Made Cleveland Launches Regionally-Focused, Online Maker Market
Commercial galleries are slowly opening their doors as we enter the month of June, but in the summer of 2020 there will be no maker fares, white tent festivals, or urban markets. For makers and crafters whose incomes depend largely on gathering crowds of people drawn to the opportunity to buy local, the COVID pandemic has thrown up a huge road block to sales.
Ash O’Connor was having alternative, buy-local thoughts long before the pandemic surfaced. They’ve materialized as Made Cleveland— a web-based showcase and marketplace for makers, crafters, and artists of the region. MadeCleveland.com launched Saturday, May 30, listing about 60 vendors. They include Cleveland Street Glass, Yates Perfumes, Crooked River Soaps, and an enormous variety of local craft, with a few fine art painters and photographers in the early mix.
The self-described Philadelphia transplant will have been in Cleveland three years in July, having arrived on Bastille day, 2017. She says she came for a job, which she promptly quit–but not before falling in love with the city. “I’m here forever, now,” she says.
O’Connor’s working background includes managing operations for a furniture company with 100 employees. She’s also been a bartender. And she’s a maker, doing “crafty things, mostly focused on upcycling.” She uses “whatever random things would end up in a landfill.” She had sold mostly to friends.
It’s a combination of all those experiences that led her to Made Cleveland.
“It is an idea I had when living in Philly. I used to do operations for a furniture company called BDDW, [which was] essentially a workshop with a lot of disciplines—ceramic, cast metal, worked leather. A lot of those people would make furniture in their free time, but did not have a way to display it. This was before Facebook marketplace. And Etsy was not best solution for furniture at that point. The original idea was brick and mortar location.”
“Then when I moved here, I had a daughter last Sept and was not excited about dealing with holiday crowds with a newborn, trying to find ways online to support local vendors. There were a few brick and mortar places. I couldn’t find an online outlet to do what I wanted.”
In November, the idea took the form of Made Cleveland. Historically the appeal of internet marketplaces is that they have no borders. But to Ash, a focus on place seemed like an opportunity.
While there are several local registries and listings for fine artists and performers–such as the ones operated by Arts Cleveland and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture–O’Connor couldn’t find one for makers.
Initially she meant to launch near the end of the year. But when the popular market Cleveland Flea decided to take a break this year, she knew the time was right. “That was going to be a major hit for some of the artists who depend on summer markets,” she said.
Through Facebook she connected with Deanna Dionne, the artist behind Cleveland Street Glass. “Deanna has been so integral with this process. I originally reached out to her in March to discuss this project before everything went sideways. We had started to discuss some timelines and do some research about how to proceed. With Deanna’s background in design and her experience with markets and e-commerce, it was incredibly easy for her to understand my concept and she punched it up with ideas of her own too!”
The decision to launch before Summer was re-enforced by the COVID pandemic, and the across-the-board closure of markets that resulted. “[When] we realized that markets were going to be cancelled, it was apparent we had to accelerate everything.”
In addition to bringing graphic design skills, Dionne built the Made Cleveland website. “She has taken my vision and turned it into something amazing,” O’Connor says.
Made Cleveland is always taking vendor applications, but due to the rush of activity surrounding the launch, processing of applications has been paused til mid-June. She anticipates having 100 vendors by the end of the month.