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Shop Local, Bay Area November 23, 2009

Whenever money is tight, the same dilemma comes up: shop at a discounted big box to save money, or shop from small businesses to stimulate the local economy?  Most people would rather do the latter, but we simply don’t have the cash this year.  Luckily, there is a solution.  Ever the creative problem-solvers, many Bay Area businesses are participating in programs that give serious discounts (usually 15% and up) to local shoppers.

If you live in San Francisco, you can take advantage of Only In San Francisco’s ShopSF program.  Just show your driver’s license or other ZIP code-bearing ID and you’ll get great deals at their participating merchants.  Some of my favorite stores are on that list, like Urban Fauna Studio and Candystore Collective. Want to add your business?  Sign up here.

If you live in the East Bay, wear plaid this Friday to show your support for local businesses on Plaid Friday.  Their participating businesses include a lot of artists, including Ezme Designs, which makes beautiful ceramics, and TWO art subscription services–The Present Group and Art in a Box.  If you are an East Bay business, there is still time to participate.  Visit this page for details.

 

Apparently it is Easy Being Green July 2, 2009

Did you know that in addition to running the Bazaar Bizarre and working full-time in science education, Jamie Chan and her husband Blas Herrera also own Urban Fauna Studio, the best little fiber arts shop in San Francisco?  It’s enough to make a girl feel downright lazy.  Ever the overachievers (and responsible business owners), Blas and Jamie recently went through the process to make UFS a certified green business.  Jamie agreed to share their experience with me so we can all become green businesses, too.

First a little background on their business: Urban Fauna Studio sells independently made and eco-friendly craft supplies and tools. They focus on ecologically and socially considerate manufacturing practices, products made in the US and handmade items. They host a growing community of consignment artists and crafters, all of whom are committed to bringing quality handmade goods to their customers.  At UFS you can also explore the fiber arts through a revolving series of workshops (see their calendar for details).  Blas has a background in environmental science and Jamie is a science educator. Both of them come from families that have long enjoyed the fiber arts, crafting and DIY.

Why did you decide to pursue green business certification?

Just because many shops are independently owned and selling green products does not make their business practice green. We decided that a more genuine commitment to sustainability was to get certified by the San Francisco Green Business program. SF Green Business helps San Francisco businesses adopt environmental practices that are sustainable as well as profitable. They set stringent criteria, provide technical assistance, and publicly recognize and promote Green Businesses with a seal that enables customers to shop in keeping with their values. The Program is made of up of three City agencies: the SF Department of the Environment, the SF Department of Public Health, and the SF Public Utilities Commission.  We are the first fiber art and craft shop in the SF Bay Area with a green certification. We feel this sends a message to our customers and our fellow business owners that our commitment to sustainable retail goes beyond selling green, we live green too. It’s not hard to do considering many of us engage in green practices in our personal lives.

What are the benefits of being a certified green business?

San Francisco Green Businesses can save money by implementing practices that lead to cost savings in energy, water, and garbage bills. We have sought out a greener web provider who uses 100% green renewable energy, Carbon Neutral, who was actually less expensive than our previous, non-green, web hosting provider. We also participate in Carbon Offsetting with our electrical company and reduced our garbage bills.

We use all non-toxic, plant based cleaning chemicals which make us feel safer in our workspace and for our customers entering the store. We buy 80% post consumer, chlorine-free, recycled toiletry papers, 100% post consumer, chlorine-free printer papers, and 80% post consumer, chlorine-free business cards and promotional materials.

We enjoy a marketing edge over the competition. Coupon books, web site listings and other promotional strategies are fine. But a certification system with this level of transparency about standards and regulations makes us feel secure that people will know we are not trying to “green wash” them with hype.  (**Blogger’s note: I was shocked by how few businesses are listed on the SF Green Business site.  I thought SF was so eco-forward….)

Blas spent his college career studying environmental policy and social justice and I have studied marine sciences. We have seen the data firsthand and know this planet is not heading in a good direction with our current rates of consumption and use.  He and I both care very much about the future of our environment and we want our business to reflect that. The biggest benefit is the peace of mind that this certification brings, that we are helping to make our local and global community better.

How long did it take over all?

We started the certification process right before we opened our shop.  So about 10 months.

What did it take to earn the certification?  Were there requirements you found particularly easy or difficult to fulfill?

