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Cover Story

Artisanal Orlando

Four local makers share the secrets of their success

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A handmade revolution is underway. Tiny businesses spring up daily, specializing in homemade jam or hand-knitted wrist warmers or single-source chocolate bars wrapped in hand-screened paper – and it's not happening just in trendy Brooklyn, but in cities across the country. The splash they've made, and the inroads into sales, have even caused multinational global brands to take notice – but does anyone really believe those Wheat Thins are "artisanal," no matter what Nabisco prints on the box?

An increasing number of consumers have become more cognizant of quality in the little things – a perfect heirloom tomato or a perfectly engineered shoulder strap – and some have come to expect a sense of the maker's hand instead of a factory feel. Thanks to the access afforded by Facebook pages and Etsy storefronts, some shoppers also expect to be able to communicate with the creators of the products they buy.

Here in Orlando, we have our own maker community, one that's been entrenched for years but has been steadily gaining acclaim as the artisanal revolution sweeps our culture. Some of them have brick-and-mortar shops; some cater to the wholesale trade only; others might run an Etsy shop, their own website or none of the above. But the community of people who use their hands to create something out of nothing, the DIY-ers who see a thing and want to make it a better thing; the obsessives who can't let a design challenge lie until it's been wrestled into submission … that's who we celebrate here.

Orlando Weekly is launching a semi-regular series of profiles of these people. To kick it off, we'd like to introduce you to a few standouts.

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Walnut Animal Society

walnutanimalsociety.com

Lauren Bradshaw's whimsical menagerie of animal friends – Henry the Fox and his pals – hit that crucial balance between sweet huggability and pristine construction. They're not so much a toy you'd put in the crib with a baby, more something you'd put on a shelf as decor; but once baby grows up, "they're good tea-party size," Bradshaw says. "And they sit up well."

The brand's twee, cottagey feel is the yin to the yang of Bradshaw's business acumen; Walnut Animal Society grew out of the astute realization that her first handmade products, needle-felted birds and cake toppers, required too much of her time (and her own hands) to ever be a scalable business, whereas a stuffed animal could be sewn by others and still retain her personal stamp.

Their almost immediate success took the fledgling company by surprise, and they're ramping up efforts to meet the demands of their first full holiday season. "I just learned that retailers and magazines start to think about Christmas in July," Bradshaw says, laughing. "I don't want to jinx it, but …" – here she drops the name of a national clothing and housewares retailer known to weaken the knees and wallets of women who appreciate all things vintagey/boho/handmade – "just placed an order for October. So we're ordering fabric in larger and larger quantities, trying to get ready for that." They've bought up all the orange wool – two different shades – their fabric supplier makes in the last few months, and Bradshaw is looking forward to the day that she's using enough to be able to order a custom dye lot.

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