Imagine the creative array of Etsy’s handmade, ready-to-purchase items crafted with love. Now remove the internet based model utilized by Etsy and others and visualize this artisan marketplace in your town – in person. For Santa Barbara, through the inspired effort of Valerie Velazquez, this is a soon-to-be reality. Are you ready to Meet Your Makers (MYM)?
A riff off of the traditional flea market, MYM will focus on sustainable new or re-purposed items, creative food and drink, all while retaining small town flavor and direct contact with dozens of designers and craftsmen/women. Rather than playing a massive online guessing game, you’ll soon be able to meet local vendors in person and purchase your next crafted item without waiting for shipping, paying additional fees, or worrying about that good ‘ol carbon footprint.
Journey To Market
Valerie Velazquez’s forte is organizing, event planning and utilizing technology to design efficient business solutions for creative “makers.” With a degree in Fine Art from UC Santa Cruz and inspired by the artist communities of Ojai and the surrounding region, Valerie seeks to provide exposure and market opportunities for artists at the communal level. In an interview for this article, Valerie explained that a lot of artists are so focused on their shop or workspace that they have little opportunity to take their products from ‘bench to store front.’ It was a simple transition to begin coordinating artists, crafters and designers on a larger scale in order to “make a hobby a job” and focus on the sales side of art.
Valerie described the process of creating this project as identifying a gap and working to fill the void. In this case, she observed that most locally owned artisan shops or artisan events, such as Art Walk, focus on decorative goods. “One of the things I wanted was a place to buy socks or cleaning products for the house or other conventional things,” said Valerie. “There was no equivalent to a farmers market for handmade, household items from crafters.”
In addition to wanting access to locally produced utilitarian items, many consumers often look for ways to buy sustainable products from socially and environmentally responsible businesses. But they want to be able to trust vendors and their production practices to ensure that they truly are as sustainable as they might claim to be. MYM’s vendor application process ensures not only a high quality, hand-crafted product, but also social and environmental responsibility by requiring vendors to meet several criteria (more on sustainability below).
“What’s so special about Santa Barbara,” Valerie explained, “is a thriving artist community, the receptivity of the City to sustainability and crafts, and the consistent tourist traffic.” Inspired by this trifecta, Valerie chose Santa Barbara to be the launching place and home for MYM!
The Sustainable Business Model
In the big picture, MYM is a small business itself, and Valerie explains that self-sufficiency is key. Sustainability, she explained, is not just about recycling. It’s also about asking deeper questions. “Is my lifestyle sustainable? Is my income sustainable? Is my model sustainable?”
Regarding local economies, Valerie asked herself ‘What kind of impact could a consortium of socially responsible businesses, organized into a market format like MYM, have on the economy?’ She realized that the consumer aspect of the MYM model is key, as it shifts people’s buying habits away from big box stores and companies where revenue traditionally leaves the city, county and even state, instead retaining it in the community. Spending where one lives supports a thriving local economy, buffered from outside economic forces and reliant on the web of people supporting the local businesses. We move away from a hierarchical business model focusing wealth and opportunity on only a few, unblocking individual potential and innovation.
While Valerie makes no claims about MYM being a solution to economic woes that currently impact cities throughout the region and state, it’s entrepreneurs like her who are able to inspire new ways of thinking about money, buying and social venture/value.
In her model, Valerie is planning to ensure high quality, sustainable products from ethical businesses that consumers can trust. She will be looking at aspects of quality, health, uniqueness, artistic merit, modernity, and price point. There are also social aspects: Is the product fair trade? Is the business giving back? Are the businesses supporting underrepresented groups through their work or partnering with disadvantaged communities? Through its application process, MYM will tease out a slew of socially responsible businesses that have the potential to transform the Santa Barbara consumer landscape through clear sustainability principles and a holistic operating structure.
The first market will take place in Summer 2013 (July 6th) at Plaza De Vera Cruz in Santa Barbara, the same location as the annual Sol Food Festival. MYM will run concurrently with the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market time.
“It’s so synergistic to couple MYM with the weekly farmers market. People go to farmers market because they need great, local food every week. Now shoppers will be able to find other handmade and sustainable goods in one central location,” Valerie stated enthusiastically.
Starting with a 3 month summer season from July through September, Valerie will evaluate MYM’s progress before moving into the fall season. Her plan is to hold 2 seasons every year and, as a future goal, expand to other cities. But in Santa Barbara, Valerie’s hope is that MYM becomes a well known trademark, much like the community’s annual Earth Day celebration.
Who Should Apply?
Anybody doing handmade, recycled or upcycled products is encouraged to apply. If it’s produced locally, has elements of sustainability, and/or is artisanal in nature, MYM wants to help you sell it. Half jokingly, half serious, Valerie stated: “If you’re a small business making whatever you’re making, you should apply. We want as much variety as possible!”
Applications can be found here and are now being accepted. The application period for the summer season closes June 14. There is a $30 non-refundable fee to apply. To receive $5 off of the application fee, enter promotion code ‘LOA’ on the application form. If and when selected, vendors will have the option to choose from various packages dictating how often they participate at market per season.
MYM seeks to be the first-of-its-kind fair, bringing together artists and artisans with local consumers. Expect a vibrant hub for ideas, exchange, laughter, community building and a locally based commerce system where the economy, the environment and the people are the winners.
To learn more, please visit http://www.meetyourmakers.org. And don’t forget to spread the word!
By Sarah Clark, LoaTree Contributing Author