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Turning castoffs into cat joy

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Melissa Boyle commutes to work by walking into the craft room of her tidy, updated Hillside home. There she takes used items and "upcycles" them into interactive cat toys - a product line from her business, Marvelous Melissa. "I'm sure it's not how my parents envisioned me using my expensive four year degree in environmental studies," says Boyle. But after ten summers of being the "craft lady" at summer camp on Lake Michigan combined with her environmental awareness, Boyle's vocation does seem to fit her.

The "darn!socks" toy mice are made from worn wool socks, crinkly plastic, wool lint(a by-product of sweater manufacturing) organic cat nip, "...and pistachio shells for a bone crunch," adds Boyle. "Then I use an old shoelace for the tail." The only material she ends up buying is button thread. "Sometimes I find some at estate sales; it's hard to find

stores that stock pink or turquoise."

And the details, such as the right color thread, matter. "I always say that if the cats did the shopping, I wouldn't have to make them look so cute and perfect. But since the humans have the money..." she trails off with a good-natured shrug.

Boyle has polished the look of her mice products over the years, but admits she didn't grow up a cat person. "An abandoned cat followed me home in high school and charmed my whole family." She laments that so many people have preconceived notions about cats being elusive. "Cats definitely have personalities," says Boyle, whose own cats (one rescue, one hand-me-down) lay in a craft room basket, "talk" to her and try to make

off with unfinished mice.

But before you mistake this entrepreneur as a crazy cat lady, Boyle takes her toys very seriously. She's worked with business starter groups like the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund's C.R.E.A.T.E program and their Northland Flavor wholesale market. With her new knowledge, she invested in some quality marketing materials featuring her tagline: "Reincarnated fun for felines and their friends."

"When I was at the Living Green Expo and a store rep approached me, I was able to hand them my wholesale pamphlet showing my different product lines of cat toys, beds, mittens and the felted wool slippers I make from recycled sweaters," says Boyle. "It felt very professional."

Marvelous Melissa mice can be found locally at Green Mercantile, Art Dock,

Electric Fetus and at art fairs such as the upcoming Lake Superior Harvest Festival and Chester Bowl Fall Fest. Through the magic of the Internet the mice have migrated around the world. "I have wholesale clients in Arizona, Minneapolis, Michigan and even Singapore," says Boyle. "And with my Etsy shop,( they've gone just all over."

Melissa is always on the lookout for raw materials. "I eye up friends and let them know that their socks are sort of getting holey," she smiles. On Boyle's behalf, the Green Mercantile collects used wool socks donations. "Most of the time it's just an anonymous bag of socks," says Boyle, "I wish people would put a note in there so I could thank them." She understands it's the generosity of folks who take the time to recycle that keeps her in a business that she, and her cat customers, love.