Lish Dorset is a member of Handmade Detroit, the crafty gals who put on the annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair. Lish has been making crafts since she started her first Troll doll clothing line back in Mrs. Schneider's fifth grade classroom. While she's not making booties for Trolls these days, she's most likely at work as a social media coordinator for MS&L Digital in Ann Arbor, helping keep HD's blog packed with crafty tidbits and working hard to prove to the world that anyone can be crafty.
Lish is very excited to spend time blogging at Metromode, and looks forward to chatting about the state of the indie entrepreneur right here in metro Detroit.
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Inspiration all around
Ok. You’ve got your product you want to sell. And it’s awesome. And you’re pretty sure it will be a hit in both your neighborhood in Pleasant Ridge and across the globe. But what about your best friend who’s looking for inspiration? What do you tell them?
Tell them to look around.
We’re lucky here in metro Detroit in that we’ve got so many fantastic events/groups/people happening all around us.
When was the last time you went to the Detroit Institute of Arts? How about your local library? Or, for that matter, the after-school arts programming happening at your son’s school? Make sure to check out the artistic resources/small-biz resources available to you through the state of Michigan over on their website. You’ll be amazed at what you can find there. If you’re looking for more, check with your county. Many counties here in Michigan offer counseling for small businesses as well as well-priced seminars revolving around the needs of the DIY business dude.
The point is, no matter how big or small, there’s a lot of opportunities for you out there in the greater Detroit area. I hope the past week you’ve enjoyed hearing my babbling here on the Interwebs and that you feel empowered to go out there an start something new for you and your family, whether it’s a one-time event or a brand-new business based right here in the Motor City.
Can I be an indie biz owner in Metro Detroit?
In the most clichéd of expressions, times are tough. In fact, I believe it was David Byrne was said with Talking Heads, "It’s life during wartime."
Ok. So things aren’t the best economy-wise for us right now in southeastern Michigan. But does that mean you should stop wishing for a life as a do-it-yourself entrepreneur? Heck no. It just means you need to figure out your audience, figure out where they’re buying and get to work.
Stephanie Tardy is a fellow Handmade Detroiter and our fearless leader. She’s a great example of realizing what your audience wants and where they’re located at.
Steph makes fantastic journals out of found pager and other paper bits. Sometimes she changes the journal cover graphics, but for the most part, it’s a precisely cut Michigan, complete with upper and lower peninsulas. Is this a hit in Michigan? Oh yeah. Even with a tough economy, Steph doesn’t have a hard time selling her journals for $6 at local craft events and trunk shows. But she’s found a loyal following at Naka, a Ferndale-based boutique specializing in handmade goods. Michigan journals are a hit at the store. Here, Steph has realized where her audience is (Michigan, of course, and what they want- mitten journals).
In my opinion, a good way to get your business going for us Michiganders is, in a large general sense, the Internet. For indie business owners, the natural choice is Etsy.com. If you haven’t heard of Etsy, make it a priority to check it out after reading all the latest and greatest on MetroMode.
From Etsy’s website:
"Etsy is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade. Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade."
What’s brilliant about Etsy, besides the facts that they’re giving anyone and everyone the chance to be an entrepreneur, is that while times might be tough here in Michigan financially, that isn’t the case for other dial-in connections on the Interwebs, thus, your product can make it.
So can you be a business owner around these here parts? Yep.
Mixing business and art: Can it be done?
…Or rather, should it be done?
Recently, our Handmade Detroit blog participated in some interesting discussion that took place among the Do It Yourself community. There’s a growing population of members who feel like their works should be reserved for artistic purposes only, while others are open to making a living out of their artistic visions. A lot of "alternative" crafters are coming to heads with traditional needlecrafts people, and the results are interesting, indeed. While it might seem silly to some, make sure to check out these links for all the info.
It was incredibly fascinating to watch the discussion take place online, but it did make me wonder – is there a correct answer to this question?
The answer? Whatever works best for you. As my art teacher back in elementary school once told me, there is no true definition of what art is. The same is true when it comes to how you want to best display your work. If a gallery show is the perfect way to go, without any hopes of making commercial gains from it, then that’s the way for you. If, however, you feel like your art might have a wide audience and could benefit from commercial success, well, it’s time to set up that Etsy shop.
