It's a sad-but-true tale as old as time: an independent artist or designer manages to build a following through sheer creativity, only to find her designs ripped off by bigger players once they gain enough visibility to actually make a living off their work. It's a narrative that's played out over and over with fast fashion retailers like Zara, Forever 21 and River Island, and it's enough to make anyone's blood boil.
But it's not the way things have to be. What if instead of ripping off the designs of smaller artists, bigger, better-resourced players actually found a way to support and elevate the work of indie artists?
That's what Madewell has long been trying to do with its Hometown Heroes program. Established in 2010, Hometown Heroes was created to give small-batch makers and artisans in the U.S. a bigger platform by selling their wares in local Madewell stores and online. And on Tuesday, Madewell announced plans to expand the program even further.
"We started the Hometown Heroes program in our stores to highlight our favorite local creatives and introduce our customers to new brands. We're excited to launch the next iteration of the program," Madewell's Head of Merchandising Anne Crisafulli told Fashionista via email. "We've created a program that will allow us to introduce our favorite makers to our entire customer base and give them meaningful support to help them grow their businesses."
In partnership with artisan-supporting non-profit Nest, Madewell is launching the Hometown Heroes Collective, which offers entrepreneurship resources and training to help indie makers grow their businesses. Through the Collective, a select group of printmakers, jewelers, ceramicists and the like will receive business coaching and access to digital "office hours" from mentors on the Madewell team, in addition to membership in the Nest Guild, an international network that offers free entrepreneurship education to artisans.
Add that to the fact that they'll be able to have their pieces professionally photographed and shoppable on the Madewell site for at least three months each, and you have a prospect that's sure to be enticing for many small-batch makers.
Each cohort or "class" in the Collective will feature between six and 10 artisans, with the first class featuring a woodworker from Wisconsin, a quiltmaker from Georgia, a ceramicist from New Jersey, a hatmaker from Tennessee and more. While the Madewell and Nest teams are constantly keeping a lookout online and in person for new talent to bubble up, interested artisans can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an application for future Collective classes.