Eleven years ago, Craftin’ Outlaws was formed under the simple endeavor to fill a need. Liz Rosino Wright found a void in the Columbus marketplace in which to sell her handmade, rockabilly themed items. Very few outlets existed which would carry what was considered an “alternative” or non traditional form of craft. In the newly found spirit of DIY, she took matters into her own hands and the very first Craftin’ Outlaws was created in a grungy, music bar in what was considered, back then, to be gritty part of the Short North.
Since Craftin’ Outlaws inception handmade has become a household name. Craft shows, pop ups and indie markets fill the Columbus landscape. What was once alternative has become mainstream. Even though Liz has moved on to bigger and better things, her original concept for a DIY marketplace continues. We though it appropriate to begin our journey into blogging with a look into our past and a nod to the OG of CO!
For those unfamiliar with you and your work what is your handmade background?
Like many, I have been crafty since an early age and as a teen pursued activities such as sewing, papermaking, and painting. During this time and then into my early twenties I worked summers at the local amusement park first as a portrait artist and then really found my niche in the airbrush booth decorating everything from t-shirts and mugs to hats and keychains. I am proud to be a professional artist since the age of 16!
Throughout my college years I continued to shift and refine my focus, starting in film production at Ithaca College then to traditional animation and time-based media more broadly at Columbus College of Art and Design. While I found all of that really interesting, I was also simultaneously starting to have fun in my free time with designing and sewing clothing, making jewelry, and hand painting housewares. For my final senior project, I developed an “e-commerce” website, created a “business”, and used these things I was making as my “products”. We all know how relatively easy it is to do now a days with sites like Etsy or Shopify, but this was back in 2003 before tools like these were available. After my presentation in class, I left the site online and was surprised when someone from California placed an order the following week! This was the start of my first handmade business, Lucky Kat, through which I was self-employed since that moment until 2010.
What were your reasons for starting Craftin’ Outlaws?
When I was getting my original handmade business going I was always looking for opportunities to supplement my online sales and market to new audiences. I knew I also enjoyed meeting customers and other makers in person and the creativity of merchandising a booth space but what I was creating through Lucky Kat was a bit too edgy with its tattoo/rock n roll aesthetics for the traditional craft or art fairs. With a little research I set out to participate in as many “indie craft shows” in the Midwest that I could find that might be more appropriate, finding inaugural events in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. After all this travel, I remember thinking wouldn’t it be nice if there was a fair like that locally in Columbus! My next thought was, well I’ll just do it and from there it started.
When I reflect on the early years on Craftin’ Outlaws something that comes to mind is the work that had to be done to communicate about the word “craft”. At that time it seemed to have something of an “I glued some cotton balls together to make a snowman” or “I made this lanyard at summer camp” connotation. It did not necessarily communicate that it was something of quality or style that people would want to use, wear, or put in their house. I remember standing on High Street in the Short North during a Gallery Hop in 2005 handing out Craftin’ Outlaws promotional postcards to people as they walked by and needing to have this conversation repeatedly. After a couple of years, Columbus definitely started to pick up on this and that explanation didn’t need to happen as much anymore. Also of course thanks the year round presence of local shops like Wholly Craft, the overall “indie craft movement”, and major players like Etsy and Pinterest that broadened and changed public perceptions on a larger scale.
Why was it you left Columbus?
In 2008 I felt the itch to explore something new. I also felt that while successful, my business was at a turning point that required further significant investment to continue growth and I was also interested in exploring other fields. I made the decision to pursue a career in museums and attend graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. This was a bittersweet time for me—I certainly missed friends, the local crafty scene, and the wonderful live-abilty of Columbus. During grad school I began closing the door on Lucky Kat and found myself instantly missing owning my own handmade business. So of course I thought, well I’ll just start another one! My goals for my next business were that it would have a more focused product offering and while it needed to be highly profitable, it was not meant to eventually grow to be my day job. This became the Blue Diamond Stamp Company, which I continue to run today alongside my museum job in Portland, Oregon.
Have you created or helped organize any other craft events?
Because I am not busy enough, I recently started a new business named Assembly with my husband, Brian. We are really excited about it! We are hosting hands-on craft and DIY workshops in bars and other social spaces in Portland. Similar to the desire to create an “in real life” community through Craftin’ Outlaws, we would like to bring people together through Assembly for fun social events where you get to be creative and learn how to make something cool. I have witnessed how drinks and crafting can go hand-in-hand since our first Craftin’ Outlaws event! (Okay, I likely witnessed that personally before this time too…)
I really love the process of selecting creative craft projects to explore and prototype to see if they may be a good fit as a future Assembly workshop. This involves chatting about potential ideas with friends, sourcing supplies, working through the project, and then taking notes on what worked and what didn’t and how it may be appropriate for different skill levels and environments.
What has been your biggest struggle in running your business?
My biggest struggle is likely not an unusual one– I have a lot of ideas that I want to pursue and not enough time in the day! I am currently running two businesses and also have a “day job” as well. I am really motivated and excited about small and micro-business strategies and find myself turning everything into a new business idea! Crocheting is the craft I do for myself in my free time that I am not trying to turn into a business… although I could teach it some day.
What are you currently listening to or watching while you craft?
In my stamp-making studio I usually turn on old tv sitcom episodes, such as Seinfeld. The stamp-making process has me moving around every few minutes, so I like to have something on in the background that I don’t have to follow very closely. When Brian and I are prototyping Assembly workshop projects, we usually put music on. We just hosted a macrame plant hanger workshop a few weeks ago and he put together an epic playlist of 60s and 70s library/stock music that was just so fitting and fun.
What’s next in your handmade life?
Blue Diamond Stamps continues to grow and my current focus is on custom work. I have the pleasure of working directly with customers such as other small business owners who want their logo to brand their packaging and brides who are creating DIY wedding invitations. Our Assembly craft workshops are getting started in Portland and we are so excited to meet people and teach some fun projects.
Lastly, any chance you’ll attend Outlaws again as a vendor?
Yes, there is certainly a chance! I have been watching the evolution of the fair for years now and I am so proud and impressed. The Midwest Craft Con also looks like such a great event too. I really do hope to get back to Ohio soon.
Liz Rosino Wright is a multi-disciplinary creative entrepreneur and educator based in Portland, Oregon. She is the founder of several successful craft and DIY businesses and events, including her newest venture, Assembly: gather+create, and has also worked on numerous museum exhibitions and educational programs across the country.
Craftin’ Outlaws is a handmade marketplace, established in 2005 and based in Columbus, Ohio. Applications for our December 10, 2016 holiday fair close on September 20th. Visit, www.craftinoutlaws.com to apply today.