The point is, much like you knew exactly what kind of artistic endeavor moved you, you’ll know what’s best for you when it comes to the business side of it.
What makes a good indie business?
Just what in the world makes for a great indie biz, let alone one you can operate out of your home in Detroit, Troy or Hazel Park? The possibilities are endless, but if you can combine something that interests you, something you’re good at and something you absolutely love, that usually makes a for a great start, no matter where you’re at.
One of my fellow Handmade Detroiters is a fantastic example. Bethany Nixon, currently making her home in Pontiac, is the one-woman force behind Reware Vintage, an online clothing store specializing in your favorite blasts from the clothing past, as well as her unique record notebooks, since 2005. When I look at Beth’s store, it’s a great combination of her eye for finding vintage T-shirts in the boring clothing haystack and her crafting abilities. Unlike me, Beth actually has a degree in entrepreneurship… she’s more than qualified to be an indie biz gal!
For Beth, being an indie entrepreneur isn’t a 9-to-5 job. Instead, it means driving all over Michigan scouring thrift stores and estate sales, church rummage sales and factory closeouts on the hunt for fabulous finds. Beth works long hours updating her web site with the latest additions, looking for the best advertising outlets her audience listens to and slicing used records for the ongoing demand of her notebooks. Did I mention she makes clothing, too?
Recognizing where your audience is a big part of what makes a good indie business. For Reware Vintage, it’s not JUST being online. Beth sets up shop at the annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair with her record notebooks. Why an alternative craft fair? Beth knows that her notebooks are a big hit with DIY consumers who love handmade goods made locally.
For a post I wrote for our blog a few years back, Beth had this great quote on what the most rewarding part of being a DIY entrepreneur meant to her:
"I love this job more than anything else I've ever done in my life. What I put into this is what I'm going to get out, and I love that. I get direct feedback and response to something I do like I have never gotten working for somebody else. It is just so incredibly rewarding for somebody to buy something that you made and then tell you or e-mail you about how much they love it."
That’s what worked for Beth. What do you think works for you?
Meet an indie entrepreneur. Huh?
I am not a business person. Not at all. Let’s just type that now.
I graduated from Michigan State in 2003 with a degree in journalism. I spent my time learning how to be a good reporter, not a savvy business gal. Need more proof than my lousy grade from my microeconomics course? Take a look at the evidence:
- I own one suit I purchased in 1999 to wear to fight a speeding ticket I got when I was 19. “Business casual” to me means a clean pair of Chuck Taylors and a vintage T-shirt without bad words on it.
- My checkbook is a scribbled mess with incorrect subtraction. It’s balanced… just barely.
- Crunching numbers to me means shredding my old tax documents in an attempt not to have my identity stolen.
- The thought of being on "The Apprentice" fighting to win a biz gig with Donald Trump is about as appealing as hosting a "Real World Reunion" telecast on MTV.
- My cubicle at work is covered in old concert posters, Hello Kitty toys and vintage Pyrex. You’d never know I worked with technology all day long.
Yet despite all these cautionary tidbits as to why I should stay far from the boardroom, I definitely consider myself an indie entrepreneur, just like many of my cohorts in Handmade Detroit, and lots of talented artists in and around the metro area, do.
What is an indie entrepreneur? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, so here’s my take on it. To me, an indie entrepreneur is anyone who’s trying to showcase their hard work to the masses to make a better life for themselves but not adding “Fortune 500” to their homemade business cards.
A do-it-yourself entrepreneur can be just about anyone. It can be your next-door neighbor and the fantastic pies she makes every weekend for her table at the local farmer’s market, just like the one I attend religiously in Plymouth, my current locale. It can be a co-worker who enjoys an evening at home making greeting cards that then go on sale in the employee lunchroom. Or it could be the journalism grad who makes embroidered dish towels in an attempt to make the world a bit greener.
(In case you were wondering, that last one is yours truly.)
Everyone will agree that Michigan’s economy has seen better days. But if you’re like me, a lifelong Michigander, you’re in love with the state that looks like a mitten and know things will, no doubt, be bouncing back our way. But until then, having a different approach on what it means to be a business person, wait, indie entrepreneur, might just be the way to get not only metro Detroit, but all of Michigan, back on its feet.
Even if you think wearing Bedazzled sweat suits to work should be socially acceptable.