Three years ago, an innovative Pittsburgh developer agreed to work with some local glassmakers at the Pittsburgh Glass Center and display their handcrafted pendants in his model apartments.
The result? Mosites Corp. made Eastside Bond apartments more beautiful for prospective tenants, and glassmakers got exposure they wouldn’t have received otherwise.
That single, innovative example of developers working with glassmakers galvanized a group of Pittsburghers who saw the potential for the partnership and considered how to scale efforts.
First they had Etsy come to town for Etsy Manufacturing Day in Pittsburgh, a free event focused on Etsy’s new marketplace connecting manufacturers with its global community of 1.5 million designers. The goal of the March 2016 event was to help Etsy designers in Pittsburgh find the right partners among area manufacturers to help with production to scale their businesses.
Following that, Pittsburgh became an Etsy Maker City which led to a collaboration between the Pittsburgh Opera, Thread, Modesto Studios and others in an innovative entrepreneurial pilot program that taught women in homeless shelters how to make goods.
It also provided the spark that initiated the Craft Business Accelerator, started by Bridgeway Capital to create and nurture relationships between real estate developers and local craft businesses and makers.
The goal was to help boost the local economy while raising awareness of local makers, from woodworkers and ceramicists to glass artists and candle makers, and plenty more.
Everyone involved — makers, funders, supporters — loved the direction this nascent maker movement was taking and buzzed about growing it more. But how?
They sought advice in early 2017 from Duleesha Kulasooriya of Deloitte, who wrote a definitive paper called A Movement in the Making. He came to town with a team to conduct a series of group meetings, surveys, interviews and one-on-one sessions to find out more about Pittsburgh and its many makers.
In March of that year, a group of makers and other community leaders got together to hear Kulasooriya speak about the maker movement in general and discuss what they would like to see happen in Pittsburgh — where the opportunities are, for example, as well as the gaps.
The findings were encouraging. Months later, Deloitte published the “Pittsburgh Maker City Report” which showed that the region possessed many of the components necessary for a thriving maker ecosystem, but needed support to maximize the impact of this growing sector.
What emerged as top priorities: Access to national markets, technical assistance and accessible capital.
The report also highlighted the need to provide deeper and more tailored support for startup maker businesses from populations underrepresented in the maker ecosystem.
Around the same time another effort was taking root. Monmade was created as “a grassroots approach to aggregate all of the region’s top makers,” says Adam Kenney, director of the Craft Business Accelerator at Bridgeway Capital. The focus is on driving demand for maker products and creating a peer group for the exchange of best practices and the encouragement of project collaboration.
To help with that goal, the group hired the branding agency, Allen & Gerritsen (A&G), to help forge an identity as they worked to grow the maker movement in Pittsburgh.
“We realized that to go national with Pittsburgh makers, a more elevated overarching brand was necessary,” says Kenney.
A&G came to town, convening a group of makers and others in the city to help determine what makes Pittsburgh unique and to craft a message about the makers and this city.
Tim Reeves, who hails from Pittsburgh and is now principal of Allen & Gerritsen, reflects on that meeting and the process that followed.
“One thing you start to appreciate even more about Pittsburgh once you leave it is the sense of community,” he says. “Every city talks about community. But the bond between Pittsburghers is real, it’s tactile — and it matters. And so the first thing that distinguishes Pittsburgh’s maker community is this: it’s really a legit community.
“My colleagues who weren’t from Pittsburgh were blown away by it. They called it an aggressively friendly community and unceasingly collaborative.
“And then add to that Pittsburgh’s unique maker history, rooted in our industrial past, and you have something truly special. Growing up for me, the original makers were the community of steelworkers. Now they are crafters, knitters and woodworkers of the finest order. Different makers. But bound by the same sense of community.
“Some other places may have real community and some may have authentic maker history. But we have both,” he adds.
“We think Pittsburgh’s Maker Community is on the way to becoming a rising tide that lifts all boats. And a tide that will bring in new boats, too. We envision makers from NYC and LA coming to Pittsburgh to enter a more welcoming community, while producers from smaller towns will be drawn to the region to make at scale and to create at the highest level of their craft. We are proud to be part of it, and can’t wait to watch it unfold.”
In the end, the agency proposed the name PG&H, a play on the city’s name but in this case standing for Pride, Grit & Heritage. Those three characteristics were the ones cited most by the people in the meeting that day of what best defined Pittsburgh.
PG&H became both the brand and a pop-up store that opened Downtown in the summer of 2018, with a collection of masterful handmade products from Pittsburgh’s finest artisans, all under one roof. The project is a partnership between the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Bridgeway Capital and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
PG&H is a way for developers and anyone else to reinvest in Pittsburgh’s manufacturing sector and in its pride, grit and heritage.
The growing movement is more than a buy local campaign, it’s a new way of thinking about every purchase you make. From a $1.00 switch plate cover to a $15,000 dining room table, by thinking about Pittsburgh companies first, you can be part of changing lives. That includes:
- the homeless person learning to sew backpacks and tablecloths
- the glass technician offering a unique lighting alternative
- the ceramicist creating dishes and cups and mugs
- the graphic designers offering innovative wallcoverings
When you buy local from these maker companies, it helps them hire more people within our community and pay living wages. Another plus: They are comfortable hiring individuals who faced barriers in the past.
This is a sea change that every Pittsburgher can invest in and the possibilities are endless: From a bridal registry to a real estate thank you gift to bath and body products at local hotels. (In Detroit and Kansas City, some hotels are offering a basket of locally produced products that you can buy.)
As a result of the efforts behind PG&H, Pittsburgh’s community of producers has never been this thriving. See for yourself by shopping some of the products here and visiting the Downtown store on Smithfield Street.
Can you think of other ways to support the local maker community? Let us know here.