The DIY craft revolution found a base of operations on the Internet. As sites like eBay proved that a person could buy anything online--a young man was taking bids on his virginity--sites like Etsy showed that a creative person could sell anything. But both of those sites became so saturated that it was easy to get lost in the noise. Plus, like the profiles on dating sites, the description of an item may not be 100 percent truthful.
Even though it may be riskier to open a brick-and-mortar retail store than to operate online with far fewer overhead costs, there is something of value to a customer who is able to squeeze a plush stuffed pig or hold a pair of silver earrings up to the light to see them sparkle. And knowing those enameled belt buckles or soft baby onesies are handmade by local artisans makes purchasing them a no-brainer, thanks to the brainy folks behind downtown Boise shop Indie Made.
The store sells exclusively locally made items, is staffed by its member artisans and is rolling out an increasingly popular new way for even more local artisans to get crafty about exposure for their work: First Thursday pop-up shops.
The members of Indie Made started as an Etsy street team in 2010 before moving into the Pioneer Building under the name Idaho Indie Works that same year. In April, the now 30-member-strong collective moved to a larger space across the hall (which the group had been coveting for months) and changed the name of the store to Indie Made.
On a weekday afternoon, Indie Made founding member Cara Johansen sat quietly on a stool behind the counter. A large maroon sling across her body held the newest member of her family. Johansen looked as content as her infant and she said she is happy because she is able to make a living off of the baby items she makes and sells both at Indie Made and on Etsy under the name Lulu and ChaCha.
"Originally, we all had to be Etsy members, but [now] you don't have to be on Etsy to be in here," Johansen said.
In her case, she found that her handmade onesies sell better at Indie Made, and sweet soft children's headbands and hats with interchangeable accents do better on Etsy, so she maintains inventory at both. But she said many of the Indie Made members found that the store is enough.
"It is hard to maintain inventory in both ... a lot of us are phasing out of Etsy," Johansen said.
That's because the store works for its members in much the same way they work for it. It seems almost too good to be true for an artisan who wants to quit an office job and spend the day making clever notepads out of food labels, retro-looking bottle cap pins or incredibly intricate clocks. They may not all be able to become full-time artisans, but for many of Indie Made's members, it's not an improbable or impossible goal.
First and foremost, Indie Made's members keep 100 percent of their profits. All of the members contribute to overhead, paying a monthly amount based on the number of hours they are willing to work in the store and the duration of their member contract. For a six-month contract, he or she can pay $60 per month and work 16 hours each month in the store or $120 per month and not work any hours at all. Signing a 12-month contract means a $50 or $100 per month contribution.
Jamison Olson--who sells under Jamison Rae--is another Indie Made founding member and one of its biggest success stories. Johansen and Indie Made operations manager Sara McClaran both said, "Jamison Rae" immediately when asked who is the store's best seller. Modestly, Olson agreed.
"It's a big part of [my family's] income," she said.
Olson works full-time creating organically styled bracelets, necklaces and earrings out of sterling silver, gold-filled silver, turquoise, onyx and other natural materials. She is so busy, in fact, that her husband has become part of her production team.
Olson's work was recently included in the high-end clothing and accessories catalogue Sundance and already sold out of the first order of 225. She maintains and sells from a website (not Etsy) but has no intention of pulling her jewelry from Indie Made.
"A lot of my business's overall sales come out of that store," Olson said.
McClaran, who crochets hats, headbands and rattles under the name Boise Beanie Co., is another founding member and artisan who is also fortunate enough not to have to work another job--she has enough to do at Indie Made. McClaran wrangles the First Thursday pop-up shops, of which the August event will only be the third and it is already gaining steam.
While a committee meets each month to determine whether to accept new members to Indie Made, the pop-up shops are open to any artisan from the Treasure Valley--although there is an acceptance process to avoid an abundance of the same category, mainly jewelry.
Pop-up vendors set up in the Pioneer Building in the foyer off the Sixth Street entrance, as well as in Indie Made's old space. They can take tables, clothing racks, shelving units, and any other kind of display, within reason.
Currently, Indie Made is asking August's pop-up artisans for a $2 donation and from September on, will require $2 to participate to cover expenses. That's an extremely reasonable fee for local artisans who don't want to fight through the glut on Etsy and would rather deal with their customers face to face. The cap of about 18-20 participants has been reached each month so far and two of them have become Indie Made Members.
Ultimately, Indie Made and its First Thursday pop-up events have been a boon for both Indie Made and its customers.
"I have seen hats like mine at Target for about the same price," McClaran said. "At least when people buy mine, they know they are getting something made locally."