The Jersey City Craft Mafia’s founders (l-r): Stefanie Flodmand, Luca Cusolito and Chris Maguire
Photo: Emily August
Of all the mafias that may or may not have been meeting in North Jersey on a rainy night earlier this month, it’s likely only one of them was gathering over organic cookies. In a basement apartment on Christopher Columbus Drive, the nine members of the Jersey City Craft Mafia (JCCM) were reflecting on their first major hit — the Art Attack craft fair they held at Club H on April 26 — and planning for the summer ahead.
Founded in January, the JCCM aims to be a networking hub and event-planning powerhouse for Jersey City’s diverse craftspeople — from jewelers, knitters, and digital artists to screen printers, painters, and handblown glass artists. It’s three founding members are dripping with craft cred. Luca Cusolito, a web and graphic designer, also runs the vegan bath and body care company Lollibomb; Stefanie Flodmand owns a Jersey City-based dog walking business as well as Trashed Clothing, which focuses on screenprinted wearables and pop-culture inspired jewelry (including an acrylic Golden Girls necklace that’s recently garnered a lot of buzz); and Chris Maguire is one of the founders of the online handmade marketplace Etsy.
The Jersey City Independent recently sat down with Cusolito and Flodmand for a chat, and these godmothers of local crafting discussed what the community can expect from them, and why now, more than ever, crafters need to stick together.
Jersey City has a well-established art scene — why a group specifically for crafters?
LC: In terms of multimedia or visual arts, there’s a wonderful array of galleries and openings in Jersey City — there’s always something to do, which is part of the reason I chose to live here instead of hauling my cookies to Bed Stuy or some place in Brooklyn. But in terms of handmade goods, you don't see that as much. The Craft Mafia seeks to bring to light functional, houseware-type goods and handmade items — jewelery, wearables, bath and body products. You’d never see a bar of soap showing at 58 Gallery or a Golden Girl necklace on display at Lex Leonard. We also all make things that are affordable, nothing is really outlandish in price.
SF: An individual artist is going to tend to be more independent. They might partner with a gallery or interact with a curator, but for the most part they're working alone, whereas our events are about building community. We're very group-oriented — everything we do is beneficial for the group. Everybody brings an element to the table, everybody's ideas are equally important to us. It's important for us to be close-knit and tight. We're like a little mafia family, if you will.
What are the goals of the JCCM?
LC: Since we started we've had numerous mixers, gotten together to meet local artists, and we planned the Art Attack show, which had 29 vendors and about 400 attendees. Most of the vendors were local, but we had some members of the Richmond Craft Mafia and the Washington, D.C. Craft Mafia. We also started Friends of the JCCM, which gives opportunities to other small business owners or people who don't have time to commit or who are out of the area — ad opportunities, for example. We take out pages in niche appropriate publications, like Bust magazine or the Venus zine. With the recession, all of a sudden working 9 to 5 isn't enough. People are turning to their crafts to see how they can make some extra money. Entrepreneur magazine just reported that more businesses are starting up involving handmade goods. So we want to build a community. We want to show people that you can build a business and be successful.
SF: Everyone comes to the table with different backgrounds, resources, and connections. We try to encourage that if someone has a particular skill, they offer that to everyone within the JCCM and Friends of the JCCM. Someone might want to build a website, for example, and Luca is good at that. So we're trying to start a group that people can turn to for certain things, that can provide certain resources. We’ve done all types of craft shows and people come to us for advice, so maybe we can give people the confidence to go out and do a show. But maybe someone else can bring something to us that would be beneficial that we never thought of.
There are other Craft Mafias in other cities — what's the history of the organization?
LC: The Craft Mafia originally started in Austin, Texas, in 2003. They've since gone on to organize massive craft show events in Austin; some of them have shows on the DIY channel or sponsorships with different craft products. They're a bunch of super-motivated, ambitious chicks! At this point, there are about 50 craft mafias internationally — they're in Canada, the U.K., there's a new one in Glasgow. The most recent addition is in Philly, and other than that, closest to us, there are mafias in D.C. and Richmond. The New York City Craft Mafia actually disbanded abruptly — there was some kind of drama.
I started the Hollywood (Florida) Craft Mafia, and when I moved here, I saw there were a lot of crafty people in the Jersey City area, and I put feelers out to people — including Stefanie, who I'd known online for a few years. When I moved up here I had an instant friend. We were like, we definitely have to do a craft mafia. We started in January of this year with three members, us and Chris Maguire, one of the founders of Etsy. We put a call out to the community online, and from there we built our group.
Are there particular challenges for craft business owners in this economic climate?
LC: The hard thing at this time is you have to be dedicated to what you do, and willing to put in extra effort. You have to adapt. It used to be like, "Sure, I’ll just do some advertising," but now it’s getting to where you have to think creatively — using viral marketing and free resources like a Facebook fan page or Twitter. You have to be very careful what you’re spending your money on, and get creative about using the community — draw on each other’s resources and trade services. We’ve tried to do hand-in-hand things with local businesses, so we’re both benefiting.
There’s strength in numbers. People can feel a little powerless when there are outside elements making it hard for people to get where they want to go. But people are taking back their lives by using resources and connections. It’s good to feel like a part of a community when the nation is going through a hard time. It’s good to get out of the house, get together with other people and have a good time. So we’re trying to make people excited to take part in an event. We’ve held some open mixers for anyone who wants to come — it’s just a good social atmosphere, and we try to keep things inexpensive so anyone can join them.
What's in the works for the rest of the year?
LC: Starting in early fall and winter we hope to start teaching classes in the community. We just did an illustration class at the Stockinette, which everyone left with a finished three-panel comic. Stefanie and her mom [jeweler Laurie Pasternak of Prim at Heart] are considering doing a wire-wrap jewelry class. I’m considering doing classes in how to get started on Etsy, which will teach people when to list, online branding, stuff like that. We have such a large group of talented people with varied interests. We're hoping to do one or two classes a month.
SF: We're going try to have a Jersey City-based holiday craft show. And we're in the process of working on the permitting to do a street festival in Hoboken, where we'll have a tent and 30-40 vendors. That would give people the opportunity to check out handcrafted wares, and grab a beer and a hot dog on the street. It's exposure to arts and crafts, but it's also so that people that live in the neighborhood can come out and meet their neighbors. We want to have things happening that will be fun for everybody. We're not a craft clique, we're trying to build a crafting community.
For more: www.jerseycitycraftmafia.com