playing with the big kids: pop-up shops, partnerships, and perceptions

A guest post by Lindsey Fieldman from Ripe Goods.

Furniture and housewares retailer West Elm and the online handmade marketplace Etsy recently partnered for the pop-up shop event “we heart hand made art” at the Brookline, MA outpost of West Elm.

An unlikely pairing at first glance, the companies combined efforts created an amazing evening for the local community of artists, designers, shoppers, and friends.

The evening featured Boston-based Etsy sellers, lots of bubbly, great music, and fun hors d’oeuvres (hello, whoopie pies), all set against a backdrop of West Elm’s gorgeous modern displays, and cosponsored by Patch NYC.

The handmade sellers, a group curated by teams from both Etsy and West Elm, offered a range of goods reflecting the diversity and talent of independent designers found on Etsy, including paper goods from the delightful J. Hill, jewelry by yours truly, ripegoods, unique felted dolls by vintage by crystal, Leah Giberson’s very cool paintings, and amazing handbags by Rennes.

There is something curious about the fit between a national retail chain and indie artists, and yet the event benefited those involved in some interesting ways:

  • Etsy’s million-plus-and-counting twitter followers were introduced to the recently re-launched West Elm brand
  • the event drew hundreds into the store
  • but most of all, the support of an established brick and mortar retail chain (with a mission and aesthetic in line with those participating) benefited the Etsy-member artists. 

Partnering with an established brand like West Elm changes the community’s perception of the artist. We’ve chosen the independent path and all the positive and not so positive things that come with it – we own our designs, our schedules, our values. Yet we also often struggle against the budget pricing, product placement, and major marketing dollars of mass retailers.  Showcasing our work within a well-known retail shop was an ideal marriage of big box culture and the handmade movement.

The awesome PR folks from West Elm created gorgeous invitations and lots of buzz. The event received exposure from national top design blogs like decor8, elevating the artists’ brands simply by association.

Often independent art shows are held in elementary school gyms, empty parking lots, and the like. For the West Elm event, they made it easy for us to shine. Our job that evening was simply to show up and do what we do best – share our art and tell our stories.  In the very festive store, we were able to connect with customers, made it easy for them to buy local, and share the unique qualities and spirit of handcrafted items. We know where our materials are sourced, and the inspiration behind each creation.

Through events like “we heart hand made” West Elm is supporting independent design, fostering creativity and connecting in novel ways with its customers. The company recognizes that customers don’t only have all one line or brand of merchandise in their homes. The pop-up shop allowed the artists to experiment with new displays, and mirror the real homes of shoppers. Events and collaborations like these forge a new pathway, and perhaps even a new business model, for success.

Have you participated in something similar? How can we encourage companies like West Elm to promote similar events? This is just one way big business can help small business, what do you think are some others?

Lindsey Fieldman is one half of Ripe Goods whose mission is to create original designs for the body + soul using local and ecofriendly materials.

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