On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, OLC attended UncommonGoods’ evemt, How to Make It: Collaborating, Networking and the Influence of Your Social Community featuring Katy Maslow and Michelle Inciarrano of TwigTerrariums and Kiel Mead, designer and founder of AmDC. The moderator of the event was Gaby Dolceamore, the Community Outreach Coordinator of UncommonGoods.
Gaby Dolceamore asked Katy Maslow and Michelle Inciarrano how they started building things together. “How did you start building terrariums,” Dolceamore asked. Michelle Inciarrano replied that she and Katy Maslow built things together. “We started building terrariums,” she said. “We asked our chemistry teacher about the optimum moisture level and it took a long time to pick our name and figure out a design. We were at Prospect Park when Katy picked up a twig and that’s when we found our name,” Inciarrano said. “We just went with it,” Katy Maslow said. “We got picked up by the New York Times the first time at the Brooklyn Flea.”
“I went to Pratt and I had a couple of encouraging teachers to go outside of school to learn,” Kiel Mead said. “I think I got kind of lucky and I just walked into some furniture stores in Williamsburg and Brooklyn in general. I was blown away by their craftsmanship,” he said. “I got into it with some guys and the internship was about a group of designers and it was this sort of community, but when I graduated, it was stagnant. There was no one new except myself. It felt like I wasn’t belonging in a community. It came down to showing yourself to other social networking areas. I started AmDC [American Design Club] and it started with just seven people and our first show was a success. From that moment on, people started paying attention. It was due to word of mouth and celebrating our work,” Mead said.
“How did you celebrate your communication style?” Dolceamore asked. “I think we have a good clarity to our style,” Maslow said. “We try to keep people engaged. Of course, our creations are quirky and people can connect with them because it’s so personal. It’s been really good,” she said.
“When people approach us,” Inciarrano said, “they are really excited. It’s also we get a lot of publicity. We as candidates love it. It happens very quickly. It’s very direct,” she said.
“I think with our group, we didn’t realize what we were doing,” Mead said. “We thought we were curators, the taste makers. Then we got involved with the NY Gift Fair. I’ve done about nine or 10 shows. I realize what affects a community. Our group was 24-28 people. It’s 24 to 28 people in a small room. It felt like summer camp. There was this notion that designers don’t like to share secrets and I wanted to break down that wall down. I think that at these fairs and events, it’s incredible how these designers want to share and stay in touch after. For the most part, you can come back to make money, but really, you want to be part of the community,” Mead said.
Dolceamore turned to Maslow and Inciarrano. “Has your relationship changed because of the business?” she asked. “Well,” Inciarrano said, “that’s a loaded question. When we first started, our first studio was about 250 square feet and it was someone’s carriage house. We had to walk around each other. Our first Christmas together—we worked 16 hours days easily” she said. “It was such an intense process.”
“It made us closer,” Maslow said. “When your business partner is your best friend, it’s another level to try to keep it that way,” she said. “It’s another level of trying to take care of each other. If one person’s not cool with one thing, we have a good game of give and take. We have a good balance of each other,” she said.
“What about your stuff?” Dolceamore asked. “It didn’t change our relationship at all,” Inciarrano said. “What we do is that the customers know what our strengths are. We get a giant notepad and draw a straight line down the middle and list our strengths. One thing people suffer from is stepping on each other’s toes. Keeping that in line, keeping it jotted down is a great idea,” Inciarrano said.
Dolceamore asked Mead how sharing works between artists at AmDC. “That’s a common misconception,” Mead said. “Our artists don’t collaborate together. We only get together to promote things. There might be the occasional project that’s done collaboratively. If you’re talking about core members, I would say that we give tasks out to people. That’s just general rules in our group,” he said. Dolceamore asked if members benefit enough from AmDC to give back to the group. “We don’t discriminate on who joins,” Mead said. “But we’re looking for who is trying to build our brand. We’re paying attention to what customers are saying. We do get emails from people about what AmDC can do for them. We’re not about what we can do for you. It’s about what we do for each other. You can be in a show with us and can be part of our showing. We don’t have membership dues or newsletters, maybe in the future, but not now,” he said.
“You guys take your craft and show it in workshops. How do you get back with sharing with the community?” Dolceamore asked. “We get a lot of people that get a lot of specific things. We teach generic things about terrariums, but we’ve done this for a long time now and we have the experience to make miniature people and have a good idea of what a good terrarium looks like,” Inciarrano said. “We can troubleshoot if we need to so we have experience doing this kind of work,” she added.
“We’d rather have people learn terrariums with us because we have a lot of experience,” Maslow said. “The workshops we do, we get a lot out of it. We get community, a lot of personal experience...It’s a lot of beautiful things. Everyone on our staff has a creative say over what we’re going to do. It’s constantly evolving and it’s about creating too,” she said. “The narrative is probably the most important thing of what we do. We also name each and every one of our terrariums. Once you ‘get’ it, you get to create and continue a narrative. It’s storytelling without writing it down,” Maslow said.
“There’s a saying that 20 percent of your staff does 80 percent of your work. What do you guys think?” Dolceamore asked. “It’s true,” Mead said. “I’ve had this question before. For me, I’m seen as the de facto leader of our group—when we first started, our first clients came because of connections of mine. We’re a grassroots organization that’s presenting in a museum. There have been times when I’ve been completely blown away when someone believes in what you’re doing and carries the torch for you. It’s such a great feeling,” he said.
“What we like to do is cover for each other,” Maslow said. “What happens is that one of us is 60/40, but it balances out. We find ourselves specializing in certain areas. A lot of what we’re doing is answering emails. But I feel like everybody does their job. We believe that if you’re working with us, you are part of the company,” she said.
Dolceamore asked how they get the most networking with others. “Mine is to make it digital as much as you can. People call it the web for a reason. Making these connections is all about PR,” she said. “We’ve been really hoping that our work is visually quirky. We meet people online and I feel that connection with people. If it wasn’t for ‘I know her, she knows me,’ this business isn’t possible,” Maslow said. “It’s also due to loyal customers. It’s personal involvement.”
“Katy is really good at social media,” Inciarrano said. “I’m not so good at it, but I love to throw parties. It’s one thing to meet people in person, but you’re filing them off. There’s no way to connect with them except online, but when you throw a party, you get people from media and they have fun with you. They see who you are. The connection stays with you; it stays with them,” she said.
“On connecting with people, what we do is we produce these shows. The thin about that is we get a few gems that launch people’s careers,” Mead said. “When it comes down to it, our shows are glorified networking parties. We put product out there and people can talk about it. It allowed us to create a marketplace for it, but it’s about communicating with anyone in general. It’s a vehicle for conversation,” he said.