Audience Choice Award Winner Chase Allen Reflects on his experience at Martha Stewart's American Made awards and summit.

Winning the Martha Stewart American Made Audience Choice award was so thrilling. There were the obvious perks, such as the $10,000 grand prize, the all-expenses paid trip to New York City, the chance to meet Martha Stewart and tour her headquarters, the heightened exposure for my handcrafted coastal metal sculptures. But upon arrival to the awards weekend, I soon realized that I'd overlooked the most important perk of all.

I realized that I was finally surrounded (quite literally) by like-minded creative entrepreneurs. I work and live on a very small and bridge-less island called Daufuskie, and the truth is, I don't come into contact with too many people who have that risk-taking mind-set found in entrepreneurs or that creativity that oozes out of artists and artisans. Meeting people with both of these talents is very rare for me.

I have visitors stopping by my Daufuskie Island Iron Fish Gallery every day to see my work, and they often say a quick congratulations on being a successful "maker." I often don't understand what it is about my work that impresses people. Since creating coastal sculptures from steel is what I've been doing professionally now for 14 years, these responses fall on deaf ears. Simply put, this is my job. I don't see myself or my career as anything special, so the majority of the time, I don't realize why people seem so impressed with what it is that I do.

Well, thanks to the American Made Awards Summit, I have a slightly better understanding of what it is my visitors are seeing. I spent a decent amount of time with the other winners during the weekend, and we toured what I like to call "Martha's world" together. We also rehearsed together, waited together, stayed at the same hotel, shared cabs, etc. In other words, we had plenty of time to swap stories and "trade secrets," and to say I learned a lot would be an understatement. I found myself so enamored with everyone's stories of success and quickly became "impressed." I was seeing in others what others see in me.

Hard work, creativity, intelligence, risk-taking, vision, and good ol' stubborn persistence are very special abilities that all of the winners had in common. These makers not only create, they also tackle headfirst the not-so-sexy sides of being a "maker," such as marketing, accounting, sourcing, shipping, website management, displays, communications, public relations, and more. I now conclude that what my customers are most impressed with and inspired by is the fact that where millions of people have the ability to make things, only a fortunate few are able to create a real business out of making those things. Now, I wake up and pinch myself, knowing I am lucky to be one of those few, and feeling honored to have been surrounded by so many other inspiring makers.


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