marketing at a business college in Denmark. I went through my process of living abroad, being alone, homesick, trying to feel connected. I just started seeing hearts everywhere. I wore this sweater for the interview today. There’s a heart pattern in the knitting. It’s in sweaters, spoons, in the back of the chairs. I started to feel nostalgic and really at home. It made me appreciate and recognize being in my grandparents’ home growing up was the same thing. The rosemaling had the hearts in it. The woven hearts were everywhere. All these little things I was able to make that connection, of the symbolism of the heart, and really feeling connected to my heritage every time I saw a heart.”
There was a business journey to get to where she is, tracks that laid the groundwork for Scandinavian Hearts. She’s still a consultant, helping businesses grow their online presence and increase sales.
During college worked at Nordstrom’s in retail… taught marketing in Denmark and at a travel company in London…Returned to America and worked at Macy’s as a buyer in jewelry and watches for several years. Twenty years ago, hired at Expedia, the large discount travel website, which exposed her to a whole different mode of business.
“I was on the precipice of e-commerce,” said Jensen. “When I was at Macy’s, it was all brick and mortar. There wasn’t a website. Expedia was all e-commerce, all digital. It was such an exciting time because the stuff was all new. We really got to explore and learn about e-commerce, websites, marketing, and email. We got to test stuff. Expedia is such an enormous business that anything that we did made a massive impact on the business. Their traffic is in the millions. If you change something on the website, it made a massive impact the next day. Totally international. We were constantly launching new innovations. It was really fun and rewarding because it was so fast paced and the impact so immediate, an exciting time in my career.”
She took a breath, then said, “Then, I had kids.”
Life happens in between your plans.
“I really adored that process and I really was grateful for that opportunity to have a family that I didn’t want to take it for granted,” she said, “I know how quickly time goes. I wanted to prioritize my family. When I was at Expedia, I was working like 60-hour days, my team was 40 people, I was booking meetings three weeks out. I wasn’t willing to compromise my executive position at Expedia. I started consulting and doing freelance work. I took all the knowledge and expertise I had and helped other people. It was so fun being able to take my knowledge and expertise from this big, ginormous corporate company and use it with these small businesses.”
One of the challenges ethnic groups face is having the younger generations interested in perpetuating the culture and heritage. Jensen’s son, Cole, 10, and daughter, Reese, 8, have worked in the business since they were 7 and 5, respectively, “from the ground up… helping with design… and doing the work.” Then, they share with friends who then familiarize themselves with their heritage or learn about the Scandinavian culture. Another positive byproduct is the children’s relationship with their grandfather.
That was also her motivation to write the books. “This is fun for me, but I asked how do I connect this with my kids?” she said. “There are so many stories to share and I’m so proud of my heritage. These holidays only come once a year. How can I share these stories and connect with more people? That’s where my children’s books came about. I needed to to get another generation involved. That enabled me to go into their classrooms and share with their classes and their friends.”
Another challenge was that hearts are traditionally used as ornaments on the Christmas tree, so customers have to relate to year-round uses. “The hearts, for me, are more about bringing that feeling, hygge, into your home year round,” said Jensen. “I have them hanging in the window sill, in the kitchen, behind the window, in doorways, year round. I tell people, that’s the usage for them, but it doesn’t always translate. A lot of people are really literal.”
Jensen doesn’t see the business with only a Scandinavian market, but the potential for multicultural exchange and understanding.
“Now Ballard is more of a melting pot,” she said. “You see people from all different countries and nationalities here, which honestly, I love and appreciate. That’s how we evolve. I’ve learned so much from other people and I’ve met so many cool people. The restaurants, the shops—they’re fun, different, unique. I also don’t want to lose that piece of the Scandinavian heritage. My dad is getting older and his siblings are getting older. The legacy then falls on me and it was such a sentimental, meaningful piece of my life growing up that I wanted my kids to be able to experience that. So the more that I share our Scandinavian heritage and our community, the more that other people share their heritage and why they’re here. It just creates a lot more love, joy and appreciation.”
Spoken from the heart.
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.