Plywood People

American Made Since 2009

Jeffrey Shinabarger

Atlanta, Georgia
We have a job training program for refugees in Georgia, who create products out of upcycled goods like billboards and coffee sacks.

Tell us about your business.

We started our Billboard Bag project in 2009. We saw that there was a refugee community in need of jobs and we had a product that we were confident would sell. We hired 12 women, and bought 12 sewing machines and got to work. We have a niche market with conferences and events who hire us to create their gift bags for their events. To date, we have created and sold nearly 50,000 products and have trained 20 refugee women. Our goal is to double the workforce and bag production in the next year. We would love to have 12 women in the program, and to be selling 40,000 products a year. Through our job training program we are able to empower and mentor other start-up businesses in the Southeast. People who have great ideas often need to see how others have made their ideas happen, and we act as a resource for other social entrepreneurs who have a passion to see their community made better, and to bring new ideas to life.

What makes your business stand out?

Our Billboard Bag project is unique for 4 reasons: 1. We're environmentally conscious. By using upcycled materials such as billboards and coffee sacks, we are keeping materials out of the landfills and creating a treasure for someone else. 2. We're able to employ [we pay fair wages] and educate women [the women are paid to participate in English and financial training] in the refugee community who need a new start in a new place. 3. We have a unique product with a niche market who love purchasing goods made in the US with a good story behind it. 4. We spend $0 on marketing. Because of our market, the marketing happens when people carry our bags. The majority of our bag sales have happened as a result of people receiving our products at an event, and then placing an order for their company, church, school, or event.

What's the best business advice you've received?

Launch first, tweak later. It's easy to spend so much time tweaking that you never take your product to market, but then you never know if anyone is even interested in your product. Launching then tweaking allowed us to receive the feedback we needed about our product and to make it better, but still be on our way to making the project sustainable.

Mark Your Calendar

  • Nominations
    June 3–Aug. 29, 2014

    Nominate yourself or other aspiring makers.

  • Judging
    June 23–Sept. 8, 2014

    Judges will select finalists throughout this period.

    Meet the judges
  • Online Voting
    Sept. 15–Oct. 13, 2014

    Vote for your favorite American makers.

    See the finalists
  • Winners Announced
    Oct. 17, 2014

    2014 Award Winners and Audience Choice Winner announced.

    See past Award Winners
  • American Made Event
    Nov. 7–8, 2014

    Join us for our annual event in New York City.

    Buy tickets now

More Nominees

  • 2014 Crafts Finalist

    Simply Curated

    Sarah Cooley
    Simply Curated is a candle studio based in Queens, NY that makes 100% soy wax candles in vintage bar ware from the 50's-70's.
    Crafts, Recycled, Upcycled, Vintage Crafts
  • Cracked Candy

    Flora Pringle
    All-natural, sugar free candy that is good for your teeth. It's handmade with the community & uses xylitol from birch trees instead of sugar.
    Food, Sweets & Baked Goods
  • Growing your own food is like printing your own money! I want children to know they can design their own life's. & not the one design for them.
    Food, Agriculture & Sustainability
  • Philpot Arts

    David Philpot
    David Philpot, legendary fine folk artist, is a master carver, staff and walking stick maker. He is also a master mosaicist and collage artist.
    Crafts, Recycled, Upcycled, Vintage Crafts