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Traditional craftspeople and skilled artisans are attracting new customers thanks to the internet and the desire for personalized, environmentally sustainable, locally sourced goods.
Susan Raleigh is the kind of consumer who does her homework, so she turned to Google when her 17-year-old son needed a new mattress. She knew she needed a custom solution to fit his six-foot, five-inch frame, but wasn’t interested in one that would make its way to her doorstep crammed inside a box.
“My son has asthma and, because humans spend eight hours a night sleeping, a third of his life will be in direct contact with this bed,” says Raleigh. “I didn’t want him breathing in chemicals from off-gassing foam.”
It’s one reason she was happy to see Natural Mattress, owned by cabinetmaker Andrew Moir (CAPP ’15) and kinesiologist Mark Lootens, pop up in her search results. The company focuses on environmental sustainability, natural materials and old-school values.
“They took the time to get to know us and find out exactly what we needed,” she says. “The whole experience was positive and personalized.”
Raleigh isn’t alone in her appreciation for bespoke products and services, says Blake Kanewischer, a faculty member with SAIT’s School of Business. Until the early 2000s, he explains, people were enamored with the idea of standardization and consistency, and it was only the very rich who could afford anything made to order.
“Now, because of the internet, it’s more accessible for the average person to have custom pieces in their lives, whether that’s art, clothing or furniture,”says Kanewischer, who adds the same technology also makes it easier for artisans to bring personalized and locally sourced products to market.
The move toward “buying local” is one Kim Vanden Broek (BPA ’14) and Julena Schipper (BPA ’15) are banking their new business on. The duo’s Homestead Bakeshop on Fort Macleod’s main street specializes in artisan sourdough, and uses local ingredients whenever possible.
“My parents’ pork operation is 20 minutes away — they raise pigs outside on the grass in the sunshine — and I grew up understanding food tastes better when you know where it’s coming from,” says Vanden Broek. “Our customers also appreciate that we are using ingredients from the farm or ranch down the road.”
While the Homestead Bakeshop is setting down roots in a physical community, author and illustrator Cari Buziak (PCK ’13) is tapping into a virtual community. Her tutorials in Celtic art are all online, and she relies on Amazon to sell her calligraphy, lettering and adult colouring books.
Buziak’s success makes sense, says Kanewischer. “Online, individual artisans can market to tens of thousands of people almost more easily than they can to hundreds — allowing them to extend beyond farmers’ markets or neighbourhood sales, and sell their work worldwide.”
Six months after the first night in his custom bed, Raleigh’s son Matthew is well rested — and his mom is resting easy with her decision to support individual artisanal entrepreneurs.
“We are wonderfully happy with the quality of the product,” she says. “The whole experience is something I feel really good about.”
Text by Michelle Woodard | Photos by George Webber