In which I go through all 63 pages of the Martha Stewart nominees so you don’t have to.
The Martha Stewart American Made Summit is coming up (last year’s recap!) and with that comes voting for the American Made Awards. I have a huge amount of respect for the time and attention devoted to promoting American made across all MSL channels and always look forward to seeing the finalists.
But, there are 63 pages of finalists, and the categories are helpful but not always clear, so I find the user experience to be a bit overwhelming.
To make it a little easier for all of you and to better support my favorite makers, I spent some time going through each and every page this week… and quickly realized many TAE A-List vendors were finalists! As a reminder, the A-list features my favorite brands – brands that I personally buy, recommend and have experienced myself. These are some of my very favorite brands and makers, and I’ll be happily voting for all of these finalists over the next month… I hope you will join me!
You can vote up to 6 times a day, but you do have to register. The A-list nominees, in alphabetical order:
Looks like voting will keep me busy this month! Let me know if you are attending the Summit this year… I haven’t decided yet, but would love to meet you if I do end up going!
*Note – Food purveyors are a huge focus for Martha Stewart but are not included on TAE. I think the craft food movement is incredible and support it as much as I can, but it is not a focus for this site. I also only included true makers as opposed to stores and resellers. If I inadvertently left an A-list brand that is also a finalist for the MSL Awards off of the list, please let me know!
Hopewell Workshop was founded by long time friends Eliza Kenan and Claire Oswalt. Eliza, an art director and quilter, & Claire, an artist, launched a design studio where they planned to brand, package, and create products. That business wasn’t quite right, but that year they decided to make 12 quilts and sell them during the holidays. Though not ready for sale till after Christmas, the 12 quilts that they made became Hopewell Workshop’s first one of a kind collection, released in January 2013. The name (and general mindset) of the studio comes from the Hopewell Exchange System, a Native American trade route through which materials were transformed into handmade goods and then traded.
Claire and Eliza have since expanded into additional quilts and pillows – the Hopewell aesthetic is a brilliant mix of simple, classic, and fun. The bright colors, clean lines and clever prints make the pieces something anyone would be happy to have in their home.
I stopped by the Hopewell Workshop when I was last in LA and had a chance to speak with Claire and Eliza about their work and their passion for local, ethical manufacturing (they had an amazing list of other LA makers I’ve been following ever since!). Read on for more… Thanks, Claire & Eliza!
TELL ME ABOUT WHAT YOU DO:
We are making heirlooms for the future. Handmade but simple. These will last forever.
We love that we make functional (Eliza), beautiful (Claire) things. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Quilts are the epitome of function and beauty – if women hadn’t made them beautiful many years ago, they wouldn’t exist today.
WHAT MAKES YOUR QUILTS SPECIAL?
We hit on something that’s not in the marketplace. But we know why it’s not in the marketplace! It’s difficult to teach others how to make our quilts – it is a twelve step process.
We made it difficult for ourselves – but in some ways that is good because it is also difficult for imitators to create a lower end version. The bit of ignorance that we had going into it was the blessing that has gotten us this far.
WHY DO YOU MANUFACTURE IN THE USA?
When we launched, Bangladesh had just happened. We were nervous about outsourcing. We wanted to keep our ethics in tact. We don’t take the easy route. We had to try it – and make it work. People are starting to care about made in the USA. We can make a difference.
We care about what we buy. We believe in a local economy and less environmental impact. America is young and quilts are a deep part of American history. Our families have quilted for generations. Staying here felt right.
It also allows us to make sure our products meet our standards – quality control would be incredibly difficult overseas. We like to see the people we work with – we get to know them and build relationships with them.
WHAT EXCITES YOU?
Eliza: Not knowing what’s next. Excitement + nervousness + anxiety are often the same thing… you just have to trust the process.
Claire: Color. Feedback from our fans.
I’ve always tried to use natural products whenever possible, while simultaneously valuing efficiency, effectiveness, and design/ease of use. We switched to Method products for our home years ago and I hadn’t given them a second thought until Goop sent out this home detox guide… and I realized that (according to the EWG) most of my favorite Method items weren’t actually that clean. I started to research new cleaners and was instantly overwhelmed… but then in a happy, fortuitous coincidence, I received an email introduction to Common Good that very day!
