Meet the Makers: Three Artisans Bringing Local Charm to LA Target Stores

May 24, 2016 - Article reads in
Ryan, Michelle and Matthew stand next to their Target product displays

Smoky campfire-inspired soap, decadent caramel corn and delicate snake charms—treasures you'd usually find at a farmers market or trendy boutique. But as part of the latest wave of updates rolling out in our LA25 stores, we’re teaming up with up-and-coming and a few seasoned local Los Angeles artisans to bring hand-crafted, local flavor to Target.

We know our guests love discovering local products and brands in their favorite Target stores, especially in LA, where guests tell us that locally-made products are at the top of their shopping lists. So last winter we went straight to the source, inviting LA makers to pitch their unique offerings to the Target team. After hearing from nearly 200 artists, designers and entrepreneurs, we hand-picked 27 brands (19 are available in stores now, with eight more to come) to feature in select LA-area stores.

These brands and products caught our eye for their ties to the local community and fit within Target’s signature categories, especially Style (apparel, beauty, home décor, jewelry) and Wellness (food, sporting goods, fitness apparel).

An early read? Guests are loving it. “There’s this huge sense of pride—they love discovering these local gems and supporting their community at the same time,” says Elena Rodriguez, store team lead at a Target store in Culver City, Calif. that features the product. “And, we’re getting this incredible, real-time feedback about what guests like and expect in our assortment. We’ll keep testing ways to customize products and experiences for them.”

So what sets these brands apart? And what’s it like to take a hand-crafted product from (proverbial) farmer’s stand to Target shelf? We sat down with three makers to hear their stories:

Ryan Rogers’ Jones County Road

Ryan Rogers stands in front of a shelf of his products.

Banker-turned-maker Ryan Rogers’ “how I got started” story is almost as simple as the ingredients in his Jones County Road grooming products: “I started with a single bar of soap—a birthday gift for a friend,” says Ryan. “I did a little googling, read up on how to make soap, then started playing around with my own recipes.” (From the very start, he used pure oils—no chemicals, dyes or synthetics).

Soap became a hobby, then bubbled into a new business idea: Jones County Road—a moniker inspired by the address of his family’s ranch in Texas. “I wanted a name that reflects my heritage, and to make sure I never forget where I come from.”

But the journey from rancher to budding entrepreneur (with a career in banking along the way) hasn’t always been rainbows and rosewater. “It’s been a leap of faith, for sure. Lots of long nights (I was up until 1 a.m. this morning thinking about this interview!), trial and error and hard work. My friends didn’t take me seriously, but I never gave up. It took months to get my liquid soap just right, and I still just can’t perfect shampoo…but I’ve got a great dog version,” he laughs.

Turns out, the Target team took him seriously—but Ryan almost missed his shot. “I applied to the program, then…nothing. My email had been hacked, and I was missing all these notes from Target. I finally got a call right before Thanksgiving, and they wanted me to come in—in two days!”

Fast forward a few months, and his collection of soaps and grooming products (including off-the-beaten-path scents like campfire and alpine) are front-and-center on Target store shelves. “It’s a bit surreal, but it’s inspiring to see Target allowing local businesses, these neighborhoods, this city, to have a greater sense of community. It’s really cool to be part of this.”

Michelle Chang Jewelry

Michelle Chang behind a jewelry case of her products.

Michelle Chang is no stranger to fine art and design, with nearly two decades of design and illustration experience under her (stylish) belt. But her foray into jewelry started small, literally—“I began carving these tiny snakes and foxes in my equally tiny Brooklyn studio,” she says. The baubles grew into a big idea—a high-end jewelry line inspired by animals and nature.

And that inspiration soon had Michelle moving cross-country, from the hustle and bustle of New York to the foothills of LA. “The city has this amazing creative vibe, not to mention that it’s close to the ocean, mountains and nature—perfect inspiration for my designs.”

And when Target reached out? I always pictured my designs in small boutique stores—never a big box. But, then again, Target’s been a pioneer in making great design accessible to all, so I was in. The process presented a fun challenge: How do I preserve the quality and design of my work, but tweak it for a bigger scale and at a great value for Target guests? I played with almost 500 styles, then, worked with the team to narrow it down to 20 pieces for Target. You’ll see a few of my favorites—the snakes are elegant and fun—and some designs I’ve done just for Target, like the Manta cuff bracelet.”

“I’m not even sure how Target first found me, but I love that they’re partnering with local artists and small businesses. Very smart of them, and lucky for me.”

Matthew Walton’s Zlicious Confections

Matthew Walton in front of a shelf with his products.

Matthew Walton grew up mixing, measuring and baking in his grandmother Zelda’s kitchen. Years later, her famous caramel sauce—and her name—would inspire Zlicious and have Matthew doing a 180 with his life.

“I’ve always had a love for food, but I spent 12 years climbing the corporate ladder in my HR career until I finally decided to chase my passion,” says Matthew. “I quit my job…no idea what’d be next. I stopped by Target on my way home and, on a whim, grabbed a popcorn popper. I never imagined as I popped that first batch on my stove that I’d soon start a small business out of my own kitchen.”

“I started thinking about using Grandma Zelda’s caramel sauce to make caramel corn. You can’t just pour sauce over the popcorn—you’d have a huge (albeit delicious) mess. So, I played with the recipe until I found just the right consistency to coat the popcorn. One of my flavor-boost secrets? Premium imported brown sugar, with a hint of molasses,” he says. From there, the popcorn obsession began, and got more adventurous with sweet and savory flavors like oatmeal cookie, rosemary and coconut curry, using butter from a nearby dairy and working with a local artisan on spice blends.

Those special details and flavors caught the eye (and taste buds) of the Target team. “When I heard that my popcorns would be in Target stores, I got goosebumps. I commend them for focusing on local food producers and going outside the box to bring in non-traditional products and flavors.”

For all the makers, dreamers, and entrepreneurs out there: “Small businesses are still alive, and handmade stuff still matters. If you have a dream, go for it,” says Matthew. You never know where a kernel of an idea might lead.

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