Creator Profile: Claire Seizovic and Kristin Tovar, Founders of CULTIVATE Tucson
Hi Claire and Kristin! Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
CULTIVATE Tucson is a collective that builds pop-up events in order to introduce makers, designers, small businesses, and non profits to each other; share emerging talent and spaces; and create a thriving, honest, creative community while giving back 10% of proceeds to a local non-profit. We really love seeking out local designers, makers, and shop owners who bring a new perspective to our community and offer diverse products. Our goal is to foster collective empowerment, creative initiative, and community growth by showcasing the people behind the products and shops. Witnessing the authentic relationships and face-to-face connections that lead to creative community growth is one of our favorite parts of organizing CULTIVATE Tucson.
How did you two become partners and what led you to begin CULTIVATE?
Claire: A little over two years ago, we noticed there was an opening and opportunity in Tucson for a pop-up market featuring local designers, makers, independent shops, and artists…and that’s right around the time that we first met. It all started with us meeting through a mutual friend, dreaming up this idea, and realizing that we could actually make it happen! There were markets already happening in Tucson, but we had a vision to create more of a community around an event and fund local initiatives unlike anything else happening here.
Kristin: I saw pop-up markets in other cities use market sales to fund non-profits, and I dreamed of seeing that concept take root in our community here in Tucson. Initially I didn’t think I would personally be involved in making it happen, but then I met Claire! It’s hard to explain in words, but it was as if our parallel visions intersected at exactly the right moment in time. Together, we spent hours working on our branding, fine tuning our vision, and ultimately teamed up with our friends Brittany Pena and Kelsey Collins to begin planning the first pop-up. As Claire mentioned, the need for this type of market became clear very quickly once we got to planning.
Did you feel like there was a void in Tucson for supporting local artists, makers and the community?
Kristin: In short, yes! We felt there was space for something new. The talent in Tucson is truly incredible, and I’m not just saying that because I live here! The problem we identified was a lack of awareness of the wonderful things happening and being created in our own backyard. Tucsonans place a huge emphasis on supporting artists and local initiatives, so the void wasn’t necessarily in a lack of enthusiasm, but mostly in a lack of awareness. At the time we began, we really wanted people in our city to see what we were seeing, and we felt like we had the tools to bring all of these people together in an approachable, community setting.
Claire: We love to focus on emerging spaces, vendors, and non-profits when we plan our events. That’s where we’ve found our sweet spot, and truly bring something new to the table. Highlighting vendors, spaces, and non-profits that people haven’t quite heard of is what gets us most excited about what we do! Our emphasis is on community, collaboration, and making people aware of the talent in our city, one market at a time.
Was your idea to always host events and markets to bring people together?
Claire: Yes, we knew we wanted to host these markets to bring our community together! What we didn’t expect was the overwhelming support and appreciation for local businesses (and the amazing people behind them) and our efforts. As we planned our first market in November of 2015, we were taking a huge risk and didn’t quite know if the idea would stick in our community or if it’d be a fun, one-time experiment. Now, we’re expanding upon and improving each market, and developing new ways to support local businesses and non-profits with multiple markets per year.
Could you go a bit into the process of planning and putting on your market? (i.e. finding space, vendors, ticketing, day of logistics)
Claire: The process has evolved as we’ve grown. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to form relationships with developers and other businesses owners in the community that have access to unused or underutilized spaces, and are looking to highlight their buildings. Once we have our space secured, we begin planning for the market logistics and vendor applications. We have a rigorous application period where makers and shops are encouraged to share their name, websites, photos of their work, and social media handles. Once we have all the applications, we host a selection committee made up of leaders in our community, where we take an objective look at all submitted products. Then, we take a look at the categories of goods we’d like to represent and curate a tight group of vendors that mesh well together and foster collaboration. We want to set every vendor up for success, so we aim to bring business and products we feel would do well with our audience. We also look to create a well-rounded group of established and emerging businesses through offering booth spaces, full tables, and shared tables for those who are just starting out or want to take a risk and test out our market.
