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Kate Alesandrini
Little Alexander

After studying illustration at the Cornish College of the Arts, Kate Alesandrini worked for a web design and gaming company, but soon realized that she missed working with her hands and kept returning to drawing and painting.

“In 2010 I opened an Etsy shop. That was a simple low overhead to start marketing my artwork,” explains Alesandrini. Driven by a desire to combine her art with functional items, she started with postcards and notecards and then eventually stationery, stickers and other paper goods.

Alesandrini and her wife, Anne Alesandrini, started Little Alexander in Seattle where they were inspired by the mountains and surrounding water. The couple lived on an Iowa farm, where they continued to grow their business, before moving to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2015.

“We wanted to get back to city life. Pittsburgh was affordable and full of things we had missed living out in the country,” says Alesandrini. “It has exceeded our wildest dreams.”

Sales of their products have grown steadily with more than 3,000 Etsy sales to date. Except for the cover of their top-selling Mountain Notebook, all products are hand-printed on linoleum blocks in the studio of the couple’s Bloomfield home.

Outsourcing the cover of their mountain notebook was a hard decision, but after realizing that screenprinting was the best choice for that design, the two ultimately decided to contract with a screenprinter. They went with a husband and wife screenprinting operation in Virginia who shared their values, notably a dedication to a high quality product.

They work with all recycled papers from different sources. Once she finishes printing the notebook covers, Alesandrini hands them over to her wife, who stitches them by hand.

In addition to the flexibility of working at home to be with their three-year-old son, Alesandrini says the best perk of owning and manufacturing her own products is the direct contact with her customers, which allows for customization.

“Sometimes people will come to us and say ‘I really like your notebooks but I need it to be a half-inch shorter so it fits in my lab coat pocket,’” Alesandrini says.

Little Alexander products are also are carried at the Mattress Factory, the Robin’s Nest Gallery & Gift Shop, and this spring they will be sold at Wildcard.

James Gyre

James Gyre of Naked Geometry

James Gyre
Naked Geometry

When TechShop Pittsburgh first opened in Bakery Square, James Gyre was one of the first students to sign up to use the laser printer.

“I was literally there at three in the morning,” says Gyre, who was anxious to get his hands on the shop’s laser cutter. “Once I had the laser cutter, then I began this contemplation of materials. I have done woodworking with my father since I was five.”

Through his Etsy Shop and website, Gyre sells jewelry and other wood pieces. With every piece he creates, he represents the pure geometry that is so pervasive in nature. One example is his Golden Ratio pendant.

“The golden ratio is very unique in mathematics. It is a classic piece of design because it is pervasive in nature. The spirals on a pineapple or rose are governed by the Fibonacci Sequence, which over time becomes the golden ratio,” Gyre explains.

Gyre, who studied painting at Carnegie Mellon, works out of a studio at his Brighton Heights home, which allows him to help care for his two young children.

When President Obama visited TechShop in 2014, Gyre met with him and presented him with an ornament that represents the planet incorporated into an infinity symbol.

Like many artisans, Gyre has had to contend with some growing pains. The laser cutter that he uses at TechShop, for example, is a shared resource that he is only able to access six hours a week through his membership. While he would love to own a laser cutter, the investment would cost more than his house. As a result, Gyre says that he would like to work with the city to develop an incubation space for artists and entrepreneurs.

Despite some limitations, Gyre has amassed more than 27,000 followers on his Facebook page, and also sells his work through the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City.

As technologies advance, Gyre believes the tools of his craft will become more affordable and easier to use.

“The age of home 3D printers, where you can bang out normal objects out of metal and plastic, is not that far off,” Gyre explains. “That is where manufacturing is headed.”