For Aspen Entrepreneurs (AE), the nonprofit incubator that launched in 2015 and recently merged with mentorship group Create Aspen, the ultimate success story is seeing one its members open the doors to a local business of his or her own. The latest one to achieve that goal is Michaela Carpenter-Olson, founder and creative director of Maker + Place. In the former Hub of Aspen bike shop space, Olson has set up an innovative retail showcase selling home wares from around the world.
“We solely look for items that are beautiful, one of a kind, and handmade by independent designers that have devoted their full time to doing what they love,” says Carpenter-Olson. “The goal is to create emotional connection with one’s maker.”
Sustainability is also a pillar of all of the products Maker + Place carries, with each maker having to meet nine ethical and sustainability standards in the production process: closed loop, toxin free, lifecycle, small batch, recycled, transparent, handmade, good wood, and community.
But retail is just one element of Carpenter-Olson’s vision for a thriving creative collective in Aspen. At just 23 years old, the Aspen High School alumna and go-getter hopes to fill a much-needed void, helping to offer free co-working space, an artist-in-residence studio, a lecture and workshop series, and mentorship opportunities—all in partnership with AE, which now has offices behind the retail store and studio space.
Julie Engels, AE executive director says of its new home, "We are thrilled to provide entrepreneurs in the Roaring Fork Valley with a vibrant, creative space from which to co-work, collaborate, and innovate this summer. In tandem with opening the space, we've launched our third cohort group, which will test the new "Co-Celeration" program model, where each member is obligated to teach classes and lead workshops."
Fresh off graduation from London’s Chelsea College earlier this year and a member of AE's first cohort in 2016, Carpenter-Olson recently relocated back to Aspen full-time. “I really craved being grounded and living in one place rather than across two continents,” she notes. “I feel empowered by the Aspen community and its support for a first-time business owner.”
She adds, "You know, we could have opened in New York, but what makes Aspen so special is it's curated, international audience. People have a great eye for style and design here and also care about ethical issues like sustainable design."
While Carpenter-Olson’s lease only runs through mid September, Maker + Place is not the average seasonal pop-up shop. “I call it a proof of concept,” she explains. “We really want to test out the market for our makers and see how our first artist-in-residence does in a retail environment.
Traditionally, artist studios are very closed off. We wanted to give the consumer an engaged experience in the making process.” The first artist-in-residence is local weaver Clarity Fornell, whose brand, Woven, focuses on less waste and more intention. Also a trained weaver, Carpenter-Olson hopes to be an enabler for her makers, in the best sense of the word.
“We want to be not only a platform for young artists and makers to get their feet wet, but also to give them exposure in a luxury market. Oftentimes young artists can get so caught up in the business side of things. We offer a structured environment that gives them commercial access while letting them do what they do best—making.”
Updated November 20, 2017:
Maker + Place has relocated to 614 E. Cooper Ave. in downtown Aspen, 970-880-1379, makerandplace.com