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A {made} community

Made in the community

{made} co-founders Tiffany Ralston (left) and Rachael Roewe put 9 percent of their sales back into local charities.

Photos by John Richard

Rachael Roewe and Tiffany Ralston started out as childhood friends in their hometown of Burlington. Both ventured out of Iowa and eventually found themselves back in their home state, and looking for new career directions. Reunited, in 2012 they joined forces to become co-founders and artists at {made}, an online shop selling artisanal goods that is based out of Iowa City.

Since opening, the venture has been more than a shop, as {made} made a pledge of conscious consumption and giving back. These components, which align perfectly with the triple-bottom line ideas of “people, planet and profit.” They reduce their environmental footprint by crafting their art using repurposed, upcycled, local, vintage and natural materials. This helps keep material out of the landfill and offsets the need for production of new materials. On a more personal level, {made}’s creative reuse of materials leads to items that hold a unique connection to the past or the environment.

For Roewe and Ralston, giving back isn’t an afterthought but an important part of their model. They put their money where their mouth is by donating a generous 9 percent of brand sales to local educational opportunities for women. They also “walk the talk” with efforts like their upcoming “Let’s Run. Period.” 5k event to support the Iowa City Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

Little Village recently had the opportunity to learn more about {made} and its sustainable business model from Ralston and Roewe.

LV: Tell us, what is {made} and how did it come to be?

Roewe: {made} is the brainchild of two girls who saw a need for locally made sustainable jewelry designs. We wanted to create a community of conscious consumers who appreciate what we do and value why we do it.

LV: Reuse and giving back are a strong part of your brand. Is this something that you designed into your business model from the beginning, or added over time?

Ralston: Reusing materials and giving back were part of our foundation from the beginning.

Roewe: Anyone can open a catalog and order supplies, the real makers look around and use what they’ve got and that’s what makes our work different and interesting. We love the full karma loop of good sourcing and giveback. To stop short at seeking profits only for ourselves seemed like cutting off the karma a bit. We believe in creating from materials we feel good about and then sharing any success we might have with other women and communities that inspire us.

Made in the community

” I love the challenge of taking things that would have been discarded and turning them into beautiful objects.” –Rachael Roewe

LV: {made} gives back to the community in a variety of ways. Where do you get the inspiration and what are some of your favorite ways that you’ve given back?

Roewe: We feel very lucky that we get to do what we do and with that comes the joy of sharing the opportunities that we’ve created with those who maybe haven’t had as many opportunities.

Ralston: When I’m working, designing especially, I get into a zone. Part of what propels me is knowing that when the piece I’m working on sells, it will directly impact another woman. It’s important to give and receive on all levels of your life. We are open to helping many organizations that focus on women. We’d love to hear from Iowa City where we can dedicate our 9 percent to in the future!

LV: Do you have any particularly interesting examples of materials reuse, or have you had any challenges related to materials reuse?

Roewe: I love the challenge of taking things that would have been discarded and turning them into beautiful objects. Last spring and summer, we sourced many of our beads from auctions, antique stores and garage sales but by the time winter rolled around we needed a little freshening of our beadstock. This summer we are launching ‘Project Re:Make’ to encourage our customers to raid their grandmother’s closets, and their own, for beads and chains to send in for {made} online store credit. We think people want in on the repurposing. It’s just too fun not to.

LV: Are there other ways that you try to reduce {made}’s environmental footprint?

Roewe: People probably laugh a little when they receive their {made} mail packages. We gather up newsprint and egg cartons from friends and family and every holiday we ask everyone we know to save their bows for us: We reuse it all. So no package ever really looks the same. That’s kind of our signature.

LV: What impact do you hope to have on your customers or the community?

Roewe: We want our community to hold out for things made better. We get a lot of messaging from media that more and cheaper is better, but sometimes we can buy less “stuff” in order to buy better.

Sheila Samuelson is founder of Bright Green Strategy in Iowa City, a mission-driven company dedicated to helping businesses and organizations of all sizes find success in adopting sustainability programs. Sheila can be contacted at Sheila@brightgreenstrategy.com.

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