In the last decade, DIY has moved well beyond scrapbooking and Martha Stewart into a new wave of indie craft. It's a movement that spurred the rise of Etsy and the mobilization of craft collectives, pods of designers and crafters in cities across the country who come together to promote all things handmade. But for a time, it almost seemed as if that movement skipped Nashville.
When Shea Steele opened Local Honey in a 12South rental home in 2005, she changed that. Even though there was little attention paid to local designers at that time, Steele interspersed a few frocks made by locals with her host of vintage fashion finds. More than half a decade later, Steele has moved to larger digs to at 2009 Belmont Blvd., and Local Honey has become the nucleus of local fashion design.
While Steele had a difficult time finding those first designers, Local Honey now features 12. "By selling vintage, you get close to one-of-a-kind piece, but with original designs, you really hit that on the head," Steele says. "That's been a huge factor in the success of the store."
That success was more than a coup for Steele, whose name is now as synonymous with local fashion as it is with Nashville's own brand of cool-kid style. The burgeoning appeal of Local Honey has shown that Nashville isn't impervious to the indie design movement after all — in fact, there is a niche market starved for more one-of-a-kind designs.
Artist and crafter Ashley Sheehan began to mull over the idea of launching a retail shop to sell local handmade goods while recovering from a car accident. Sheehan, who had studied social work at Austin Peay, never intended to become the next beacon in Nashville's craft movement. She simply wanted to go after what she cared about: artwork and community involvement. In that hospital bed, the idea for Made was born.
Sheehan rented a postage-stamp-sized retail space on Porter Road in October 2010, searched Etsy for local sellers and placed a few of her own creations on the shelves — among them clever collages of pets in suits and intricately stitched bib necklaces worthy of their own spread in Nylon magazine.
As any crafter will tell you, many a customer or retail buyer will look at something you've spent days creating and say, "I could've made that." So at first, it wasn't easy for Sheehan to convince designers their pieces would sell. "When I call and tell a vendor that something sold and I need more, there is this amazement," Sheehan says. "When I have them pick up their checks at the end of the month, you can see a look in their eyes like, 'Really?' "
Made flourished with the support of creative types like Kate Mills, who ran a nonprofit in East Nashville and an Etsy shop before partnering with Sheehan. Driven by a shared desire to fearlessly promote all things creative, Sheehan and Mills joined to expand Made.
In December, the two women started setting up shop in Riverside Village, breathing life into a blue bungalow that boasts exposed wood beams, hardwood floors worn just so, and 1,400 square feet of space begging to be adorned with crafty goodness. It was here that Made blossomed into Old Made Good, which is located at 1304 McGavock Pike.
Dubbed OMG, the store offers handmade jewelry, accessories, fashion and beauty items and, among other curiosities, an array of vintage finds, many of which are once-discarded pieces that begin anew as Mills repurposes them into covetable home décor.
As women who are intimately involved in indie endeavors — Steele designs the White Rabbit line of clothing sold at Local Honey — Sheehan, Mills and Steele know that convincing customers to move away from mass-produced goods isn't easy.
"We need the girls from Belmont and the women from Green Hills," Mills says. "We need Nashville. This isn't an East Nashville thing, this is an everybody thing."
Mills and Sheehan are counting on customers who know that stores like OMG and Local Honey are more than places to buy stuff. Unlike Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, there are no stock rooms or delivery trucks here — only pairs of hands.
Now these arbiters of Nashville's handmade evolution are working to increase the number of hands creating. OMG, which had its official grand opening March 19, hopes to offer a range of classes on everything from screenprinting and basic knitting to opening an Etsy shop beginning as early as this spring.
Local Honey is also expanding. Steele has started leasing out studio spaces above her shop to local designers and creatives. One of those renters, Alexia Abegg, has opened the sewing school Stitch. So far, the response to Abegg's classes has been overwhelming, another small yet encouraging sign that the handmade revolution has firmly taken root here after all.
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