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Innovation beats uncertainty

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Thomas Mann, noted jeweler with a 30-year history in studio craft, is an interesting study in evolution and innovation. He spoke today at the Crafting a Nation conference at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as part of American Craft Week.

Mann, who owns a gallery in addition to making jewelry, used to have more than 20 employees, and 80 percent of his business was wholesale. Now 40 percent is wholesale, and he has nine employees, three of which are focused on graphic design and web development. (He started doing ecommerce in 1995.) He's seen a lot of change and challenges.

Perhaps the biggest shift in his business, however, is his unexpected immersion in DIY crafting. A few years ago, Mann said, he was invited to teach jewelry making at a scrapbooking conference. A little bewildered and hesitant, he nonetheless agreed. Shortly thereafter, the conference organizer called to say Mann’s session was sold out. Really? Mann asked. “Oh, you’re a star in the scrapbooking world,” he was told. He had no idea there was such a world, much less his place in it.

Now Mann has an additional revenue stream he would never have imagined 10 years ago. His Studio Flux business offers 16 classes, implements, kits, a book and DVD. He also enjoys time with a whole new crowd of craft enthusiasts, eager to soak up his expertise in design and materials.

In these times of flux, artists like Mann thrive on innovation. Other examples, anybody?

 

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