🎁 Meet Keena Jones, a Pittsburgh artist and marketer who helps manufacturers sell their goods online
If you’re an artist or artisan, you’re probably familiar with Etsy. However, like other online markets, artists on Etsy are increasingly facing competition from mass production. Local artist Kiana Jones acknowledged the problem and received a rare injection of funding to address it –Hands happen, an online marketplace where everything is one of a kind. The Incline turned to Kiana to find out more.
Thanks for talking to The Incline! What made you start Happening Hands?
Absolutely! I have been selling on Etsy for almost 10 years and in my spare time worked as a freelance marketer for manufacturers. Although I aspired to become a librarian (I was a librarian of fine arts in Pete for almost 5 years), at the end of my day I wanted to be where I wanted to be, to spend time with the community of creators. Over the years, Etsy started paying a lot of fees for everything it could, and many of the vendors I respected started leaving the platform. They created difficulties for the creators, and I saw that the community I loved was starting to fall apart.
I started thinking about creating something that could support manufacturers in terms of sales, community and education to market their work. At first, I thought it would be just a brick and mortar store here in Pittsburgh that highlights local producers and has room for workshops, but I realized that if I’m going to do it right, it has to be national, and it should be online. After the pandemic hit, I saw my chance and started a business that is partly a market, partly a community and partly a marketing agency – all for manufacturers.
What products are you selling or hoping to sell on the platform?
We currently have manufacturers from all over the United States who sell household items such as ceramics, candles and soaps, art, jewelry, bags and more. We are now looking for manufacturers in categories for children and clothing as well as pet products! One thing we are proud of is that we also allow you to sell truly handmade goods on our site (we do not allow you to print on demand or produce mass-produced goods), so be sure to check us out if you really make handmade products and looking for a community that supports!
What were the challenges and benefits of launching an entire platform during the pandemic? Did it help that a lot of people were stuck at home?
The biggest problem was that I was still working full time and at the time had a 9 month old baby without caring for children. Trying to balance my work, the work of my husband, child, and start a business was definitely a whirlwind. Of course, it helped that we stayed at home – there were a few weeks when our work did not know what to do. I used this time to focus on business as much as I could. In the previous months, I did a lot of business planning and research on how to create and launch an online market, and I chose the name of the company, so I started from a good place. In terms of producers, suddenly many of the summer markets in which they planned to sell were canceled. Because of this, many manufacturers have been open to listing on my platform, even if it was so new, and it has definitely helped lay the groundwork for a loyal base of manufacturers who want Happening Hands to succeed to this day.
Tell me a little bit about how to be “part of the 2%” Was it hard to raise funding?
Honestly, the only reason I was able to raise funding was because there were people in town who heard about what I was doing and approached me. However, that doesn’t mean it was easy, because at first I didn’t know how I was going to raise funding for my business and that it was possible. People on Bridgeway Capital and their Creative Business Accelerator asked to offer their help and cooperate with Happening Hands. It took months to put together my real business and financial plan together. I didn’t have formal training on how to do it, and it was certainly difficult, but Bridgeway helped connect me with amazing consultants and tried to meet me where I was. Once I put my plan together, I was able to submit everything and get the necessary funding for a new website and marketing. All in all, the whole process took about 9 months to finally get funding, and then I had an insane 3+ months of branding, marketing and website building.
What do you prefer to work as an artist? Do you still have time for art other than running your business?
I definitely do! I find time because creating art is when I feel most like myself. I definitely don’t have as much time as before, but you’ll catch me at several local markets all year round here in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area. I usually publish slow serial collections on my website and at Happening Hands once a month based on theme or color, or I will be working on a large-scale 24 × 36 painting for 2-4 weeks. Last year I did a whole abstract series on three rivers. My preferred tools are watercolors and ink, as well as threads. I make a lot of embroidered watercolor paintings in addition to tiny paintings in frames that can be worn as necklaces.
Pittsburgh has a really rich community of producers. What is one of your favorite ways to contact other manufacturers and / or buy handmade items?
I would shout both Arcade handmade and I Made It Market!! I love attending their personal craft exhibitions to chat with producers and have personal conversations with them at their booths. Even though I own and run a handmade marketplace and it’s all online, I can’t argue that there’s nothing better than seeing and touching a handmade item in person and supporting someone’s livelihood purchase. It’s magical! I also try to communicate with as many producers as possible after the show, and these letters often turned into a coffee or dinner date. I have made many wonderful local friends by opening this business and I am very grateful for that!
Finally, where can our readers see you in the city and where can we find Happening Hands online?
I usually hang out at the Commonplace Coffee, 61C Cafe or at the library in Squirrel Hill on those days when I can run away from home to grab food on the way home to Homestead. The other love of my life is taco, and being a Puerto Rican, any Hispanic food that makes me feel at home here in Pittsburgh is a living treat (although I usually cook it myself). If I’m not at home, in a coffee shop or in the library, I probably get tacos somewhere like Braser or Bull River. As for Happening Hands, you can check out the market at www.happeninghands.comand follow us @happeninghands on Instagram.