Tacoma is named an Etsy Maker City, an attempt to bolster and celebrate craftspeople

Oct 13, 2016, 5:52 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2016, 5:15 pm

Stephen Jones and his coworker at work at Tacoma Manufacturing (Photo courtesy of Stephen Jones)...

Stephen Jones and his coworker at work at Tacoma Manufacturing (Photo courtesy of Stephen Jones)

(Photo courtesy of Stephen Jones)

Tacoma was recently chosen by Etsy as an Etsy Maker City . But before I explain what this means, let’s ask a simple question: what’s a maker?

“It’s a good question! People who make things!” laughs Amy McBride, Arts Administrator for the city of Tacoma. “It’s artists, it’s craftspeople, it’s hackers, it’s inventors. It kind of came out of the DIY movement. People who use their hands, who put things together, who bring ideas and creativity to the fore.”

McBride says making is built into Tacoma’s bones.

“Tacoma is an interesting town because it’s built on manufacturing and industry. I think the artists and craftspeople are the new industry. We have a great letterpress community, glassblowing community, metals and ceramic.”

What Etsy wants to do is connect craftspeople with city government to help these small, DIY businesses grow, which is also good for the city. Successful craftspeople can fill empty shops, bring more foot traffic to a shopping district and beautify a city with creativity and art.

“We are conducting a survey to figure out what is it that makers might actually need,” says McBride, who is passionate about helping makers make money. “Do they need that training to get their stuff online and to be able to sell through Etsy? Do they need networking events so they can share information? You know, we’re even fantasizing about creating a work pool of tradespeople and craftsman who can help support the maker movement. Some kind of way for people to have somebody else help with with the distribution and the fulfillment. So many makers do everything. They make the product and they trod it to the post office and do all the packaging. How can we figure out what some of those bottlenecks are that can really help people thrive?”

Tacoma/Pierce county also has a program called Spaceworks, that teaches existing businesses how to be more successful.

Stephen Jones owns Tacoma Manufacturing; they design and make canvas and leather goods for other companies. He says being an entrepreneur is always risky, but it’s easier to do in Tacoma, as opposed to Seattle.

“Tacoma is cheaper than Seattle,” Jones says. “Amazon coming in, they’re blowing rents through the roof. The hard thing is, now a lot of people who live and work in Seattle, they’re buying up houses in Tacoma and they’re commuting on the Sounder. So that makes it tough. My wife and I were trying to buy a house this last year and we couldn’t because all these Seattle folks were coming in, throwing mad cash on houses.”

But Jones isn’t bitter. He takes the change as a personal challenge.

“Basically, what it tells me is, hey Steve, work harder, be smarter, do better. I think more people coming from Seattle, living in Tacoma, actually gaining Tacoma pride, spending money in Tacoma, [this is what’s] going to keep our restaurants alive. It’s going to keep our retail shops alive. Am I worried about it? No, I think it’s a good thing.”

April Norris co-owns Tim + April.

“We sell primarily on Etsy,” she says. “We make art prints and greeting cards. So we mostly do locally based things. So we’ll do, like, a heart of the map of Tacoma or map of Seattle. So Tacoma pride is a really big thing, we noticed, and that’s why our business thrives here.”

April and Tim joined Jones and McBride in Brooklyn a few months back for the Etsy Makers City Summit, where craftspeople and government leaders from 13 cities met to network and trade ideas.

Norris believes that Etsy has been a huge part of furthering the current makers movement.

“I think that it gave legs to a lot of businesses. It gave them a further reach and a little bit of confidence to businesses. Like, I think I might be able to make it if one person in each state buys my thing each month. Then I can eat, you know? And that’s what it’s done for us this whole time is, well, we can pay rent again so we might as well keep going. And that’s been a big deal.”

If you’re a maker in Tacoma, click here to take thee city’s survey and find information about a networking event happening this Monday.

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Tacoma is named an Etsy Maker City, an attempt to bolster and celebrate craftspeople