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Chicago Craft Mafia Helps Makers Get Products on Shop Shelves

By Patty Wetli | March 28, 2014 7:16am
 Chicago Craft Mafia's workshop "Get It on the Shelf" will teach artists and crafters the art of making offers shopkeepers can't refuse.
Chicago Craft Mafia's workshop "Get It on the Shelf" will teach artists and crafters the art of making offers shopkeepers can't refuse.
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Chicago Craft Mafia

RAVENSWOOD — There's the sort of mafioso who sends his rival off to sleep with the fishes and then there are the members of the Chicago Craft Mafia, who are far more likely to make miniature cement shoes that can be worn as earrings.

Despite their rather ominous-sounding name, the Craft Mafia are a totally legit collaborative of independent crafting business owners. The group's mission: to help their fellow makers and artists succeed in growing their enterprises by hosting seminars on everything from copyright issues to how to put a price on your work.

Sunday's upcoming workshop at Lillstreet Loft — "Get It on the Shelf" — is a perfect example of the Mafia's efforts.

The panel discussion and Q&A session will bring together shop owners and handmade artists to talk about how the latter can best convince the former to carry their product.

"We want to see more handmade, more locally-made, more American-made goods in shops," Mafia member Michelle Kaffko said.

Though websites such as Etsy have made it easier than ever for artists and makers to get in front of customers without having a brick-and-mortar presence ("maker" is the preferred term over "crafter," which conjures up images of grandmothers knitting potpourri pouches), "a lot of purchases still happen in shops," Kaffko said.

Herself the maker behind Snarky Sleeves — a resusable eco-friendly alternative to cardboard coffee-cup wrappers — Kaffko said a number of her customers find her online after discovering her work in a store or at a market.

"The consumer gets to see it, gets to touch it," she said. "Being in shops boosts online sales."

For "Get It on the Shelf," the Mafia recruited shop owners who represent the gamut of purchasing methods. Some sell items on consignment and split the profits with the maker, others rent out booth space in their shop to individual artists, and then there are those that buy goods outright at a wholesale price.

The Mafia's goal, ironically, is to protect makers from con artists.

"Some makers will agree upon a retail price and then find out that it's been selling for double" and they haven't been sharing in the added profits, she said. Other "makers have had their designs stolen."

Because most makers started out as hobbyists who happened to latch onto an idea that other people said they liked, the fine points of running every aspect of a small business can prove overwhelming, Kaffko said.

"For a lot of people that's the most difficult part — to wear different hats, to say, 'OK, for this hour I'm only going to do bookkeeping,' and then to shift into the making aspect of sitting at a sewing machine or getting behind the pottery wheel," she said. "It's work. Any work is still work."

But the good news is that demand for handmade goods seems to be on an upswing, Kaffko said.

"I get emails all the time from stores. More stores want locally-made goods," she said. "The quality is usually a lot better, it's what consumer demand seems to be going to."

To RSVP to "Get It on the Shelf," email chicagocraftmafia@gmail.com. The free event will take place from 2-5 p.m. Sunday on the second floor of Lillstreet Loft, 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Participating shops are Wolfbait, Local Goods Chicago, Neighborly and Inkling. Maker panelists are Shayna Norwood, Steel Petal Press; Caroline Healy, Substance Designs; Megan Owdom-Weitz, Megan Lee Designs; Andy Witt and Nancy Pizarro, Circa Ceramics.