Megan Auman, Designer-Craftsperson

Megan Auman, Designer-Craftsperson

Megan Auman Cuff and Cozy

Megan Auman, cuff and cozy

When you go on Megan Auman’s website, it’s like dropping by the inviting home of a stylish friend, one who really knows how to accessorize. You’re greeted with cheerful music, and a quick video in which the attractive young designer-metalsmith highlights the process and purpose behind her jewelry, compositions of steel and silver wire that are dramatic enough to make a fashion statement, but comfortable enough to wear every day.

“That video has really been a positive thing for me,” says Auman, who gets recognized from it at events and shows. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re the jewelry designer.’ It took me a while to really understand the importance of being a brand – being yourself, establishing yourself as a personality, and then making people feel connected to you.”

In her sideline as a consultant on craft business and marketing, Auman offers group coaching and online courses on everything from pricing and wholesaling to how best to structure a creative practice. She tells makers the most important thing they can do to succeed (besides create a great product, of course) is to build their brands.

“People want to connect with the person behind the object. The brand is the person,” Auman says. The reality is, “We are a culture that responds to brand and celebrity and personality – which could be taken as a negative,” she points out. “But the flipside is, we also have this renewed interested in handmade, artisanal products. All of the trends are pointing to you as the designer, or the maker, or the artist – whatever mantle you want to take on – having to step up and be yourself, be the public face of your art.” (And in the Internet age, that’s never been easier. Auman’ s pro tip: “One social medium I think every artist, designer, maker, craftsperson- anybody trying to build a personality brand – should be on is Instagram. Of all the social media it’s the most personal, but in a way that really works for visual people.”)

Auman lives and works in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, a small town that, conveniently for business, is just a few hours by car from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Her father owned a machine shop founded by her grandfather, so she grew up around manufacturing. At 30, she’s had a range of experience as a maker and small-business owner, shown at indie and mainstream craft fairs as well as big design trade shows. She did a line of home accessories in laser-cut metal at one point, but right now is focused on her jewelry, which is handmade in batches with help from her production assistant, and sold in museum stores, craft galleries, and boutiques.

The career track for makers has changed, she observes, even from as recently as 2006, the year she graduated from Kent State University with an MFA in jewelry and metalsmithing. Then, “it felt like there was one path I was supposed to take. Actually two. I could teach, or I could do shows, and my first year out, I did both,” she says. “Now I feel there are so many more options. I think it’s important to let go of any assumptions of the way things are supposed to be. My approach has always been, let’s just try it and see what happens. Adopt an attitude of openness and exploration, rather than waiting for someone to give you the prescribed path. Because there is no prescribed path anymore. It becomes more about experimentation, which for a lot of people is challenging. For me, it’s exciting.” 

Ways of working can take a variety of forms, especially as more craftspeople explore the world of design. While some are managing to connect with big companies, even scoring licensing deals, makers should consider “the solid middle, designing and working with smaller stores,” Auman advises. “People want to make the leap from – you know, selling online, doing some shows – right to Anthropologie or West Elm. They’re often unprepared for it, because they’ve never worked with any retailer. And it’s a big step from producing work for a weekend show to producing a really big volume order. So it’s important to think about smaller stores that maybe have the right aesthetic or feel, and start with them.”

Above all, she urges, try to keep it fun. “People let themselves think that the only creative part of their business is actually designing and making the product,” she says. “I like to think every aspect of my business can be a creative endeavor, an extension of my creative process. That’s what gives you the freedom to hand over at least some, if not all, of the making of your product to someone else. Because no matter what you’re doing, you’re creatively engaged.” 

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft's contributing editor.