Common Good is a line of 100 percent biodegradable household cleaners in glass and plastic bottles, candles and gift sets that are made in the US and completely eco-friendly. Prior to founding Common Good, Sacha Dunn and her husband, Edmund Levine, were prop stylists living in Brooklyn, NY with two little ones. They started the line after a trip to Sydney, Australia to visit Sacha’s parents. Their two kids were traveling with them, so they were doing tons of laundry. And in Australia, almost everyone refills their laundry detergent bottles with refill pouches or milk carton refills. They thought it would be a great thing to start in the US since they couldn’t find anyone locally doing it.
We have been using Common Good products in our home and at The COMN for the last few months and I am in love. The products are gorgeous but simple (it’s so nice not to have neon colored soap in every bathroom!) and they really work. I was a little nervous about switching because I’m fairly particular and have a sensitive sense of smell, but everything is amazing… my only suggestion would be that I wish the plastic laundry detergent had a pump, because we put the detergent into the top of our machine, and I’m short (and weak!)… but that’s an incredibly minor issue!
Common Good is available at West Elm, online, and shops across the country… I didn’t realize it before, but we actually have a refill station down the street from The COMN! (which is awesome, because we go through a lot of dish soap around here…)
Sacha took some time to answer a few questions about her experiences building Common Good. It’s such a great story and example… I can’t wait to see what comes next from Common Good!
I LOVE THAT YOU WERE INSPIRED TO START THE BUSINESS AFTER TRAVELING – AND DOING LAUNDRY – IN AUSTRALIA. WE’VE ALL HAD IDEAS FOR BUSINESSES INSPIRED BY OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES – WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO ACTUALLY ACT ON THIS ONE? (I’m so happy that you did!)
I guess it’s in our nature! We seem to be risk takers, although I never would have thought that of myself before. We’ve both had long freelance careers, so we’re not afraid of working for ourselves. We’ve done crazy things before, like moving to a new country and starting from scratch. So this was a pretty easy move. Also, we had that lightbulb moment where we just knew we were onto something. The more research we did, the more excited we were to give it a go. (I’m so happy that we did too!)
HOW DOES YOUR BACKGROUND IN STYLING IMPACT COMMON GOOD?
Part of the reason we started Common Good was because we felt there was room for a modern brand of safe, green household cleaners. I wanted the design to be simple and attractive enough to leave out on the counter. It was a very similar process to styling except that in the end, we had a permanent product rather than a photo.
WERE YOU AWARE OF THE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN THE NATURAL PRODUCTS INDUSTRY BEFORE YOU STARTED? HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHAT YOU COULD (AND SHOULD!) USE?
No! I had no idea how unregulated products in the US were until starting Common Good! From the start, we chose to transparent about what’s in our products. We worked with great, green chemists to develop formulations that we were happy with. We put all the ingredient names on our labels even though it’s not required by law. Even now, plenty of brands use euphemisms which is just adding to the confusion about what’s safe. We have a page on our website that goes through each ingredient to explain what it is, and why we use it, in plain English. I look forward to a time when chemical ingredients have to be proven safe before they’re allowed on the market, instead of the EPA having to prove they’re not.
YOUR PRODUCTS NECESSITATE A CHANGE IN HABITS FOR MANY AMERICAN CONSUMERS – HOW DO YOU INSPIRE THIS CHANGE? HOW DO YOU EDUCATE YOUR CUSTOMER?
We started with the idea that there were enough people like us who would be naturally drawn to refilling. Then we designed the bottles we wanted to see in our home. We had a feeling that if we make a bottle that people want, they’ll change their behavior to get it. Design drove the demand, and we made a hippie idea cool.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IF YOU KNOW THEN WHAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Oh my goodness! Done an MBA?! Most of Common Good came about instinctively, but we’ve had to work out a lot of stuff along the way. I wouldn’t change anything about the brand or our products, but I would have loved to know more about manufacturing and business before we started.
HOW HAS LAUNCHING COMMON GOOD CHANGED YOUR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION HABITS?
