Lindsey Smith wants to put a little soul into our consumer culture.
Through her website, Makers Workshop, the 30-year-old Baton Rouge artist and photographer promotes quality American-made products, including her own line of hand-sewn decorative flags.
“We are so ready — this isn’t a new thing — we’re so ready for things that have a soul, that have meaning, things we can connect with in a real way,” she says.
Smith is featured in the new documentary “Making the American Man,” which is coming to Netflix on July 1. The film delves into the world of quality American-made goods — clothes, shoes and other products created by small manufacturers, like outdoors company Filson and watch and bicycle company Shinola.
“We talk about why American-made matters,” Smith says. “It’s not just about jobs. It goes so much deeper than the making of one product.”
Aside from her website and growing flag business, Smith designs displays at the local store of a national retailer.
The Louisiana Tech graduate, who has worked in retail since finishing college, traces the beginnings of her Makers Workshop to a time when she was a buyer for a store.
Many of the companies she worked with lacked passion for the products they sold, she says, and the representatives knew little about the manufacturing process.
Then she met the couple behind Peg and Awl, makers of handcrafted homes items, messenger bags and whatever else they decide to tackle. Smith was impressed by the way they “poured their hearts into every bit of it.”
“I knew that was the thing people wanted,” she says. “That was what people were craving.”
In 2012, Smith launched her website documenting her own experiences, American-made products and the people who craft them.
A gifted photographer with experience styling models and clothing for photo shoots, she combines lush pictures with introspective essays on nature and her life and stories on products that she believes have character.
Smith posts about pop-up dinners in a south Louisiana field or a hike through the Tunica Hills, then features her favorite makers of quality goods like Danner boots, Freeman clothing or Juniper Ridge perfumes and colognes.
These products represent the opposite of the mass-market culture. Through her site and her interactions with these companies, Smith forged relationships with the women and men crafting the goods and created marketing materials for some on a freelance basis.
“You get to know these people and their stories and you know their children’s names,” Smith says. “You get to know their products. You become a part of their family.”
This year, Smith’s Makers Workshop site also began featuring her original work, hand-sewn wool flags made in a vintage style. Some take Smith more than 50 hours to complete.
Her original designs of nature-inspired symbols and animals have a rustic feel. A few companies and boutique hotels and lodges have commissioned flags for their decor.
Smith became inspired to create the flag series last year when a sudden illness paralyzed her hands. She couldn’t drive or cook, and she had a difficult time caring for her son, Oliver, now 6. Neurologists in Louisiana and Texas diagnosed her with dystonia, but could not find the cause.
She began thinking of what she would do if she could use her hands again. Two antique flags found at flea markets decorated her walls, and she became fixated on their beauty.
“Those artifacts stood for so many people and brought so many people together,” Smith says. “It stayed in the back of my mind.”
Eventually, she regained the use of her hands after a session with a practitioner of a form of Eastern medicine. A few months later, she finished her first flag and has not stopped.
“It really feels like something very loving and giving,” she says, “because I can sit with this thing for however many hours and get to use my hands in ways that for awhile I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to again.”
Before she created her first flag, the film crew behind “Making the American Man” traveled to Baton Rouge so she could share her insights into the world of quality craftsmanship. They wanted her opinions as a proponent of these types of small companies.
“You as a consumer need to pay attention to what you’re buying and where it’s coming from,” she says, summarizing her message. “These are the real people who are making it and the hands that are making it.”