Sunday, December 5, 2010


Having grown up in the Rust Belt, I've seen friends and family buy livable houses in safe neighborhoods for pennies on the dollar one would pay in Chicago, Bay Area, or the Northeast Corridor. In places like the Ohio Valley, or around Pittsburgh, there are old commercial and industrial buildings sitting abandoned, some of which could be acquired for the cost of just transferring the deed from a grateful owner. A wealth of opportunities for low overhead lay out there in the places most people would prefer to ignore. I really enjoyed this story about a maker who became self-sufficient by setting up shop in Detroit. Here's the statement from her website about her products:

Cyberoptix Tie Lab founder Bethany Shorb has applied her experience as a sculptor, couture, costume and graphic designer to transform a much maligned business necessity into a subversive object of desire with her witty hand printed neckwear. Cyberoptix ties and scarves are represented by more than 200 stores in a dozen countries: from Fred Segal in Los Angeles to Libertine in Western Australia. A paradox for the times, Cyberoptix Tie Lab operates one of the largest eco-friendly, solvent-free print shops in the country right in Detroit while providing a seditious, punky fashion statement for executives bound to the neck noose, and a sharply styled alternative for those who don't need to wear a tie, but chose to do so. 

Her products are definitely cool - I've seen them in numerous boutiques in Chicago - but I'm curious to know if she's 100% self-sufficient on just sales of the Cyberoptix products. Bethany also apparently supplements her income with a side-career as a notable costume designer and musician.

Another thought comes to mind, which is a personal criteria I actually developed in one of these Rust Belt towns. I really like walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. In Chicago, one can find cheaper living or shop space, by simply heading into underserved or distant parts of town. Aside from the risk of crime, I don't want to go back to being tied to a car as a link to the rest of my life, and I also don't want to feel compelled to stay inside all the time, behind locked doors. I'm eager to hear what Bethany has to say about where she lives in Detroit, and if it affects her lifestyle. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One Of A Kind Show 2010

After attending a focus meeting at school, I scampered off to the Merchandise Mart for a few hours, to see what I could find at the One Of A Kind Show, and discovered a wealth of folks making great stuff.

There were many, many makers of jewelry and garments there, as well as a sea of artists and woodworkers - far more than I could ever connect with in a few hours - many of which appeared to be doing this full-time or coming close to it.

Among the makers I chatted with was Elly Green, the creator of Clothing Brand Experiment, which makes their hoodies and other products entirely in Toronto, and Bob McNally, inventor and maker of the Strumstick, a beautifully simple stringed instrument, and Eric Rose of River Valley Kitchens, which grows and handmakes small batches of salsa and pickled veggies. I was also really geeked to run across Kellee and Matt of Overdue Industries, whom I mentioned earlier, and they said they'll be happy to give me a scoop on what they're doing these days, once the madness of December is over.

Then I had a really nice chat with Kimm Alfonso and some other staffers at Etsy, who happened to have a substantial chunk of real estate there, and they were rather impressed with my research and agenda in running this blog.

As it turns out, this is a pretty busy time for me, as well, but I'll try my best to document some progress every week until January kicks in.

BTW - Make 4A Living has a Facebook page you can follow!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Khader Humied of Metaform Studio

I decided to begin my series of interviews with an easy subject - designer/maker and green architect, Khader Humied, who also happens to be a longtime friend, whom I met when I was debuting my own eco-friendly products at the Design Show in Chicago.

Khader and his wife Chris Randolph started Metaform Studio in 2001, and quickly drew media attention for their clever handmade designs from reclaimed materials. For years they worked and lived in a large studio space an hour north of Manhattan, but recently they chose to move to a smaller space in Nyack, NY. Chris is an artist and full-time art therapist, and Khader has been working part-time for architectural firms, and teaching design at local schools. Khader continues to make Metaform products in between gigs.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DIY Trunk Show

This past Saturday I had time before class to drop into a hotbed of craftiness, where well over 100 people were displaying their hand-made wares. As is often the case at tradeshows, some makers were sharing a space with others (I remember doing the same at ICFF in 2004).

The Chicago Craft Mafia has been holding the DIY Trunk Show for several years now, and the energy and crowd at the event - considering it's far from the only craft fair this season - is quite impressive.

After chatting with a couple people I knew, such as Stephanie Keller, I mustered the courage to finally chat up someone new, and as it turned out, it was Cinnamon Cooper, one of the Mafia founders. She pointed me in the direction of Rebeca Mojica and Beth Cummings, and told me I needed to have words with Gapers Block, who was sitting there next to the DJ on stage.

To my great surprise, none of them bit my nose off, nor shooshed me away. In fact, they seemed eager to be interviewed for my research, and each got one of my 12 tiny business cards that I churned out an hour before arriving.

I clearly needed about ten times as many.

My Favorite Mirror

Here's an interview in Craft Mag with a couple that have been able to support themselves entirely on the things they handmake. At the time of this article, they had set up shop in Northern Indiana, and had quit their jobs to be full-time touring makers.

Since then, they've started a new venture, called Overdue Industries, making items from used books, and they have moved back to New Jersey. I'm hoping to set up an interview with them, and maybe we'll find out what they've been up to lately.

Monday, November 15, 2010

“Etsy saved my life”

That's what Yokoo Gibran says, now that she has quit her job in a copy center to pursue her Etsy-driven career of making knit scarves and accessories. But it's been alot of work: 13-hour shifts, and 50+ customer contacts a day. “this is the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

And she's not the only one busting her hump to make it on Etsy. Here's the scoop:

This article from last year is a good examination of the Etsy miracle and myth.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Make 4A Living is a research project, where I'll post what I learn from interviews with people who do - or aspire to - make for a living, as well as related articles, books, video and anything else I can dig up.

Why do this? Because we were made to make. It's woven into our genes. Sure, some of us can develop elaborate, complex products, but that is not the majority of making humanity has always engaged in. Basic necessities were the things everyone made, and got gratification from doing. Few of us make even basic items anymore. Mass production, specialization, and division of labor has taken that simple pleasure away from the majority of us.

Currently, a relative handful of 'professional creatives' get paid to develop the products that end up in our lives, sucking up the vast majority of invention and craft that should belong to all of us.
The increasing availability of cheap equipment, design tools, materials and space to make your own products has led to many entrepreneur makers doing their own thing. These are the daring souls I hope to glean wisdom from. Some of the first questions that come to mind are:
Who qualifies as an Indie Maker?
What do these people need to become self-sufficient?
What is hardest to get as an Indie Maker?

This blog will journal the process of becoming a self-sufficient maker, and isolate the obstacles and invaluable resources to making it as a maker.

Hope you can join me on the journey!