A piece of pottery made in someone’s garage; a pair of resin earrings with donated flowers; a hand-sewn piece of clothing by a mother of three. Anywhere you go, but especially in Cleveland, buying handmade means buying into your community.
Ash O’Connor, who founded the online marketplace Made Cleveland at the height of the pandemic over a year ago, knew this community was worth investing in, whether virtually or in-person.
“If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that patience and understanding are so important,” says O’Connor. “One of the biggest challenges that we faced during the pandemic and trying to build a community was doing so without actually having to be together.”
Along with getting a one-of-a-kind piece, the push towards shopping handmade also encourages a culture of patience and gratitude, during a time of impatience and restlessness. While we’re used to items coming to our door and shipping them back out, going straight to the source has its perks. It’s a more personal, intentional shopping experience.
“It’s really helpful to spend a little bit more money on something that is handmade,” says O’Connor. “The quality typically tends to be better.”
Through markets, fundraisers and resources for handmade artisans, highlighting makers is what O’Connor hopes to continue to foster further in Cleveland. Made Cleveland’s recent partnership with the Van Aken District on monthly maker pop-ups proves that the drive to celebrate local artisans is already in the works.
“The thing that we’re going to be focusing on in the long term is how do we convert people with that big-box mentality,” says O’Connor.
In the last year, many makers felt a shift. Whether it was pivoting to sewing masks, dealing with market cancellations or a sudden need to focus on e-commerce, many were bracing themselves for the worst. Out of this uncertainty, many saw a boom in business.
Bianca Breed, who started her jewelry business last March, didn’t make her resin-filled pressed flower earrings and accessories full time until she was forced to leave her other jobs. After putting up a handful of floral coasters for sale online, she couldn’t keep up.
“Just those first few months, the community really showed up for me,” says Breed. “People were bringing flowers to my door so I could press them. They were bringing already pressed flowers. Everyone just loved
what I was doing and because of the support I was able
to keep going with this new practice.”
Breed has still seen a consistent growth in business, with earrings selling out in as fast as 10 minutes on her website after each drop. But above all, she found a sense of peace and joy.
“Working with plants and preserving them to create compositions that I can’t remake was really satisfying to me,” Breed says.
For other makers, their work proved to play a necessary role during the pandemic. Dru Thompson, owner and head designer of Dru Christine Fabrics & Design, has had her space at Lake Affect Studios for around four years. Usually dependent on monthly Third Friday shopping events, the last year could’ve posed a challenge. But having a skill in sewing proved to be crucial — whether it was switching production to masks, hosting sewing classes for earnest DIYers or selling much-needed fabric to other makers.
“It made people realize the importance of small business owners and local makers,” Thompson says. “They wanted to see us around after the pandemic, so it was a wake-up call for everybody.”