Tell us about your business.I started my business with $300 in the winter of 2010 following a job layoff in New York City. I started off making hand printed napkins, but in almost four years I've expanded my brand to include hand painted wood bowls, melamine dinnerware, and home textiles. My design process takes a lot of cues from the fashion industry and I mix natural elements with modern sensibilities. I'm a huge fan of the bright colors, clean lines, and bold prints from the late 50s and early 60s so those elements can be seen throughout my work. My business has grown from a part-time hobby to help pay for groceries to my full-time job. I largely do the work myself, but I've been able to hire artisans to help me a current projects and plans for the future. I see myself expanding from a largely boutique business to major market competitor. The moment that I started my business was to fill a need. I have dealt with issues of hunger, homelessness and underemployment so for me it was necessary.
Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.My studio in the Schmidt Artists Loft in Saint Paul, Minnesota is literally a dream come true. The Schmidt Artists Lofts used to be the home of the old Schmidt Brewery in Minnesota. My live/workspace has everything in it that I need to take my business worldwide... and it really had to be for me to leave New York City. I have a work area and drying racks for my wood pieces, and a separate room that I use to work on my textiles. I even have a photo backdrop set up to take photos. There are separate studio spaces on the property, as well as a production space for ceramics which I plan to use for holiday. Here I'm able to experiment with my craft and open up new avenues for my business. I open my studio up twice a year for the Saint Paul Art Crawl, and occasionally for wholesale buyers.
What inspires you?I grew up watching old movies from when my mother and aunt were young so a lot of that comes out in my work. When I need a creative "reboot" I watch old movies like "Sex and the Single Girl", "How to Marry a Millionaire", or "Lover Come Back."
What makes your business stand out?My products are equal parts art and function, and I think that translates well to a lot of different home styles. My work is different, but not overly styled which is why it has gained so much notice in magazines and blogs. To this point, I've done next to no promotion but I manage to spend all of my waking hours on my business. When asked about my business I say, "I make housewares for happy people" and to that I put a lot of time and effort into a positive brand message. For me it's not just my business, it's my life. I'm continually searching for better and more efficient ways to improve my business, as well as my quality of life. I'm really thankful that people enjoy my work and I'm so grateful to them for supporting me.
What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?I think that 90 percent of success is just showing up and the last 10 percent is talent. Most people think it's the other way around and that it's necessary to have talent to succeed, yet there's so much more evidence to the contrary. For a long time I was afraid to show up and afraid of looking foolish. During the last depression I looked for a full-time job for two years, but all I found was how to fold a stack of sweaters at Banana Republic and how to skip meals to save money. My take home pay for 2009 while living in squalor in Harlem was a little under $12k for the year. I took a hard look at my negative balance and realized that there was one thing I feared more than looking foolish: starving. If the way your life is right now is so uncomfortable, you have to change. You have to start. Not everything is going to be a home run and good things are shaped over time in public. If you want to be an entrepreneur your only aspiration should be action.
What does American Made mean to you?Personally, I've lost two positions to overseas outsourcing and another to corporate down sizing. More than half of my working life has been during a negative economic climate so I know what it means to families, business, and individuals. Today, my ability to provide jobs in the U.S. and support the local economy is really important to me. When I work with a contractor for a fair wage, I know that because of my business her kids get to have Christmas and household bills are paid. That's a blessing.
Mark Your Calendar
NominationsJune 3–Aug. 29, 2014
Nominate yourself or other aspiring makers.
JudgingJune 23–Sept. 9, 2014
Judges will select finalists throughout this period.Meet the judges
Online VotingSept. 15–Oct. 13, 2014
Vote for your favorite American makers.Vote now
Winners AnnouncedOct. 17, 2014
2014 Award Winners and Audience Choice Winner announced.See past Award Winners
American Made EventNov. 7–8, 2014
Join us for our annual event in New York City.Buy tickets now