Authentic and artisanal were the buzzwords embraced by hundreds of adoring Martha Stewart fans attending her fifth annual “American Made” event held in New York City this past weekend.
The love fest at Martha Stewart’s spacious corporate headquarters included 66 small business owners hand-picked by Stewart and her colleagues to sell their handmade wares to more than 250 attendees. There was shopping, eating and networking all day. Some fans paid up to $900 a ticket for a chance to cook in the test kitchen with Stewart and a famous friend like Chef Emeril Lagasse.
“Now is the time to dream the American Dream,” said Stewart, who appeared on stage throughout the day to moderate and interview several guests, including Jessica Alba, actress and founder and chief creative officer of The Honest Company and Honest Beauty.
Wearing a flowing beige poncho, Stewart looked happy and relaxed as she engaged with multiple speakers and ten 2016 award winners. She even joked about Martha Stewart Omnimedia being acquired by Sequential Brands a few years ago, thanking the parent company for co-sponsoring the day-long event.
Harry’s Berries, an organic berry farm based in Oxnard, California, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn and Stony Creek Colors, a natural indigo dye company based in Nashville, were among the ten companies honored by Stewart this year.
Sweetgreen, a fast-growing healthy fast-food chain based in Washington, D.C., was also recognized as a company to watch by Stewart’s team. (The company provided a delicious vegetarian lunch for attendees). The oldest company honored at the event was M&S Schmalberg Flowers, a 100 year-old, family-run accessories company located in New York’s garment district.
Speakers shared conventional wisdom such as the importance of working with an experienced accountant and attorney to keep you out of trouble. Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money, shared war stories about the two small businesses he owns with his wife—an inn in Summit, New Jersey and Bar San Miguel, a casual restaurant and bar in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
“It’s important to show up at your business,” said Cramer, especially if it’s a cash business like a restaurant. “I love popping in.”
As much as he dislikes doing it, Cramer said it’s important to monitor what customers are saying about your company on social media. It’s also imperative to respond quickly to complaints. He said the easiest way to mollify an upset customer at a restaurant or bar is to buy them a drink.
Two fashion industry icons, Joseph Abboud and Zac Posen shared insights about starting a successful fashion business. Abboud said he knew it was time to go out on his own when a line of African-inspired clothes he designed in the 1980’s while working for Ralph Lauren, was a flop. “You have to be true to yourself,” said Abboud who now employs about 800 people in a factory in Bedford, Massachusetts.
In her lively conversation with Stewart, Jessica Alba said she was inspired to start an all-natural baby and household products company because she suffered from severe allergies as a child. Worried about whether her daughter would inherit her allergies, she started looking for products without additives and chemicals when she was pregnant.
Alba said she started lobbying Congress for tighter regulations on consumer products, but ended up starting her own company with the help of experienced business people including the founder of Shoedazzle.com.
“We’ve really tapped into a core group of people who want to lead and happy and healthy life,” said Alba.
Another successful actor, Sarah Michelle Gellar, shared her story about founding Foodstirs, an organic baking mix company, with her husband. She said being famous helped secure retail distribution in stores like Gelson’s and Whole Foods, but having good products is what counts.
Stewart shared her own words of wisdom throughout the day, including: “Media leads and merchandising follows.” Her own empire includes several magazines, television shows, lines of housewares, gardening, organizing and pet products, a café and a new mail-order grocery delivery business in collaboration with Marley Spoon, founder and CEO Fabian Siegel.
Marketing and public relations experts urged attendees to find ‘influencers’ to promote their products, whether they be celebrities or experts in the field. Finding a trusted spokesperson with a big social media following is “the holy grail,” according to Kristy Sammis, founder and chief innovation officer of Clever.
Photos courtesy: Jane Applegate