A handmade movement: More people answer crafter calling

Vintage curator Morgan Grimm, left, takes care of The Makery storefront while customer Martha Hoelzer browses in the Durham shop that sells local crafters’ products. Because of increased demand, more retail stores are offering handmade items.
Vintage curator Morgan Grimm, left, takes care of The Makery storefront while customer Martha Hoelzer browses in the Durham shop that sells local crafters’ products. Because of increased demand, more retail stores are offering handmade items.

Jody Cedzidlo no longer has the luxury of looking forward to the relaxing rituals of winter holidays. But Cedzidlo, the owner and creative force behind Flytrap Clothing in Pittsboro, doesn’t mind the sacrifice. Cedzidlo screenprints shirts and scarves, which she sells through her website, and business gets extremely hectic starting in November.

“During the holiday season, I’ll be shipping out 30 things a day,” Cedzidlo said. “I stay up really late at night working, and then the clothes just pile up in these laundry baskets. It’s ridiculous.”

Cedzidlo, 33, is part of a movement in which more and more young people turn to crafting as a way to make a living or supplement incomes. Cedzidlo attributes the shift – younger people turning to crafting and the creating and selling of handmade goods and art – to the general lack of jobs.

“My generation has the belief that if they get a job, there’s still not enough money and not enough benefits,” she said. “So they pick crafting over office work.”

Designer and entrepreneur Michelle Smith agrees. Smith, 34, owns Gather, a shop in downtown Cary that sells handmade items by local makers.

“Millennials came into this world where they couldn’t get jobs,” Smith said of the current generation of young people. “Entrepreneurism was on the rise when the recession hit. They didn’t see pre-recession, they just saw post-recession – no pensions, no long-term reassurance for anything. So as a result, people started to make their own futures. This allows the younger generation to say, ‘I can do that and maybe carve out my own future.’ ”

Pam Blondin, owner of DECO Raleigh, has also seen more young people turn to full-time crafting in recent years. DECO, which opened in November 2012, is a retail store in downtown Raleigh that sells the work of 75 local crafters and artists.

“Most of the people I deal with are in their late 20s or early 30s,” Blondin said. “The economy isn’t like what it was when I was young. There were jobs everywhere when I came out of school, but it’s not like that anymore. In a way, I’m envious of them. It’s cool to see them doing what they love and succeeding.”

Doing it their way

Cedzidlo started Flytrap in January 2008, but she said it’s taken a long time for her business to grow. She started out printing on her dining room table; she later rented a space and has now upgraded to her own equipment and studio in her backyard in Pittsboro.

Cedzidlo does all of her own work, beginning with a pen-and-ink drawing that, after several steps, she screenprints onto shirts and scarves.

“I’m trying to keep the business small, and I want to do the kind of work I want to do,” Cedzidlo said.

Kelley Triplett and Jennifer Schmude, co-owners of Vesta’s Natural Apothecary, are crafters based in Durham and Wilmington. They began selling handcrafted soaps, scrubs and salves through their Etsy site last November and are currently focused on expanding their crafting business.

Triplett and Schmude faced similar challenges to those faced by Cedzidlo.

“There was the problem of balancing my life and work,” Cedzidlo said. “The work is right there. It’s not like you can lock the door and go home at the end of the day.”

However, the soap-making duo found the creative aspect of their business to be exhilarating, and they have big plans for their business.

“We’re hoping to get into more local stores in both Durham and Wilmington this next year,” Triplett said. “And maybe in five years, we’ll both be full-time and we’ll have an extra space to work out of.”

A growing movement

Handmade items are gaining in popularity. The trend has been helped along by technology; it’s easier for entrepreneurs to get their goods to customers thanks to online sites like Facebook and Etsy (an online market for handmade and vintage items) – options not available to previous generations of crafters. In 2013, Etsy’s seller community, which includes 1 million people around the world, sold more than $1.35 billion worth of creative goods.

But the action isn’t limited to online. Because of increased demand, retail stores that offer handmade items are becoming more common.

At DECO, Blondin said she initially had to pursue crafters in order to carry their work, because they were unsure whether their products would sell well in the store. Now she receives multiple applications a day.

Smith has seen a similar increase. In addition to Gather, Smith also founded The Rock & Shop Market, an annual event for the past 10 years featuring more than 100 makers, plus bands, DJs and food trucks, that is attended by thousands of shoppers. A smaller version of the Rock & Shop Market takes place in downtown Raleigh on Saturday during the Hopscotch Music Festival.

“When I started Rock & Shop, there was nothing like it, which is hard to believe now because there are so many shops,” Smith said. “It’s a self-feeding cycle. You have these markets, and people come to the events and see things being made and want to make them as well. I started with 30 designers per event. I tried to cap it at 75, but three times that many apply.”

Building the community

The same popularity led to the opening of The Makery in Durham earlier this year. Katie DeConto and Krista Anne Nordgren opened the Durham storefront, but the business was started online by Nordgren and her two sisters in 2012. The store focuses on selling local crafters’ products.

“We currently have over 30 vendors, and I’ve never met some of them because they live in Charlotte and ship their crafts to us,” DeConto said. “But on the other end of the spectrum, we have a staffing program that gives crafters free space in the store if they work as staff. They’re very dedicated to helping the store succeed. I would call the community a self-selective one.”

Nordgren said the “making” community is a very close one in North Carolina because people bump into each other regularly at craft fairs and pop-ups. As a result, many crafters collaborate with each other.

“Over the last few years that I’ve been involved with the community, I’ve seen a significant elevation of everyone’s work and businesses, and that has been really cool,” Nordgren said. “One person’s success really shows other makers the possibilities and paves the way for everyone to get better.”

That was the impetus for Gather. The hybrid space – Gather is part gift shop, part coffee shop and part classroom – brings together designers, artists and entrepreneurs who can register as co-working members to get access to the retail space.

“I wanted to create a space that caters specifically to creative artisan, maker entrepreneurs through co-working, retail space and classes,” Smith said. “A place to meet, network, showcase and offer a platform for more growth.”

‘No magic button’

Cedzidlo said that while it’s exhilarating to be paid for creative work, crafting is not an easy job.

“The general public definitely underestimates the amount of training that goes into what we do,” Cedzidlo said. “There’s no ‘magic button.’ We can’t just turn on Etsy money.”

Even though there’s no magic button – and screenprinting is more business than pleasure for her at this point – Cedzidlo said she is at a stable place right now with her business.

“I might start sending my designs out in the future,” she said. “Then I can focus solely on designing. But right now, I’m happy where I am.”