Handcrafted items are increasing in popularity in Park City and around the country. Etsy, a well-known website specializing in handmade and vintage items, reported 525.6 million dollars in sales in 2011, a 70 percent increase in growth since 2010.
"We're seeing this really cool resurgence of handmade products in the states," said Bryon Friedman, founder of Soul Poles, a Park City company producing handcrafted, bamboo ski poles. Even among Park City's high-end designer boutiques, Olive and Tweed, a store committed to sourcing unique and handmade items, has managed to thrive on Main Street. Somer Gardiner, the store's owner, says she even has a hard time keeping up with the demand for her hand-crocheted hats.
Many of today's handmade artisans were among those laid off during the recession and may have never pursued their craft otherwise. "When I got laid off I saw an amazing opportunity to just dive in," said Ashley Kitchen, a Park City resident and owner of Knitched, an Etsy shop, "I've seen that especially in Park City there is a new culture growing of handmade things. Instead of being unemployed, people went out and followed their dreams.
Though the source of this growing trend is up for debate, fans report many benefits of buying handmade. For one, handmade items are often more durable than their manufactured counterparts. Kitchen, for example knits hats, belts and gloves. Unlike manufactured knitwear, Kitchen's hats are created with one continuous piece of yarn; manufactured hats made from multiple pieces of yarn often fall apart quickly with stray ends of yarn fraying.
Friedman says his bamboo ski poles are actually stronger than traditional metal poles: "we had a third party lab test our bamboo versus a bunch of alloys from low grade to super high grade. On average, ours were about 20-35 percent stronger than aluminum poles in a break test."
Aesthetics also drive consumers to seek out handmade items. Olive and Tweed's Gardiner says she finds that handmade artists tend to pay more attention to detail. Park City resident, Lauren O'Malley, owns the Etsy shop, AllAroundArts, where she sells sculptures and wall art created from metal. She says she often sees manufactured metal cutouts at craft fairs and finds them "too clean." She says, "when I look at artwork that is produced, it's exactly the same, it doesn't really appeal to me." Instead, O'Malley opts for a more weathered, textured look. She adds texture to metal sheets by wrapping them in a wet blankets then allowing them to rust she sometimes leaves sheets buried under the snow in her yard all winter. Her welding technique also creates rougher, textured edges.
Friedman also thinks the handmade aesthetic improves his natural-looking ski poles. "How are you going to have a machine that makes this? It has to have that handmade touch it's part of our brand's DNA." As every pole is handcrafted, Friedman emphasizes that a great detail of attention and care is taken in the creation of every pole bamboo stalks with flaws are immediately discarded.
Buying handmade products also allows for a greater degree of customization. Friedman , Kitchen, and O'Malley all encourage customers to customize their products. Kitchen says she tried to focus her shop on customization. In addition to knitting, Kitchen also designs and creates dresses. She says she often creates dresses for bridal parties, pointing out that it can be easier for her to make dresses that fit each bridesmaid than it is to purchase manufactured dresses. Kitchen even will attend cocktail parties to take measurements for an entire bridal party, which she says is a "unique experience, especially for the bride." O'Malley encourages customers to submit photos for her to create metal cutouts she is especially interested in creating cutouts of petroglyphs. Friedman's poles are also customizable customers can add a special engraving to poles and Cole Sport has even commissioned a custom line of poles with racing stripes added to the poles with a torch.
With more attention to detail, more durability and more customization, often comes a higher price tag. Accounting for the time spent creating something handmade and keeping prices competitive with cheaper, manufactured items is one of the most challenging aspects of selling handmade items. "A lot of artists want top dollar," says Gardiner, "I try to keep things price-accessible." Kitchen says it takes can take her six to eight hours to create one hat, not to mention design time, (Kitchen designs all of her own patterns) and time spent on marketing efforts or administration. O'Malley says, "What takes time is deciding what to do and setting it up."
Friedman, on the other hand, hasn't felt too much pressure to compete with larger manufacturers since starting his company a year and a half ago. He says that the unique and environmentally-friendly process he uses to create poles puts him in stark contrast to other manufacturers. "The person who has the conscious mind to purchase a piece of bamboo - versus a piece of steel, or aluminum, or carbon fiber that's who we want to be in business with, those are our fans," he said, "If someone doesn't get it, they don't get it."
Locals interested in purchasing handmade gifts this season can search on Etsy and even narrow results by location. O'Malley and Kitchen both have shops on Etsy and encourage Park City residents to reach out local to local. Olive and Tweed also features several local jewelry artists as well as a myriad of products from artisans around the world. Freidman also encourages locals to visit Soul Poles shop to make and customize your own set of poles.
Where to buy products mentioned in this article:
AllAroundArts - Metal sculptures and wall art created by Lauren O'Malley. Buy online: www.etsy.com/shop/AllAroundArts.
Knitched - Knitwear and custom clothing created by Ashley Kitchen. Locals should use promotion code "PARKCITY" to receive free shipping. Buy online: www.etsy.com/shop/knitched.
Olive and Tweed -Handmade and unique items with a "vintage and urban appeal." Visit the shop: 608 Main St. Buy online: www.oliveandtweed.storenvy.com.
Soul Poles - Buy online: www.soulpoles.com. Call to arrange custom workshops: 1.888.612.SOUL. Workshop located at: 6440 Business Park Loop Rd..