Mrs. Fakley's Fun Felt Food sells realistic play food for children. It is based in Gastonia, North Carolina, but is available all throughout the Carolinas. Growing up on the North Carolina/South Carolina border and completing her undergraduate degree at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, owner Lisa Ratchford has roots in both North and South Carolina and sells at vendor shows in both states.
When Ratchford, a full-time teacher, first started creating felt food, she says it was because she has "to have something to do at all times." What began as a hobby that she picked up to keep her hands busy during her son's lacrosse games, quickly turned into a business venture. Colleague Patty Fayssoux describes the moment Ratchford first told her about her new business idea. Fayssoux says, "About a year and a half or so ago, she came to me and she said 'I wanna show you an idea I've got, that I've been doing.'" She continues, "And I went in and it was like 'What idea?' No, you thought it was food there, and it was her felt food."
Ratchford is committed to making her food look realistic because of how strongly she feels about children learning to be creative. She says, “It’s essential that kids be creative because we’re losing that.” She continues, “You’re gonna be creative for the rest of your life. You’re gonna have to figure out solutions to problems, and this is one way to develop that, to encourage that inner sense.”
Ratchford’s products can also be used to ease communication gaps for children with autism. Her brother is autistic, and she explains that, as a child, he had a difficult time communicating to their mother about what he wanted to eat. So, since creating her felt foods, she asked the mother of one of her nonverbal autistic students if this would help them. Ratchford says, “She was all over it.” She continues, “That has created an opportunity where there’s not quite so much conflict.”
Ratchford is passionate about helping children with autism and discusses how she hopes to incorporate that passion into her future shop. “Eventually, I would love to have it at my own shop where I have special needs kids that are actually selling the product, and make it a safe environment for younger kids to come in, so that way the younger kids are getting the experience of working with people who are different from them, and then the people who are different are also getting the experience. They feel like they’re contributing to the community.”
Made Here is a digital series that explores small businesses in South Carolina.