The first time Handmade Kalamazoo – a space for Kalamazoo’s local artists to sell their work – received funds, they were thrilled to put $250 to work from the Change Makers’ Grant through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Today, thanks to the addition of Makers’ Mart at the Catalyst University 2015, Missy is ecstatic to say that she will be using the $10,000 in resources to help continue the growth of the business.
After battling through a total of 42 impressive applications, 5 hard working local businesses – Handmade Kalamazoo, Lush Gourmet Foods, Mamaleelu Cold Brew, Damn Handsome Grooming Co., and Pop City Popcorn – became finalists for Southwest Michigan First’s inaugural Catalyst University Makers’ Mart. The competition gave small businesses in Southwest Michigan a shot at $10,000 worth of resources for business growth. The businesses competed based on a three-part process:
- A judging panel who reviewed the finalists’ presentations
- Online voting by family, friends, fans, and frequenters
- Live voting at Catalyst University, which rounded up over 1600 attendees
The Makers’ Mart competition was inspired by the “Trade Not Aid” mantra that founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Andrew Rugasira, introduced to many of the people associated with Southwest Michigan First back in 2009. SWMF commented that for their organization, “It’s all about jobs [and that their] hope is to get Southwest Michigan purchasing products – promoting ‘trade not aid’ – from these makers so that these individuals can turn their passion into jobs.” That passion is exactly what draws people into Handmade Kalamazoo, where co-owners Missy Al-Azzawi and Bailey Mead have built a brand that people love.
So what was Handmade Kalamazoo’s strategy going into the Maker’s Mart competition? In hopes of not overwhelming their usual fan base with Makers’ Mart notifications for three months, they decided to make an event page dedicated to the Makers’ Mart competition and posted a “photo or image everyday with the link on where to vote. [They] kept it simple, but consistent – and managed to gain followers as opposed to losing them, which was awesome.” And as a ‘thank you’ to all of their loyal voters, Handmade Kalamazoo sent out packs of stickers and postcards with their new campaign slogan, MAD LOVE.
At that Academy Awards-like moment when SWMF brought the sealed gold-sparkly envelope to the Markers’ Mart competition sponsor Kay Palan, Dean of Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, and Handmade Kalamazoo was announced the winner all that could go through Al-Azzawi’s mind was, “NO WAY.” Her “thank you” for the win was nothing short of humbled and filled with gratitude for the Kalamazoo community: “Handmade Kalamazoo is a brand for the people of Kalamazoo. They know that. Our brand, our message, our product – it’s something that our customers know is for them. It’s theirs. We create and make what the people want, and we give back to our community through that. Kalamazoo won this for us.”
Even though SWMF is not certain if they will have another Makers’ Mart competition next year, there is no doubt in my mind that this year’s winner will put those resources to work to grow the Handmade Kalamazoo umbrella brand that now supports two other brands Fresh Coast Foods (best known for their Swoon Sauce) and Fresh Coast Dry Goods + Sundries.
If you haven’t already, check out all of the brands featured in this year’s Makers’ Mart competition and help them turn their passions into their job.