Kristin: We work with a team of interns and volunteers to think through the logistics and what would make people feel welcome at our markets. Whether it’s providing welcome bags to vendors when they check in, or having water on hand for attendees, we pay great attention to detail to create an enjoyable experience for all. The way we plan our atmosphere and decor tends to fit with the history or past use of the building where each market takes place. We know the customer experience is an integral part of this being a success in the community, so we plan for and spend extra money on things like lights, photo areas, and installations. At each market, we aim to focus our efforts on improving one or more aspects of the experience. At our last market, we introduced ticketed Early Bird Hours in response to the previous market’s morning rush where several vendors sold out of their goods before the middle of the day. As certain planning aspects become easier with time, we are able to make small tweaks and add new elements to continue growing and improving.
Why is it important to you and CULTIVATE to give back to Tucson non-profits? How do you find your non-profit partners?
Creating connections and bringing awareness to things happening in our city is a central theme in the work we do. Connecting attendees and vendors to important local causes in Tucson by donating a percentage of all market sales is another way we build connections in hopes of seeing Tucson flourish on multiple levels. We choose one spotlight non-profit for each event we host to give an emerging non-profit not only financial support, but also social and relational capital to work with once the market is over. The spotlight non-profit for each market is chosen based on several key factors including, but not limited to: the proximity or potential benefit to the neighborhood surrounding the market location, the ability to meet immediate needs, and the urgency of a particular problem or need in our city. While we have a spotlight non-profit for each market, we also give vendors a choice of where they get to donate their percentage of sales. Through our pop-up markets, our community has raised over $18,000 for local non-profits.
How do you connect with your supporters and community?
Claire: Tucson is a small city, so we often run into supporters, attendees, and vendors out and about in the community! My favorite way to connect with all of our attendees and supporters is in person; the excitement and feedback about CULTIVATE is much more tangible through real conversations that happen at local businesses.
Kristin: First and foremost, we love to connect in person! As CULTIVATE has grown—and, with it, the need to relay important event information—we’ve built a strong online network over email and social media that complements our face-to-face connections. We also connect with our community at our events, where we also have a chance to capture email addresses and continue building our online network that ultimately feeds back into the ability to draw our community back together in person for future events.
What are some brands/makers that you are excited about that we should know of?
Claire: There are several up-and-coming vendors we’re excited about and that we think the creative community at large should know about! Emily Orzel (illustrator; she just recently opened her super-fun and witty online shop); Ursula Basinger creates the most lovely ceramics for everyday use; La Curie (Lesli strives to beautifully break the rules of perfume architecture, and creates her perfumes right here in Tucson); Yu Yu Shiratori (we love her new jewelry line for its illustrative qualities); and Kaelen Harwell (Kaelen’s organic skincare line is beyond effective and comes in stunning packaging; bonus: it’s also made in Tucson!).
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
Kristin: Every dollar spent with a local business has exponential impact in a community. There’s great research that shows this to be true, and it’s an opportunity to have a voice through the way people spend their money. I love knowing that the mug I drank my coffee out of this morning was made by someone I know, and the money I spent contributes to their livelihood. When we support local makers, designers, and shop owners, we contribute to an overall growth in our creative community. For us, we love putting businesses on the map for people around the country to see and celebrate what’s happening in our city, as well as let locals know about the great things happening in our backyard.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Claire: We’ve seen the positive impact on featured vendors and love to see them grow in their businesses and become known in the community. Seeing the ripple effect our market has on the larger creative community in Tucson, and the quality standards makers/designers/shops adhere to for our market has been very encouraging. We’ve seen our market act as a first step for many of the small businesses we feature to launch or grow their business, and encourage them to showcase their wares at other markets both locally and regionally (sometimes nationally!). A lot of our vendors who started at CULTIVATE now have wholesale accounts at major shops around the country. I’ve loved seeing the collaborations that have resulted out of people—both vendors and attendees—being introduced to one another at our markets.
