50 States of Style 50: Suzy Ekman of Makers Market

by Nina Myers McCammon

Makers Market is a San Francisco-based ecommerce site founded by Suzy Ekman that launched in June of this year. It showcases the work of leading American makers. Today through October 2nd, Suzy is extending an offer to 50 States of Style readers to shop her website and support American makers with a $10 credit. Use the code "STATES10" at checkout.

As a child, many of Suzy Ekman's weekends were spent driving through the Alabama countryside with her parents to check out a new swimming hole, restaurant, or historical site. But it wasn't always the destination on those trips that left a lasting impression; it was the makers they passed along the way. "If we drove fifty miles, we'd pass fifty potters, blacksmiths, glass artists, textile weavers, and furniture makers," she says. "And my parents would stop the car." All that creative exposure, plus time alongside her dad in his workshop instilled a profound, lifelong appreciation of craft and ultimately informed her career. Suzy is now the founder of Makers Market, an eCommerce site that launched in June celebrating makers and their craft. We recently spoke about her plans to grow the company beyond eCommerce, the superiority of handmade gifts, and how important it is to keep our dollars in America.

Julie Cristello

What was it about makers that resonated with you at such a young age and ultimately led to your career?
Watching them creating their products and chatting with them about their lives and how they learned their skills deeply effected me. In the majority of cases, the know-how had been passed down through many generations, and they were still using their forefather's tools. They were some of the most interesting, authentic, and down to earth people I've ever met. They were at peace with their lives, but desperately needed help getting the word out.

Is that why supporting makers is so important to you?
Yes, and I also want to see a healthy America. I want to do my part to help these makers grow and to keep more jobs here. There's still much work to do to educate people that they can acquire the most beautiful things and keep their dollars in America, and it's critical in order for us to pull out of this stagnant economy.

What's your long-term vision for MM?
I'd like it to be a combined retail-maker space, maybe in an old industrial building where each day the synergy goes on between the makers, the retailers, and the consumers. There will also be a big educational space for workshops. I'd love for it to be a pillar of the community.

Joshu+Vela founder Noah Guy - photo by Matt Edge

How do you find the makers you feature?
Originally, years of visiting the historical epicenter of American craft in Asheville, North Carolina, and keeping a journal of all of the artisans I met there, as well as makers met on my travels throughout the country. Since I'm a partner of SFMade in San Francisco, many of the makers are affiliated with this fine organization, and we have a giving back program with them to support their work. Also, tons of internet research and visiting local arts-and-craft festivals.

What's a typical day like for you and where do you do your work?
Right now, probably half my day is spent in my home office refining branding, marketing strategy, engaging on social media, website design, and overseeing order fulfillment. The other half of my day I'm all over San Francisco meeting with makers, designers, and artists. I'm anywhere I can open my computer and be on the phone.

Travel is obviously a huge part of the job.
Yes, to places like Sausalito, Napa, and Sonoma. All overnight trips, of course. Before the end of the year, I hope to make it to Portland, Seattle, and the southeast to see what's fresh.  

What's your favorite way to travel?
To drive from city to city stopping in all of the small towns along the way; the ones with the courthouse in the center square and shops and diners all around. I also try to stop at every single country store and artisan shop along those country roads. That's America to me.

Since you've covered so much ground, which part of the country speaks to you the most?
Being a Southern girl, of course southern cities like Charleston, Savannah, Asheville, and small towns around Atlanta. All of those places have moving historical sites, rich cultural experiences, deep making traditions, and lots of modern entertainment like rooftop bars and restaurants, hip dive bars with folk and bluegrass music, beautiful architecture, tons of Industrial-age brick buildings that are being converted into studios, galleries, and lofts. And shrimp and grits.

Kirsten Muenster necklace

What excites you most about something that's handmade?
I love the pure aesthetic beauty. Gifts are much more memorable and meaningful when they're handmade and original; it forges a connection between two people.

Which items from your shop do you personally own and love?
Right now, my favorite piece is Julie Cristello's Woven Plate on Leather necklace paired with the Toothpick necklace. I love her jewelry because of the authenticity of the raw materials (leather and bronze) and their tribal feeling. Visiting Julie and spending time with her in her home studio made me love the jewelry even more. My husband owns the wallet from Grits n Hokum and says its the best wallet he has owned in his entire life. He thinks it'll be the last wallet he ever has to purchase. It's so durable.

Which of your makers inspire you the most?
Jerry Kermode and his wife Deborah have been self-employed woodworkers for over 47 years and they're the kindest and most caring couple you'll ever meet. Jerry is a true artist and has a very magnetic personality and puts it to great use with his commitment to train a younger generation of wood turners. We just made a video of him.

Also, Kirsten Muenster is a fourth generation metalsmith who believes in the "slow fashion" movement. All of her pieces are thoughtfully designed using reclaimed precious metals, and the result is pure beauty. You can see her video here.

Joshu Vela white bag and fabrics. Cotton is grown by Texas organic cotton growers, milled in SC and sewn in SF.

Do you personally make or collect anything?
I always collect handmade American products. Wherever I go, I'm on the hunt. I did make quite a lot before kids. Sewing, baskets, wood work, rug hooking, cross stitch; just about any type of craft I could get my hands on. The majority of my gifts to people were handmade because I believed it made the gift meaningful and memorable. All of the wreaths I made for people 30 years ago still welcome guests on the front door at Christmas time, with the home owner still talking about where they got it, and how much they love it.  

What have been the most challenging and surprising aspect of starting up your own company?
Finding all of the marketing, eCommerce, and creative skills that are needed in a business like this in just a couple of individuals.

Any surprises?
Sadly, none. I think I've pretty much seen it all now after consulting for, and running hundreds of companies. After helping dozens of companies through turnaround situations, I've learned how to be resilient, patient, and persevere.

Passing a boat on the ferry

What would you be doing if it weren't this?
If I was retired, I'd be traveling around the country, staying in cool cities, trying new restaurants, learning about history and architecture, meeting makers, and collecting American crafts. Really just exploring and learning. I've never learned how to do relaxing.

Any upcoming events we should know about?
Yes, if you live in the Bay Area, stay tuned for an upcoming Makers Market popup in Union Square in November, just in time for the holidays.

A huge thank you to Suzy who shares her perfect San Francisco day with us tomorrow. Stay tuned!