Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's All in the Making: Launching All Things Artisanal

By Dominique Koudsi.

A few weeks ago, on the day before the whisper launch of , Regina Connell sits across from me in a small French bistro in San Francisco. In a kind of twist on convention, I'm here interviewing Regina to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on what's been going on with Handful of Salt's latest big project.

Fossil Faux 'Groove' iPad/Tablet Stand

By rights, there should be other people at the table, but they're busy juggling the inevitable last minute glitches on the All Things Artisanal site, and otherwise taking care of business--that team being: Nicole Bemboom, the Creative Director, Ryan Sharon the tech genius, and Forest Dickey, a maker-savant with an amazing track record (he heads , created , a local maker initiative, and with Handful of Salt, co-developed , a showcase featured at , to name a few of his accomplishments).

I'd already gotten a coveted sneak peek of the site. It didn't look anything like a typical "artisan site" where there's distressed everything, sepia tones abound, and it's all just very old world. Instead, is gorgeous and sleek, photo-rich and polished, simple but cutting-edge, with categories that cover multiple lifestyle areas: apparel, food, interiors, custom work, kids, you name it. It's bold. It's different. It's pretty.


When I compliment the site, Regina has a different take. She goes off, nitpicking at every detail, "Why is there so much space between the text and that navigation bar?" and "Why is it looking that way on mobile?" and "Which cloud service provider should we be using as we scale?" and and andbut after a deep breath (and some calming carbohydrates) she (and her hands) start talking about how All Things Artisanal came to be. (All those nits got fixed, of course.)

GIVE ME A SOUNDBITE. WHAT IS ALL THINGS ARTISANAL? To put it simply, All Things Artisanal is the site so many people have been waiting for. There's a hunger out there for great, high quality artisanal products--from food to clothing to interiors. It's the curated source for the best artisanal goods: products made with integrity and style, products that stand out but also fit seamlessly into pretty much any aspect of your life, from the food you eat to the apron you wear when you make it or the plate you eat it off of. It's a place where artisanal work can become an integral part of anyone's everyday life.

WHYRHYMER Kalifornia Rocker

You see, people don't just want to consume, they want to feel good about what they buy. They want to be able to buy products that are handmade or made by small batch producers. They want to know who they're buying from and how it's made. They want to be able to support their communities, their countries, or their heritage. They want quality. And it's got to make sense with your taste and the way you live and want to live.

THAT'S NOT EXACTLY A SOUNDBITE. Oh I know, I'm so bad at that. But good things aren't always simple are they? That's kind of what we talk about on Handful of Salt!


AGREED AND FORGIVEN. SO YOU WERE SAYING? We want to make things easy by keeping it curated and keeping findability a key part of the site. The challenge is that, until All Things Artisanal, if you cared about finding great artisanal products, it was hard. I mean, makers are big right now, so there are lots of places to buy handmade goods. But few, if any, of the venues available are broad-based, curated, and truly committed to high quality and strong, modern design. So this doesn't make it easy for people who don't want to spend forty-five minutes scrolling through (as Forest likes to say) crocheted overalls


SO THE CURATION IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THIS. Absolutely. Inclusion in the site is by invitation or application only. We don't look for trends or cutesy crafts, we hand-pick makers with work that is quality, that's smart, that's beautiful. Work that you actually want to buy.

Rock Rose Provisions Chocolate Espresso Peanut Butter

BUT IT'S NOT A NORMAL RETAIL SITE, IS IT? Nope. You see, makers and artisans don't lack places in which to sell their work: they can sell through their own stores, or through galleries or platforms like Etsy. What they often lack is meaningful exposure. We want to connect people to makers. We let the makers decide how they want to sell.

SO WHO'S A PART OF ALL THINGS ARTISANAL? So far, we have around 100 people who've signed up to be part of the site, and that's really exciting. They're furniture makers and lighting designers and geniuses in resin and concrete, people who have production items but also work on a custom basis. All Things Artisanal is a great resource for interior designers and architects, too, obviously. We have clothing designers and jam makers and ceramists and toy makers and jewelry makers and pen makers and so many more. What's interesting is that our artisans are using the site in so many different ways, and that's the joy of it: we're open to that.

AND THESE MAKERS PAY TO BE PART OF THE SITE? Yes, instead of taking affiliate fees or application fees, we provide based on the amount of exposure they're looking for, how many products they want to show, etc.

THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF CONTROVERSY ABOUT ETSY AND THEIR EXPANSION OF STANDARDS. WHAT ARE ALL THINGS ARTISANAL'S STANDARDS? We feature artisans and small-batch producers, so we'll feature people ranging from the textile maven with the studio in her back garden in LA to a company that's got a 30-person manufacturing operation going on in Maine. We've got a pretty exhaustive set of .

IT'S AN EXHAUSTIVE SET BUT I THINK IT'S A BIG PART OF WHAT MAKES ALL THINGS ARTISANAL WHAT IT IS. ANYWAY, BACK TO THE CURATION: WHAT, REALLY, ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? We look for artisans and small manufacturers who are committed to their work. While we look for fresh talent, we are really zero-ing in on people who've obviously put in their 10,000 hours and paid their dues and are ready to get their work out to a broader world.


Along the way, we've been assembling a really diverse team of advisors who know their stuff in key categories. One of the things we're super pleased with is that we're partnering with the folks at the and their to extend membership to great makers of artisanal food and spirits.

SO WE ALWAYS ASK OUR HANDFUL OF SALT MAKERS ABOUT INSPIRATION. DO YOU REMEMBER THE EXACT GENESIS OF ALL THINGS ARTISANAL? Handful of Salt has been focusing on the modern artisanal movement for years, creating a space where high quality artisans with a strong design orientation can showcase their remarkable craft. And we've been noodling on how to really fire up the modern artisanal movement and help grow the demand for artisanal goods, and of course, the fortunes of the people who make them.

All Things Artisanal: Join us

One day, I was having lunch with a friend who was talking about how hard it was to find really great artisanal products. He suggested a curated listing service. And while there was a lot of elegance in the simplicity of that idea, we felt there was something more. So, we pushed and kept pushing. Then Forest and I started talking about what makers needed, and what his experience was as someone who had walked his way through the challenges of getting exposure, and also the financial difficulties for artisans operating within existing online and brick and mortar retail structures. So then, we had some ideas about what both consumers and makers needed. And, hey, presto--ha, I wish it were that easy--All Things Artisanal.

ANYTHING FUN COMING UP FOR ALL THINGS ARTISANAL THAT WE CAN LOOK FORWARD TO? In 2014, you'll be able to attend themed pop-up events, see All Things Artisanal makers at major trade shows, and get involved in educational events. For buyers, we'll have The Finer Things program, where you can learn how to pick the perfect artisanal product, from jeans to scotch to ceramics, and for makers, we'll have the Artisan's Master Series, a chance to learn all about important topics like photography, branding, and creating the perfect buyer experience.


Since Regina and I sat down to talk, All Things Artisanal has only continued to grow (and hopefully Regina's happy with the site--looks great to me). The service launches today to the Handful of Salt community, and they'll be launching more broadly in the next few weeks. If you're a maker, apply and join. You'll be part of something big. And if you love great artisanal goods, as I'm sure you do, check it out, and keep going back. They'll be expanding daily. Which is exactly as it should be.

All images courtesy of All Things Artisanal.


All Things Artisanal:

Varian Designs:

Good Food Awards: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/

Good Food Merchants Guild: http://www.goodfoodmerchantsguild.org/

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