Small businesses are one of the best things about living in towns and cities. Here in Kalamazoo, Knight Life News recently met a small business owner Missy Alazzawi. Alazzawi owns Handmade Kalamazoo, a small art and t-shirt shop in the historic Vine neighborhood. The shop sells high quality handmade shirts and a variety of art from local artists.
Alazzawi was born and raised in Kalamazoo, just like one of her best selling shirts reads. Alazzawi graduated from Kendall College for the Arts in 2010 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in graphic design. Alazzawi explained how her college degree has helped her design Handmade Kalamazoo’s website and all of their T-shirts.
Handmade Kalamazoo is new to being a permanent shop. While Alazzawi was studying at Kendall, she and her partner Bailey Mead opened Handmade Kalamazoo as a pop-up shop where they would only be open at a location for a month or two before moving to a new location. Strangely enough their permanent location now occupies the site of their very first pop-up shop, 509 Vine Street.
“For the last five years we have been doing pop ups. We have been in our current location [the permanent shop] for only six months,” Alazzawi said.
What’s unique about Handmade Kalamazoo is that Alazzawi and Mead help their local artist friends by allowing them space in their store to showcase and sell their merchandise. Everything else in the shop, besides the handmade T-shirts, are made by other local artists.
Alazzawi explained that the purpose of Handmade Kalamazoo is to “promote and market other people’s stuff.” Handmade Kalamazoo wants to “create a space for people to promote their own business,” said Alazzawi.
Alazzawi also informed Knight Life, about how they don’t only own Handmade Kalamazoo they also own and run Ma Zawi graphic design.
Ma Zawi is a graphic design company that strives to help local businesses, such asKaleamazoo Chips, Kalamazoo Barre Studio, and Kalamazoo Collective Housing set up their websites and help with the new businesses branding.
Alazzawi explains that she loves all of the products in her store and feels that every item that she has in the store is the best. Each item has a story and so does the artist who made it. When a customer comes in to Handmade Kalamazoo, they have the option to be informed about the story behind the maker and behind the product itself.
Another amazing thing about Handmade Kalamazoo is the connections they have with their customers. For instance, Alazzawi told Knight Life about a customer she had in last week, an elderly mother and her daughter who had just lost her husband. They came to Kalamazoo to donate some of her late husband’s personal goods and do some final things relating to their loss. The two women noticed a hand-painted image of a Gibson guitar. After Alazzawi chatted with them for a while about the piece of artwork and the story behind it, the daughter messaged her the next day and explained how stopping in and meeting Alazzawi and talking to her about everything really made her mother’s day. Handmade Kalamazoo and Alazzawi herself don’t just sell “stuff,” they sell items with stories and people behind them.
“It’s worth the extra money to buy local because you’re supporting people in the community and a lot of times the item is better quality,” said Senior Maggie Swafford, who loves to shop at local Kalamazoo businesses. Swafford also tells Knight Life, “I enjoy doing my holiday gift shopping at Handmade Kalamazoo.”
Handmade Kalamazoo has an extensive fan base. Customers come in and buy T-shirts and send them to people around the world who take photos in the shirts, which in turn helps spread the word about the company around to more and more people.
Alazzawi explains how people who invest in her brand tend to be customers for not only their lives but for their children’s lives. This was proven when Alazzawi said, “Families who have had babies in the [Made in Kalamazoo] onesies and now are around five years old rocking the [Born and Raised Kalamazoo] T-shirts.”
Location is important to a business. If you know anything about the Vine neighborhood and how it’s home to a large number of young adults and new families, you also know that Handmade Kalamazoo is in the perfect location.
“Owning a business is hard, you work all the time, you do everything. But what keeps you going is your customers.” said Alazzawi.
Alazzawi explained how she thinks that Kalamazoo is great for a small business owner, since Kalamazoo offers many incentives for people to start their own business and even has programs to help fund small business start-ups, Such as the grant that was given to Handmade Kalamazoo to help them open up their first shop.
Alazzawi explains how she’s been running a pop-up shop at the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market and had people come up to her and say things like, “I’m not spending that much on a T-shirt, I can get that shirt at Target for ten dollars.”
However, this isn’t true; the shirts made and sold at Handmade Kalamazoo are unique. While Target buys millions of shirts, Handmade Kalamazoo only buys 27 high quality shirts for each batch that they screen print by hand. However, even in an awesome town like Kalamazoo, there are still some people who aren’t willing to spend $27 on a high quality T-shirt. Sure, if you just need a new shirt you can go and get a ten dollar Target shirt, but when you buy and wear a “Born and Raised” shirt, you wear it because it strikes something in you and because you love Kalamazoo, and you support a local artist.
Handmade Kalamazoo owner and founder Missy Alazzawi standing behind the counter in the Handmade Kalamazoo storefront.