Tonya Tate is a Memphis accessory-creator who designs under the brand, Plentty. She is also the captain of Etsy team "Memphis Melange," which includes over 80 area crafters and artisans who sell their wares on the site. In less than a month, Memphis Melange and Indie Solutions are bringing an innovative event, Indie Style Market: Makers on the Mississippi, to the new Tennessee Flea Market.
- Beale Street Chick: Obviously I know what Etsy is and the readers of this blog are likely familiar with it, as well. How would you explain the concept of Etsy to someone who had never used the site before?
Tonya Tate: I describe Etsy as a global marketplace for handmade products. If there's someone in the world making it, you can probably find it on Etsy! They also support folks selling vintage and upcycled goods as well.
- BSC: Give me the range of what your team sells. What are some of the most unusual items?
TT: As of today, the Memphis Mélange Team is now 90 members strong! We have artists making all types of things including jewelry, hats, clothing, photographs, furniture, and things for kids and pets. Some of the more unusual things members of our team make are Black Water Crafts knit toys and Kaseykuffs - wrist cuffs that help alleviate carpal tunnel.
- BSC: Last December, several Etsy vendors participated in an event called "Meet Your Maker" on South Main (ed note: held by other individuals). What did you think of that event and did that event lead you all to this one?
TT: Actually No. A friend - Tracy with MemphisFlash launched her Etsy store in a month. I'd had my account since 2006 but had been procrastinating on listing items for sale. She motivated me to get back to making things and start listing them for sale. When I started spending time on the Etsy site and looking at the teams, I noticed that Memphis did not have a team. The closest ones to us were in Nashville and Little Rock. So, I created the Memphis Mélange Team around November 8th 2010 and people starting joining immediately.I'd been making things and setup as a vendor in the parking lot next to Beignet Cafe during the River Arts Festival. I wanted to get some holiday sales going but didn't have an avenue to do it. I posted a message on the team forum asking who would be interested in doing a Christmas show which we held at 517 South Main on 12/4, the same time as the Holiday Parade. We organized that event in less than 30 days and next month's show builds on that experience.
TT: I LOVE Memphis and I want to be one of the people working to make our city great. Much of what ails us is related to economics. Because Etsy exists, it's possible for everyday people to have some control over their economic position. God has blessed me to travel and many of the cities that I enjoy visiting are those that have a diverse local indie scene Not just music or not just film, but retail diversity as well. Etsy provides a relatively low-cost testing ground for products that can eventually grow into larger entities which will benefit the entire community. The workshops that we have are designed to help the person who may be making things already just for family & friends, but has always wanted to see if they could make a business out of their work. From basic start-up information like business structure and intellectual property concerns to creating your brand to leveraging social network to grow sales, our goal is to give attendees a good start on knowing what they need to do to launch their creative business.
TT: Back in January, I'd setup the @IndieStyleMark twitter account and had just started tweeting about the event. At this time I was still looking for space because my original choice was just too expensive. Dennis Stewart, the operator of the TN Flea Market saw my tweets and sent me a message to contact him. He was excited about what we were doing, especially our support of the Autism Solutions Center. He made us an offer we could not refuse! I was there last weekend and it's definitely not your Cousin Irwin's flea market! It's great to see such a diverse group of everyday people engaged in the New American Dream of Entrepreneurship.
TT: Most of our vendors are from the local area but we do have a few from Nashville, North Carolina, and Georgia. We have Paper Bags Gone Wild who takes paper bags and creates couture handbags from them. We have handmade soaps by 100 Handmade Soaps, baked goods by Bit Bakes, and children's clothing & toys by Turtlefat and Mr. Sogs creatures - just to name a few of our vendors.We're especially proud to have The Fabric Source in Jackson, TN come in with sponsorship from Babylock to do a free Make & Take. Attendees can come and make their own Eco Bag to take home with them. Our goal is to inspire people to want to learn more about sewing. There will also be a Make & Take for kids 5 & under by Amie Plumley & Andria Lisle. We're hoping to add a few more Make & Takes so we're asking everyone to keep checking our website.We're also going to be showing a documentary by noted indie craft personality Faythe Levine called "Handmade Nation", a film celebrating the indie craft community.
TT: I was in a meeting with my cousin who just happens to work at the same company I do. She was telling me about her twin girls, one is learning to play the guitar and the other has a passion for fashion. It took me back to my childhood of sketching for hours in my room. I thought about how I had no opportunities to engage with my love for fashion living where I did, here in the Midsouth. I had the idea to do a fashion design competition to give some exposure to those in our area who are interested in fashion. Today, First Lady Michelle Obama is the fashion equivalent of Princess Di or Jackie O so she immediately came to mind.
- BSC: What do you think has led to the increase in independent makers and doers?
TT: There are a lot of theories on this. My personal view is that most people today grew up after the industrial revolution where mass production ruled and sameness took over. Most of us didn't grow up seeing things being made. Now we are embracing the unique, the different, the individual, the homespun in sort of a quiet revolution. There are also those who feel that corporations are bad and people are good.
TT: Phenomenal! I've spoken to so many people who've told me "this is such a great idea! We need something like this in our area!"
- BSC: Do you want this to be an annual event?
TT: Yes - I would like ISM to grow into a 2-day event with more vendors, workshops, & special events. Even larger than ISM, is my goal of opening a Community Creative Center called Make: Memphis (M2), where locals can Lounge, Meet, Learn, Make, & Shop in a hip, cool environment all year long. Stay tuned!
The event will be held on May 7, at the annex of the Tennessee Flea Market, 7060 Winchester (Riverdale at Winchester). Admission is $5 and proceeds benefit the Autism Solutions Center.
Find out more at www.indiestylemarket.net.