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For Martha Stewart's new fans, tattoos meet appliqué

By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:13 a.m. HST, Nov 25, 2012



NEW YORK » Tony Stinkmetal, a many-tattooed East Village artist and a fixture at the Artists and Fleas craft bazaar in Brooklyn, would not strike most people as a Martha Stewart devotee.

But after his business partner, Keith Bishop, watched a 5 a.m. rerun of a Martha Stewart program on how to turn a castoff men's jacket into a throw blanket, he decided to make a similar blanket from discarded Star Wars sheets. From that first blanket, the two men developed Golly NYC, a brand of T-shirts and lamps created from vintage children's sheets (depicting cartoons or superheroes) inspired by Stewart's emphasis on craftsmanship and perfectionism.

"The truth is, in my own little Alphabet City tattooed way, I'm uptight too and I like to do things right," said Stinkmetal, who changed his name from Michilini for professional reasons.

Stewart's company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has faced some difficult blows lately — substantial financial losses, and layoffs and cutbacks at its magazines and television programs. But Stewart, the 71-year-old founder, has emerged as something of a patron saint for entrepreneurial hipsters, 20- and 30-somethings who, in a post-recessionary world, have begun their own pickling, cupcake and letterpress businesses and are selling crafty goods online.

Pilar Guzman, the editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living magazine, said the magazine's readership had become "the intersection between Colonial Williamsburg and Williamsburg, Brooklyn."

Many of these newer fans are skipping the print magazine entirely. MarthaStewart.com, the company's primary website, has counted a 40 percent jump in traffic among 18- to 34-year-olds every month, year over year, since January.

The number of women in that age group who watched Martha Stewart videos rose 172 percent in the last six months, compared with a decline of 10.5 percent for all Internet users, according to comScore data. This same demographic of women who viewed Martha Stewart content on smartphones grew 168.3 percent in the last six months, compared with an increase of 14 percent for all Internet users.

In and around the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, Martha Stewart has spawned meet-up groups for people who want to work on crafting, blog items about her sighting at the Brooklyn Bowl rock club, sales of her books at the Brooklyn Kitchen cook shop and decorative displays in the shop window of Urban Rustic, a market and cafe. Beyond Williamsburg, Stewart has drawn crafting and baking fans from Saratoga Springs to San Francisco who have made MarthaStewart.com the most-shared site among its rivals on the social site Pinterest, according to Pinfluencer.

While some Martha Stewart fans abandoned their magazine subscriptions and Stewart's high-thread-count sheets after she went to prison over her 2004 conviction for lying to federal investigators about a stock sale, this new generation of fans say her prison time only gives her more street credibility.

"She's such a Suzy homemaker and also did some time in the joint," said Luis Illades, an owner of Urban Rustic, where some of Stewart's store-bought decorations appeared. "That has helped cement her iconic image. Before, she was someone your mother would follow."

Crystal Sloane, 29, who grew up on a dairy farm outside Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reading her mother's issues of Martha Stewart Living, has begun her own business called "Vintage by Crystal," designing miniature animals that Stewart eventually featured on "The Martha Stewart Show."

"She's like the Jesus of the craft world," she said. "Not that I like criminals, but I heard that she just took some bad advice. Anybody can make mistakes."

Stewart has responded to this growing fan base by featuring more of these entrepreneurs in her magazine, like the custom Maniac Pumpkin Carvers from Brooklyn and the Bee Man Candle Co. from Canastota, N.Y. Last month, she hosted a conference at Grand Central Terminal called American Made to honor young entrepreneurs, and she sponsored a contest for students from the School of Visual Arts to promote their businesses. The winner, a portable pierogi stand, received a $5,000 cash prize and a year of mentoring from her company's chief executive, Lisa Gersh. Stewart also collaborated on the event with Etsy, the e-commerce site for craft entrepreneurs, and invited its artisans to sell wares at her conference.

"I hope that I'm a teacher and encourager and mentor," Stewart said about her relationships with these younger fans. "Small businesses need boosting."

David Bank, an equity research analyst with RBC Capital Markets, compared Stewart's business to that of Hugh Hefner, who was able to revive the popularity of Playboy with younger readers. "Is she like the hipster women's Hef?" Bank asked. "It defines an entirely new audience with a new life cycle."

Despite all of this encouraging news, Stewart's company still has not figured out how to make these loyal fans lift it out of its deep financial troubles, no matter how many costs are cut. In advance of its third-quarter earnings, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced that it would cut back two of its four magazines and lay off about 70 employees, or 12 percent of the nearly 600-person company. This year, the company cut $12.5 million in broadcasting costs by not renewing its daily programming deal with the Hallmark Channel, breaking its lease on its television production studio and ending its live audience for "The Martha Stewart Show." Bank said that the company must figure out how to sell to the trendy, not just inspire them.

"The real opportunity is, ‘Will they go to Macy's or J.C. Penney and buy her bedsheets and her flatware? You've got to use flatware, even in Williamsburg. That's where the money is really made," Bank said. "Who cares if she's popular if you can't monetize it?"

Julia B. Farill, owner of the letterpress company Red Bird Ink who was selling her stationery at Stewart's conference last month, said that while women of Stewart's generation, like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright, had succeeded in the public sector, Stewart was one of the few successful businesswomen of her time.

"She's an example of a strong woman who has done amazing things with her life. That's kind of rare for her generation," Farill said.

But there's still a gap between Stewart and her younger, tattooed, craft-loving crowd. When asked whether she would ever share her fans' love of tattoos — some even have tattoos depicting Stewart — she bristled at the suggestion and warned how bad they look as people grow older.

"I'm not a big fan of tattoos," she said. "I don't think they have to go quite that far. They could put embroidery on their jacket. They could silk-screen a T-shirt."






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