We had to submit a written application and then a detailed table or checklist of actions we would take to make our business meet their retail business standards. Then we had a phone consultation with some follow up e-mails. There was an initial site visit from a consultant. Between that time we had more e-mails and to provide more evidence that we were engaging in green practices. This included taking pictures of certain parts of the store, providing bills and proof of certain services.  Then there was an on-site assessment to verify that San Francisco Green Business standards are being met. We had a few more things to change and follow up on after our assessment. After submitting our changes, our San Francisco Green Business status was awarded! We were listed on the site within two weeks and warmly welcomed into their community. Nothing was particularly difficult. It was at worst, annoying and eye-opening to realize how every detail of our business could be greener. We thought we were “green” already and it was good to know that someone else was there to ensure we got all the aspects of our business to be more sustainable.

Would you recommend the process to other crafters/designers or only to people with stores?

Yes, if your business is certifiable we would suggest it. They currently certify hotels, restaurants, offices, retailers and dentists. This INCLUDES home businesses….and we do mean you, indie crafters! Your studios, offices and work spaces within your home can be certified. It does not take a long time. Our case was an exception, most applications should be approved within 4-6 months.  There is really no reason not go through the process if you can devote the time. We estimate that we spent no more than 20 hours total on this certification process. The certification program in SF is free of charge.  Many towns have a green certification program…we encourage you to look at your options and get involved.

Did you get any help during this process?

Nope. We didn’t know of any certified green indie retailers at the time, but now YOU do! Feel free to contact us. We are willing to answer questions and in general help to promote other green indie craft businesses. The nice thing about being indie is that we all really DO need each other to make an impact in the world of corporate run, big box stores. Being green together, being transparent about our goals, is a good thing. Lean on people in your local business community, you’ll be surprised about how much you can gain from it.

Well, folks, there you have it.  I’m definitely going to look into this for my own home office.  Thanks, Jamie!  If anyone else has experience with this process or is thinking about becoming certified, please share below.

 

Maker Faire Madness June 4, 2009

It’s been a crazy week.  After getting back from New York late Monday night it was a mad dash to finish two days worth of contract work and everything I needed to do for the Bazaar Bizarre and When Creativity Knocks (both at this past weekend’s Maker Faire).  I only slept 5 hours each night, during which time I had several stress dreams, including having to perform a trapeze act in front of thousands of people with only ten minutes training by a hairy, naked French woman.  I ditched the circus as soon as I realized my face wasn’t on the poster and the audience wasn’t expecting me anyway.

There were a few snags, like having to leave Eleanor on her own to finish the last hour of mock-ups, and not being able to find the catnip, bells and beans I needed for the WCF steak cat toy demo, but everything got done in the end and the results were fair to good.  The Bazaar Bizarre raffle looked fantastic (thank you volunteers and friends/family of Jamie!), the demo went smoothly (though I had to omit the filling step), and the Sweet Meats sold really well.  In fact, all the vendors did really well.  Everyone kept remarking on how the recession didn’t seem to exist inside the Maker Faire.  Maybe the attendees save so much money by growing their own food and building their own vehicles that they have plenty left over to spend on plush meats and robot soap dispensers.

I love that the Maker Faire Bazaar Bizarre helps me pay my June rent, but I get a little sad that I can’t attend it anymore.  I got to go the first year, which was awesome, but it’s so much bigger than it used to be and all of the new stuff is so tempting.  I want so badly to ride the two-person ferris wheel, but my short lunch break doesn’t allow time to wait on the long line.  This year many of the exhibits were open on load-in day (Friday), so I got to see a few things after setting up that night, but I had to work all that day, so my participation there was limited to about half an hour.  Next year I’m going to load-in first thing on Friday so I can spend the rest of the day exploring the exhibits.  Not everything will be up, but I’m sure it will still fill the day.  One highlight of the Faire was getting an Editor’s Choice ribbon from Becky Stern at Craftzine.  I’ve been secretly coveting one of these for years (I’m a HUGE fan of Craft) and it gave me a nice “mission accomplished” feeling at the end of an insane week.

