Makers Market: Rebuilding the Legacy of American Made

Makers Market: Rebuilding the Legacy of American Made

Makers Market, Future Glory Co. Pendleton bucket bag

Makers Market, Future Glory Co. Pendleton bucket bag; Photo: Courtesy of Makers Market

Makers Market is an online retailer - and now also a storefront in San Francisco - championing the legacy of American-made goods and the makers who make them. Through storytelling and a highly curated collection, the marketplace aims rebuild that legacy and connect its makers to a broader audience. We caught up with with founder Suzy Ekman to learn more about her vision for the business.

What made you decide to start Makers Market online?
The idea for Makers Market has been percolating for quite a while. Growing up in Alabama, I spent countless hours with my dad in his workshop - handing him tools, listening about his fishing trip, sweeping up the sawdust, handing him more tools, listening to him fantasize about his next bike, and receiving all of life’s lessons. When we were done, we’d ride through the countryside and discover potters, blacksmiths, textile weavers, and furniture makers. Watching these artisans create their products and chatting with them about their lives and how they learned their craft instilled a deep appreciation for those who design and make beautiful products with their hands. Many times, these trades had been passed down through many generations, and they were still using their grandparents’ tools. I met the most talented, authentic, and down-to-earth people I've ever met. There was a deep sense of home and belonging. Beautiful stories and gorgeous products that the world needed to know about. Throughout my career in business consulting and manufacturing executive management, I'd always wanted to use my skills and return to my roots and my passion. I'd always been focused on helping businesses thrive, supporting jobs in the USA, making things, and ethical sourcing of materials. I'd reached that point in my career when it was time to see all of my dreams come together. Makers Market is the perfect intersection of everything I love, resulting in the promotion and preservation of American craft for future generations. 

Now that the emphasis on handmade and American-made goods have become more top-of-mind for our culture, what would you say sets your business apart from others in this realm?
I believe what sets us apart is that we passionately live and breath our mission of "rebuilding the legacy of American made." We have such a burning desire to be a catalyst in the resurgence of craft. We've produced videos of our artists to memorialize their skills and their passion. We spend hours each week brainstorming product ideas with our artists and giving them consumer feedback. We partner with nonprofit organizations in our community and donate a percentage of our sales to support training in craftsmanship and business start-up support. People who visit our store in Union Square feel this passion watching the maker videos, reading our messaging on the walls, and learning about our artists and community support. We also have a highly curated site that promotes the aesthetic of modern and heritage-inspired. We are curating those products that uphold the ideals of American craftsmanship - with a fresh look.   

Tell us a bit about your emphasis on storytelling and building community around the makers you carry.
What makes our products come alive in the store and online is the story behind that product. We are also selecting artists that have intriguing stories to tell: a fourth generation female metalsmith and a master woodturner who is now teaching his skills to the next generation. We have a very tight relationship with our makers. We are always looking for ways to promote them: The Hip Pop booth at ACC, pop-ups at West Elm, and weekly Meet the Maker events in our Union Square store so that our international visitors (and locals) will have the opportunity to chat with local artists and enjoy their full collections. 

Who are some up-and-coming makers you carry that you are excited about sharing?
So many to choose from! We are always on the search for new artists and fresh products. One of the recent artists we added is Carnevele Clay - rustic and sophisticated ceramics which I am in love with. But as we talk, I keep glancing at my new green turquoise and silver ring from Siri Hansdotter of Northern California and love it more with each glance - beautiful!

You just opened your first permanent storefront, which is very exciting! We talked about the previous pop-up shop you had in Union Square and the positive response to that. What unique programming or events do you envision for the new space and how will having it change things?
Having a brick-and-mortar allows us to have an even tighter connection with the community. We are surrounded by high tech firms such as Twitter, Yelp, and Google - as well as a multitude of boutique design and architectural firms and many nonprofit community-service organizations. Right now, we are hosting happy hour receptions with firms that appreciate our aesthetic and mission: design firms, redevelopment nonprofits, maker spaces, and the likes, to visit our store and learn about our mission. We have a Meet the Maker series with artists in the store at least every Saturday. The wonderful thing about our Union Square location is that travellers from around the world visit our store every day - at least six different countries daily. Being possibly the only all American-made/locally-made store in Union Square, we love sharing the beautiful gift of American craft with these International visitors who want to buy something American made - and if it is made in San Francisco, it is a bonus. Next month, we hope to start offering classes in our space and again reach out to visitors who are staying in the Union Square hotels so that they can have a uniquely local experience and connect with an artist while visiting.

Now that you've reached this milestone, what's next?
After we stabilize in our new space, I will spend more time focusing on my original vision for Makers Market, which is to have an integrated maker space/retail space so that customers coming into the retail space can talk to the artist directly if they'd like, request custom work, or modify a piece to fit. We will provide all of the support services makers need to start and run their businesses. And then I'd like to branch out to have Makers Market in 10 - 15 cities in the United States (with a high concentration of artists/makers) that are also popular tourist destinations.