For Marlo Miyashiro, opening The Handmade Showroom wasn’t just about fulfilling a dream — it’s what her entire life had led up to.
“Having this store is sort of the culmination of everything I’ve done in my life,” Marlo said.
The Handmade Showroom is a retail gallery in Seattle, Washington, that features the handcrafted works of over 125 independent artists from across the United States. Their mission is to elevate the perception of handmade goods and let people know they can be just as quality as commercial products.
But what makes something handmade?
“There’s a certain quality we’re looking for that’s between homemade and commercial,” Marlo said. “Handmade is this middle ground between those two things, where you have the quality of the commercially made, but it has the soul and the groundedness of the homemade.”
The eclectic shop in Pacific Place mall is the perfect store for when you need to buy a gift, but you’re not sure what to get. There’s a little something for everybody — laser cut topographic coasters mapping Washington mountains, fleece superhero capes that come in a variety of vibrant colors, sea creature-inspired graphic T-shirts, and so much more.
“Our brand is artist driven. Our main focus is to promote the work and the creativity of independent artists,” Marlo said. “That’s why we’re called the Handmade Showroom — we are this place where people can come to see a collection of work by independent artists and have it all be of the same high-quality and high-calibur work.”
Marlo and her husband, Paul Delon, opened The Handmade Showroom in 2015, but Marlo’s desire to have her own business started when she was a kid. Instead of asking for the Barbie Dreamhouse, Marlo asked for the Barbie shopping mall. Instead of playing pretend house, Marlo played as a pretend shop owner.
“I would set up my room as a store, put little price tags on everything, and I would make my mom come shopping,” Marlo recalled, chuckling.
Her creativity and deep love for handmade goods is something she picked up from her mom.
“She was creative and crafty all of my childhood,” Marlo said. “She would make and sell dolls at craft shows. So, a lot of my childhood memories are going with her to these [shows] and playing underneath and sleeping underneath the table while she’s out in this parking lot doing a craft show.”
In addition to making dolls, Marlo’s mom helped make jewelry for a friend with a jewelry line. Marlo helped by carefully stringing beads on different pieces of jewelry, opening the door to her very first entrepreneurial endeavor.
“[My mom] made me a jewelry portfolio, and I would make these earrings out of sequins and beads. And I would take them to school and sell them to my friends,” Marlo said, laughing. “They spent their lunch money on my earrings — it was awesome.”
Marlo’s dad also had a hand in ingraining an unwavering entrepreneurial spirit in her. After working as a mechanic for a big company for years, her dad opened his own successful garage he ran by himself.
“I guess that early exposure to the idea that creativity and commerce can go together — that you can sell your work, be creative, and have other people buy it — was a really big influence on me,” Marlo said.
Marlo has been in the retail and wholesale industry for about 30 years. She started with her own line of wholesale jewelry, Marlo M Jewelry Design, where she sold her work to stores and galleries all over the country and overseas.
After 12 years of running Marlo M Jewelry Design, her life circumstances changed, causing her to step away from selling at the wholesale level. So in 2007, she opened her Etsy store, I Make Cute Stuff, named after the reactions her friends had when she showed them a new design. Marlo sold contemporary sterling silver jewelry in over 200 designs and was featured in almost 250 galleries.
“It was a really good learning experience,” Marlo said. “Etsy was the foundation for running a modern business because, before, there wasn’t a lot of online selling.”
2007 was also the year Marlo found her community in the form of an Etsy group — eventually known as etsyRain — comprised of Western Washington-area Etsy store owners. As a founding member, Marlo helped facilitate etsyRain’s 1,500-member meet up group where they held craft nights and hosted their own craft shows.
“We ended up having these really amazing 100-vendor shows,” Marlo said. “So that was the start of the idea that [The Handmade Showroom] could happen.”
In March 2015, Pacific Place’s marketing director approached etsyRain looking for local groups to host pop-ups at the mall. Marlo was hesitant at first. Do handmade items belong in a mall? But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense.
“I wanted to reach out to a new customer — a customer that maybe doesn’t go to craft shows or doesn’t shop on Etsy,” Marlo said. “And we thought about the kind of stores that were in the mall at that time — the high end, the Coach, and the Barney’s. It just excited me so much to think about exposing these artists to that customer.”
The Handmade Showroom held pop-ups at Pacific Place every other weekend featuring work from 35 artists (and they still work with some of these artists to this day). Every other weekend turned into every weekend, and by November, they decided to go all-in on The Handmade Showroom and opened their brick-and-mortar store.
“That was it. That was the beginning of the whole thing and it just kept growing and working,” Marlo said. “Plus I’m super stubborn, so I don’t give up very easily.”
Marlo had a clear vision for The Handmade Showroom. She wanted her relationship with artists to function as a partnership rather than just a place to sell their products, and she wanted the focus of the store to be on the individual artists.
“Our displays needed to be the background,” Marlo said. “Most of the time we display everything just on white shelving, white displays, and the product itself is the color — the thing that pops out. So, it’s kind of like a gallery but much more accessible and friendly.”
Handmade items may sound easy to produce, but The Handmade Showroom upholds a certain standard for artists they feature. Above all, the store looks for quality of the product, overall cohesiveness of the product line, and if there’s room in the category (such as bath and beauty, home decor, and art prints and paper goods) for that product.
“We have artists that make one thing, and they make it very well and in different colors and things like that,” Marlo said. “We have artists that have different categories they produce — they make kid stuff and art prints and coasters — but it’s all really cohesive. There’s something that ties everything together.”
Like many businesses, The Handmade Showroom shut down in March 2020 when the pandemic started. At the time, the store was occupying a 1,000 square foot space in Pacific Place. Marlo and her team quickly realized they wouldn’t have enough space to accommodate many customers due to COVID-19 capacity limits.
That summer, a 4,000 square-foot space opened up in the third floor of the mall. This much space would allow The Handmade Showroom to include more artists, more products, and more customers. They weighed their options and took the risk to move into a bigger space, which Marlo said was ultimately the right decision.
“We’re taking those chances and taking the personal risk of continuing and doing everything we can to keep employing people,” Marlo said. “On some scale, that would be a crazy idea. But for us, we have to try. If we gave up now, we would never do it again. And, again, I’m stubborn so I do a lot of things that maybe don’t make sense on the surface, but they end up working out because I think our heart is really in it.”
When the pandemic was at its peak last year, Marlo thought long and hard about the future of The Handmade Showroom.
“I was asking myself, ‘Well, if I didn’t do this, what would I be doing?’” Marlo said. “And I don’t have an answer for that yet, so I think I’ll keep going.”
What keeps Marlo going are the resilient artists she works with, her stubborn where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way attitude, and the incredible team behind The Handmade Showroom.
“I have an amazing team of people that make this happen,” Marlo said, misty eyed. “I get really emotional when I talk about it. It isn’t just me. I think the thing that makes everything happen are the people that help us… We all work together to make sure the customer experience is really good, the relations with artists are really positive, and every day we come in and make sure the collection looks really good and presentable. We all care so much about how this is being handled.”
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