Happily, we can refill our bottles! And that was the whole point from the start. I think there has been a lot of change in the country’s consumption habits since we launched Common Good. CSAs are more common, people use reusable shopping bags more than ever, and shoppers are learning more about what’s truly good or bad. I’m definitely more discerning than I used to be, and I think the upside is that whether food or chemicals, consumers are demanding change. The more we all know, the better.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER MAKERS/ENTREPRENEURS?
Don’t listen to the naysayers. If you believe in your idea and think you have what it takes to get it done, go for it! But be prepared because once you launch, your business is your baby – it’s wonderful, but it will take everything you have.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR COMMON GOOD? WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
I’m very excited about our new linen water spray which will be out in the fall. It’s a great way to freshen clothes without dry cleaning or you can a little scent to bedding without using chemical dryer sheets. We’re also about to do a baby range because our friends all have babies and are forcing us!
Photos by Johnny Miller c/o Common Good
Disclosure: Common Good sent me products and we conducted this interview after I’d tried the products in my home and studio. I only feature brands that I will use, recommend, and love.
I’m a huge fan of Maryanne Moodie‘s incredible weavings, so a few months ago, I visited her at her beautiful home in Brooklyn to learn more about her work. Maryanne’s weavings are intricate and gorgeous – the thought and attention to detail in each piece is remarkable. Maryanne herself is as wonderful as her work – she is one of the nicest, most humble makers I’ve met, and her love and dedication for her craft is apparent.
My favorite part of our interview was when Maryanne told me about her search to find a craft and creative outlet – when you see a talented maker like Maryanne, you typically assume that she just picked up the craft and excelled at it – I loved learning about the many crafts she tried on her way to weaving, and can imagine that each of her attempts helped her to become the talented weaver she is today. Our meeting was a great reminder to me to keep pursuing new interests and hobbies… you never know what will come of them!
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I was an Art teacher in Melbourne, and I also used to run a vintage clothing shop.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I started weaving about 3 years ago… I’d been creative, but not really creating, so I was looking for something I could make as a hobby. While looking for a craft, I tried basket weaving, knitting, and crochet, but nothing was the right fit. I’d seen and liked hanging textiles but didn’t know how they were made. While I was cleaning out a storeroom at school, I found a weaving kit and realized that the textiles I’d admired were weavings. I kept the kit and made my first piece and was so excited! I shared the item on my instagram account and received great feedback, which was validating. So I kept making more and posting and getting great feedback.
While on maternity leave, instagram and social media created a creative connection with society – I didn’t feel alone even though I spent a lot of time at home with the baby. It felt like everything clicked into place when I started weaving.
DID YOU ALWAYS PLAN TO START A BUSINESS?
No, initially I thought this could be a hobby or something I could give as gifts. But, people immediately asked to commission work – I didn’t sell right away though, I wanted to make sure I was ready to sell – I had to figure out the finishings, how the weavings should hang, how to make sure they’d stay straight and even, etc.
This may be an Australian thing – but I was worried about Tall Poppy syndrome – the idea that if you rise above, you are asking to be cut down. Don’t be too confident, someone will always bring you back down. I wanted to be humble and to make sure my work was worth it. I wanted the work to speak for itself before I put it up for sale.
I primarily do commissions, I sell wholesale as well when possible. I like to push myself and I always treat this like a business even though I love it.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Nick Cave’s embroidery and textures in the book, Doppelganger, Images of the Human Being. Ted Sabarese.
I like working with people who have a loose vision of what they are looking for so we can work together.
WHAT MADE YOU START TEACHING WEAVING WORKSHOPS?
I love teaching weaving – it combines my current role with my previous experience as an art teacher. And I love weaving so it is nice to share with other people who are also excited about it. The 3 hour class I teach should help you get to where I was after weaving for about 1.5 years – I learned a lot when I started and now I can teach people how to get started quickly, but you need to keep playing and trying to get comfortable with it. Learning to weave is difficult – when you google weaving, you only get information on hair extensions! It was a lot of work to find the right information – I can make it easier through my classes and kits.
The business has grown organically – I was making my own art, and then people wanted to buy it, so I sold it. Now, people want to learn, and I am happy to share. It’s a way to connect with people who are all over.