Edition Local brings story to buyers

David Briggs
INDUSTRY: Willis Bigelow constructs leather and waxed cotton bags in his shared Seahaven home, in Inverness. He and a rising number of other West Marin artists and makers are nabbing new customers through a recently launched online marketplace.  

Willis Bigelow began making bags two years ago, when he was still living in Brooklyn and wanted to fashion panniers to attach to his bike for a long trip. Since then, he has gotten serious about supporting himself financially with his leather and waxed canvas bags, and a website known as Edition Local is trying to help him turn professional.

“I’m not sure why, but there’s a renaissance of people making bags,” said Mr. Bigelow, who moved to Inverness last year. “Edition Local has definitely made me a bit more legitimate and organized.”

Edition Local, a project that began in July and launched the day before Thanksgiving, retails limited-run pieces made by artists living in western Marin and Sonoma Counties. With a marketplace and profiles featuring original writing and photography, it gives artists a forum for both selling their work and connecting with each other in the communities where they live. By delving into the lives and creative processes of each artist, Edition Local relies on an idea that the site’s founders call “People + Place” in order to attract customers.

“We write about the [artist], but also about the place and its history,” said Marialidia Marcotulli, a Bolinas resident who goes by “Mollie” and is one of the site’s three founders. “We’re actively making visible the narratives that have been lost or buried overtime. These narratives are part of the soul of a place and they run deep in the psychological veins of each community.” 

The story of Edition Local began when Ms. Marcotulli met Jennifer Jones, another Bolinas resident, a year and a half ago while surfing. Over breakfast in Stinson Beach, they discovered a shared passion for alternative, sustainable business models.

Later, Marion McKee, a jewelry maker and Bay Area native who knew Ms. Marcotulli from trade shows and surf contests, ran into her  also while surfing in Bolinas. “We immediately started chatting about this and that. I was still making jewelry and she was interested. Eventually, when Edition Local was being formed, she came to me and asked if I would like to make some special pieces for them.”

So far, artists profiled on the site have given Edition Local good reviews. Though unsure exactly how the website will affect their sales, many artists are pleased that Edition Local has put such a high premium on community building.

(The project was originally funded by an unnamed donor who helped the founders launch the website and pay for around 10 part-time staff members. This week, Edition Local began a kickstarter to finance Edition 2.0, which will bring on artists from Oakland and Berkeley. Aside from the website, Edition Local is in the process of creating a community guild that will have a physical location where artists can share resources and knowledge.)

While a student at Sonoma State, woodworker Walter Blair Tom worked as a shopkeeper at 2 Mile Surfshop. It was there he met Ms. Marcotulli and began talking about local artistry.

“We’d hang out and chat about art,” said Mr. Tom, who transforms broken skateboards into custom-etched handplanes—something like a boogie board—while holding down a day job as a consultant in Sausalito and San Francisco. “Always, we had a common interest in surfing and art. That’s where I learned about Edition Local.”

Patricia Briceño, a Yucatan native whose art includes hand-dyed fibers and textiles, is another of the site’s 20 featured artists. “It has been interesting to be part of the beginning of a ‘new community,’” she said. “I say it in quotes because this community is already here, and Edition Local has taken the task to not only showcase the beautiful crafts that we produce locally, but also to tell the story of the people involved in making the product. That alone creates a more meaningful reltionship between the buyer, the product and the artist.”

Many local artists—including Ms. Briceño and Mr. Bigelow—are already integrated into the social media landscape of self-advertisement through sites like Etsy and other DIY retailers; Edition Local hopes that the detailed, personal artist profiles will help create a niche for the website in a competitive online retail landscape.

“Sites like Etsy provide a marketplace, but not a community,” Ms. Jones said. “Often [artists] get lost in the shuffle of Etsy. If these [artists] were more connected through a sense of real community, they would have more power to collectively buy materials or market themselves.”

Like other specialty boutiques, Edition Local’s products have a higher price to reflect the artist’s actual effort. But it is also flexible about what cut it takes when a piece is sold: it sets mark-ups on a sliding scale based on how long it took the artist to create each piece and whether the artist is already profiting from making art.

“Sometimes, [artists] are only in early development of their goods,” Ms. Jones said. “We want to see them succeed, so we may take less markup so they can recoup more of their start-up costs.”

In this way, the site’s founders say, Edition Local—in its early stages—is focused entirely on figuring out how artist contributors can earn a good living wage through website sales.

“We want to reeducate people about what it takes to make something by hand,” said Asia Wong, who works as the artist liaison for the group. “How much things should cost based on the effort it takes to make, not something made by a machine or slave labor. The prices are higher, but you get limited-edition work from the artist.”

Edition Local aims to add at least one new artist weekly. Once it identifies an artist, the company helps the artist to come up with a limited-edition piece that the website has exclusive rights to sell. The artist can market other pieces elsewhere, but this specific item is under contract to be sold through Edition Local: it’s their signature, so to speak.

It’s all a matter of Edition Locals’ core philosophy of transitioning from a retail businesses model that focuses on mass-produced, impersonal “commodities” to a marketplace based on sustainable, personal “goods.”

“For me, ‘goods’ are those items with which one has a more personal and intimate relationship,” Ms. Marcotulli explained. “You know its story, you care for it, you pass it on with its narrative. It does good in the world. A commodity is empty, shallow, and disposable.”