New York's Grand Central Station saw an influx of artisans, crafters, small farmers and small-town entrepreneurs today, as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia hosted its inaugural "American Made" event -- a two-day celebration of American small businesses. A host of American icons participated in workshops and panels open to the public. Calvin Klein, Tory Burch, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and, of course, Martha Stewart herself were among them.
"If we encourage the handmade, the homemade, the entrepreneurial, we will have a more lively workplace. And that's what we're looking for. We're looking for life," said Stewart, explaining her motivation to present "American Made" -- not just as an event, but as part of a larger movement.
It all goes back to what most Americans would consider the key issue of our time: "This is one way to start growing American business, and start growing the number of jobs in this country," she said.
More than a product showcase for New Yorkers to enjoy, the live event was the culmination of a nationwide opportunity for small businesses to be in the spotlight -- and ultimately to win cash prizes of $5,000 (for editor selections) or $10,000 (grand prize for the audience choice winner). The small businesses being considered for American Made honors ran the gamut from farmers to artists to "cottage" food producers to new media entrepreneurs. Although 10 of the honorees were selected by magazine staffers including Stewart herself, the "Audience Choice" 11th won by popular vote.
"There were no barriers for entry whatsoever," said Martha Stewart Living Editor-in-Chief Pilar Guzman. "All you had to do was have an American business." She described Audience Choice winner Brian Howell of Bee Man Candle Company as coming from "tiny town America."
Howell hails from Canastota, New York (population 4,799 according to U.S. Census Bureau data in 2011) and started keeping his own beehives at age 13, when he launched Bee Man Candle Company. He calls himself an avid proponent of environmentally conscious practices, but not, according to Martha Stewart staffers, an avid practitioner of social marketing.
"He did not have the largest social network," said Guzman. Rather, word-of-mouth acclaim for the quality of his product spread through grass-roots and new media channels, ultimately winning him the most votes from among approximately 2000 Audience Choice nominees.
"There were many worthy candidates. Many more than you can imagine," said Stewart, who says she personally went through "reams and reams of files" as part of the editorial group's process to find their American Made honorees.
And according to the team at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia headquarters, there will be future opportunities for all the talented and passionate artisan/entrepreneurs that were not part of this inaugural "four-month salute to the goods conceived, created and produced in the U.S."
"We will be doing this again next year," promised Guzman. "So people should begin preparing."
The 2012 American Made honorees are:
Audience Choice Winner: Brian Howell, Bee Man Candle Company. Beekeeper and maker of naturally smokeless, dripless candles. Canastota, N.Y.
Jonah Meyer and Tara de Lisio, Sawkill Co. Husband-and-wife furniture crafters with a studio in the town of Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Erika Allen, Growing Power, Inc. National projects director and farm site supervisor for a non-profit that provides healthy food to low-income communities in multiple cities, including her home town, Chicago.
Andrew Tarlow, Jed Walentas and Peter Lawrence, Wythe Hotel. They converted a former textile factory into a 72-room hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y., while retaining the 111-year-old building's historical integrity.
Alisa Toninato, FeLion Studios, Madison, Wis. Artist known for her handmade iron sculptures, which require her to utilize a special furnace that she made, which burns at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Makié Yahagi, Makié. SoHo clothing designer who specializes in handmade clothes for infants and children. New York City.
Brett Binford and Chris Lyon, Mudshark Studios. Founders of a ceramics cooperative that, in six years, has grown from a basement operation to a 17,000-square-foot facility employing 25 people in Portland, Ore.
Andy and Mateo Kehler, The Cellars at Jasper Hill. Artisan cheese-making brothers who operate out of the cheese cave they built in Greensboro, Vt.
Flora Grubb, Flora Grubb Gardens. Former garden designer turned plant nursery owner in the industrial Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco.
Lena Kwak, Cup4Cup. Chef who developed a gluten-free flour with the support of former boss Thomas Keller. Yountville, Calif.
Carter Cleveland, Art.sy. Straight out of Princeton, this tech entrepreneur founded a website that curates art based on users' preferences, in the way popularized by the music site Pandora (whose CEO is now an advertiser). New York City.