Etsy brings new maker-manufacturer partnership program to Milwaukee

If you’re a designer or craftsperson hoping to earn money from your work, you know it’s easy to feel unexpectedly stuck, no matter whether you’re just starting out or have a growing small business operation. Maybe it’s just that you can’t make things fast enough. Or you’ve got great ideas you don’t know how to execute. Or all you need is for someone to drop out of the sky and give you a little nudge.

That last problem might be easier to fix than you think. Local nonprofits Riverworks, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, and the Greater Milwaukee Committee are teaming up with online handmade crafts store Etsy for the city’s first-ever “manufacturing meetup,” scheduled for April 26.

This event, part of an experimental program by Etsy to help designers connect with manufacturers, has been held in other cities such as Boston, New York, and Pittsburgh, with great success.

Etsy’s manufacturing initiative was started last year when the company became aware that many of the small businesses on its site were unable to grow specifically because they weren’t able to scale up their design or manufacturing abilities. The program allows Etsy users to meet and collaborate with designers and makers in the areas of apparel and textiles, machining and fabrication, jewelry and metalsmithing, and printing.

Amber Miller, regional project director at WWBIC, says she was contacted by Etsy several months ago to see if there was interest in an Etsy Manufacturing Meetup in Milwaukee. When she got the call, Miller says she knew it “just made sense” for Etsy to come to Milwaukee because there is so much talent here.

One of those talented makers planning to attend the meetup is designer Kelly Fitzpatrick, who owns Velvadeer Jewelry. Fitzpatrick says she has been in business for about a year as a jeweler, specializing in a process called “electroforming” that uses electricity to coat found objects with metal. She has been selling her jewelry at craft markets like Hovercraft and Maker Market and her business is thriving.

But her unique process is time-consuming, and Fitzpatrick says she can no longer keep up with demand. She is attending the Etsy meetup, which she heard about through WWBIC, for advice on refining her process.

At the event, she’ll meet guest speakers Anna Warren and Sarah Kirkham from Tactile Craft Works, a woman-owned leather goods shop; Rocky Marcoux, the commissioner of city development for the City of Milwaukee and a supporter of small businesses here; and Shannon and Kent Knapp of Milwaukee Blacksmith, a family-owned business that performs small-batch manufacturing and offers blacksmithing classes.

Miller says the event will be a strong networking opportunity with them and other artisans and manufacturers, and is hopeful it will strengthen Milwaukee’s creative community.

The Etsy Manufacturing Meetup will be held at 6 p.m. on April 26 at Goat Palace, 3740 N. Fratney St., Milwaukee. For more information, visit wwbic.com.