We had the good fortune of connecting with Steffanie Dotson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Steffanie, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I should start by explaining that technically San Diego Craft Collective is not MY business. Since it’s a nonprofit, it belongs to no one… or rather everyone. However, my ideas and experiences are ultimately what guide the current direction of the organization. Since nonprofit organizations have a 3-year hurdle to get over before most large foundations will allow them to apply for grants and funding, it’s very much like running your own small business at first. I founded San Diego Craft Collective because I wanted to make a positive difference in my community. There’s many people out there doing good in the community, and the fun part is that each person brings to the arena a bit of their own flavor. For example, I deeply and passionately believe in craft as a vehicle for self expression and building confidence. I founded the Craft Collective because craft and woodworking are my passions, and through them I believe a positive impact can be made in our community. My hope is that it will be a lasting impact. Even if it’s just a small ripple of change, I so truly want San Diegans to embrace working with their hands, and to appreciate the handmade even after I’m long gone. My dream would be for parents to encourage their children to grow up and be happy… whether it means a career as a teacher, a woodworker, a weaver, or a potter. I also hope that young people will look to their elders for intergenerational opportunities like apprenticeships and learning traditional ways of doing things. I’m not against technology, but I am against losing tradition. There’s so much value in working with your hands. There’s value in understanding why things were done a certain way. Knowing how and why things were made helps us be more efficient and smarter about what we currently need. Life is so fast-paced these days. I want to encourage us to slow down and reconnect with what’s getting lost in the cracks. Craft is the perfect way to do this. Knitting groups, sewing circles, learning woodworking, clay, and many other crafts are very community-oriented. They allow us to come together, learn together, create together, and support each other. Craft allows families to spend time together. I have so many ideas for what this organization can do… there’s just not enough time in each day. In the meantime, I’ll keep chipping away!
What should our readers know about your business?
San Diego Craft Collective is a place where individuals of all ages can learn woodworking, crafts, and skills with their hands. As a 501c3 nonprofit organization located in the Arts District in Liberty Station, we host activities, workshops, and classes that empower, build confidence, and create happiness in a family friendly, eco-friendly environment. We are committed to creating a safe, educational, and inspiring learning space for both children and adults using safe materials and practices. The organization was founded on the belief that building a person’s skills with their hands, no matter the age, creates a more confident and content individual. Knowledge in my mind is not limited to academia. Craft is about knowledge — learning materials and really understanding them, knowledge of processes and traditions — a good comprehension of these open the door to creating better, more efficient operations and ways for working and living. Learning a craft makes for a more interesting, more adept, more capable human being. By offering activities and workshops centered around craft, creativity, and community for individuals of any age and background, the goal is to enrich life through craft. The vision for the Craft Collective is to offer an alternative to the plastic-laden, consumerist landscape we find ourselves in, and to teach people to create meaningful objects with more natural and sustainable materials. As the founder, it’s my hope that the Craft Collective be a catalyst for a new movement that re-connects this disconnect. I hope it leaves a legacy of a more skilled, more engaged, more aware community of San Diegans. The Craft Collective as an organization is only two years old, and I’m so proud of all that we’ve accomplished in just 2 years! It’s tough as a start-up nonprofit. Until you hit the 3-year mark, funding is scarce, so we’re reliant on the public for donations, paying for classes and workshops, and crowd-funding. The going has been tough, especially since the pandemic hit just as we were starting to get into a groove. But, COVID forced us to get creative. One of our instructors had a great idea to make and sell masks as both a fundraiser and a way to give back to the community and in turn support artisans. We jumped into the project calling it Mask2Gether and it really helped us through that initial difficult shut-down period. It gave us purpose if nothing else! Mask2Gether made me realize how many in the community wanted to help, but felt powerless to do so. So we launched Craft2Gether which is another program that gives back to the San Diego community. Through Craft2Gether, we design, craft, and donate craft kits to children in San Diego. The response has been heartening. We’ve gotten so many requests for craft kit donations, that it’s hard to fulfill them all. There is really a need for this program, and we’re committed to finding the funds and the means to continue it longterm. We’re on our way to that 3 -year mark, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel. Even in the midst of this pandemic, we’re able to stay optimistic. When things started to re-open after that first shutdown, we started teaching our classes and workshops outdoors behind our studio. Liberty Station has been really supportive and allowed us the use of a few parking spaces to use as our classroom. It’s working out well. We hosted craft camps for kids all summer and many many outdoor workshops. San Diego weather allows us to keep teaching outdoors still… we’ve got something going on pretty much every weekend, and classes for kids during the weekdays. It’s so encouraging to hear people say how happy they are to be able to do something enjoyable outdoors in a safe environment. I hadn’t anticipated helping people out of their emotional funk during COVID — or even depression, but it’s a real thing, and it’s so nice to be part of that solution.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Liberty Station – for wandering on foot, on wheels, or with a furry pal, checking out art, and great eats! Cabrillo Monument for amazing views of the city, tide pools, and sunsets. Raglan Public for delicious grass-fed burgers People’s Coop for the best produce and vegan deli in Ocean Beach. Balboa Park for wandering on foot — there’s always something happening. The Glider Port above Black’s Beach for people watching (watching people in gliders!). San Diego Zoo for family fun. Balboa Park Carousel (near the zoo… for its historical beauty and it’s still in service!) The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband, Alejandro Holcman, has been a major pillar in building this organization. Without his help and support, San Diego Craft Collective would not exist. I’m also so grateful to be part of the Arts District in Liberty Station. The NTC Foundation and Liberty Station have been amazingly supportive to us. It’s been extremely helpful to be part of this community as we grow and build our following.
Debbie Chialtas Horacio Coutinho Jr. Jeanine Ertl