maker faire editors choice

The day after the Maker Faire was my birthday, so I did a little shopping for myself on Sunday.  I got an awesome tool apron from Polly Danger (I made her assistant take off the one he was wearing and hand it over), a sweet little wrist wallet from eleen, and the most awesome snail mail stationery set from Jill K. in L.A.  My friend Lydia moved across the country to Pittsburgh so I am currently writing her real letters on ugly stationery I bought in high school with lots of cross outs.  She types on lovely onion skin paper using an antique typewriter.  I think the snails will help bring me a step up.  When I first saw the stationery in L.A. I was determined to buy a set even though it seemed expensive to spend $5 for one letter’s worth of paper and envelopes.  Then I heard a man at another booth explain to his wife that of course he was going to buy this $6 card, because he couldn’t think of anything better to spend his money on than a way to meaningfully communicate with his friends.  I couldn’t agree more.

tool apronwrist walletsnail mail stationery set

 

Biz Miss Workshop in San Francisco April 4th March 29, 2009

Reading blogs is great, but sometimes you want more.  Sometimes you want to be able to ask questions in person, as they come up.  Sometimes you want to be around other people who are struggling to do the same things you are.  Sometimes you want to learn a little more interactively than you do by just reading.

That’s why on Saturday, April 4th, I will be co-teaching a crafty business workshop with Jamie Chan (Bazaar Bizarre, Mary Jane’s Attic, Urban Fauna Studio) at the California College of Arts.  From 10am until 4pm we’ll be covering everything from marketing to pricing to leasing retail space in an intimate, interactive format.  This is a Continuing Ed. workshop, so there’s no application necessary, but space is limited, so be sure to register early.  At $75 for the whole day, this workshop is already a bargain, but I guarantee it will pay for itself in less than a week.  Bring stories and questions to share, and we in turn will provide a cornucopia of resources for you to take with you.  See you there!

 

When God Closes a Door, He Opens a Closet September 3, 2008

I was saddened to learn recently that San Francisco’s Stitch Lounge is closing its doors for good.  Though it will continue to operate as an online entity, offering tutorials and a blog, their fantastic, in-person classes are coming to an end on September 12th (click here to sign up for one last class).  Here is a snippet of the announcement the lovely Biz Misses of Stitch posted on their website:

Some 4 and a half years ago, three hopeful soon-to-be-Stitch-B*tches held hands and jumped and opened the first sewing lounge ever….We achieved so much more than we ever imagined and so it is with pride that we look to our next life chapter where we focus on our families and (non sewing) full-time careers. To make room for our new experiences, the time has come for us to close the San Francisco lounge (the brick and mortar portion of it, that is). While the physical studio will no longer be available, we will keep the virtual lounge alive and continue to post free downloadable tutorials and keep you up to date with the goings on in the sewing and fashion world and with the crazy B*tches!

But as they say, when God closes a door, he opens a closet, sometimes in the form of a tiny fiber arts studio.  On August 25th, Jamie Chan, the organizer of my favorite craft fair, Bazaar Bizarre, and the person who introduced me to needle felting (i.e. wool sculpture) announced the opening of Urban Fauna Studio, the brick-and-mortar entity of her business, Mary Jane’s Attic.  UFS is located at 1311 16th Avenue (between Irving and Judah) and has hours Friday – Monday 10-6:30 PM and by appointment.  Like the Stitch Lounge, Urban Fauna Studio is an open workshop that hosts classes, sells supplies and runs a consignment boutique.  But whereas Stitch emphasized sewing, Urban Fauna is all about everything fiber arts, from spinning to felting to weaving, and only carries eco-friendly, socially responsible products by independent designers, like Biz Miss favorite, Girl on the Rocks.  I am VERY excited to stop in this weekend.

Also on my list of must-see shops this weekend is WhizBang Fabrics, in the Mission/Potrero Hill neighborhood.  WhizBang also opened just this year and were responsible for this summer’s RockMake Street Festival, which combines my two most favorite things: rock and roll and crafting.  I couldn’t decide whether to apply as a maker or as a musician, but then I found out I’d be on my honeymoon then, so that settled that.  Located at 3150 18th Street, Suite 113 (on Treat @ 18th), WhizBang carries mostly printed cottons, both vintage and modern.  Though I have yet to visit, they carried many WhizBang fabrics at the Stitch Lounge and from what I’ve seen, the designs are really fantastic.

Though neither Urban Fauna Studio nor WhizBang are a substitute for the Stitch Lounge, they both give me something new to get excited about and it’s nice to still see Biz Misses blazing trails out there.  Rock on, ladies!