The soft, rhythmic click of knitting needles provided pacing for conversation at the Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs meeting on Wednesday night.
Four local members of AWE, along with Program Coordinator Yoko Morris, were in attendance at this month’s meeting in the Todd Mercantile and Bakery.
AWE is a program of HandMade in America, based in Asheville.
Morris said that HandMade in America has been around for 18 years, and that it has evolved from a project-based entity to focus on more sustainable programs.
According to their website, AWE was created as a resource for connecting rural female entrepreneurs with one another and with markets through which they may grow their craft-based businesses. AWE has around 90 members throughout 25 counties in Western NC.
Following the AWE Women Crafting Business conference in September, Morris said that the conference provided “a lot of good feedback” from participants, and that they would possibly extend future conferences to two days.
Morris asked those in attendance to share their experiences with craft shows, galleries, and other means of selling their wares. Member Eileen Flieg said that her experiences with craft shows have been variable, depending on crowds, weather, and other factors.
At some shows, artists barely break even, “once you consider gas, booth fees, and everything else,” said Flieg.
“Some shows get pretty expensive,” agreed fellow crafter and AWE member Susan Graham. Graham laughed and said, “I consider myself lucky to make three dollars an hour…that’s still better than what some artists get.”
Graham gave positive feedback on her experience with Hands Gallery in Boone, a cooperative owned and run by the exhibiting artists. Graham said, “It’s been around for 37 years…it’s a model that works.”
Morris said, “It’s just a matter of knowing your market, and how to reach those people.” Morris stressed the importance of educating consumers about the quality of the goods that are created by hand.
AWE’s mission, according to Morris, “is to grow the economy through craft. What most people don’t know is that we are an economic development nonprofit.”
Morris said that in the future, she would like to hold meetings and workshops in West Jefferson, Wilkes, Surry, and Yadkin to further the reach of AWE.
For more information about HandMade in America or AWE, visit handmadeinamerica.org.