Launching Our Product Line at Maker Faire 2014
The first few months setting up Coming Home Goods involved dozens coffee dates with city employees, entrepreneurs, people who worked in the prison system, garment makers and artists, and design students. I learned something new and valuable with every connection I made, garnering more ideas and fleshing out a business plan. In one of my meetings, I connected with CC Clark back over a slice of pie. Until then, I had not met someone more passionate about our company’s mission to help formerly incarcerated men and women find jobs, and it just so happened that she had twenty plus years of sewing experience. After a few discussions in February, I invited her to come on board as our Sewing Director. By April, she had helped us secure a booth at this year’s Maker Faire and a speaking spot at the Maker Faire Textile’s Lounge to talk about Coming Home Goods.
For those of you who don’t know, Maker Faire is the world’s largest show-and-tell that happens all over the world, including Tokyo, Rome, Santiago, and Oslo. Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, the Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. The mecca of the Maker Movement, Maker Faire is a place where all types of “makers” show what they have made and to share what they have learned.
We decided to launch our first line of pillows and rugs at Maker Fair. We hadn’t even begun prototyping but we were feeling the love each day from the growing group of followers on Facebook and Twitter kept cheering us on.
The weeks leading up to the show were coffee-fueled and intense. We had to design and create a logo, website, marketing materials, and prototype pillows and rugs. I was still working full-time at the Pacific Institute, so CC and I would sketch designs over lunch and pick out clothing and fabric from SF Goodwill’s Outlet when the store opened at 8:00 am.
In addition to displaying our products for sale at Maker Faire, I wanted to offer attendees a chance to weave something small using recycled clothing that they could take with them. With projections of 100,000 attendees for Maker Faire, I knew had a lot of cutting to do. Eager to begin incorporating our social mission to our work right away, I looked for a way to hire someone in the community. I connected with an employment officer who worked at a non-profit family shelter in San Francisco and asked her if she knew of anyone who might be interested. She put me in touch with Serena, a mother of two who was looking for work. We hit it off right away, and Serena became our first production assistant helping to wash, cut, and prep the fabric before it was sewn or woven.
As hard as the three of us were working round clock the two weeks leading up the Maker Faire, we wouldn’t have been close to being ready had it not been for the amazing support of our volunteers. An old high school friend of mine, Courtney Fone, volunteered to design our awesome logo. Once our logo was finalized, I set up our website using a beautiful Squarespace template I found online.
My roommates and I hosted two “cutting parties” and invited our friends to come over for pizza and beer in exchange for helping us cut clothing into yarn that would be used at the DIY station of our booth. Fifteen of my friends and people on our email list serv agreed to help work shifts the whole weekend in exchange for weekend passes to Maker Faire.
I even had a friend, Dave Garipey, volunteer to drive up from Los Angeles the day before Maker Faire to help me set up our booth and film a few videos to promote Coming Home Goods that weekend. The night before the first day of Maker Faire, Dave and I stayed up until four in the morning finalizing the online store for our website and prepping for my talk at the Textile Lounge. It was not easy, but we were ready to roll by Maker Faire. I was blown away by the support of the community to help Coming Home Goods get off the ground, but I believe it indicates how ready people are to welcome more social enterprises like Coming Home Goods.
Our volunteers, CC, Salena, and I spoke to hundreds of people that weekend, sharing out story and teaching adults and children how to weave at the DIY station. We were also able to glean valuable information from potential customers at Maker Faire. Rather than make the DIY weaving station free, we charged $10 per person. We would waive the fee if participants (0r their parents) took a 10 minute survey that asked questions about our products we had on sale. This incentivized taking the survey, and we were able to gain insights on potential consumers’ perceptions of our products and brand. From a public relations standpoint, Maker Faire was a complete success. Even so, I was surprised by how few products we sold that weekend. It was a great reminder that getting someone excited about an idea and getting someone to buy something from you were two completely different stories. The business idea floated well with every person we talked to, but it was evident from our survey and sale results that our products needed tweaking.
All our efforts, however, did not go unnoticed. On Sunday afternoon and just a couple hours before the weekend event ended, a Maker Faire staff person stopped by our booth to award Coming Home Goods with the “Best in Show” ribbon. Talk about a shock; I didn’t even know Maker Faire awarded prizes! We were told that MAKE Magazine and Maker Faire awarded Editor’s Choice Ribbons to the Makers that have demonstrated great creativity, ingenuity and innovation for their Maker Faire project. The ribbons were handed out at each Maker Faire and signified the highlights of Maker Faire. Pretty sweet!
As we packed up the cars equally thrilled as we were exhausted, we reminisced on the last two days, feeling grateful for the lessons learned and company kept that weekend. One thing was clear; this was not the end for Coming Home Goods, simply a beginning. I predict there will be many more small challenges and big wins along the way. I hope you join us for the ride.