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Watch all three of Bureau Visual's marketing videos and you see some themes emerge, including a focus on hard work and a connection to the land. You see the men — Anderson, Scalise, Lyon, Nelson and Holzhueter — working with their hands in rooms filled with natural light. You also see them in timeworn urban industrial areas or pastoral Midwestern settings, doing things like fishing, driving pickup trucks and scouting materials. They wear plaid flannels, white undershirts, denim workshirts. In the Utilitarian Workshop and KC CO. videos, the closing shot pictures the men staring proudly into the camera.
Eaton's images merge distinctly different American types: the bohemian, the blue-collar, the rustic. What they have in common here is an idea of craftsmanship, harnessed to a vivid nostalgia. These young entrepreneurs are branding themselves with an aesthetic designed to recall the most prosperous eras of U.S. industry and agriculture.
Still, if you ask Scalise, Nelson or Anderson about their businesses, they'll tell you about a vision that's trained on the future.
"A young couple just purchased a home and they want to furnish it. Where do they go?" Anderson asks. "They go to a big-box store."
But just as restaurants are increasingly focused on locally produced ingredients, and organizations such as Cultivate Kansas City have helped educate local eaters about where their food comes from, Utilitarian Workshop wants to raise consumer-goods awareness. Where does your chair come from?
"We're putting people in the position to rethink how they shop for their Christmas gifts," Anderson says. "We're showing the importance of seeing something that comes out of their city or their neighborhood and supporting that."
The flourishing of the West Bottoms antique district and the boom of online craft marketplaces such as Etsy suggest that plenty of people are eager for alternatives to corporate retail.
That shift in buying habits has already helped fuel the success of KC CO. Scalise, who, along with partner Lyon, launched the website for the Kansas City–based leather goods company last November, quit his full-time corporate job in January to focus on KC CO. full time.
"People are getting tired of this throwaway society," Scalise says. "It has become normal to buy something knowing it's cheap and poor quality, but justifying the purchase because it's so cheap you can buy more when it breaks. People like the fact that we're producing heirloom-quality products. They actually get better with age."
Utilitarian Workshop isn't the first retail space in town dedicated to selling handmade goods. Stuff opened in Brookside in 1996. Westport's Mash Handmade has been around since 2009. Bon Bon Atelier, which operated on Westport Road from 2006 until January of this year, sold goods made by local artisans.
But it's a distinctly more stick-it-to-the-Man endeavor than its predecessors. Whereas Stuff's mission statement plays up words and phrases such as "personality," "unique character" and "filled with creativity," the "about" page on Utilitarian Workshop's website reads: "We instigate communal thought and collaboration. We insist on progression through action. We resist complacent satisfaction."
"It's not like we are having Marxist roundtable meetings in here," Anderson says, "but it's very anti-establishment. It's very anti-corporation, but not in an aggressive, revolutionary fashion." Purchasing power is political capital, and creative workers should have agency over their own designs, in a space where they can present those designs to a more enlightened consumer.
"We want to support the artists more than anything, and give them leverage," Williams says.