WorkOf: Building a Community of Brooklyn Makers
Launched earlier this year by John Neamonitis and Charlie Miner, WorkOf showcases a diverse array of largely Brooklyn-based makers—and, with new e-commerce functionality, make their works easy for consumers to buy. As the duo starts to look beyond New York to explore other manufacturing communities, they're also distinctly aware that they must look beyond their site, too. "The online interface can only get us so far," says Miner. "It is a community and it’s very much alive. It’s very important that we bring people together in real life." Read on for more about how the group is bringing makers together.
How did WorkOf come about?
Miner: It started with BKLN DESIGNS about a year ago. We started seeing a lot of the people that are now on the site. It was exciting to be there and see everything is going on—[there was] a lot of original work and interesting pieces.
Neamonitis: A lot of it stemmed from the fact that when you go to these deisgn shows, people get together for a couple days a year. But there was no place for these people to congregate year-round. We wanted to create that same sense of community and camaraderie that you get when you create a design show with a lot of people. But it’s accessible for a wider audience. WorkOf is a year-round deisgn show in some respects.
Miner: It’s really important that we not just connect the makers with the consumers, but also help connect the community across makers, in this case Brooklyn.
How do you find the people you work with?
Miner: A lot of it came from the original experience of BKLN DESIGNS. From there it spread through word of mouth in part and from John and I traveling to the far corners of Brooklyn and meeting with everyone that’s part of the community.
Neamonitis: We meet everybody individually that’s on our site, in most instances on multiple occasions. We try to make sure that there’s a level of commitment to craftsmanship, it's a business that can scale—can they manage customer orders in a timely manner? Have they spent money on photography to make sure that their products are shot in the best possible way? We always say it’s that commitment to craftsmanship—people that have dedicated their life to it. That's what we screen for.
What do you think is special about the making scene in New York?
Neamonitis: There’s a move away from reclaimed pieces and this overt green thing that was going on for a long time. There was an industrial feel here for a very long time that I think is evolving—it’s not going away it’s just changing a bit. Reclaimed pieces and being green is still extremely important to everybody in the community but they’re also bringing design sensibility to things. It’s a little bit like a modern industrial with a twist feel.
The community is growing so fast. You can’t keep up with it. They’re so many makers here doing amazing work.
Are there specific resources that make it easier to be a maker in Brooklyn?
Neamonitis: In terms of sourcing materials, we always hear from makers that everything is a stone's throw from their workshops.
And I think back to the Architectural Digest show. When the show was over, there was a group of designers all hanging out after the show, wanting to be around each other—it wasn't forced or contrived, just people just wanted to spend time together. It’s been fun for us trying to build this community.
How have consumers been reacting to this community?
Miner: It’s been interesting. There's a move away from mass-manufactured over consumption. We always say people are trying to reconnect and re-establish relationships with the pieces that are part of their lives, whether it’s a coffee table or a chair. There’s a very real desire for people to get to know the people behind the pieces, the materials, the stories, rather than that anonymity that existed in manufacturing for a long time.
Neamonitis: Whenever possible we try to encourage studio visits, picking up the pieces in person or having them delivered by the maker.
Miner: You can get on the subway, ride your bike and in 20 minutes you can be in the workshop of the person who made the piece. I think that’s a very powerful thing. You don’t get that with a lot of things in your life. It’s rare you can go touch and feel and see something being made for you.