“Cellar Door”- Literally, it’s a door or a set of shutter doors that connects the outside of a house to a basement or cellar. But behind the vowels and consonants of these two words lies a value greater than the sum of their parts. “Cellar Door,” it has been argued, is the most beautiful pair of words in the English language. It’s beautiful because of the way it sounds and the way it affects the people who hear it (known as phonaesthetics), not because of it’s surface-level meaning.
With this visual in mind, the artist/designer duo behind Cellar Door Mercantile, Justin Allan and Adam Spencer, specialize in hand-crafted, locally-sourced, and sustainably-manufactured products that help facilitate positive change in their community. Their small screen-printing and design studio fits snugly into a 600 sq. ft. space, where they focus not only on creating unique, quality pieces, but also on doing so with an outward perspective. They’ve adopted a philosophy of crafting “not JUST for profit,” but rather, to embody the vision that living well goes beyond making money. It’s community enrichment. It’s sustainable business practices. It’s getting to know their vendors and customers as individuals, not dollar signs. It’s giving a portion of their profits to Washington United for Marriage, and donating products to local non-profits. It’s making generosity a key ingredient to their business philosophy. How are they doing this? I’m so glad you asked!
Cellar Door Mercantile began selling to the public in 2010, but there were years of work that went into the idea before the first t-shirt was ever printed. First, there was an idea: a store-front of unique wears and hand-crafted items, designed with a sense of humor, created using sustainable, environmentally friendly techniques, and produced to give back to organizations and nonprofits working to better their community. Then, there was the business plan to write, banks to approach for business loans, and the ever-present doubts to overcome: “We think it’s cool… but will anyone else?” The world Justin and Adam were entering was not a favorable one. According to CNN Money, small business failure rates increased by 40% from 2007 to 2010, making loans for start-ups even harder to get. For this dynamic duo, this meant that, after being refused a loan, they had to decide how badly they wanted to pursue their dream. Thankfully for us, badly enough.
One piece at a time, they built up a portfolio of witty designs and crafty prints, moving from an unknown print shop to one of Urban Craft Uprising’s selected studios for the juried winter show. And while they haven’t opened their “store-front shop of their own” just yet, they envision this goal is within reach within the next 2-3 years. Their tips for success? Work hard and do your research. Know your audience. Find your niche market. Take your good idea and make it a great one by doing your homework and creating a cohesive brand. And remember that it’s not JUST for profit.
What does that mean for me, as a rookie crafter? What does that mean for us as a community of creatives trying to turn our focus outward? If anything, it means that we need to remember what it means to be a “cellar door” — Each of us as individuals contribute a sound, a vowel or a consonant, to a cohesive movement so much more beautiful than the just the sum of its parts.
There is so much more to Adam and Justin’s story than I’ve managed to capture here….Learn more about Cellar Door Mercantile online, and visit them at the Fremont Sunday Market.