FEBRUARY 10, 2015
On Monday and Friday afternoons at DM+D, you’ll find a small but dedicated group of young adults, ages 16 and up, working tirelessly on designing and making products. They are the Building Heroes, and they’re part of Public Workshop’s Building Hero Project, a young adult community design leadership program.
Building Heroes come in all shapes and sizes—high-schoolers, college design students, 20-something skateboarders, professional designers and carpenters. What they all have in common is that they’ve participated in at least one of Public Workshop’s community improvement projects, like the PEC Community Message Board we wrote about in November, and they want to continue to hone their design, fabrication and leadership skills beyond that single project. So they come to DM+D twice a week to design, build, and learn from one another.
“It serves as that place that people can come together and become great builders and leaders at the same time,” says Public Workshop Director Alex Gilliam. “There are really not opportunities to do these sorts of things for high schoolers outside of a trade program. For college students, there really aren’t opportunities to design ‘with’ and not ‘for.’”
Wynn Geary, a senior at Science Leadership Academy (and Building Hero) concurs, “As a high school student, it’s really great to have this network of the Building Heroes to help you learn because I don’t have a design class at school. This is place I can go to and get help and learn how to design.”
Late last Fall, the team launched a Building Hero Project shop on Etsy with ten initial products. From the very beginning, the elegantly simple wooden iPod speaker and the modular desk organizer were big hits. Within two weeks, sales reached almost $2,000, making it obvious that the shop could be a great way to help the Building Hero Project fund itself and to provide income to the young adults building the products.
It also teaches them the value of producing quality products that meet a need, as the marketplace ultimately decides what is and isn’t desirable through what buyers purchase. Every product in the store responds to a need identified by a Building Hero in his or her personal life or community. Gilliam says that what distinguishes the Etsy shop from other grant-funded programs similar to the Building Hero Project is that the bar for quality of the products is set much higher. “It has to succeed because it’s good,” says Gilliam, “not because someone is supporting your mission.”
Building Heroes also have to grapple with logistical issues, such as packaging, fulfilling orders, responding to customers, and tracking their time spent on all aspects of the store. Through the process, they’re learning about the nuts and bolts of running a business from beginning to end in a very hands-on way.
“The Etsy project is something that we’re designing and making and funding ourselves,” says Building Hero KC Shoot. “It’s a very egalitarian environment, and I really like that.”
Ultimately, the Etsy store is a way for the Building Hero Project to grow without having to rely completely on grant funding to sustain it. They’ve already added new products to the original ten, and every Monday and Friday presents another opportunity to add to the store’s growing line-up of thoughtfully designed and quality-crafted products that are #madeatDMD.
Interested in having a Building Hero product for your own? Check out the Building Hero Project Etsy shop online.