Kristin: The joy and community that results from our events—seeing over 3000 people come together on one day to support all local establishments, gather for coffee/food/good conversation, and stick around for the entire day—is what encourages us to keep improving upon and planning these markets. It’s incredibly rewarding to consider and discover the stories behind each vendor’s business and how they began, as well as the history of the buildings and spaces that we get to pop-up in for each market. Sharing these stories with the community is a joy for us. We’ve come to love our city even more as a result of starting CULTIVATE, and we hope the same is true for those that participate and attend.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting CULTIVATE?
We’d never planned a pop-up market before, and especially not on this large of a scale! We had to figure out basically every part of our process from scratch. The benefit of that is we weren’t influenced by other markets significantly, and paved our own path to success in the pop-up market field.
We had fresh eyes, which at first meant we ran into a lot of roadblocks...but navigating those waters, together, really showed us the potential we have as a team and has led to some of our best work together! We could have never predicted the challenges that came with starting a business together, but those challenges have also led to our greatest ideas and solutions.
There are a few specific challenges that we’ve faced and are continually working towards improving:
- Securing spaces for our markets in time, due to the nature of the under-utilized (and often on-the-market!) buildings we use.
- Learning how to gather funding through sponsorships, partnerships, and more.
- Managing and growing our flourishing team!
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Claire: We’ve found that collaboration leads to being able to accomplish so much more than working on our own. We have firsthand experience with both being female co-founders, and also leading a stellar all-woman team (Aggie Welty, Brittany Péna, Kelsey Collins). Each of our team members contribute their unique gifts (decor, floral design, outreach, and more!) to planning and executing our market. We love having the opportunity to grow together, share our ups and downs, and ultimately support one another through this rewarding and challenging entrepreneurial path.
As a fun aside, the majority of our vendors are women, as well as the majority of our attendees. We love witnessing women supporting women in real time at our markets!
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Claire: We're constantly inspired and uplifted by each other in our work for CULTIVATE! We also look up to these innovative women entrepreneurs that kick ass every day: Éva Goicochea (Maude, Tinker Watches), Roanne Adams (Ro&Co), Christene Barberich (Refinery29), Grace Bonney (Design Sponge), Kate Harmer (Hum Creative founder), and Emma and Claire Laukitis (Salmon Sisters). When we face the challenges that running a business inevitably brings, these women really motivate us to get back to it and introduce big ideas and fresh offerings to Tucson.
What are you looking forward to in regards to the future of CULTIVATE?
Kristin: We’re excited about entering into the challenge of keeping things fresh and constantly improving upon our past work. When we feel we have mastered one area of what we do, we focus in on another area that we feel we can grow in. That often comes in the form of refining and honing: our processes, diversity of products and vendors, and team communications. Building a team where each person can specialize in what they do is important to us long-term because it creates a better and more efficient outcome and gives value to the specific type of work each person does best, so that we all shine the brightest!
We also want to shine a spotlight on Tucson and its creative community, and see our vendors’ individual businesses grow and flourish. As our markets and vendors’ business grow, we’re able to give even more to local non-profits and work to highlight the positive effects of our markets on the neighborhoods we pop up in, whether it’s through economic impact, awareness of local issues, or seeing the potential of activating unused spaces.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
We definitely attribute so much of our growth both personally and professionally to the resources available to us that we’ve been able to take advantage of in our work. A few things we’ve found especially helpful include: Gmail / Google Drive, Slack, Asana, and the Creative Cloud; and physical tools like notebooks (Leuchtturm is one of our favorites), post-its, and—of course—our main tool and resource, coffee.
There have also been specific books and podcasts that have acted as resources to us or introduced us to other resources that have helped our business grow.
Books: Rework, Breaking the Time Barrier, Creative Confidence, The $100 Startup
Podcasts: How I Built This (NPR), Being Boss, StartUp, and Well Made.
What are some of your favorite places in Tucson?
So much of our work and planning happens out in the community, so we often find ourselves at Exo Roast Co., Mercado San Agustin, or Five Points Market and Restaurant when we need to focus or refuel. When we’re not working, we love to spend time at Tap & Bottle, Time Market, and browsing local shops and boutiques. Tucson has so much to explore outside of the downtown urban core as well, so we also like to visit places like Sabino Canyon, Mt. Lemmon, and The Mission at San Xavier.