This week, I had an exchange over on Instagram that really got me thinking. Thinking about what we do here at The Merchant Home, and thinking about the community of incredible people that make up this tiny little part of the industry we are so fortunate to work with. People who are also entrepreneurs and artists at once, people with a spark of an idea who take a leap and make it their career.
Long story short, Erin Ozer of Knot and Bow (please check out her line if you aren't familiar!) posted this image on her feed, chronicling very personally the growth of her business, what it meant to her family, the goals she had set and the pride she has in what she has built. I e-met Erin years ago, at the first corporate buying job I had where I truly got to support handmade, small-batch, and creative businesses. We were putting together a small holiday collection of wrapping supplies, and I reached out to her via Etsy (long before Etsy was what it is today). I've watched her business grow from the outside, seen her scale, add products, add showrooms, walked into countless shops and seen her charming packaging. It makes me proud to see what she's done. So, accordingly, I commented on her lovely post, and she responded, letting me know that the tiny little order I placed with her so many years ago was in fact her very first wholesale order ever! The one that got it started. That felt really special to me. I had no idea. It got me thinking about the potential of each day, how one connection or one email can be a small part of someone else's big story. Pretty cool.
Our primary work at The Merchant Home is with retailers (online or off)- an incredible group of brands that have opened their eyes to the handmade market in a range of different ways, and are focused on bringing a new experience to their own audiences. In a time where fast-fashion and Amazon.com are still the norm in the industry, these shops and sites are truly leading the market in a new direction. They want to educate their customers, to build a relationship, all in the name of good business. Change is coming. Customers (millennials to baby-boomers) are more interested in where their purchases are coming from, how they are made, and what I call "the touch of the hand". They want to know how to use something, about it's utility and quality, about where they should put it in their home and how they should care for it.
Behind each of these stores is a community of makers, visionaries, and risk-takers that spend their time creating beautiful things for us to discover and present in new ways. Every thing you purchase anywhere passes through countless hands before it makes it into your home. My (almost) three-year old daughter has a new favorite question when picking up things in her room: "Who made this for me?". A thought provoking question for any of us.
I'm feeling fortunate today that for many of the products (though in complete honesty, not all) that we work with, I can count the number of hands it has touched, and in many instances, I know the people behind those hands. We're all together in this, building a community of people with a beautiful shared vision of creating a new model for modern commerce- designing a world of "things" that is more thoughtful, more educational, more experience based, and slower- all while proving that this is in fact financially sustainable, that something small can grow into something big, that profits and good business can coexist, and that in aggregate, this community can impact the way we, as customers, choose to consume.
(As an aside- we get many business inquires from members of our handmade community, and I'm working on some plans for next year that well allow us to better offer specialized services to this incredibly important group of people. It's personally frustrating to me that our operations aren't quite set up for these smaller projects. So, watch this space!).
Back to the topic at hand- why do we do what we do? For me, it's about just a few things.
1. The people. First and foremost. This community we are part of, end-to-end. Creating connections between consumers and makers. Building mutual respect through products and transactions. Seeing businesses grow for people we admire. My exchange with Erin cemented this for me. Her story is one of many.
2. The experience. We should feel inspired when we purchase something. People in this country are working harder than ever before, and in more creative ways than ever before. We pour our energy into our work. To turn over hard-earned money for a sub-par experience should always be a disappointment. Instead, we should be encountering experiences that give us something- a moment of pause to think, a beautiful item to cherish, a friendly exchange with a shop employee. We should walk into shops and be well-served, inspired, and engaged, from the moment we cross the threshold to when we finally find the perfect spot on our shelves for our new purchase. (I apply this analogy to e-commerce as well. Attention to detail matters. And yes, it can be possible to have an inspiring experience at a big-box- all it takes is the right product, at the right time, in the right quality, and a friendly cashier that gives your whiny child a sticker at checkout).
3. Sharing the thrill of the hunt. What's new? What ideas haven't been brought to market? What can we bring to life that will change the way consumers experience a brand? How can we tell a story differently? Our world is fast. In the retail business, trend does matter. I believe there is a way to be relevant, industry-leading, and trend-aware without being fast or disposable, a way to introduce new that instead is artful and provokes conversation. We are constantly collecting new ideas on our team. So many, we can't possibly keep them all to ourselves. So in the interest of building community, supporting new ideas, and surfacing beautiful artistry, we've started sharing them each month with you, via our new newsletter. We want to be the place you come to be inspired and get lost in your thoughts for just a moment of your day.
So in closing- thanks Erin, for letting me be a small part of your incredible story, and for sharing it with your own community. It's the personal connections that matter, and it was nice to have a simple reminder of this, and to get my own mind thinking again.
PS- speaking of community and sharing our finds- the image at the top of this post is from a concept we are working through for fall at The Merchant Home. The incredible necklace is made in collaboration between Linda Fahey and Liz Robb. There is also some favorite ephemera collected from Tejido, Dosa, Kadie Salfie, and Margins Imprint.