In 2012, Martha Stewart launched "American Made," which "spotlights the maker, supports the local and celebrates the handmade.
It's a movement made up of people and communities who have turned their passion for quality craftsmanship and well-designed goods into a way of life," according to the site.
Last year, 11 winners were recognized at the American Made Market and Workshop, an annual event in New York City dedicated to showcasing the goods forged by creative entrepreneurs.
For 2013, Savannah is being represented by several hardworking makers, including screenprinter Kay Wolfersperger and chocolatier Kelly Spivey, both SCAD graduates.
Voting ends Sept. 13, and individuals can vote up to six times per day, spreading out the love or using all six to support one maker.
The Martha Stewart American Made winners receive $10,000 and a trip to New York to participate in the "American Made Workshop" sponsored by Martha Stewart, which will offer classes, panels, the opportunity to meet other winners and the chance to connect with retailers.
Having Savannah winners would help put Savannah on the map as an artisanal hub and help other handcrafted local businesses prosper, too.
I chatted with Spivey and Wolfersperger to find out what winning would mean to them and how they've turned their passions into careers.
DO: Why did you enter the Martha Stewart American Made contest?
Wolfersperger: I have a favorite line from the "About" page of the contest on the Martha Stewart American Made site, "We believe we are in the midst of a shift in our culture where creative entrepreneurs are defining a new American economy."
The creative class is making a new canon to live and work by, and it inspires me that the contest creators recognize and support this shift. I entered the contest because I relate to those ideas.
Spivey: I remember seeing the article about the winners from the American Made Awards last year and I was really moved by the stories behind some of them.
I felt then, and still feel very strongly, that artisans are important and make a strong impact in their community. I entered because I want to show that I am a small part of that story.
DO: You're both part of the artisan world. Why did you pick the business you're in?
Wolfersperger: Every day, I take a few minutes to appreciate my path to the present, even on the difficult days and especially on the good ones!
I worked as a graphic designer for big companies for several years in sterile environments and rigid chains of command where I often felt overlooked. I left the corporate world to work for small businesses and found it's a much better fit for my talents and values.
My career exploration revealed my need to balance out computer life with a studio practice, and I found screenprinting was the perfect complement.
I can use my design background and channel it into a tactile medium.
Spivey: I wanted to make candy bars because there's something so fun and nostalgic about them, but you can also make really sophisticated flavors if you choose to. With the great food culture we have, it was something that wasn't really being represented in the south in an artisan capacity.
DO: What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
Wolfersperger: Life is often a battle of compromises. I feel free from restrictions when I am drawing and printing.
I can do anything in that 18 inch x 26 inch rectangle! I love that I have shaped my career and timetable to allow me to feel that. I also love meeting other like-minded folks - like Kelly!
Spivey: I love the freedom and creativity and the ability to work with so many different people.
DO: What has been your toughest obstacle so far and how did you overcome it?
Wolfersperger: My toughest obstacle so far has been finding a work-life balance.
The first year I freelanced was full of learning about business, landing clients, acquiring invoicing and task management software I liked, and of course, the design work itself.
I overcame it by making more time to draw, and contrary to instinct, took off nights and weekends - a practice I still try to adhere to! Every once in awhile, a work hour or two will creep in, but I understand now without my weekend recharge, I find it difficult to be creative.
Spivey: I've been working on opening this shop for almost two years, so in retrospect, every obstacle probably seemed insurmountable at the time.
I'm sure whatever I'm trying to do now seems impossible, too. I try not to dwell too much on how difficult something is going to be, because that just makes it seem worse.
DO: What else is in store for your business for the rest of 2013?
Wolfersperger: I am preparing for the holiday season! I am printing inventory for the holidays, as well as working on new designs to launch.
My kitchen towels will also be available at The Coffee Fox next month. Jen (the owner) and I are working on some fun coffee prints and ideas together.
Spivey: So much! We're coming up on my favorite time of year - the holiday season! I love fall and winter flavors so much, and the Lab will be coming out with a special limited-edition fall bar, holiday sampler and drinking chocolates.
DO: What makes your company special?
Wolfersperger: Everyone is moving rapidly. It's a treat when something captivates your attention, if only for a moment, whether it's a kitchen towel hanging on the stove or a print in the hallway. My company is special because I create those objects which allow others to pause and appreciate a delightful moment.
Spivey: Every single bar is made by hand from local, organic and fair trade ingredients. I don't use preservatives, and I make it a point to use non-GMO corn syrup. I take a lot of care in selecting my ingredients and you can really taste it in the final product. I am really proud to be part of the artisan food culture in Savannah. When I moved here 10 years ago, Gallery Espresso was a tiny coffeeshop in a garden apartment on Liberty Street. Now we have several craft coffee roasters, farmers markets and restaurants serving local foods.