Any entrepreneur is always waiting for his or her big break. Two Maine small-business owners and creative artisans may get just that — provided they get enough votes online. Jared DeSimio of Brunswick and Nanne Kennedy of Washington are two of 100 finalists — and the only participants from Maine — for the Audience Choice Award for the inaugural Martha Stewart American Made program.
American Made celebrates 10 rising stars selected by the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine — plus an 11th Audience Choice winner — from the worlds of food, fashion, design, community, gardening, crafts, technology and much more. Voting for the award runs through Sept. 24. The Audience Choice winner will be announced Oct. 8, participate in several events in New York on Oct. 16, and will be featured in the December 2012 edition of Martha Stewart Living.
DeSimio and Kennedy were selected from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants — DeSimio for his handmade men’s and women’s bags and accessories created from recycled materials, Kennedy for her yarn, sweaters and blankets created from handspun, superfine wool from sheep on her Knox County farm.
DeSimio, 32, first started making his bags back in 2008, when he entered a contest to design a bag for a local company. He has hardly stopped since, scouring garage sales, thrift stores, eBay and other sources for interesting fabrics, buttons, buckles and other found materials.
“I entered a contest to design a bag for another local company in 2008. I enjoyed doing it so much, I decided to try to make my own. One day I just made a bag on my wife’s old sewing machine,” said DeSimio. “I had never sewn before, but I’ve been working on them ever since. I guess I’m just compelled to make bags.”
Kennedy, 52, grew up on a sheep farm, and knew from a very early age that farming and raising sheep for wool was what she wanted to do. After learning grass farming in New Zealand and apprenticing with a German spinner, she purchased her Washington farm 30 years ago, and began making her signature supersoft yarn, blankets and sweaters.
“I wanted to do something with my brain and my body that had integrity, that captured the spirit of how we work together in the seasonal flow, that could not be reproduced in China,” said Kennedy. “[I wanted to create] a model for resource recovery that could be replicated in other value chains by paying incentives for high-quality materials, that were harvested right and benefited the landscape in ways we all want to share them.”
DeSimio and Kennedy do have one thing in common — both are interested in eco-friendly methods of making things, be it a funky handbag or a cozy sweater.
“I’m intrigued by using quality materials that have been dismissed from their first use, and making them into something totally different that goes out into the world to collect more uses, more stories,” said DeSimio. “The materials have their own histories, and I help them to live on. I look for any type of quality old fabrics, military canvas, old tarps, seed bags, tents, stretchers, mail bags — really anything that had a previous use.”
Kennedy raises her sheep for one purpose: to make the softest, most pliable wool on the market. Her sheep eat only grass, so while they don’t grow big and fat like sheep used for meat, they do grow luxurious, soft wool. She then colors the wool with all-natural dye — no chemicals — using only materials available locally.
“I experimented with several dyes for color fastness, using lower heat from solar power, that would not cause the wool to get harsh, and less oil or gas that would not use unnecessary carbon resources,” said Kennedy. “I thought adding salt to the vats was silly since we had such an abundant supply of presalted, clean water. The result: sunshine and seawater, the things that define Maine for so many people who appreciate our shortest season, and want to capture it in color and comfort all year long.”
The Audience Award from Martha Stewart would help any finalist to advance their career, especially from the national exposure they would garner. To learn more about Martha Stewart’s American Made contest, visit http://americanmade.marthastewart.com/finalists.