Steven Christian’s journey to becoming an artist began with a desire to fill a gap. “There was no Black representation in popular cartoons,” he says. “I couldn’t find that myself, so I decided to create it.” Through graphic novels, stickers and other products, Christian features Black cartoon characters with the goal of educating, empowering and entertaining. Some of his print products have an augmented-reality component, which, when paired with a smartphone app, enables readers to bring to life his characters in a three-dimensional way. “It really changes the way you interact with and experience the art and stories,” he says. “With augmented reality, nothing’s off limits.”
The Portland-based artist runs Iltopia Studios and usually sells his handcrafted products at comic conventions. He had saved up to attend six or seven this year — that is, until COVID-19 halted his plans. “Even though I work on a computer most of the day, I don’t do any sort of digital sales or marketing. That’s one area that I needed to work on,” he says. He began selling his books, puzzles, face coverings and stickers through his website but lost the exposure that usually came with meeting his customers face to face and telling his story. That’s when Built Oregon came in.
A Central Hub for Oregon-Made Products
Built Oregon is a nonprofit accelerator that started in 2016 to foster Oregon’s maker culture by connecting mentors with Oregon’s creators to help them grow and scale their businesses. When COVID put a temporary halt on festivals and thwarted efforts to open a storefront, the organization sought to make it easier to find the makers’ products online.
“We all went into triage,” Mullins says. “How do we just help people survive this? It was clear that those that could expand their online presence or shift their business online were able to survive or [the pandemic] wasn’t as damaging as it could be.” It made sense to create a central hub to offer all of these unique Oregon-made consumer products in one place.
At the new Built Oregon Marketplace, you can find everything from clothing and home decor to artisan food and drink, outdoor gear, beauty and wellness products, and toys. You’ll discover unique finds, such as a mountaineering-themed board game made by Beaverton’s Massif Games, hand-knit child-size mermaid blankets made by Madras’ Leah Guliasi and mint patties made by Seely Mints in Clatskanie.
“This was perfectly timed,” Christian says. “It’s been a continual journey of how do I make sales online from people who have never met me? I’m growing to understand the power of a brand, the power of being recognizable and consistent.”
Showcasing Oregon’s Diverse Makers
Built Oregon Marketplace highlights the state’s diverse group of makers. Similar to Etsy, the site is a fluid one, so it will change alongside the makers and their products. Shoppers can browse hundreds of locally made products by region or product category, and purchase items that ship directly from the vendor. You can also order gift boxes filled with cheese, chai tea or handmade soaps, and products you might have seen at My People’s Market — an annual event in Portland aimed at advancing and networking businesses owned by people of color. Another cool gift option is Built Oregon gear, created in partnership with Portland-based Patchmarks. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this gear supports a grant aimed at growing Oregon’s BIPOC companies.
“All of these companies, their stories are so incredible,” says Leslie Mullins, vice chair for Built Oregon’s board of directors. “It’s what makes Oregon such an attractive place to live — the sense of entrepreneurship, innovation. People aren’t afraid to ask why — ‘Why do we do it this way?’”
It’s the type of spirit that makes Mullins say, “There’s something really cool happening here.”
Check it out:
Start your holiday shopping during Built Oregon’s Built Together Shopping Days the week before Black Friday, from Nov. 19–22, 2020, when Built Oregon releases a list of gifts that include limited-time free shipping and other special deals.