In his role as experience director for Imagemakers in Wamego, Bobby Sloan has been hard at work in recent weeks helping companies solve problems ignited by the coronavirus crisis.
That work inspired him to create a series of websites where vendors — from crafters to carpenters — could display their hidden talents and sell handmade items to support themselves and the local economy during a time when many businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
“I felt like there was something missing out there,” Sloan said. “I started looking at the unemployment number going up and up and up, and having come from working in a creative field, I know there’s a lot of talent out there.”
He hoped that during a time of crisis, he could help provide some relief for people who may have recently been laid off, or even those who just hope to put their talent to work while they have more free time at home.
Thus, the online marketplace StayHomeTopeka.com was born.
“What better way to make sure that we can put dollars into the hands of people who have the ability and the time now to create these things — and then have those dollars go back into the local economy?” Sloan said. “The systems exist, certainly, for hand-crafted items, but what’s missing is revitalizing the local economy.”
StayHomeTopeka.com, which is now in the preliminary phase, isn’t the only website Sloan is creating. He started with StayHomeMHK.com, which serves creatives in the Manhattan area. Once he launches the Topeka marketplace, he plans to create similar online platforms for artists, crafters and builders across the entire state of Kansas.
“I started with one kind of concept and I put it out there, and it kind of quickly got legs,” Sloan said. “Now, I find myself doling them out for multiple communities. I’m doing Dodge City, then Wichita and I think eventually Lawrence and Kansas City, as well. We’ve got Manhattan and Topeka now.
“Eventually, all of them will fall under an umbrella for StayHomeKansas.com, and the idea is to be able to search by region or area.”
Sloan said more than 25 vendors have signed up to participate in the online Topeka marketplace, and he is working with those creatives to curate content for the final website.
“The response in Topeka in particular has been great,” he said.
Once vendors’ products are ready to go, Sloan added, he plans to launch the more robust site where people can browse and purchase a variety of items — everything from handmade greeting card kits to homemade candies to woodworking pieces to local art to hand-sewn face masks.
“I welcome all kinds of creative ventures,” Sloan said. “I think it all applies and all has a really unique value.”
While the final Topeka site is still in the works, the Manhattan website already has some products up.
Hanah Brenn, a Manhattan resident, is selling DIY greeting card kits through the website, along with Easter ornaments, home-decor signs and more. Brenn said she decided to participate in the online market because she felt it was a great way to reach out to the community.
“I enjoy the idea of shopping small and supporting small businesses,” Brenn said, “and I think this is a great way to get that name out and be able to connect maybe with other crafters on the sites, as they spring up, and connect with the local community.”
Brenn, who works full-time in web development, does crafting in her spare time. Before the coronavirus hit, she had been traveling to craft shows and selling handmade items on Etsy.
“It’s been kind of a thing, though, with COVID and all of that going around that we’re trying to find ways that we can connect from home,” she said.
Sloan’s project offered the perfect opportunity to do so.
“I just think the community aspect and helping one another is what’s going to be really big about this,” Brenn said.
And that is exactly Sloan’s point.
“At the heart of it, it’s about supporting your neighbors and your community, and I think we could see a handmade renaissance, a makers renaissance, here out of all this,” Sloan said. “It’s going to be really important that we buy local, shop local, eat local, spend our time here supporting our community so that we can rebound from this effectively. I think it will be more important than ever after this has passed.”